When you arrive in Palmerston North, check yourselves into the Distinction Coachman – right in the bustling heart of Palmerston North, this elegant old hotel will delight adults and kids alike with its large outdoor swimming pool, hot tubs and fitness centre (it also has motel or apartment units if you prefer to spread out a little). Once you’re settled in and the kids have had a splash in the pool, head to Breakers or Gengy’s Restaurant for a hearty evening meal. Breakers in Palmerston North is owned by a local family, including ex-rugby union player Jason Emery, and brings you the classic steaks, burgers, seafood, and beverages that make for a great family night out (the kids will also love pressing the button on the table for service). Gengy’s Restaurant is another one the kids will love: inspired by the tradition of the Mongols, who had great feasts after battle to sample the meats and vegetables of the newly conquered lands – sizzling it all on their upturned shields over campfires. The result at Gengy’s is a huge variety of meats, seafood, marinades and vegetables on a buffet, diverse enough to satisfy even the fussiest member of the family!
The next day, have breakfast at Café Cuba, which is a long-standing institution in Palmerston North, ten minutes’ walk from the hotel. The baked goods cabinet is bursting with amazing slices and cakes, and on the menu, you’ll find some of their top dishes like the classic eggs benedict (with bacon, salmon, vege or even southern fried chicken!), campfire smash, or a ‘baby Cuba breakfast for the kids. The delicious Havana coffee brewed here means you can also receive your hallowed caffeine fix, ready for the big day ahead. Head back to the hotel, and from there it’s a 5-minute drive to the Central Energy Trust Wildbase Recovery. This amazing place with lushly planted aviaries and water features is a world-class wildlife centre for rehabilitating injured native species, some having received treatment at Massey University’s Wildbase Hospital. At any given time you might see recovering kahu (harrier hawk), kererū (wood pigeon), ruru (morepork), shining cuckoo, penguins among many other species. You’ll also be able to see the resident animals such as kakariki, tuatara and rare ducks such as whio and pāteke that are part of a captive breeding programme. The volunteers will guide you around and entertain you with their deep knowledge of the species and rehabilitation programmes. If you’ve got your bikes on the back of the car, now’s a good time to cycle the river pathway beginning at the Victoria Esplanade – great for a family ride, it’s all flat or slightly contoured and gives you great views of the river and allows the kids to burn off some energy. Alternatively, stay for a play in the Victoria Esplanade. Here there are mature trees, aviaries, playgrounds, a miniature train ride, a Junior Road Safety Park, paddling pool and incredible rose gardens. It is in these rose gardens we suggest you have a picnic lunch. Next, head to the public library, a 5-minute drive from Victoria Esplanade and explore the Makerspace on The Square. Watch and learn from people sewing, 3D printing, laser cutting, vinyl cutting, heat pressing and more – the projects people are working on is completely inspiring. You can even have a go and print something yourself. After this, it’s a 3-minute walk to go see a boutique movie at Focal Point – they run arthouse movies but also mainstream movies too. The seating at Focal Point is comfortable and spacious, and the theatre has a lovely cosy feeling. The café there is top-notch: have something to eat beforehand or take food with you to the cinema. The perfect end to a Palmy day is to have dinner at Pompeii Pizza. Another 3 minutes’ walk from Focal Point, this pizza joint has incredibly friendly service and has the most delicious topping combinations on their gourmet woodfired pizzas. What’s more, the kids have the opportunity to play with a small piece of dough while they wait: and the resulting creation can be woodfired and taken away with them to eat later.
The next day have breakfast at your hotel, or at the nearby Café Jacko, a much-loved Palmerston North café with amazing chefs: the pancakes, French toast, omelettes, and more are consistently top-notch, as is the coffee. This is all good fortification for your morning of adventure to come! Jump in the car and drive 25 minutes out to Woodville Ferry Reserve. From here, you’ll get the thrill and excitement of hurtling through the scenic Manawatū Gorge on a V8-powered jet boat! The massive boulders, sheer cliffs and single chutes will pass by in an exhilarating blur. Next, it’s on to The Herb Farm. This beautiful garden and café combo has 14 themed gardens on more than 2 acres. The kids will love exploring the gardens and spotting the fairies, elves, and gnomes. Once they’ve worked up an appetite, have lunch at The Herb Farm café, tucking into some locally-sourced, free-range and organic fare. You might like to browse the natural skincare products for sale too – handcrafted on site and free of synthetics. If the weather’s nice, exploring the Ashhurst Domain (7-minutes drive from the Herb Farm) should be next on your list. There’s a great playground here, but also myriad beautiful walking tracks through the bush, with access to the Manawatū River, and a wonderful wetland with a bird-watching platform. If it’s raining, drive back to Palmerston North to get your fix of some high-octane thrills in go-karts at Daytona Indoor Raceway, or bounce the afternoon away at Cloud 9 trampoline park. Te Manawa Museum is next. The kids will love Tamariki, a play area with a mini kitchen, treehouse, building wall, reading nook, helicopter, and EV. Adults and kids alike will enjoy the many permanent and temporary exhibitions on show: the Te Awa exhibition has a moa skeleton and cave walk-through. With a busy, classic Manawatū day like this, the perfect way to finish would be a quick 2-min drive to Shakeout, to grab burgers for dinner.