Palmerston North is one of the North Island’s most understated, but thoroughly charming regional cities. 

Situated just on two hours’ drive north of Wellington, and nestled between the Tararua and Ruahine mountain ranges, Palmerston North (known to locals simply as ‘Palmy’) parcels up the delights of a country town with all the amenities of a small city. And you’re within easy reach of an array of sublime natural attractions, including Manawatu Gorge.

Here are some of the top things to do in Palmerston North. Book your stay with Choice Hotels.

1. Explore The Square

Start your exploration in the city’s recreational heart – The Square. The i-SITE Visitor Information Centre is located here, so drop in and get the inside story on what’s happening around town. The Square is dominated by the distinctive Hopwood Clock Tower. The precinct regularly hosts events and markets, and is surrounded by boutiques, cafes and restaurants.

Wellington to Palmerston North road trip
The Square, Palmerston North. Image: Bigstock

2. Get on the Arts Trail

Palmerston North has a vibrant cultural scene, which centres around Te Manawa – a museum dedicated to art, science and history. There’s always something interesting happening here, so check the website for what’s on during your stay. 

The city’s creative flair isn’t confined to an indoor gallery space. There are hundreds of pieces of street art and public sculpture dotted across the city centre, and the Arts Trail Guide will lead you to many of the highlights.

Wellington to Palmerston North road trip
Te Manawa. Image: Palmerston North City Council

3. Channel your inner All Black

All Blacks fans will definitely want to visit the New Zealand Rugby Museum – the world’s first cultural facility dedicated to rugby. Learn the history of the game in New Zealand, and test your own on-field skills in the ‘come and try’ section. The museum is open daily.

Wellington to Palmerston North road trip
New Zealand Rugby Museum. Image: Palmerston North City Council

4. Seek out secret gardens

The entire Manawatu-Whanganui region is well known as a garden lover’s paradise. The fertile soil and mild climate lend themselves perfectly to the creation of manicured green spaces, bursting with floral colour. Many private gardens are open to visitors, and highlights close to Palmerston North include Caccia Birch House and Gardens, Kinsale, and Greenhaugh Gardens (which has an on-site nursery).

On the southern side of town, adjacent to the Manawatu River, the stunning 26-hectare Victoria Esplanade is a must-visit. It features extensive plantings, nature trails, shaded walks, and the Dugald MacKenzie rose garden. With over 5,000 bushes, it’s considered to be one of the top five rose gardens in the world.

With a bird aviary, paddling pool, playground, and miniature railway to ride, Victoria Esplanade is perfect for a family outing.

Top things to do in Palmerston North
Scenic Railway, Victoria Esplanade. Image: Manawatu NZ Tourism

5. Get back to nature in the Gorge

The Manawatu River makes its way past Palmerston North before heading towards the coast. North of the city, the river has taken thousands of years to carve out the spectacular Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge. This forested adventure lover’s playground can be explored on foot, bike or horseback. Don’t miss seeing the six-metre-high metal sculpture of Whatonga – a Maori warrior and navigator – which can be found on the gentle Manawatu Gorge Loop Walk.

Top things to do in Palmerston North
Whatonga. Image: Manawatu NZ Tourism

6. Go hiking and biking

There are two longer walks to tackle: the Manawatu Gorge Track (10 kilometres each way), and the Tawa Loop (four kilometres return). Both offer stunning gorge views. Keen mountain bikers might like to take on the Te Ara o Mahurangi track, which is rated for intermediate riders and above.

Need a place to stay?

Located on The Square in the heart of Palmerston North, Quality Suites Central Square offers easy access to cafes and restaurants and is a short walk to city attractions (including the New Zealand Rugby Museum).

Comfort Inn Kauri Court is located just south of the city centre and offers a range of guest amenities, including free parking.