Restoring the Manawatu River's mana

Until recently, the Manawatu River’s been considered a piece of water to one side of Palmerston North, with parts prone to flooding,  and with no real cohesive connection to the community.

But it’s set to once again become a kind of main highway, regaining its historical importance as the beating heart of the town as far as leisure activities go.



“Council has been discussing how to go about creating a new City Reserve for many years now: what it should be like, where, when will we need it,” says Palmerston North City Council’s leisure assets planner, Jason Pilkington. “Eventually instead of looking for a piece of land we decided to make use of this fantastic river resource and develop a linear park.”



Historically the river was the focus of the area, providing food, pa sites and transportation routes for Maori.

Consultation with Rangitane o Manawatu has been a crucial part of developing a strategic vision for the future, called the Manawatu River Framework.



“The project’s a bit unusual in that we have a whole lot of landscape architects working on this,” Jason Pilkington says. “So what we did was have a workshop with them and Rangitane so they (the manu whenua) could tell them their stories of the area.

“We want the river to become a key destination in the region. Currently there are a number of wonderful recreation activities and premium park experiences in the vicinity of the river - we want to tie these activities together into a great lineal river park.

Manawatu River


“Their (landscape architects) designs have to show how they have collaborated with Rangitane, stakeholders and each other to pull this together as a seamless design process. It’s been a challenge for some (LA’s) and not for others but we see it as an important part of the project.”

Just over $5 million will be spent on the project over the next 10 years. There will be extra budget for different components of the overall plan, such as Victoria Esplanade where Massey University will have it’s Wildbase Recovery Centre.  There people will be able to watch sick native birds being cared for.



Because the project has input from so many different stakeholders, organisations and individuals over an extended period of time, ensuring visual coherence and physical continuity will be a challenge.

Another is designing for flood prone areas, including consideration of the robustness and durability of products to be used,  and how to reduce the impact of flooding on the new spaces.

It’s intended that each of those new spaces, while blending seamlessly with the overall park, will have their own distinctive character.

Locals have been encouraged to get involved with design to ensure they feel ownership of the park, and that it fulfills their needs.



So, for example, mountain bikers, young and old, are working alongside a contractor to design trails and jumps areas.

“We (Palmerston North) already have a good mountain bike park (Arapuke Park) so the focus with our new one is to teach kids, to help them upskill in a fun way,” Pilkington says.

Sport Manawatu is being consulted on the design of exercise stations, which will include natural play spaces for children.

“There’s a whole lot of great stuff there already. It’s almost exciting enough for kids just to go down to the river to play. But we want to include rope swings, fall nets in trees, old logs and bunches of sticks so they can build forts.



“We’re tapping into the local parents and kindy teachers to help design it all. That way mum or dad can exercise while the kids play. It’s a communal kind of design, we think the locals tend to know best.”

Other features include walking and cycling tracks, a dog adventure trail with agility stations, and place-making initiatives.

“We’re testing what people want to do down there. So table tennis tables, hammocks, maybe even movies, food trucks. We’ll test them over two to three years and decide what works best.”

This year is still very much about design, although work has recently begun on the dog park and adventure trail; and the riverside mountain biking trails.

Cyclists, walkers and runners already have nearly 13km of developed path to explore along the river. Another 11km will be developed by the end of the project.


●      You can follow the progress of the Manawatu River project as Landscape Architecture Aotearoa looks at different aspects of it over coming months.