Living and Renovating in Manawatu

With affordable living, short commute times, a prestigious university and exceptional recreational opportunities, the Manawatu is fast becoming an attractive prospect for those seeking a relaxed family lifestyle. As a result, many Manawatu towns have caught the renovation bug.

Palmerston North central square.
ARTICLE Jason Burgess IMAGE Wayne Gordon

Flanked by the Central Plateau, the rolling Ruahine and Tararua Ranges and the roaring Tasman coastline, the rich agricultural province of Manawatu offers a spectacular range of living options in equally dramatic environments. Yet unlike many other regions it has until recently remained a country sleeper.
With affordable living, short commute times, a prestigious university and exceptional recreational opportunities, the Manawatu is fast becoming an attractive prospect for those seeking a relaxed family lifestyle. Towns like Levin and Shannon are now definitely on the residential radar and the main centres of Palmerston North and Feilding have caught the renovation bug.
Palmerston North city centre square.
Palmerston North or “Palmy,” is the country’s second largest inland city. It sits along the banks of the Manawatu River on site once known to Maori as Papaioea, which roughly translates to “how beautiful.” The town’s rather less romantic colonial handle Palmerston, was appropriated from a 19th Century British Prime Minister. The city is conveniently located within an easy two hours drive of Ruapehu’s ski fields, the vineyards of Hawke’s Bay and Martinborough, the Whanganui River experience and Wellington City.
Wayne and Anna Gordon, Refresh Renovation Consultants for Manawatu, believe, “this is a great place to renovate. We have easy access to most sites and our councils are helpful and approachable. Now more than before, it is possible to make sizeable renovations here without risk of over-capitalising.”
Working alongside the Wayne and Anna is Palmerston North born builder, Ron Calder of Olympic Builders. He agrees, “Palmerston North is an ideal place to bring up kids. The cost of living is less and property prices are constant, they don’t spike like other places.”
While sheep and beef farming, dairying and market garden operations are the mainstay of the region, in Palmerston North, 60% if the working population attends or is employed by an educational facility. This makes for a large transient population of flatters and families. The Defence Force too has bases at Ohakea and Linton.
“Their employees are also transitional,” says Anna, “so traditionally there is a high turnover of homes amongst this group, with many living in the region less than five years.” That said, Wayne and Anna suggest, “we have a number of clients who are renovating their ‘forever homes.’ People here are more inclined to renovate the home they have than move houses to upgrade.”
Renovations in progress in Palmerston North home.
The Manawatu region is an amalgam of four district councils; the Palmerston North City Council (NPCC), Manawatu District Council, Horowhenua DC and Rangitikei DC. “We work with them all,” says Anna, “thankfully they all have similar regulations. Our architect Rob Partington at ADP Design takes the heat out of the consent process for our clients.”
With a growing population in Palmerston North, full sites are few and far between in the city and the suburbs are now pushing North. Conversely the council is working hard to maintain a balance with surrounding farmland. This means there are some great country living areas within five to ten minutes of the city centre.
“The Manawatu generally has a mild climate,” says Anna, “we seldom experience snow in the lower areas, and our summers are long and warm.” The region is also known for its winds (hence the large wind farms located here). In the North, snow loading may be a consideration to brace for the winds. “These factors usually involve simple solutions, but they must be addressed during the design process,” says Anna. “Money spent on good concept work and design is money well spent.” Seeking advice from council prior to submitting consent documentation also assists.
Rolling hills of Palmerston North with large wind mills.
“There are also extra consideration for soundproofing homes that surround the airport with NPCC often requiring an additional acoustic engineer’s report. Sometimes this involves the incorporation of noise prevention products like Sound Batts, Noise line Gib and/or acoustic doors and soundproof windows.
Unlike many cities a significant amount of thought went into the design and planning of Palmerston North. The foundations for the city were laid after pioneers drained the swamps that defined the area. Downtown Palmerston North is centered around the “Square,” a seven-hectare area of trees and public gardens. The old business district is noted for fine examples of 1920’s and 1930’s commercial architecture that today house boutiques, cafes and galleries. The CBD also hosts the famed NZ Rugby Museum and the respected Te Manawa Art, Science and History Museum. Parks are a theme in the city. The 19-hectare Victoria Esplanade offers an inner city oasis for tourists and locals alike. Walking trails and bike lanes make the city a cyclists and pedestrians dream.
A third of Manawatu’s population lives rurally and the bulk of them rely on tank water. “Clients using tank supple are aware of the precious nature of water and water conservation is important in these instances,” says Anna.
Tanks must be considered when undertaking any roofing work. This may require the disconnection of tanks from the roof to ensure there is no contamination. Generally, both forms of water supply (tank or mains) are considered to be low or of unequal pressure when compared to other regions, so renovators today opt for site-specific high-pressure water systems. Mains gas is available throughout Palmerston North and bottled gas is a popular option throughout the region for water heating and cooking.
Palmerston North home.
Some parts of the province are also built on dry riverbeds, so foundations for extensions in these zones may require additional engineering design work. With a proportionally large number of rental properties in the city, damp housing issues have been challenging. The NPCC is actively addressing this through their free Eco Advisor service that assists with design and energy efficient processes. However, there is no financial assistance available from council.
Ron has noticed a greater awareness around energy efficiency. “Most renovators recognise that heating and insulation plans are a must. Many clients are opting for open-plan living, so energy efficient double-glazing, heating and lighting options are becoming mainstream.”
Wayne and Anna believe that finding the right people is key to achieving a quality renovation. “We have a great team of highly regarded trades-people lead by Ron Calder. Their ease of communication, co-operation and general teamwork ensures the best results. We often get comments from clients saying what a joy they are to have around!”

You might be interested in reading this Refresh's case study: Well-designed home extension.

Renovate Magazine Logo
This article by Jason Burgess featured in Issue 018 of Renovate Magazine. Renovate is an easy to use resource providing fresh inspiration and motivation at every turn of the page, for ardent renovators seeking to integrate the latest products and technology into their homes.

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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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