12 of the best things to do in Palmerston North

Discover the best things to do in Palmerston North and start planning your next visit.

Palmerston North is a city located towards the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island and when you dig beneath the surface, you’ll find there’s a surprising amount to do there.

It is set in a beautiful location with the Ruahine Forest Park and Tararua Forest Park surrounding it on both sides, and the Manawatu River weaving its way through the city. With its scenic beauty in mind, it’s not surprising to find that many of the best things to do in Palmerston North are linked to the outdoors.

Whether you’re looking to learn more about the local culture, take a relaxing stroll along the river or try your hand at mountain biking, there is something for everyone.

This city is an incredible place to visit, and we know you’ll think the same!

Some businesses are experiencing staffing challenges post-COVID. If you want to guarantee a space at a restaurant or attraction, we suggest pre-booking.

The Top Things to Do in Palmerston North

To help you make the most out of your stay in this awesome city, we’ve come up with a list of the best things to do there.

The city offers a variety of activities including museums full of culture, peaceful parks and gardens and a rehabilitation centre for native wildlife. Whatever your preference, you will find an array of worthwhile attractions to visit in town.

So, let’s get into the best things to do in Palmerston North!

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Red and yellow roses in Palmerston North Rose Garden.
Photo: Geoff McKay.

1. Visit the New Zealand Rugby Museum

Visiting the New Zealand Rugby Museum is one of the top things to do in Palmerston North.

As you’re probably aware, New Zealand is well known for its rugby, and of course, its famous team – the All Blacks – and their terrifying ceremonial war dance, the haka.

The All Black are widely regarded as the most successful international men’s rugby side of all time, so it’s no surprise there is a museum dedicated to their history and achievements, and those of the game itself.

There is plenty of rugby memorabilia within the museum, and if you’re wanting to learn about the history of the sport itself this is the place to go.

The museum also has interactive challenges you can take part in too, with a fun ‘come and try’ section.

326 Main Street, Palmerston North Central, City Centre 4410

A rugby player wearing green shirt grapples another player wearing blue shirt.

2. Walk or Cycle the Manawatu River Pathway

The Manawatu River Pathway is one of the most relaxing areas in the city, and as luck would have it, it’s perfectly set up for exploration.

The 10km path is perfect for any fitness level, offering stunning views of the surrounding area.

You can choose to walk the Manawatu River Pathway, or you can cycle if you wish. Horse riders and dog walkers also share this access way, making a walk more interesting

If you don’t want to walk the full 10km, there are a variety of access points to the pathway. Some of these access points include Riverside Drive, Albert Street, Centennial Drive, and the Victoria Esplanade.

Whilst you’re there, be sure to check out the stunning He Ara Kotahi Bridge too – it is especially breath-taking when it’s lit up in the evenings.

West End, Palmerston North 4410

A couple walking in the lighted paths of He Ara Kotahi Bridge with paintings on the floor.
Photo: Geoff McKay.

3. Wander Around the Square

Palmerston North’s main square is a great place to relax and watch the world go by.

It’s packed with unique sculptures, duck ponds, and various walkways. However, the highlight is the huge clock tower that sits in the middle.

The i-SITE Visitor Information Centre is also located within the square – it is a great spot to visit especially if it’s your first time in the area or even New Zealand.

They are there to help you make the most out of your trip and can give you great tips and insights when it comes to activities. The staff here can also help with bookings for accommodation, activities, and travel within the country.

If you’re looking for things to do in Palmerston North, then why not take a picnic and simply enjoy your surroundings?

The Square, Palmerston North Central, Palmerston North 4410

Two ducks waddling near the rocky banks.
Photo credit: Geoff McKay.

4. Visit New Zealand’s Oldest Golf Course

The Manawatu Golf Club is the country’s oldest golf course – it also is a hit with golfers visiting Palmerston North.

It has hosted many of New Zealand’s professional and amateur events, as well as various other championships.

However, it’s not just for professionals, and casual golfers are welcome to test their skills on this great course.

The Manawatu Golf Club is home to an 18-hole layout golf course that provides a challenge to golfers of all abilities. With tree-lined fairways, fast-rolling greens, and around 50 challenging bunkers, it’s the perfect place for golf lovers.

In addition, they have a covered driving range, allowing you to practise your swing regardless of the weather.

If you fancy a go at this golf course, make sure to ring the club first to check their course availability.

19 Centennial Drive, Hokowhitu, Palmerston North 4410

A lodge in the middle of the green grasses of Manawatu Golf Club.
Photo credit: Manawatu Golf Club.

5. Visit the Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science, and Heritage

If you’re a fan of culture and art, then visiting the Te Manawa Museum is one of the best things to do in Palmerston North.

The museum is located in the city centre and is free to enter which is always a bonus for us travellers!

Te Manawa has many exhibits showcasing the art, science and heritage of the local area, with some fascinating artefacts to view.

The Museum is one of the most family-friendly attractions in the city with interactive experiences, activities and workshops for you to get involved with. There are also plenty of indoor and outdoor play areas for children.

The exhibits and events here are constantly changing, so make sure you take a look at their website to see what will be on during your visit.

326 Main Street, Palmerston North Central, Palmerston North 4410

A woman playing guitar while two of her friends are performing beside her inside the Te Manawa Museum.
Photo credit: Te Manawa Museum.

6. Enjoy a Day Trip to Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge 

There are many things to do in Palmerston North, but a trip to the city wouldn’t be complete without visiting the beautiful Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge.

Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge is a natural taonga and is full of unique geological features, scenic views and plenty of cultural history.

It was formed by the Manawatu River over thousands of years and is now a popular location just outside the city centre.

Before you go any further, why not learn some basic Te Reo Māori words to greet the locals? They’ll surely appreciate the effort.

Whilst you’re here, why not walk the Manawatu Gorge Loop Trail?

It’s only a short walk that takes between an hour and 1.5 hours (if you take it easy).

You’ll also get to come face to face with Whātonga during your adventures. Whātonga is an ancient Māori warrior, remembered in the form of a 6m high metal sculpture located along the trails.

28 North Street, Palmerston North 4410

A couple on the edge of a wooden platform, viewing the river, mountains, and windmills of Manawatu Gorge Track Look Out.
Photo credit: Te Āpiti.

7. Head Out on Some of Palmerston North’s Mountain Biking Trails

Although mountain biking trails aren’t something you often associate with cities, it’s true, you’ll find them in Palmerston North!

Arapuke Mountain Bike Park is located around 17km outside of Palmerston North; it is considered the premier mountain bike destination in the Lower North Island.

There are approximately 50km of mountain biking trails throughout the park across all grades, ensuring there is something to suit people of most abilities.

If you’re an experienced mountain biker, then you can have a go at the two most difficult trails in the park. These are the Ripper and Rambo, and they are both grade 5 trails.

Feeling adventurous? Then why not head out to Arapuke and get that adrenaline going!

Kahuterawa Road, Linton, Palmerston North 4414

Two mountain bikers descending the trails of Arapuke Park.
Photo credit: Arapuke Trails.

8. Dine out on Broadway Avenue

If you’re a huge foodie then dining out along Broadway Avenue is a must during your visit to the city.

Broadway Avenue is known as ‘the eat street’ within Palmerston North and offers an array of international cuisine.

These are some of the most popular dining options along Broadway Avenue:

  • Aberdeen on Broadway – for tasty angus beef and an extensive wine list
  • Little Savanna – for a taste of South Africa including flame-frilled meat and seafood
  • Saigon Corner – for the famous banh mi baguettes, and fresh Vietnamese dishes
  • Little India – for authentic and tasty dishes from North India including curries and shared platters
  • Portofino – for delicious Italian dishes and desserts

Make sure you also pay a trip to Brew Union for a wide variety of craft beers and wood-fired pizza – yum!

Baby back ribs covered in sauce with broccoli and squid rings beside it.
Photo credit: Little Savanna.

9. Go Horse Trekking

Horse trekking is another popular activity in Palmerston North and the surrounding area.

Several companies offer horse trekking within the area including Timeless Horse Treks which is just a 20-minute drive outside of the city.

They specialise in day treks, overnight treks and horse-drawn wagons too, if that takes your fancy.

With friendly, well-mannered horses and stunning scenery, this is a great spot to go horseback riding.

Gorge Road, Ballance RD3, Pahiatua

A white horse with a brown horse beside it.

10. Wander around the Victoria Esplanade

Exploring the Victoria Esplanade is one of the most popular things to do in Palmerston North.

This a scenic park is located off the Manawatu River Pathway that attracts countless visitors every year.

Victoria Esplanade has over 26 hectares of bike tracks, walking trails and gardens, so there is plenty to see and do there.

Whilst visiting make sure to check out the Dugald Mackenzie Rose Garden. It boasts over 5,000 roses and is beautiful to walk around.

The Peter Black Conservatory is another great place for keen gardeners and photographers to visit within the Victoria Esplanade. This conservatory is home to a range of tropical plants from the Americas, Africa and of course Oceania.

If you’re travelling with children there is also a playground, paddling pool and miniature railway to keep them entertained.

1 Palm Drive, West End, Palmerston North 4410

A beautiful yellow rose from Dugald MacKenzie Rose Garden
Photo credit: Geoff McKay.

11. Support Local Animal Rehabilitation Efforts

No trip to Palmerston North is complete without a visit to the Wildbase Recovery.

They provide world-class rehabilitation care for endangered native species who are in need. Indeed, the Wildbase Recovery centre cares for New Zealand’s reptiles and birds and is completely free to enter.

If you’re keen to support the centre, you can make a donation, sponsor an animal or offer to volunteer!

Visiting Wildbase Recovery is one of the best things to do in Palmerston North as it gives you the chance to meet the residents, and learn all about the different patients they are currently treating at the centre.

20 Victoria Drive, West End, Palmerston North 4410

A penguin covered with towel around her body.

12. Go On a Trip to Himatangi Beach

Himatangi Beach is just a 30-minute drive from the city; it’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life (and to enjoy a picnic).

If you’d rather not organise a picnic in advance, there are also places where you can purchase food. We recommend visiting the local fishing club as it runs restaurant nights. There is also a local store that offers takeaways, fresh baking and beverages.

It’s a stunning stretch of white sand where you can explore the rugged driftwood huts or even make your own – doing so is sure to keep the kids entertained!

Incredibly, the sand dune field there is also over 20km long and is thought to be the largest in New Zealand. It’s an impressive sight for sure.

A visit to Himatangi Beach is a great day out from Palmerston North. You’ll be especially rewarded if you head there at sunset when colours are beautiful and will take your breath away.

Sunset on the beach near the delta of a small river.
Photo credit: Geoff McKay.

As you can see, Palmerston North is full of awesome activities and adventures.

Whether you’re a culture buff, outdoor adventurer or foodie, this city offers so much.

Have you been to Palmerston North before?

If you have, we’d love to hear about your favourite places in the comments below!

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