Outdoor adventures and parks in Palmerston North

Rivers, native forests, cycle trails and glow worm caves are yours to explore in Palmerston North and Manawatu.

Whether you're a seasoned hiker looking for a new multi-day challenge or a nature-loving family with energetic kids, you'll find plenty of refreshing outdoor activities in Palmerston North and the surrounding countryside.

From a peaceful city park backdrop to a white water playground, you'll discover the many moods of Manawatu's rivers. And just a short drive from town, native forest reserves have well-maintained trails that invite you to wander for a couple of hours or much longer. On days when you want to go further, peaceful country roads lead to swimming holes, caves and pretty country towns.

He Ara Kotahi pathway and cycle trail

Designed as a walking and cycling commuter link between Palmerston North city and Linton Military Camp, the 7.1km He Ara Kotahi trail is a huge hit with visitors and locals. There's also a 1.8km side link to Massey University.

From Fitzherbert Bridge, the trail follows part of the 10km Manawatu River Pathway for 1.5km to the magnificent new He Ara Kotahi Bridge. After crossing the bridge you have three choices: one is to loop back to Fitzherbert Bridge along the south bank; the second is to head inland for 1.8km to Massey University; and the third is to continue towards Linton Military Camp, 5.6km away.

The trail to the university passes through a working farm that's also used for research and education, then it follows Dairy Farm Road to the main campus. On the trail to Linton Military Camp, farmland gives way to native forest at Turitea Pā lookout, which has great views across the river and back to the city. You'll also cross four bridges and a raised boardwalk through the tree canopy, for a closer look at native birdlife. The final landmark before reaching the camp is a 45m suspension bridge that resembles San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

If you're a bird-appreciator or travelling with kids, you'll also want to visit the Central Energy Trust Wildbase Recovery, located in the riverside park of Victoria Esplanade near the beginning of the He Ara Kotahi trail. This visitor attraction provides shelter and care for native birds and wildlife following veterinary treatment at the Massey University's Wildbase Hospital. When the birds have recovered, they're released back into the wild.

Usually ridden over two or three days from Mangaweka to Palmerston North, 80% of the Manawatu Cycleway is on quiet back country sealed roads.

Sledge Track Manawatu

The Sledge Track walk is only 20 minutes by car from Palmerston North city. It begins as an easy walk in the Kahuterawa Forest Park, passing waterfalls, a swimming hole and the Argyle Rocks. Then the track becomes steeper and is recommended for fit hikers only. After around two hours you'll reach the track's end at Toe Toe junction. From here there are two loop tracks - the Toe Toe Loop and the Otangane Loop, which has a side trail to old platinum prospecting mines. Both loops reveal some of the Manawatu region's finest forest scenery. From the car park Sledge Track plus Toe Toe Loop takes about six hours return, while Sledge Track plus Otangane Loop takes about eight hours return.

About 2.5km into the Sledge Track you'll discover a 22m swing bridge over the river. Apart from providing a great spot for photos, the bridge leads to the Arapuke Mountain Bike Park and the option to walk back down to the car park on the bike park trails.

Arapuke Mountain Bike Park

Set on the tops of the Tararua Ranges in the Arapuke Forest Park, this highly-rated mountain biking destination features more than 30km of trails developed by the Manawatu Mountain Bike Club. There are trails to suit all levels, from an easy grade 2 for beginners and families to expert grades 5 and 6.

If you like a bit of uphill on your mountain bike, this park delivers. Starting from the bottom car park, there are six loops catering to most ability levels. If pure downhill is your thing, a shuttle service operates most days (weather permitting).

Air New Zealand makes it easy to bring your own mountain bike. See overweight and oversized items.

Te Āpiti - Manawatu Gorge walks

Manawatu Gorge is unique because the river completely separates two steep mountain ranges - Tararua to the south and Ruahine to the north. As the ranges were formed through gradual lifting, the river continuously eroded its path, maintaining the narrow gorge. Today the area is covered in ancient native forest and protected as a public-access reserve managed by the Department of Conservation.

The main 11.2km Manawatu Gorge track is a well-signposted hike that takes up to five hours one way. From each end the track rises, sometimes quite steeply, before continuing on a level path high above the river. As you walk through the forest you'll hear plenty of birdsong from native species, such as bellbird and tui. You'll also discover five open lookouts with spectacular views across the treetops to the river below, the railway along the opposite side and windfarms.

Manawatu Gorge history is steeped in Maori culture. At the Ashhurst end, the walk passes a 6.2m steel artwork depicting the Māori chief Whātonga, who may have arrived in Aotearoa as early as the 12th century. Revered as a talented explorer, he once sailed from Hawke's Bay around the bottom of the North Island to the top of the South Island, then north again along the west coast and inland up the Manawatu River.

The Manawatu Gorge Walk is not a loop track, so you'll need to arrange transport at your finishing point. If you prefer to walk in a way and back out again, the Ashhurst end is the best choice to start from.

Another option at the Ashhurst end is the popular 4.1km Manawatu Gorge Tawa Loop Walk. Taking about two hours return, this track branches off the Manawatu Gorge Track after 500m.  It winds around the south side of the reserve, ascending through the forest to a lookout with views to Palmerston North. The track then re-joins the main walk, high above the gorge near the Whātonga sculpture. From there it's an easy descent back out to the carpark.

Manawatu Cycleway

This wonderfully scenic 115km route is one of the New Zealand Cycle Trail's official touring routes. Usually ridden over two or three days from Mangaweka to Palmerston North, 80% of the ride is on sealed country roads with the remainder a flat gentle riverside ride into the city. Electric Bike hire is available from the Palmerston North City i-SITE in The Square, and a shuttle service from the bottom of Arapuke Mountain Bike Park to the top.

Near the beginning of the trail, check out the Awastone rafting and kayaking specialists for all kinds of fun on the beautiful river. Perfect for a rest stop, the Ruahine Dress Circle Scenic Reserve comes with swimming holes, waterfalls and a towering curved cliff of grey papa rock. A long, particularly scenic stretch leads to farmland and views to the distant ranges before you reach the Mangahuia Wetlands. This open-access private wetland is home to natural ponds, trout and native birds. The route continues through the striking Mangoira Gorge then on to the small rural village of Apiti, where there's a tavern serving great food and coffee.

After Apiti, you'll wind your way down into the scenic Pohangina Valley and Totara Reserve. This area has excellent native forest walks, swimming holes, glow worm caves and a campsite.  About 12km on, at Raumai Reserve, you'll find a great spot for a picnic and swim in the river. The next stop is Ashhurst, a small town with a popular inn for all day dining and accommodation and great cafes. From Ashhurst the trail follows a short section of State Highway 3 before joining the Manawatu River Pathway.

There are several campgrounds, farmstays, luxury lodges and other accommodation options along the way that make it easy to overnight where it suits your plans. A number of side routes to scenic attractions can also be taken to extend your ride.

Arts, Theatre and Coffee Culture

Manawatu is home to an array of theatres presenting a variety of local, national and international performances. Dotted amongst the city are many public sculptures, pop up installations, a vibrant array of street art and murals, and art exhibitions at a number of galleries – a perfect accompaniment to the eclectic offering of cafes and eateries.

Rangiwahia Hut Track

Located in the Ruahine Forest Park, this walking track makes an adventurous overnight or extended day hike. It's a steady climb for about three hours, depending on your level of fitness, to reach the overnight hut. The track passes through native forest, which is mainly red beech, before reaching tussock-covered hill tops with spectacular views as far as Mt Ruapehu. Along the way you'll cross a picturesque wooden arch bridge that spans a deep ravine.

The Rangiwahia Hut comes with mattresses, a wood burner for heating (firewood provided), toilets and tank water. You'll need to bring a portable gas cooker and some firelighters to start the wood burner. You can book and purchase hut tickets in advance on the Department of Conservation website, at their Palmerston North office or at the Palmerston North City i-SITE in The Square.

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