The Must-Dos in Palmerston North
Conveniently located just a quick detour on the way between Taupo and Wellington, Palmerston North provides an interesting stop on a North Island road trip. The vibrant city is packed with beautiful parks, museums and restaurants, ideal for a short visit. On the other hand, there’s also plenty of reasons to stick around. The hub of the lower North Island is surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, from the slopes of the Ruahine and Tararua Ranges to the sandy shores of Himatangi and Foxton Beaches. Check out this list of things to do in in Palmerston North to make the most of your trip to “Palmy”.
For more things to do in Palmerston North, as well as more travel advice, see The Complete Guide to Palmerston North.
1. Walk or Cycle the Manawatu River Pathway
Palmerston North is certainly a cycle-friendly city, which is arguably the best way to do some sightseeing. A highlight is the Manawatu River Pathway, a 10km (6-mile) sealed and compacted limestone walk/cycleway on the banks of the river that gives the region its name. Ride through various parks, plantations and to a highlight of the city, Victoria Esplanade (see point #3). What’s more, with e-bike hire so abundant in the city, you won’t even break a sweat.
Location: Runs between Maxwells Line to Riverside Drive, Palmerston North city centre.
2. Take a Road Trip to Himatangi Beach
Surrounding Palmerston North are all sorts of landscapes, from mountain ranges to black-sand beaches. If you’re more of a beach-goer, however, check out Himatangi Beach. Just a 30-minute drive from the city, Himatangi Beach is not only a stunning stretch of sand with driftwood huts and sculptures, but it’s a stellar place to watch the sunset. There’s also something for families, as the beach is backed by a children’s playground and mini golf course.
Location: Himatangi Beach Road, approximately 36km (22 miles) from Palmerston North city centre (The Square).
3. Wander Around the Rose Gardens, Native Bird Hospital and More at Victoria Esplanade
Back in the city, an unmissable park area to explore (and also along the Manawatu River Pathway) is Victoria Esplanade. Smell the roses at the Dugald McKenzie Rose Garden, have a picnic in one of the picturesque parks, grab a coffee from Cafe Esplanade, and let the kids loose on the mini railway, playground and paddling pool. You can also see native birds and reptiles at the free-entry Wildbase Recovery, the city’s wildlife hospital. Needless to say, strolling in the gardens is one of the 7 Romantic Activities in Palmerston North for Couples.
Location: Access is off Park Road, Manawaroa Street or Fitzherbert Avenue, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Palmerston North city centre (The Square).
4. Visit the Birds at Wildbase Recovery
Also at Victoria Esplanade, but Palmerston North must-do in its own right, Wildbase Recovery is a hospital for New Zealand’s native birds and reptiles. You’ll have no trouble sticking to your budget, as the wildlife hospital is free and open for visitors to see which patients they have in, whether its a kakariki, tuatara, blue duck, kereru, kaka or something else! See more activities like this in the 10 Things to Do in Palmerston North with Kids.
Location: At Victoria Esplanade, access is off Park Road, Manawaroa Street or Fitzherbert Avenue, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Palmerston North city centre (The Square).
5. Explore the Exhibitions at Te Manawa
What would a New Zealand city visit be without checking out the regional museum? Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and Heritage is ideally located near the city centre and is free to explore! Check out its range of exhibitions, such as those on the Manawatu River that flows through the city and on Maori taonga (treasure) gifted by local tribes. It’s also one of the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Palmerston North.
Location: 326 Main Street, approximately 600m (650 yards) from Palmerston North city centre (The Square).
6. Visit the New Zealand Rugby Museum
Another museum well worth checking out, not only because it’s interesting but it’s also located in the same building as Te Manawa, is the New Zealand Rugby Museum. Whether you’re a rugby fan or are simply interested in learning why New Zealanders are so passionate about rugby, the Rugby Museum is a must! See hundreds of rugby union artefacts, from the first pig-bladder rugby balls to modern-day rugby breakfast art (yes, really). The museum is well-presented and has some interactive rugby challenges to tackle (literally) in the centre of the exhibition. Note that there is a small admission fee for this museum.
Location: 326 Main Street, approximately 600m (650 yards) from Palmerston North city centre (The Square).
7. Go for a Hike and See the Maori Sculpture at Manawatu Gorge
A short drive from Palmerston North, Manawatu Gorge is an impressive natural attraction dividing the Ruahine and Tararua Ranges. The reserve’s surrounding forest can be explored on walking and mountain biking trails, such as the 3-5-hour oneway Manawatu Gorge Track or the shorter and more family-friendly 2-hour Tawa Loop Walk. Enjoy the dramatic scenery of the native forest, get amazing views of the gorge and out to Ashhurst and Palmerston North from a side-track to a landslip, and admire the towering metal statue of a Maori warrior at the walks’ junctions. See more walks in the area in the 26 Awesome Hikes Around Palmerston North.
Location: 1631 Napier Road, just at the entrance of Manawatu Gorge at the Ashhurst end, approximately 16km (10 miles) from Palmerston North city centre (The Square).
8. Experience Stunning Scenery on a Horse Trek at Makoura Lodge
Experience the Kiwi country lifestyle at Makoura Lodge. Not only does the lodge offer luxury accommodation on the edge of the Ruahine Ranges, but they are renowned locally for their horse treks. Ride to the views of the Ruahine valleys, across working farmland, through native bush, past a waterfall and even across a river. Treks are suitable for all riding abilities, even beginners. See how the ride compares in the 11 Awesome Horse Treks in New Zealand.
Location: 736 Makoura Road, Feilding, approximately 69km (43 miles) from Palmerston North city centre.
9. Do Some Extreme Beach Sports at Foxton Beach
Palmerston North is just a 30-40 minutes drive from the sea where one beach, in particular, is ideal for doing some of New Zealand’s extreme beach sports. Learn kitesurfing or kite landboarding with Wind Warrior at Foxton Beach. Wind Warrior is one of the most comprehensive kite sports operators in New Zealand and is the country’s only qualified kite landboarding instructor. Even by the end of your first lesson, you could be kite landboarding alongside the sand dunes on the 8km (5-mile) long beach. Alternatively, Foxton Jet Ski (or Wake.X) offers jet ski hire and tours, also at Foxton Beach. Hop on one of their Sea-Doo SPARK jet skis and join the Tour de River guided trip for a thrilling journey of discovery where the Manawatu River meets the Tasman Sea.
Location: Wind Warrior – 1 Thomas Place, Foxton Beach. Foxton Jet Ski – Manawatu Marine Boating Club, 50 Hartley Street, both approximately 45km (28 miles) from Palmerston North city.
10. Experience One of Palmy’s Weekly Markets
Being surrounded by all kinds of farms and food producers, as well as talented craftspeople, Palmerston North’s markets are something special. Pick up locally-grown fresh produce, bread, condiments and souvenirs at weekly markets such as the Saturday morning Albert Street Farmers’ Market, the Sunday morning Highbury Flea Market and the Palmy Sunday Market. The most renowned market of the area, however, is the Feilding Farmers’ Market where quality artisan products like local wines, cheeses, meats and more are available to taste and purchase. Check this last one out every Friday morning. See more activities like this in the 7 Things to Do in Palmerston North for Foodies.
Location: Albert Street Farmers’ Market – Albert Sports Bar Car Park, Albert Street. Highbury Flea Market – Highbury Shopping Centre Carpark, Highbury Avenue. Palmy Sunday Market – 150 Rangitīkei Street. Feilding Farmers’ Market – Manchester Street, Feiling, approximately 19km (12 miles) from Palmerston North city centre.
11. Tee Off at New Zealand’s Original Golf Course and Others
More of the country lifestyle can be experienced at Palmerston North’s golf courses where you can try New Zealand’s most popular sport. The Manawatu Golf Club is New Zealand’s oldest golf course, making it a great place to start. The Orlando Country Golf Club is Palmerston North’s premier golf course, while Feilding Golf Club is a picturesque course alongside the Manawatu River. Finally, Palmerston North Golf Club offers a more casual experience close to the city centre. See how the courses compare in the 21 Best Golf Courses in New Zealand. Plus, check out more experiences like this in the 6 Luxury Activities in Palmerston North.
Location: Manawatu Golf Club – 19 Centennial Drive. Orlando Country Golf Club – 748 Rangitikei Line. Feilding Golf Club – 1487 Waughs Road, Aorangi. Palmerston North Golf Club – 100 Brightwater Terrace.
12. Get Some Retail Therapy
Palmerston North is, after all, one of the main hubs of the lower North Island, so if you want to search for local souvenirs or need to stock up for your road trip, this would be the perfect place to do so. The Plaza is an indoor mall with around 100 stores in the city centre, while more shops can be found on Broadway Avenue running alongside The Square. Don’t miss George Street and Coleman Mall, which is where you’ll find the city centre’s boutique scene. Not too far from Broadway Avenue is Downtown, a smaller mall with a cinema, shops and restaurants.
Location: Palmerston North city centre.
13. Do Some Mountain Biking
Palmy is also an excellent place to enjoy two-wheeled adventures, from easy cycle trails in the city centre to multi-day scenic rides to epic mountain bike parks. The Arapuke Forest Mountain Bike Park is the city’s premier MTB park with easy to advanced downhill trails to tackle. For something scenic, do the Windfarm Ride on the backcountry roads underneath towering wind turbines. The Manawatu Cycleway is a 2-3-day adventure through Palmerston North’s surrounding rural areas, while the Mangahao Dams rides near Shannon offer fantastic day options.
Location: Find out more about each bike trail and their locations in the guide to Mountain Biking in Palmerston North.
14. Do the Manawatu Country Road Experience
Want to explore the middle of nowhere? There’s plenty of that outside of Palmerston North, especially on the scenic road trip known as The Country Road. Discover breathtaking viewpoints, quaint country cafes and pubs, do day walks, find swimming holes and stay in B&Bs and farmstays. The Country Road is a great way to visit the highlights in 7 Fun Things to Do in Feilding, 6 Amazing Things to Do in Ashhurst, 6 Amazing Things to Do in Apiti, 7 Brilliant Things to Do in Rangiwahia, and 14 Best Things to Do in the Pohangina Valley.
Location: The Country Road consists of three routes: Manawatu Scenic Route – Mangaweka to Ashhurst, Peep-o-Day Route – Ohingaiti to Feilding, and Stormy Point Route – Vinegar Hill to Feilding.
15. Take a Road Trip to Limestone Creek
A dramatic natural attraction and hidden gem found along the aforementioned Country Road, that’s well worth even taking a day trip for, the Limestone Creek Reserve is a collection of limestone formations harbouring glowworms. Here, you’ll find a 600m (656-yard) loop walk where you’ll discover limestone caves, towering moss-covered canyons and displays of glowworms. Take your gumboots or be prepared to get your feet wet on this adventurous walk that has you scrambling through shallow cave streams. See more road trips like this in the The Best Day Trips from Palmerston North.
Location: Limestone Road, Āpiti, approximately 76km (47 miles) from Palmerston North city centre.
16. Treat Your Tastebuds at Palmerston North’s Restaurants
Finally, if you manage to get through everything on this things-to-do-in-Palmerston-North list, then reward yourself with some exquisite eats! Some recommendations include The Fat Farmer which provides locally-sourced New Zealand cuisine in a vintage-style setting, Cyclista Espresso Bar & Roastery with decor inspired by many Kiwis’ passion for cycling, Wholegrain Organics – a cafe that also provides education food programs for Palmerston North’s youth, and Brew Union for in-house craft beer and Kiwi favourites. Check out honourable mentions and links to more recommendations in The Foodie Guide to Palmerston North.
Location: The Fat Farmer – 360 Albert Street. Cyclista Espresso Bar & Roastery – 54 George Street. Wholegrain Organics – 134 The Square. Brew Union – 41 Broadway and 78 King Street.
More Must-Dos and Things to Do in Palmerston North
- The Travel Guide to Palmerston North on a Budget
- The Travel Guide to Palmerston North for Families
- The Honeymoon Guide to Palmerston North
- The Luxury Travel Guide to Palmerston North
That’s it for the best things to do in Palmerston North. For more activities on your travels, check out the 51 Best Things to Do in the North Island.