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Manawatu Area Guide

The Manawatu Gorge. Manawatu River flowing
between the Ruahine and Tararua Ranges.
Road and Rail routes on opposite sides.
The rural sheep and dairy farming area of Manawatu centres around the pleasant inland city of Palmerston North and is bounded by two rivers - the Rangitikei in the north, and the Manawatu in the south. Palmerston North has the closest international airport to the North Island's central plateau ski fields, and the city acts as a lower North Island crossroads, with roads from here leading south to Wellington, west to Taranaki, east to Hawke's Bay, and north to Lake Taupo.

Manawatu's second centre, Feilding, with its pretty late Victorian and Edwardian buildings, has been voted New Zealand's most beautiful town 12 times. The Manfeild Autocourse at Manfeild Park in Feilding is one of New Zealand's main motorsport venues, and the town also boasts the largest sheep and cattle saleyards in the southern hemisphere. The Information Centre in Feilding's central Manchester Square will arrange tours of the saleyards for an authentic rural experience.

The Manawatu region has several transport museums worth visiting, including the Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum, which has static displays of all manner of steam engines, and working displays, including rides on a full-sized steam train, some Sunday afternoons.

About 15 kilometres north east of Palmerston North lies the spectacular Manawatu Gorge, which local Maori named Te Apiti, or the narrow passage. The Gorge is one of only a few places in the world where a river flows east to west through a main divide. There are guided kayak or jet boat trips through the gorge, or you can walk the Manawatu Gorge Track. To get there, follow state highway 3 from Palmerston North and continue on past Ashhurst. The walking track takes about three to four hours one way, but if time is limited you can take a short, 15-minute loop track from the Woodville end.

On the south eastern edge of the gorge is the Tararua Wind Farm, the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere, with 103 turbines in operation. Drive through Ashhurst, travel down Gorge Road, and up to the top of the gravel-surfaced Hall Block Road for good views of the turbines. On a good day, you can see out to both the east and west coasts of the north island and get glimpses of the South Island.

Visit the region's summer playground at Himatangi Beach, a 30-minute drive from Palmerston North. Here you'll find New Zealand's largest sand dunes - the 6,000 year old coastal sand dunes sweep 18 kilometres inland at their widest point. The settlement's population of 600 residents swells to several thousand in the summer months, with the long sandy beach popular for surfing and swimming. It's also a great place to watch the sun set on summer evenings.