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There is a spark and a buzz to the centrepoint of Palmerston North that is surprisingly uplifting.
Boasting a true town centre, framed by The Square, an afternoon stroll through Palmy’s verdant heart laid bare how embracing and embraced the city centre is: it was cranking. Shoppers flocked along the wide footpaths, stopping at the many inviting retail offerings and locals enjoyed a languid autumn picnic or indulged in games on The Square’s vast grassy carpet, while buskers revved up the ambience of the city’s beating heart.
That gracious statue is just one of 32 designated installations the city centre’s eye-catching arts trail comprises.
Don’t let the city’s brutalist building binge put you off. Mercifully, they do not get a mention on the trail map.
The city council building would have to be a top contender for New Zealand’s ugliest building. Remarkably, this visual atrocity and its soulless Soviet design came up trumps in a civic building design competition in the 1970s!
Phil Price’s bright blue wind activated kinetic sculpture, United Divided, is another standout, as is his majestic bronze sculpture, Pacific Monarch.
Kids love the giant beetles crawling over the walls of Te Manawa, the city’s Museum of Art, Science and History. This cultural heavy-hitter is a storehouse of the region’s story and taonga, beautifully displayed in the Manawatu Journeys gallery. The adjoining art gallery showcases a vast stash of works, with regular visiting exhibitions and a space devoted to emerging talent from Massey University.
It was established 40 years ago as a tribute to the founding father of New Zealand rugby, Charles Monro, who is immortalised in bronze on the outside forecourt. Home to one of the world's largest collections of rugby memorabilia — there are about 40,000 items — the treasures include the first "fern", the oldest All Blacks jersey, our oldest rugby ball and Dan Carter’s boots. Another star attraction is the "Have a Go" area, where you can put your rugby skills to the test, from pushing in a scrum and tackling to sprinting and kicking. Kids of all ages love it.
Another charismatic city haunt that instantly seduced me was George St, a bastion of boutique and bohemian chic owner-operated stores, plus a slew of convivial cafes, such as Cafe Cuba, Barista and Moxies, which have underpinned its gravitational pull.
Dubbed "Palmerston North’s Parnell", the beautifully-maintained character buildings of the street accentuate the precinct’s allure. George St is currently playing host to a 2.5m high bronze gnome, which was unveiled last year as the latest instalment to Palmy’s sculptural arsenal. Food finds are thick on the ground in the heart of town, particularly along the hospo sweep of Broadway Ave.
Mike Yardley is a freelance Christchurch travel writer.