1. Art in the city
Take a creative tour of Palmerston North city, where you’ll find that the Manawatū art scene is going off. Begin at Te Manawa Museum of Science, Art and History – the heavy-hitter of the region, with regular exhibitions from the Big Names in the New Zealand art world alongside a space devoted to emerging talent from Massey University.
Then, for a quirkier and, some might say, provocative, fix, take to the streets. Palmerston North has a flourishing street art scene – including the recently beautified Berrymans Lane which now bursts with colour and life.
3. Go bush
Birdlife in the Manawatū Gorge is thriving now that the road is closed to traffic. Instead of the perpetual rumble of vehicles, now, when you take to one of the excellent bush trails that run along the gorge, you’ll hear chiming call of tūī and the thrum of kererū wings. Popular with both casual walkers and energetic trail runners alike, the Te Apiti Gorge Walks offer a great opportunity to stretch your legs and get a little bit closer to nature. Keep an eye out for pops of colour amongst the fallen leaves though – you might spot some Palmy Rocks. The clever initiative sees brightly painted rocks hidden in parks and public spaces for others to find and share, encouraging kids and families to get out and explore.
2. Eat, intentionally
Kimbolton is a quaint, sleepy village set amidst the rolling Manawatū farmland. It is also home to an excellent café. Not only serving excellent pizzas, Hansens is a hub for the artisans and craftspeople of the local intentional community. The café is run by a group of families who choose to live and work together in order to pool their skills and raise their children in a quieter and simpler way of life. Alongside fresh food and coffees prepared by keen teenagers learning the ropes, the cafe sells woodwork, handmade soaps, candles and crafts – all made within the community.
4. Gardens galore
The drive along the Manawatū Scenic Route from Āpiti to Pōhāngina is an experience in itself.
Taking in the smooth, curving tarmac is like waltzing with the river as the road dips in and out of the valleys.
It’s potentially even better on two wheels, on the popular Āpiti Loop Cycleway. But whether you’re travelling by bike or car there are a couple of hidden gems along the way. The Āpiti Lavender Farm is a small venture run by Helma Hughes offering accommodation for cyclists and, in summer, the opportunity to picnic amidst the fragrant purple flowers. The little onsite shop also sells lavender products – candles, soaps and bottles of lavender hydrosol – a byproduct of the oil distilling process – that will make your laundry smell fantastic.
Further down the valley, at the top of an increasingly narrow gravel road, you'll find Pōhāngina Heights. It’s a lush expanse of manicured gardens with free range chickens, peacocks, bunnies and sweeping views across the valley. Make an appointment to view the gardens in case the gate is locked, or better, stay the night in one of the two self-contained cottages on site and watch the sunset from the outdoor bath. It’s BYO food, so a visit to nearby Cartwheel Creamery is recommended for some cheese to go with your wine.
A weekend getaway is not complete without brunch. And in Ashhurst you’ll have a hard time choosing what to indulge in. The Avenue, a tiny bakery set up in the same building as the Remax real estate office on the main street serves excellent coffee and some of the best almond croissants outside France.
But further up the road, you’ll find The Herb Farm – a local family business making natural skincare and therapeutic products on site from plants harvested from the sprawling, slightly wild gardens. They also have a café that serves great brunches, including an exceptional savoury French toast.