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New Zealand: Destination Guides

The ultimate student guide to Palmerston North

Palmerston North is home to New Zealand’s largest university, surrounded by mountains and forests to explore, and has a community deeply rooted in Māori culture.

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Palmerston North is a meeting point for many things. It’s located on the boundaries of the Rangitikei and Horowhenua regions. It's also a central point in the KiwiRail network, between Auckland in the north and Wellington in the south. This location at the heart of North Island allows ‘Palmy’ to thrive as a centre for learning, transport, production, and an excellent base for travel around the country.


The city is particularly known for Massey University, which is the largest university in the country and internationally renowned. With a sizeable international student population, Palmerston North is a laid-back and welcoming student town where everyone is welcome.


Like many cities in New Zealand, it enjoys being on the doorstep of some incredible national parks, mountain ranges and natural wonders. Biking and hiking trails, cave exploration and scenic drives are always on the menu for residents of Palmerston North.


The city is compact but vibrant, with a friendly local population that nurtures a buzzing culture and entertainment scene. Craft beer, hipster cafés and a range of free museums, galleries and gardens come together to make Palmerston North a great place to relax between your studies.


New Zealand is a large country with an endless range of things to do. By choosing Palmerston North as your base as an international student, you’ll be able to quickly reach destinations like AucklandWellingtonHamilton, or the South Island with ease. Not only that, but the city’s low cost of living means you have more money to invest in an unforgettable study abroad experience.


Find out how to apply to study in New Zealand


What is Palmerston North like?


Location and demographics

Palmerston North is an inland city in the southern part of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s just under 150km from the country’s capital city, Wellington. It’s located on the eastern part of the sweeping Manawatu Plains and lies close to the Manawatu River. It’s the eighth-largest city in New Zealand and has a population of over 80,000 people.


Palmerston North, like many cities around the country, is a diverse community. Almost 15 per cent of its residents are of indigenous Māori heritage, and it has significant Pacific Island and Asian populations, as well as a range of communities from all over the world. 


Culture and history 

The city was established in 1866 and named after the prime minister of England at the time, Lord Palmerston. It became a city in 1930 as it continued to grow and has always benefited from being the link between Auckland and Wellington.


Its location has allowed the city to thrive as a hub for agricultural production and transportation, and a variety of industrial and service activities. Today it is a bustling city known for its significant military facilities and strong economic activity.


Discover more about the university culture in New Zealand


Which universities are in Palmerston North?


Palmerston North is home to an internationally notable university and several university colleges offering higher education study options. Massey University is ranked in the top 300 best universities in the world according to the QS World University Rankings 2023. It offers students a choice of 99 different programmes, across undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and has a rich heritage of teaching excellence.


The university is particularly known for its remote learning options and attracts many international students to study online from their home countries. There’s plenty on the campus itself to make studying in person worthwhile, however. The international student population of over 5,000 is proof of this, and the university’s modern facilities and strong research output are prime attractions.


Students choosing Palmerston North will also be able to access programmes at the Universal College of Learning and the IPU New Zealand Tertiary Institute. These colleges excel in professional, vocational, and academic education, so you won’t be short of empowering study pathways whatever your area of focus.


Discover more universities in New Zealand


What does Palmerston North offer students?


What transport is there? 

Due to its smaller size and compact, well-planned CBD, you’ll find getting around Palmerston North easy. It’s a very walkable city and provides its residents with an excellent network of cycle lanes so they can easily and quickly get around the city. For longer journeys, a bus network with regular services is also available. Palmerston North sits on several KiwiRail lines, which can take you across North Island to places like Wellington, Hamilton or Auckland.


What entertainment and food?

Palmerston North is a stop on most food lovers' lists on the North Island. It’s at the heart of one of New Zealand’s biggest farming regions, meaning you’ll be able to experience the best produce available across many of the city’s restaurants, cafes, and bistros. That’s not to mention the breweries, bars, and late-night venues you can move on to afterwards.


Explore some of the things you can do in New Zealand


What about accommodation?

Choosing accommodation for your studies here is an important decision. Thankfully, there are plenty of living options in Palmerston North, ranging from campus halls of residences to private apartments in the city centre. You might consider a private hall of residence, where you can socialise with students from other institutions, or decide to move into a shared house with friends. Your university can often assist you in finding the perfect place to live.


Are there public services for students? 

The New Zealand Government runs the International Student Wellbeing Strategy, which supports several services and projects designed to help overseas learners settle in and thrive during their time there. Post-study work permit visas are also available to students who complete an eligible qualification in the country.



How much does it cost to live in Palmerston North?


The general cost of the city

Palmerston North is a popular choice for international students due to its low cost of living compared to other cities on New Zealand’s North Island. You’ll be able to get all the essentials like rent, utilities, and groceries for much less than in Wellington or Auckland, while still having easy access to those cities by road, rail, or air.


Are you looking for a scholarship? Discover the top scholarships in New Zealand


Student budget

As a single international student living in Palmerston North, you might expect to spend somewhere between NZD 250 and NZD 550 per week. This includes rent, utilities, food, transportation, and other living costs. Your budget will vary depending on your living arrangements, lifestyle, activities, and where in Palmerston North you live.


Read more about how much it costs to study in New Zealand.


Financial requirements

The New Zealand Government asks that international students demonstrate that they have at least NZD 15,000 accessible for the first year of their studies, or NZD 1,250 per month of their studies if the course is 36 months or less. An equivalent value scholarship, sponsorship or financial guarantee from a family member is also accepted. You’ll also need to purchase mandatory health insurance, costing NZD 200 to NZD 700 per year.


Learn more about tuition fees in New Zealand


What are the main attractions in Palmerston North?


Palmerston North is full of great activities and sights to enjoy during your studies and offers a great value-for-money lifestyle. The city provides visitors with a wealth of impressive parks, gardens, and vibrant marketplaces, meaning you can spend your days exploring without spending a penny.


The Manawatu River Pathway is the crown jewel, allowing you to enjoy miles of stunning riverside landscapes and stop for a picnic at different spots along its banks.


Back in the city, the Te Manawa Museum is another free activity and draws visitors for its impressive number of exhibitions exploring Māori and European history, science, and hundreds of pieces of art.


Artistry isn’t confined to the galleries in Palmerston North. Many of the streets around the city are covered in huge murals and graffiti from Kiwi or international artists.


Out of the city, you’ll be able to do an endless range of activities around the region and the wider landscape of North Island, which is home to some of New Zealand’s most iconic sights. Manawatu Gorge is one of the closest and is famous for its rugged beauty and stunning waterfalls, as it winds between two spectacular mountain ranges and miles of native forest.


Palmerston North is a classic New Zealand city that maintains a strong connection to its Māori roots and agricultural heritage. It combines a laid-back university town atmosphere with excellent outdoor activities, creating an attractive choice for international study. You can find your perfect academic path in New Zealand using our course matcher tool