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  >  Destinations   >  Central North Island   >  What’s so great about Cambridge, Waikato: what to see, best things to do
Vibrant yellow-orange leaves during autumn in Cambridge, New Zealand
Vibrant yellow-orange leaves during autumn in Cambridge, New Zealand

Cambridge, charming, picturesque and packed with choices for the most discerning visitor quietly slumbers in the Waikato countryside

Cambridge is pretty, perhaps it’s the glorious mature deciduous trees or the glimmer of Lake Karapiro and the rolling hills. There is the history of the place, 800 years and counting for historical buffs to wander through, natural wilderness areas where possums are defeated by the Great Wall of Sanctuary Mountain and enough energetic sports activities to tire out any kid. A great day trip from Hamilton or an excellent excuse for a short break from either Auckland or Wellington. Hamilton’s airport is a short 30 minutes drive making Cambridge very accessible and very tempting.

 

Who turned up and settled in Cambridge?

  • Give or take a hundred years approximately the 13th century people arrived. The original name is Kemureit (check meaning in Travel Pack Section).
  • The current name recognises the Duke of Cambridge (and it’s not Kate and William) rather Queen Victoria’s cousin then the commander-in-chief of the British Army.
  • The current location of the town reflects the 864, because it was the closest point to the Confiscation (Aukati) Line that was accessible by river transport. The camp built in 1864 in Fort Street overlooked the river towards Maungatautari – the Maori fortified stronghold.  The 3rd Waikato Militia settled in Cambridge.

Fame

Being sporty is definitely a Waikato trait

  • Mark Todd of equestrian fame with several Olympic medals
  • Sarah Ulmer medalist in cycling
  • Joelle King a squash player with several significant wins under her belt
  • Blanche Eleanor Carnachon, born 1871, educator and pioneer of women’s rights to an education. Avid supporter of public education.

Notoriety

  • War, brutality and the loss of identity, the Waikato is witness to this universal theme of history. The confiscation of land The British took 1.2 million acres of Waikato land. Of this, 225,000 acres became “native reserves” and 50,000 acres were repatriotiated to Maori ownership. About 150,000 acres were subdivided for military settlements, the remainder sold to pay for the war.  See Travel Pack Section for further reading on the subject.  The past should not be a forgotten country.

Where to take the best selfie

  • The town of trees, find a glorious deciduous tree in autumn lush beauty
  • Lake Karapiro
  • Sanctuary Mountain where the wildlife reign
  • Quaint heritage buildings such as St Andrew’s Anglician church

What to do, highlights

  • Te Ara Wai Journey a digital mobile story while exploring Cambridge, launched by Waipa District Council.
  • Lake Karapiro kayaking either guided or self-guided
  • Sanctuary Mountain all things feathered and creepy, crawlie in New Zealand
  • 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

Kids

  • Te Ara Wai oral stories with cafes and the occasional ice cream to keep the energy flowing
  • Playground and water sports at Lake Karapiro Mighty River Domain
  • Cycle your way around Cambridge. Either bring your bike or hire wheels for the day
  • Urban kids visit a working farm and find out where your milk and cheese comes from

What makes the place work?

  • Dairying just in case you missed the cows placidly munching in the paddocks (fields) with sheep farming on the hill country. Agribusiness includes boutique winery or two, horticulture and newer livestock such as Llamas. Horse stud indicators are the more attractive wooden fences. Thoroughbred horse stock is protected from impact with the elimination of standard wire fencing. Picturesque farming creates an idyllic Aotearoa New Zealand postcard scene. The hard work is hidden behind the efficient looking farm buildings.

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Climate

Cambridge, NZ – Current Weather

Best time to go

  • Year round
  • Winter plenty of indoor activities from the Tivoli Cinema, wellness centres and museums. Dotted throughout the district are art galleries and artisan stores.  The local markets are a visitor favourite
  • Spring – Summer water sports season with major rowing competitions and the chance to stretch your wings on Lake Karapiro. Biking the Waikato trails is a perfect way to take the slow lane exploring the district.
  • Autumn is a flurry of leaf colour, orange and red highlights, grab handfuls of curled, crisp gold leaves and play throw

Population

  • 19,150 (2019)
  • Largest town in the Waipa District, and third largest urban area in the Waikato, Hamilton is the largest with Taupo second in the population stakes.

Be careful

  • Not to miss the detour on State Highway one. Check out Cambridge’s location, a great hub for a short break.

Judgment

  • From a few hours getting to know the place for your return visit.

TRAVEL PACK INFORMATION

“In pre-colonial days Cambridge was the site of an important Maori pa called Horotiu, the same name being applied to the course of the Waikato River from the vicinity of this pa to Ngaruawahia. Cambridge was chosen as a military settlement in June 1864, largely due to its position near the upstream limit of navigation for the steam vessels employed by the forces under General Sir Duncan Cameron during the Waikato War. Colonel Theodore Minet Haultain, Commandant of the Waikato Regiments, was responsible for the fixing of the actual site but he was assisted by General Cameron, and by Captain Cadell, the officer in charge of the river steamers. The 3rd Waikato Regiment camped on the site in 1865 and constructed a redoubt capable of accommodating a garrison of more than 1,000 men. With the end of hostilities and the expansion of farm settlement, Cambridge grew as a market town. In 1868 Cambridge became a highway district administered by a board of trustees. It was created a town district in 1882 and in 1886 attained borough status. The settlement of Leamington, which grew up on the left bank of the Waikato River opposite Cambridge, is linked to it by a traffic bridge. Leamington was created an independent town district in 1905 and, following merger proposals in 1956, became part of the Borough of Cambridge in 1958. The name Cambridge is stated to have been given by General Cameron because of a supposed resemblance of that part of the Waikato River to the River Cam in Cambridgeshire.” CAMBRIDGE – 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand – Te Ara : CAMBRIDGE’, from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966.

Maori Land Confiscations – brief comments

“Parliament passed legislation enabling the confiscation (raupatu) of Māori land from tribes deemed to have ‘engaged in open rebellion against Her Majesty’s authority’. Pākehā settlers would occupy the confiscated land.

On the eve of the British invasion of Waikato in July 1863, the government ordered all Māori living in the Manukau district and on the Waikato frontier north of the Mangatāwhiri stream to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen and give up their weapons. Those who refused were warned that they would ‘forfeit the right to the possession of their lands guaranteed to them by the Treaty of Waitangi’.

Under the New Zealand Settlements Act, Waikato lost almost all their land and Ngāti Hauā about a third of theirs. But kūpapa (pro-government or neutral) Māori also lost land as the yardstick rapidly changed from guilt to convenience. Ngāti Maniapoto territory still under Kīngitanga control was untouched. In the long term, Taranaki Māori suffered most from confiscation in terms of land actually occupied.” Source Land confiscation law passed NZ History Updated 4 Dec 2020.

  • Kemureti, meaning of, 1. (noun) someone related through two different lines, standing in a double relationship. E kī ana taku karangarua, a Kemureti, e toru tekau mā waru ngā tāngata i runga, he tāne anake (HP 1991:8). / My relation, Kemureti, says that thirty-eight people were on it, only men.  Maori Dictionary

The journey is worth it.

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