Manawatu time runs nice and easy, with pretty much no traffic and lots of great things to do – ideal for a day out with the kids.
1. Cloud 9 + Railway Land Reserve Skate Park + Te Manawa + The Square
You can literally spend a full day in Palmy’s CBD within a one-kilometre radius from The Square, discovering an eclectic mix of fun and food.
Hop to Cloud 9 Trampoline Park, complete with a full-size Olympic trampoline, climbing wall and ninja assault course. With good coffee and nibbles for you to re-energise (while the kids burn off theirs), it’s a happy place for all.
For those keen on wheels, head to Railway Land Reserve Skate Park, where the cool kids hang, flip and jam for hours on end. From here, you’re just a few minutes’ walk to Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History. There’s lots of free fun to be had, including Weekend Discovery time as well as a secret passageway to a treehouse and ‘Ahi’ the bearded dragon at the Kids TM exhibition. With the New Zealand Rugby Museum on the second floor, this is also a great outing on rainy days.
Just along The Square is locally-owned and family-friendly Pompeii Pizza. While waiting for your glorious, gourmet pizzas, they’ll even provide complimentary dough that the kids can knead while your order is prepared.
Before bedtime, visit the iconic Clocktower on The Square. The colourful light display is guaranteed to invoke ‘oohs and ahhs’ from the kids. The best part is that they’ll actually want their photos taken there, so you won’t need to beg them to say cheese.
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2. Tawa Loop Walk + The Herb Farm + Totara Reserve
Even if you have to bribe them, the Tawa Loop walk at Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge is a must-do for families. Aside from the scenery and greenery, the flourishing birdlife and the mighty Whatonga sculpture at the top, this 4km loop track is well-maintained and just the right distance for kids to enjoy.
Next, head to Ashhurst to fuel up at The Herb Farm Café, which serves beautiful meals in gorgeous surrounds. There are 14 themed gardens to explore where sightings of fairies, gnomes and elves are a common occurrence.
Carry on along the Manawatu Scenic Route and explore the Totara Reserve in Pohangina Valley. Home to five-star weta hotels, there are also walking tracks, swimming holes, a campground and an adventure playground, so it may be a bit hard to get the kids to leave. If you’re organised, bring a picnic and spend the afternoon savouring this sweet spot.
3. Himatangi Beach + Waireka Honey Centre
A day at the beach isn’t a hard sell. Especially if it’s an easy 30-minute drive from Palmerston North city, complete with an adventure park, skate park, BMX track and the largest sand dune field in New Zealand.
You’ll also find impressive driftwood hut creations, kayakers and horseback riders along Himatangi’s wide black sands. Grab takeaways from the local store to enjoy a full day at this west coast gem. On your way back, pop into Waireka Honey Centre on State Highway One for homemade honey ice creams. Bellies full, happy faces, sandy feet – this is what winning feels like.
4. Manawatu River Pathway + Victoria Esplanade + Junior Road Safety Park + Palmy Rocks
Everyone plays happy families at Victoria Esplanade. There are kids climbing trees, waving as the mini train ride whistles by; people sprawl on the grass with picnics and, with the recent addition of the Junior Road Safety Park, it’s become a buzzing spot in the heart of the city. Grab a coffee at Café Esplanade before checking out the bird aviaries, paddling pool and rose gardens.
The popular Manawatu River Pathway runs alongside Victoria Esplanade so you can walk, bike, or scoot down by the riverside. It’s a shared pathway that’s also dog-friendly, so keep an eye out for pooches too. And wherever you go, remember that Palmerston North is home to the original Palmy Rocks. Finders keepers for these tiny treasures that are guaranteed to spark joy and make for great souvenirs.
5. Coach House Museum + Makino Pool + Lions Mini Golf
Oh, Friendly Feilding, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Is it your small-town charm with free all-day parking that makes things so kid-friendly? Or the delectable delights from the Friday Farmer’s Market? My kids would say it’s the vintage tractors and rope-making at The Coach House Museum – a fascinating glimpse into rural New Zealand and early settler life that’s as interactive as it is informative.
Weekend afternoons with free inflatables at Makino Aquatic Centre is another reason Feilding makes for a great family day out. Set next to an awesome adventure playground and the crowd-pleasing Lions Mini Golf course, family time in Feilding is easy and fun.
Words by Mahalee Guieysse for AA Traveller.