Palliser Bay is located at the southern end of the North Island of New Zealand, to the southeast of Wellington. It runs for 40 kilometres along the Cook Strait coast from Turakirae Head at the southern end of the Rimutaka Ranges to Cape Palliser, the North Island's southernmost point.
Inland from the bay is the plain of the Ruamahanga River, which has its outflow in the bay. This river flows into and also drains Lake Wairarapa, the shores of which are only 10 kilometres from the coast.
There are several notable geographical features in the area, including the Pūtangirua Pinnacles, Kupe's Sail and the Whatarangi Bluff - where erosion has had dramatic effects on the coastline.