The Manawatu River has its source east of the Ruahine Range west of Waipukurau and has all of its upper tributaries in the Tararua District.

It then cuts westwards between the Ruahine and Tararua Ranges through the Manawatu Gorge to emerge near Ashhurst, the easternmost village in the city of Palmerston North.

Flowing generally south-west thereafter and being joined by more tributaries, it separates the main part of the city from the main campus and agricultural land of Massey University and some new suburbs before winding its way to the South Taranaki Bight in the Tasman Sea.

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