Manawatū & Whanganui

​Hiding in the lower North Island's rural heartland, this region dishes up stunning scenery, quirky small towns and more adventures than you'll ever need — on foot, two wheels, and via the historic river that flows right through it.

Palmerston North is the largest centre. Here you'll find a museum dedicated to the country's national sport as well as sprawling public gardens, free wildlife sanctuaries and delectable French pastries.

Further north up the country's third-longest river is the bustling hub of Whanganui, where the streets are lined with colourful heritage buildings and artistic talent sits around every corner. The centre lives up to its status as Aotearoa’s only Unesco City of Design with countless galleries and art museums.​

Dotted between the ranges and the sea you'll encounter an array of small towns, complete with Scandinavian attractions, farmyard puns and some of the best barbecue in the country.

See & Do

Have a kick around at an interactive rugby museum, hop aboard a vintage coal-fired paddle steamer, and float through a bush-clad national park.

A trip down memory lane

The country's only vintage coal-fired paddle steamer, the Waimarie, still chugs up the Whanganui River as she's done since her first voyage in 1891. An accident in 1952 left the ship at the bottom of the river, but 40 years later a plan was hatched to salvage the steamer and lovingly restore it. It took around eight years, and finally New Zealand's only authentic paddle steamer was reborn. During the summer season of sailings you can explore the river for up to two hours. Read more

Ride New Zealand's only authentic paddle steamer. BROOK SABIN

Ride New Zealand's only authentic paddle steamer. BROOK SABIN

A river city

In recent years, Palmerston North has embraced its river identity with newfound enthusiasm, making its river pathways a real focus for visitors. The magnificent He Ara Kotahi Bridge, which opened in 2019, has reinforced that by making the river pathways even more accessible. If you're lucky enough to be in the region on the third Sunday of the month, head to the Hokowhitu Village Farmers' Market, where 25 stallholders sell everything from fresh coffee, German bread, local cheese and lots of organic produce. Read more

He Ara Kotahi Bridge is even more beautiful at night. MANAWATUNZ

He Ara Kotahi Bridge is even more beautiful at night. MANAWATUNZ

The walk to the Durie Hill Elevator. BROOK SABIN

The walk to the Durie Hill Elevator. BROOK SABIN

A Whanganui icon

Durie Hill Elevator, the only one like it south of the Equator, was built in 1919 to allow easy access to the Durie Hill Garden Suburb. After walking through the 213-metre white tunnel you get to the elevator door at the inner end, ring the bell and, if you're lucky, you're greeted by an attendant who will press the button that sends the lift shuddering up 66m to the top of Durie Hill. You can climb a spiral of 176 steps of the Memorial Tower for even better views of the sea and the harbour. Read more

Whanganui's mega-markets

If you're in Whanganui for the weekend, you'll want to head to the central city for an impressive market with more than 100 stalls. The River Traders Market sits beside the Whanganui Farmers' Market, meaning you can eat and shop all in the one place. You'll find everything from caramel cinnamon rolls, handmade pies, and old-fashioned doughnuts. If you love dogs and good coffee, after a stroll around the markets, head to the nearby Article Cafe where you'll no doubt see resident dog Delphi.

Whanganui's weekend markets offer all kinds of treats. BROOK SABIN

Whanganui's weekend markets offer all kinds of treats. BROOK SABIN

Get active in the NZ Rugby Museum. WARWICK SMITH

Get active in the NZ Rugby Museum. WARWICK SMITH

An interactive intro to rugby history

The New Zealand Rugby Museum has been around in some shape or form since the 1970s. Displays filled with memorabilia line the walls, while the middle of the museum features two centrepieces: the Have-a-Go area complete with tackle bags, sprint tests, kicking challenges and a mini-scrum machine, and the Herstory display that highlights the history of the Women’s game in New Zealand and around the world. The former is designed to give kids the chance to imitate their heroes, but it’s fun for big kids too. Read more

Slide and ride

Foxton is a paradise for watersports lovers. Off the Loop offers cable wakeboarding across dual lanes without speedboat assistance. The beginner 145m ride lets riders enjoy the sensation of wakeboarding free from obstacles, while the 185m lane allows advanced riders to negotiate the series of kickers, rails and sliders. The park also offers paddleboarding and biscuiting on purpose-built ponds and has a massive floating obstacle course in summer.

A guide to Whanganui National Park

Framed by Whanganui National Park, the historic and culturally important Whanganui River is the remote backdrop to one of New Zealand's classic outdoor adventures.

Steeped in Māori history and culture, the Whanganui River meanders for 290km from Mt Tongariro to the Tasman Sea, making it the longest navigable river in New Zealand.

It's also a remote bush-clad waterway important to Māori in a spiritual sense, and in 2017 groundbreaking legislation granted the river the same rights as a person. This guaranteed an enhanced level of environmental and cultural protection, and after a 140-year legal battle, brought closure to the local Whanganui iwi who consider the river to be an ancestor.

Visitors can discover the region along the wonderfully scenic Whanganui River Road linking Whanganui to Pipiriki, but exploring the river by canoe or kayak while undertaking the Whanganui Journey is the national park's quintessential experience. Although it's solely a waterborne adventure, the Whanganui Journey is regarded as one of the Department of Conservation's Great Walks.

The flexibility to commit to the full five-day journey or focus on shorter, more accessible sections make it a good option for both active travellers and families, and there's also the option of negotiating the river's winding way on one of New Zealand's best cycle journeys.

Read more

SIMON MAUDE

Oarsome adventures

Canoe Safaris’ four-day journey on the Rangitīkei River begins in the upper gorge below River Valley Rafting, who raft the grade 4/5 rapids upstream. In tandem Canadian canoes, paddle the river along plenty of rapids as it wends its way between the tall cliff faces of deep gorges. The rounded Whitecliffs Boulders, near the journey’s end at Ōhingaiti, are another highlight. Each day is broken up with swim stops and short walks before relaxing riverside to enjoy the warmth of an open fire. Read more

On the river with Canoe Safaris. CANOE SAFARIS

On the river with Canoe Safaris. CANOE SAFARIS

A beautiful river ride

Whanganui River Adventures runs jet boat tours out of Pipiriki to the fascinating Bridge to Nowhere. When you see the river from the city it’s gorgeous and meandering and peaceful but gives no idea of what lies upstream: dramatic cliffs covered in lush green ferns and vines and mesmerising reflections in glassy water. The connection to the history of the area on this 40-minute trip makes it even more special. Read more

Insider tip: Ian McKean Pinetum is home to the largest collection of conifers in the southern hemisphere. Visit for the walking tracks and views of Mt Ruapehu.
Stephen Heard, travel publishing coordinator

The park with something for everyone

Who doesn’t love a slash of greenery in the middle of a city – especially when it features 26ha of bush walks, bike tracks and formal gardens? Along with thousands of mature trees and roses, Palmerston North’s Victoria Esplanade Park boasts a playground, paddling pool and, best of all, a 2.2km scenic railway that should thrill trainspotters of all ages.

Free wildlife fun

Palmerston North is home to the country's only dedicated wildlife hospital, and its rehabilitation centre, Wildbase Recovery, is open to the public. It’s full of native species – and it's free to enter. Here you can see some of the country’s rarest creatures, such as yellow-eyed penguins, kiwi and takahē. The centre has four rehabilitation aviaries on public view, two breeding aviaries for blue duck (whio) and brown teal (pāteke) and a walkthrough enclosure home to tuatara and other rare creatures.

A ruru (morepork). IAIN MCGREGOR/STUFF

A ruru (morepork). IAIN MCGREGOR/STUFF

Kowhai Park is a favourite with the kids. BROOK SABIN

Kowhai Park is a favourite with the kids. BROOK SABIN

NZ's best playground

For kids, New Zealand's version of Disneyland is Kōwhai Park. The sprawling children's playground has everything from a giant hollow octopus kids can walk through, a giant shoe, an enormous dragon they can slide down, a pirate ship, and even a whale that you enter by walking through the mouth. On weekends and holidays there’s also a miniature train kids can ride. If you find yourself in Whanganui with a young child, this playground will provide hours of entertainment - and all for free.

Insider tip: On a hot summer's day, the best place to cool off is at Kai Iwi Beach. Even if you don't swim it's worth a visit for a gentle stroll. It’s a favourite with the kids, where they’ll find a flying fox across a stream and a pirate ship.
Brook Sabin, travel journalist

MANAWATŪ NATURAL WONDERS

Limestone Creek Reserve Glow-Worm Caves

Tucked away in a hidden valley is a magnificent cave that contains thousands of glow-worms, and most people have never heard of it. It’s known as Limestone Creek Reserve Glow-Worm Caves, and you'll find it just over an hour north of Palmerston North. The caves are on protected private land, and you can expect to get wet feet, so gumboots are recommended. The effort is richly rewarded – and is one of the most spectacular off-radar locations to spot glow-worms.

Limestone Creek Reserve Glow-Worm Caves are found on a private farm. MANAWATUNZ

Limestone Creek Reserve Glow-Worm Caves are found on a private farm. MANAWATUNZ

Whitecliffs Boulders

One of the region's most intriguing natural wonders is known as the Whitecliffs Boulders. It can be found nestled in a farm near Ōhingaiti – which is a 1-hour 20-minute drive north of Palmerston North. Pay a small fee to walk down a two-kilometre hill to discover a hidden valley of magical moss-covered boulders. They're almost perfectly round, to the point it's hard to believe nature created them.

Sledge Track

If you're after a walk with waterfalls, swimming holes and dense native bush, the Sledge Track is a challenging (and rewarding) day out. The track is found at the base of the Tararua Ranges as part of the Kahuterawa Valley. The first 30 minutes of the track is gentle and suitable for families. However, not long after that, it becomes steeper. Experienced hikers can head to the Platinum Mines, which passes a series of old mineshafts. The entire 13km loop is moderately challenging, and you should allow up to six hours to complete.

The Whitecliffs Boulders are one of the region’s best hidden attractions. ALEXANDER ROBERTSON

The Whitecliffs Boulders are one of the region’s best hidden attractions. ALEXANDER ROBERTSON

Tawa Loop

Arguably the best short walk in the region is the Tawa Loop, part of the Manawatū Gorge. This 4km return journey includes Tom's Lookout, with views over Palmerston North and Ashurst. The highlight of the track is Whātonga, an enormous sculpture dedicated to a famed Māori chief who journeyed to New Zealand hundreds of years ago. The track is popular with locals, and you can easily get it done in two hours, before heading into town for brunch.

Read more

Hidden Gems

Ride some of the region's lesser-known cycle trails, climb to the top of a classic Dutch windmill, and see one of New Zealand's largest model railways.

Defy gravity in Palmy

If you're in Palmerston North with kids, don't miss Cloud 9 – a trampoline park designed for children of all ages. Kids can play on a climbing wall, rolling logs, a ninja assault course, gladiator beams and even try bubble soccer. The fun park is divided into zones, so smaller kids have their own dedicated space. Parents can watch it all from the café, where there's a five-metre television to keep an eye on your kids without putting down your coffee.

The huge model railway in a shed

At Cwmglyn Farm, about 10km to the south of Eketāhuna, Colin Davies has built one of the largest model railways in the country. Laid out for admiration is a realistic landscape complete with tree-dotted hilly countryside, cute villages and busy towns, chalk sea cliffs and harbour, and extensive marshalling yards, all centred on the fictional hub of Middleton. Connecting all parts of the layout are 300 metres of track, intersecting at more than 200 points. The children’s section is populated with familiar story characters, and the main layout has so much detail that grown-ups will have their noses pressed just as hard against the glass. Read more

A web of tracks carries a variety of trains. PAMELA WADE

A web of tracks carries a variety of trains. PAMELA WADE

The Paloma Gardens is a 20 minute drive from the central city. BROOK SABIN

The Paloma Gardens is a 20 minute drive from the central city. BROOK SABIN

The North Island's Garden of Eden

Tucked away in Whanganui's rolling hills is an extensive secret garden. Paloma Gardens has been named a Garden of National Significance. The colourful wonderland is the passion project of Nicki and Clive Higgie, who have spent more than 30 years sculpting their large property, which looks like it's straight out of a magazine. The garden takes you around the world without leaving New Zealand and is split into 10 regions, each with a theme. The Palm Garden is a wonderland of bamboo, ferns and palms, the Norton Arboretum has trees from the Arctic Circle to the tropics, and The Garden of Death features plants of a toxic nature. Read more

A little bit of Norway

Norsewood is a small town tucked into the countryside east of the Ruahine Ranges. It's a little bit of Norway in New Zealand where you can go for a troll-spotting walk. Short, misshapen and wooden, they're hidden around the streets, grinning maniacally. You can find out more about them at Johanna's World, where there's a Troll's Cave to explore, as well as a log cottage and a Stave Church, the only one south of the equator. The town also has a Pioneer Cottage Museum that includes a walk-in jail, and there's a real Norwegian fishing boat. Read more

Johanna's World, the home of Norsewood's trolls. DAVID UNWIN/STUFF

Johanna's World, the home of Norsewood's trolls. DAVID UNWIN/STUFF

Jack Marsden Mayer creates animal driftwood sculptures in his Whanganui studio. BROOK SABIN

Jack Marsden Mayer creates animal driftwood sculptures in his Whanganui studio. BROOK SABIN

A world-class art and design centre

Whanganui is a sleeper creative capital. The unassuming 42,000-person town was named Aotearoa’s first and only Unesco City of Design in August last year, joining the ranks of other booming cultural hubs such as Buenos Aires, Seoul, Dubai and Berlin. Your first port of call should be a walk around the centre where you’ll find murals created during the biannual Whanganui Walls open-air art festival. The town is also packed with galleries, ranging from New Zealand Glassworks, the national centre for art glass in the country, to the only dedicated museum for studio ceramics. Read more

The windmill is a distinctive sight in Foxton. DE MOLEN

The windmill is a distinctive sight in Foxton. DE MOLEN

Foxton's classic Dutch windmill

Located beside a loop of the Manawatū River, Foxton celebrates its combined Māori and Dutch heritage at the Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom Riverside Cultural Park near the centre of the town. There are two strikingly-presented museums here to explore, one featuring Māori culture, the other Dutch, both demanding and rewarding exploration. Right behind the Visitor Centre though, on Main Street, is the town’s most eye-catching feature of all: a classic Dutch windmill with three levels to explore. Read more

Insider tip:Ruahine Dress Circle Scenic Reserve is home to a brilliant picnic and swimming spot, complete with a permanent waterfall.
Stephen Heard, travel publishing coordinator

Kai Iwi Beach is popular with Whanganui locals. BROOK SABIN

Kai Iwi Beach is popular with Whanganui locals. BROOK SABIN

The Paloma Gardens are one of Whanganui’s unexpected highlights. BROOK SABIN

The Paloma Gardens are one of Whanganui’s unexpected highlights. BROOK SABIN

Whātonga can be seen on the Tawa Loop Track. MANAWATUNZ

Whātonga can be seen on the Tawa Loop Track. MANAWATUNZ

The Durie Hill Elevator is New Zealand's only public transport elevator. BROOK SABIN

The Durie Hill Elevator is New Zealand's only public transport elevator. BROOK SABIN

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Kai Iwi Beach is popular with Whanganui locals. BROOK SABIN

Kai Iwi Beach is popular with Whanganui locals. BROOK SABIN

The Paloma Gardens are one of Whanganui’s unexpected highlights. BROOK SABIN

The Paloma Gardens are one of Whanganui’s unexpected highlights. BROOK SABIN

Whātonga can be seen on the Tawa Loop Track. MANAWATUNZ

Whātonga can be seen on the Tawa Loop Track. MANAWATUNZ

The Durie Hill Elevator is New Zealand's only public transport elevator. BROOK SABIN

The Durie Hill Elevator is New Zealand's only public transport elevator. BROOK SABIN

Tarapuruhi's forest sanctuary

Bushy Park Sanctuary is 80 hectares of lush rainforest, and frog-filled wetland. It’s a place busy with many species of native birds: the usual suspects like tūī, kererū, pīwakawaka, robins, bellbirds and grey warblers, but also rarer species like hihi and tīeke. They are all protected by nearly five kilometres of serious predator-proof fence, built 15 years ago. The birds are confident enough to be frequently spotted from the 10 mostly flat paths that thread through the trees, and their song is loud and glorious. Read more

The road less travelled

The Manawatū’s dramatic hinterland is home to some of the best off-the-beaten-path cycling New Zealand has to offer. The first place to start is on the Manawatū Cycleway, where you'll pass country pubs, water holes, ruggedly beautiful scenery, and quaint cafés. The ride is generally done over two days, offering a laid-back pace with intensely beautiful scenery. Read more

Most of the Manawatū Cycleway is on backcountry roads. MANAWATUNZ

Most of the Manawatū Cycleway is on backcountry roads. MANAWATUNZ

The Arapuke Forest Mountain Bike Park has a ride for every level. MANAWATUNZ

The Arapuke Forest Mountain Bike Park has a ride for every level. MANAWATUNZ

All-seasons mountain biking

If you're after the thrill of mountain biking, Arapuke Forest Mountain Bike Park has 30km of tracks right from Grade 2 (easy) to Grade 6 (extreme). If you're new to mountain biking, take the Ice Breaker – which is an excellent option for families and leaves from the top car park. If you're after an even more leisurely ride, the Manawatū River Pathway is a gentle 10km trail connecting back to the city via He Ara Kotahi Bridge.

Eat & Drink

Sample the work of two meat smoking masters, walk around a sprawling herb farm, and visit one of the oldest breweries in the country.

More than a herb farm

Palmerston North's sprawling Herb Farm is like a Garden of Eden for herbs, with a busy cafe serving delicious fresh food. The Herb Farm sprouted from a skincare company that started 27 years ago, and more recently, is also a popular lunch spot. After eating, there are 14 themed gardens to explore – with kids able to spot elves, gnomes and fairies that live throughout the forest, one of them named "Herbitton."

Lunch at The Herb Farm. BROOK SABIN

Lunch at The Herb Farm. BROOK SABIN

Brew Union has plenty of beers to choose from. MANAWATUNZ

Brew Union has plenty of beers to choose from. MANAWATUNZ

The best bars in Palmerston North

You don't have to look far to park up for a beer, wine or cocktail in Palmy. There are 20 or so beers on tap, including several from the on-site brewery, at sprawling bar and eatery, Brew Union Brewing Co. In Hokowhitu Village, The Fat Farmer is a bar and restaurant which takes sharing plates to the next level. Little Savanna serves up flame-grilled food and some of the best cocktails around. Read more

Ground zero for sweet treats

If you find yourself in Alexandre Patisserie & Chocolaterie, welcome to a slice of heaven. Here you will find a cabinet laden with tarts of all kinds, from cheesecake fillings to chocolate and pecan to the quintessential French citron. The drool face emoji definitely comes to mind when surveying these works of patisserie art. The temptations don’t stop with the tarts, with many incredible creative cakes also coming out of the kitchen here. The team at Alexandre are even partial to including a croquembouche element to a cake to give it that extra wow factor. Read more

Home of the cream horn

It’s pretty hard to miss Viv’s Kitchen, because a giant sign declares the Manawatū bakery is “home of the famous cream horn”, accompanied by a larger-than-life model of the quirky sweet treat. If you’re not familiar with the cream horn, it’s basically a cone-shaped pastry filled with fresh cream and a generous blob of flavoured jam or sauce. While Viv’s cabinets are packed full of all sorts of yummy things, it’s clearly the cream horns that are the star of the show, with the shop fast approaching the sale of its 300,000th horn.

WHERE TO EAT IN WHANGANUI

The Citadel

This seaside local is that place every neighbourhood should have. Warm, inviting, hearty food, cosy vibe and staff who know everyone by name and will make you feel like a local even if you've just arrived from elsewhere. Burgers and loaded fries are the thing here but there are plenty of lighter options like dahl and calamari (and specials like soup) if you're not feeling up to a big meal – and all the burgers can be made as salad. There's a huge focus on local suppliers and being a space where community can catch up. Plants hanging from the roof, colourful cushions and festoon lights in the outdoor area make this a great seaside café. Walk off your meal at Castlecliff Beach afterwards.

Porridge Watson

If you’re looking for somewhere for a drink with a vibe, Porridge Watson is the place to go. From the moment you get close, the intriguing alley, neon sign and interesting name just spell fun and good times. Eclectic and full of all kinds of little spaces to tuck yourself away it’s full of delightful features like quirky wallpaper, retro furniture, hanging greenery, but not in any contrived way – more like hanging out at your mate’s place. It’s a local fave for live music but is great any afternoon or evening you’re feeling like relaxing over a drink and a chat.

Maria Lane. WHANGANUI & PARTNERS

Maria Lane. WHANGANUI & PARTNERS

Maria Lane

When the locals are feelin’ fancy, or have out-of-town friends coming to visit, they hit up Maria Lane. The menu truly has something for everyone – from dishes like mushroom pate with porcini relish and truffle oil or slow-cooked beef rib with green polenta and gremolata (which has an almost cult following) to more playful Korean fried chicken. The vibe is bustling and fun, the staff friendly and approachable – and you’re guaranteed a good night, no matter what you order.

Frank Bar + Eatery

You’re going to want to photograph the gorgeous cocktails at Frank before you drink them. Frank Bar and Eatery brands itself as a ‘Small Town Cocktail Bar & Eatery with big aspirations’ and this sense of fun extends through everything they do. The interior fit-out makes it the kind of place you want to hang out at – chic but friendly, with fun, chatty staff. Go with the family or a group of friends and order casual bites like pizza, squid, pork belly bites or loaded friends to have with your pretty drinks (if you’re not in the sharing mood there are burgers and mains too).

Frank Bar + Eatery. WHANGANUI & PARTNERS

Frank Bar + Eatery. WHANGANUI & PARTNERS

Sea Dogs Galley. SUPPLIED

Sea Dogs Galley. SUPPLIED

Sea Dogs Galley

A trip out to beautiful Kai Iwi Beach is a must when you’re in Whanganui and it would be pretty easy to go past the little café at the campground without even thinking about it. But that would be a mistake as Sea Dogs Galley is more than just a great fish and chips spot. Bradie Alabaster is a chef and prides himself of the quality of the seafood he serves. You’ll not only find all the classics but also extras like sushi, ika mata, ribs, pork belly or whatever specials the team are serving up that day. If you’re there at the right time of year make sure to drop in at Windermere Berry Farm for a fresh fruit ice cream too – just ten minutes up the road.

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A world of delicious food

Nothing beats picking up a bánh mì on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City or sidling into a cosy izakaya down a Tokyo alleyway. In Palmerston North you don't have to look far to take your taste buds on a global tour. Whether you’re after blissfully fluffy pork steamed buns, traditional Vietnamese coffee or Mexican street snacks, the region's biggest centre has you covered. Read more

Angkor is the home of Cambodian cuisine in Palmy. NEAT PLACES

Angkor is the home of Cambodian cuisine in Palmy. NEAT PLACES

Meat lover’s paradise

You would be forgiven if you have never heard of Āpiti – a tiny township in northern Manawatū. But in recent years, it has become something of a destination for meat lovers, with Āpiti Tavern & Eatery producing some of the best low and slow barbecue in the country. The tavern has been around since 1896, but in November 2020 it was taken over by two meat smoking masters. People now come from all over the North Island for mouthwatering brisket burgers, juicy pork belly, and succulent smoked chicken, washed down with craft beers.

The tavern has been on the site since 1896. DAVID UNWIN

The tavern has been on the site since 1896. DAVID UNWIN

Tea and scones in the garden at the County Fayre tearooms. BROOK SABIN

Tea and scones in the garden at the County Fayre tearooms. BROOK SABIN

Bargain tea and scones

Pohangina is a 40-minute drive from Palmerston North and you'll want to start with a visit to the County Fayre tearooms – which is the hub of the village. The centre open at the weekends and serves food that will make you feel like you've been transported back in time – like Devonshire tea and homemade scones, all for $5. The tearooms also sells the valley's legendary Cartwheel Creamery cheese. The tiny family-run operation sells products like the Opiki Ma, a camembert-style cheese made from goat's milk.

Insider tip: Local growers and farmers flock to the Feilding Farmers' Market every Friday. Stay awhile and explore the town, a 15-time winner of New Zealand’s Most Beautiful Town.
Stephen Heard, travel publishing coordinator

Taste your way through history

Beer has been brewed on the banks of the Mangatainoka River since the 1880s, so it's not surprising to see the town has become synonymous with the amber fluid. The town, about 40 kilometres east of Palmerston North, has become famous for being the home of the Tui Brewery. The Tui Brewery Experience includes a 40-minute guided walk through the brewery's 125+ year history plus three beer tasters. Visitors also receive a passport which includes vouchers for local hotels and discounts at other tourism hotspots in the Tararua District. Read more

Stay

Book a night at charming country estate, sleep in a converted kauri riverboat, or take your four-legged friend to a river-side lodge.

A romantic spa escape

When most people think of spa escapes, few expect to point their cars in the direction of Palmerston North. However, 15 minutes out of town is a charming country estate offering a candlelit spa, massages and expansive grounds to relax in. Hiwinui Country Estate is a place where you'll find a roaring fire, plush furniture, a massage studio and silence. Having only two rooms, you feel a sense of space and solitude. Make sure to book the spa bath in the evening; an outdoor fire and candles will be ready for you to enjoy after dinner.

Hiwinui Country Estate is one of the best places to stay in the region. BROOK SABIN

Hiwinui Country Estate is one of the best places to stay in the region. BROOK SABIN

The lounge features a fireplace. BROOK SABIN

The lounge features a fireplace. BROOK SABIN

Sleep in an upturned boat

Whanganui's Iona Tiny House is an old kauri riverboat turned on its side and transformed into a luxury tiny house. The boat is firmly on land, a few steps from the Whanganui River. It is a passion project of architect Elinor McDouall, who has meticulously designed the tiny house to feel remarkably spacious. The lounge has a large curved couch that runs along the hull and sits in front of a woodburner, the middle part of the boat has a surprisingly spacious kitchen, while the other end of the cabin is home to the bed, where you can watch the river without lifting your head off the pillow. Read more

Āpiti's peaceful little retreat

The Last Church is an old church and Sunday school that has been lovingly converted into a unique accommodation option. The spacious lounge in the two-bedroom escape, in what was once the Sunday school hall, has been filled with all sorts of treasures. Even if you’re not particularly spiritually inclined, there’s something about this peaceful little retreat that seems to encourage the quieter moments. You're even given a key to the actual church, which has been renovated to its former glory. An outdoor bath, accessed via a boardwalk path and lit up by more festoon lights, provides guests with another opportunity for bliss, soaking in both the hot water and the fresh mountain air. Read more

The Last Church in Āpiti is housed in an old church and Sunday school. SIOBHAN DOWNES

The Last Church in Āpiti is housed in an old church and Sunday school. SIOBHAN DOWNES

Rathmoy Estate welcomes four-legged friends. GEORGE COLLIER

Rathmoy Estate welcomes four-legged friends. GEORGE COLLIER

Dog-friendly and by the river

Nestled at the foot of spectacular white papa cliffs, alongside the Rangitīkei River, is the sprawling Rathmoy Estate. The rooms are light and airy, with a perfect indoor-outdoor entertaining area. Without having to leave the comforts of the estate, you can relax on the riverside deck with a glass of wine, toast marshmallows over the fire pit or set up a game of backyard cricket. End your day in the cedar hot tub. Read more

The Rangiwahia Hut Track needs to be booked in advance. MANAWATUNZ

The Rangiwahia Hut Track needs to be booked in advance. MANAWATUNZ

The tussock top lookout

The Whanahuia Range is part of the expansive 95,000 hectare Ruahine Forest Park, and a walk here rewards you with spectacular views. The Rangiwahia Hut Track provides a fantastic introduction to overnight hiking, with a two to three-hour track leading to the Rangiwahia Hut, which has 13 beds. The hut sits around 1300 metres above sea level, and on a clear day offers sensational views of Mt Taranaki and across the Central Plateau.

MORE MANAWATŪ STAYS

Ridge Top Farm

For the ultimate farm stay experience, book a weekend at Ridge Top Farm. Embrace your inner child and grab one of their burlap sacks to slide down the grassy hill. Practise your golf swing with some long distance driving from the tee box at the campsite. If you’re keen to get the lay of the land, take up the hosts on their offer of a ‘glamp n tramp’ activity. The site sleeps 10 people in a deluxe canvas wood frame tent and a larger cabin with plush bunk beds.

Ridge Top Farm. DAN KERINS

Ridge Top Farm. DAN KERINS

Flat Hills Tourist Park

For a cheap and cheerful option consider Flat Hills Tourist Park. Pitch your tent, plug in your camper, or book one of their wooden pod cabins. This family destination offers a year-round bouncy castle, an old-school corrugated iron maze and a swag of friendly farm animals. The on-site café is host to your typical truck stop fare which really hits the spot. People have been known to come from miles around just to feed the alpaca and sample Flat Hills’ extravagant custard squares.

Bushy Park Historic Homestead

Bushy Park Historic Homestead is a grand country estate with period style rooms and modern day comforts. Situated in a wildlife sanctuary of over 80 hectares, the estate boasts five guest suites. Enjoy devonshire tea on the deck, or take a walk through the forest where you’re likely to spot rare birdlife. The treasured Tarapuruhi Forest is pest free and remains the perfect environment for the many native species of plants and animals to thrive.

Black Bivvy. DAN KERINS

Black Bivvy. DAN KERINS

Black Bivvy

For those wanting to disconnect but are not fans of roughing it, Black Bivvy is your go-to luxe, off-the-grid accommodation and it ticks all the boxes. With two queen-size bedrooms, this rural getaway is perfect for two couples or a small family. Explore the nearby waterfall, partake in deer spotting from your covered outdoor dining table, or even give the onsite 60m flying fox a go. If you stay in peak ‘roar’ season (March-April) you’ll be treated to the songs of the very vocal wild stags.

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Hiwinui Country Estate is 15 minutes from Palmerston North. MANAWATUNZ

Hiwinui Country Estate is 15 minutes from Palmerston North. MANAWATUNZ

Rathmoy Estate has a cedar hot tub. GEORGE COLLIER

Rathmoy Estate has a cedar hot tub. GEORGE COLLIER

Quirky decor adds charm to the church. ALEXANDER ROBERTSON

Quirky decor adds charm to the church. ALEXANDER ROBERTSON

The Iona Tiny House overlooks the Whanganui River. BROOK SABIN

The Iona Tiny House overlooks the Whanganui River. BROOK SABIN

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Hiwinui Country Estate is 15 minutes from Palmerston North. MANAWATUNZ

Hiwinui Country Estate is 15 minutes from Palmerston North. MANAWATUNZ

Rathmoy Estate has a cedar hot tub. GEORGE COLLIER

Rathmoy Estate has a cedar hot tub. GEORGE COLLIER

Quirky decor adds charm to the church. ALEXANDER ROBERTSON

Quirky decor adds charm to the church. ALEXANDER ROBERTSON

The Iona Tiny House overlooks the Whanganui River. BROOK SABIN

The Iona Tiny House overlooks the Whanganui River. BROOK SABIN

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Get your blood pumping, explore the local art, history and heritage or enjoy some R&R in Manawatū and Whanganui.

Rangiwahia Hut Track Bridge. SUPPLIED

Rangiwahia Hut Track Bridge. SUPPLIED

Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui. SUPPLIED

Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui. SUPPLIED

Visuals: Brook Sabin, Radha Engling

Words: Brook Sabin, Stephen Heard, Siobhan Downes, Lorna Thornber, Alan Granville, Juliette Sivertsen, Trupti Biradar, Sharon Stephenson, Pamela Wade, Ruby Turner, Alexia Santamaria, Neat Places

Editors: Trupti Biradar, Stephen Heard

Stuff Travel's Go To Guides are created in partnership with Tourism New Zealand