North of Wellington, 'the Manawatu', as it is commonly referred to, is a floodplain of the river of the same name, in the southwest of the North Island. Fans of rural living will immediately take to the area's lush valleys and gorges, and the mild climate is conducive to maintaining the world-class gardens that Manawatu is famous for. On the coast, you'll find charming villages, such as Himatangi (formerly Carnarvon), which is known for both its incredible sunsets and vast sand dunes.
With Palmerston North as the metropolitan hub, visitors can enjoy the duality of laid-back countryside and chic, urban living. Outdoor pursuits include river rafting, pony-trekking, rock-climbing, mountain biking and, of course, lots of walking. In the city, the convenient grid layout, centred around The Square, offers easy access to the numerous parks and sporting venues to be found here.
Rangitikei River Adventure
One of New Zealand's longest rivers, the Rangitikei is a byword for adventure. Whether it be a white-knuckle ride over the waters in a jet boat, or a bungy jump off one of the area's unique "paapas" (sheer, vertical, clay cliffs), get your pulse racing by doing something amazing in this spectacular outdoor playground.
New Zealand's seventh-largest city, Palmerston North is home to The Plaza – a huge shopping mall that caters for every consumer need. The city's motto - "Young Heart, Easy Living" - sums up the pace of life here; relaxed and carefree. Worth a visit, are one of the many rose gardens, which trial new hybrid species or, for the more sports-orientated visitor, head to Fitzherbert Park to watch a game of cricket – the most popular sport in the area. Basketball, stock car racing and rugby are also well-represented, and the New Zealand National Rugby Museum is a popular attraction.
The Manawatu Gorge
Running between the Ruahine and Tararua Ranges, the Manawatu Gorge is a popular destination for visitors to the region; not just because the scenery is so stunning, but because the road running through it is the primary route that connects both sides of the lower North Island. It is also one of the few places on earth where the river flows the 'wrong way' - east to west.
The large red rock found in the middle of the gorge – the "Hinepotae" - is considered by the Maori to be a guardian spirit, and its colour is said to change if an important tribal leader of the local Rangitane people dies.
Manawatu is served by State Highway 1, which runs straight through the middle of it. From Auckland, it's roughly a 60-minute drive and, from Wellington, two hours.
By train, there is a single service (the Overlander) from Auckland to Wellington, that stops at stations including Palmerston North, Feilding, Ohakune and Taumarunui.