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Waikato: Central North Island road trip

Treat yourself with a Waikato road explorer trip. Wrapped around the Waikato is a tremendous range of places to see and things to do from surfing beaches, wild remote places. Find the photo moment when the horizon reaches to the beach in a sweep of greys, blues and white. Discover unique personal art spaces where the town, Otorohanga has created an amusing take of what it means to be a kiwi. Nearby the internationally renowned Waitomo Caves and the movie magic of Hobbiton beckon with things nearby that are the best bits, not overcrowded and definitely special. Take the plunge and hit the road on a Waikato jaunt.

3 - 7 days
2 - 6 nights

Trip Overview

Jaunt around Beaches, galleries, heritage, quirky towns, Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton


  • Raglan surf beaches
  • Bridal waterfall and walk
  • Port Waikato where community gardens are a labour of love
  • Waitomo Caves goblin walks, underwater boating
  • Lake Karapiro kayak where Olympic champions train


  • Ballooning over the Waikato
  • Spookers Scream Gallery (Pukekohe)
  • Black water rafting Waitomo Caves
  • Horse riding in the surf at Raglan beach
  • Raglan Rock Canyoning kick off the day with an adrenaline rush



  • Waikato Museum, a regional New Zealand repository of the history of human occupation of the Waikato reaching back over 900 years
  • Raglan School of Art culture trail
  • Otorohanga kiwiana sculpture walk
  • Te Ara Wai Journey a digital mobile story while exploring Cambridge,
  • Tivoli Cinema, a treat to sit with your wine, snacks or a coffee from the inhouse cafe and relax the old-fashioned way in a picture theatre




Start Hamilton (Auckland)
Finish Hamilton (Auckland)


Year round with plenty of indoor activities to keep visitors warm and dry


It’s a holiday winter wet is guaranteed with summer sunshine a given

Start Hamilton (Auckland)
Finish Hamilton (Auckland)

Route map

557 km, Hamilton, Pukekawa, Port Waikato, Waikaretu, Raglan, Kawhai, Otorohanga, Waitomo Caves, Matamata, Hamilton



Hamilton, New Zealand @Shaun Jeffers Photography
Hamilton @Shaun Jeffers Photography

Hamilton, perhaps the most underrated city in Aotearoa New Zealand to visit. Definitely not overcrowded with plenty of space to breathe deeply. Hamilton is New Zealand’s River City. Visitors tend to scoot through Hamilton on their way to Hobbiton and Waitomo Caves. Hamilton’s trump card is the majestic Waikato River. A grand sweep of water, waterways and verdant green is the city’s calling card. The temptation to slip outdoors and explore the fabulous river walks makes Hamilton a great destination.

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Port Waikato

Port Waikato, New Zealand @ecoshacknz
Port Waikato @ecoshacknz

The holiday spirit is alive and well in Port Waikato. Port Waikato is a seaside town from the establishment of a store in 1893 today the summer destination has a cafe, volunteer fire station, surf lifesaving club, yachting and fishing clubs. The holiday camp is a popular spot for Aucklanders looking for a summer beach break. Fishing, surf cast from the beach for kahawai, or run a long line from the dunes at the river mouth for trevally. Flounder and mullet are also plentiful using drag nets.

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Pukekohe detour

Pukekohe’s heritage East Presbyterian church, Auckland, New Zealand @aklheritage
Pukekohe’s heritage East Presbyterian church @aklheritage

Decided to spend a few days in Port Waikato chilling out. Consider a detour to Pukekohe to check out the “city smart, country heart” atmosphere of the Saturday market.


Commercial growers offload export surplus making this the place for fresh veg and fruit. The thriving country town supports urban style cafes and restaurants with an extensive range of fresh produce at the Saturday morning market.

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Raglan Wharf, New Zealand
Raglan Wharf

From Port Waikato the road follows the west coast. It is 113 km to your next destination. Raglan is New Zealand’s original surf town. Surfing culture in Raglan has embraced wanderlust as a town motto. Testing yourself against the surf is one of the top things to do in town.

Yet Raglan is more than a surf beach destination there is a thriving art scene supported by local weekend visitors, burgeoning food scene with locally sourced ingredients creating a culinary hit with visitors as well as stunning scenery.

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Hot Water Beach, Kawhia, New Zealand @The Elsewhere Kiddo
Hot Water Beach, Kawhia @The Elsewhere Kiddo

Kawhai is quintessential coastal New Zealand with family owned fishing vessels tied up to the local wharf. Camp sites nestled under trees in sight of the sea and sand. Make time for a special place where a remote iron sand beach yields natural hot pools at low tide. Ocean beach or hot water beach with its iron black sand dunes is an exercise in fortitude as you trudge over the soft hot iron sands exposed to the elements in search of warm bubbling geothermal water. It’s worth the effect. The West Coast beach is all about drama.

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Otorohanga, New Zealand @WaikatoNZ
Otorohanga @WaikatoNZ

From Kawhai the route slips inland to the funky town Otorohanga. A town celebrating kiwiana is an amusing place for kids and all age groups. Hokey Pokey ice cream is a favourite with dairy next door to sample the real thing.

For lovers of native birds Otorohanga Kiwi House has guided daily tours to spot our elusive kiwis and detailed kids sheets to keep everyone entertained. The town is pretty with a streetscape framed with floral hanging baskets.

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Waitomo Caves

Waitomo Glowworm Cave, New Zealand @CaveWorld
Waitomo Glowworm Cave @CaveWorld

Waitomo Caves is a bucket list destination for many overseas visitors. Tourism posters and visuals invariably have Waitomo Caves as a must go visitor attraction. Here’s your chance to check out the action. Adrenaline fuelled underwater adventure or a leisurely cruise on an underground river Waitomo offers choices on how to experience the massive underground geological wonder. Waitomo nearby offers visitors epic short walks, waterfalls found at the end of mossy fern gullies and extraordinary examples of ingenious ideas from tunnels to access a beach to a town celebrating all things kiwana.

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Forest tree in McLaren Falls Park, a parkland set alongside Lake McLaren and is just ten minutes by car from Tauranga city in New Zealand

From the Waitomo Caves it is a short hop to the heart of the Waikato and Cambridge. Cambridge, charming, picturesque and packed with choices for the most discerning visitor, quietly slumbers in the Waikato countryside. Cambridge is a great place to base yourself while exploring the best the Waikato has to offer. Cambridge is pretty, perhaps it’s the glorious mature deciduous trees or the glimmer of Lake Karapiro and the rolling hills.

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Fans of Lord of the Rings, fantasy lovers and readers of Tolkien’ s Lord of the Rings series have Hobbiton, a film set for the hobbits and Peter Jackson’s imaginative interpretation of the classic novel Lord of Rings is less than an hour from Tauranga. There is plenty to do and see nearby, enjoy planning the day and check out the small towns in the vicinity of Hobbiton.

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