Unmissable attractions in New Zealand range from the Pacific ring of fire display of Rotorua, the beauty of Lake Taupo, Huka Falls and visiting Waitomo Caves with its spectacular glowworms and underground rivers.
Location: The Waikato.
Waikato is home to these activities and more, take time and explore further…
- Hang out in the village pub in Hobbiton
- Explore the charms of the country town Cambridge with its galleries, museum, weekend market and nearby Lake Karapiro
- Enjoy strolling along the Waikato River walk in Hamilton with cafes and shops to pop into
- Discover 19th century gold mining trails, timber trails and scenic reserves
OUTDOORS IN THE WAIKATO
Find your cycling credentials in the Waikato. The mighty Waikato River is the lodestar for outdoors buffs with river trails through scenic highlights and stories narrating human occupation. The Waikato is mostly flat without the steep terrain of much of New Zealand giving cyclists and hikers a chance to slow down and savour the journey.
WALKS AND HIKES IN THE WAIKATO
TOP 11 SHORT WAIKATO WALKS
Discover the mighty Waikato River where suspension bridges, hydro dams and scenic landscapes invite visitors outdoors. Stroll in bush and forest reserves, through wetlands and areas of natural beauty near the Waitomo Caves. Enjoy fascinating natural rock formations and waterfalls with opportunities to explore quirky New Zealand towns. Enjoy family friendly walks suitable for all fitness levels.
- Miranda Shorebirds short walks on a chenier (shell) beach where sky, sea and horizon blend into a world inhabited by birds
- Te Aroha Domain with Edwardian splendor echoing the grandeur of an original spa town
- KARANGAHAKE GORGE WALKS through 19th century gold mining trails complete with rusting equipment and beautiful regenerating bush and forest
- All that flowing crystal clear spring water at Putaruru Blue Springs is a Waikato must-go destination
- Hakarimata Rail Trail is a family walking and cycling track following the route of the former Ngaruawahia/Glen Massey railway to attractive streams
- LAKE HAKANOA wetlands is a secret surprise at the Huntly Domain
- MANGAOTAKI WALK, fantasy comes to life in the Lord of the Rings film setting
NATURE – GARDENS & PARKS
Waikato gardens flourish in the fertile plains of the Waikato with its temperate climate. The highlight for many visitors is the incomparable HAMILTON GARDENS.
- Lavender Backyard Garden is a small, family owned lavender and blueberry farm in Newstead, Hamilton. For just 2 months each year in December and January you can take your family to pick your own lavender. Plus from December to January you can also pick your own blueberries.
- The Sculpture Park at Waitakaruru Arboretum is about 15kms east of Hamilton is a 17.5 hectare arboretum with more than 20,000 trees from around the world. The kids will enjoy discovering more than 100 New Zealand made sculptures and installations along the 2km trail. The art-in-nature experience aims to inspire imagination. There is no cafe onsite, however there are picnic areas. The park is only open by appointment so you need to book before you visit.
- Cambridge with its leafy main street is a great base for garden and outdoor activities.
- Hamilton offers visitors a memorable outdoors experience. The Waikato River provides the perfect scenic escape without leaving the city.
Waikato top 10 unmissable gardens to visit
Outstanding star of the Waikato is Hamilton Gardens. While an undoubted highlight the Waikato has a number of gardens from a tea plantation, lavender beds and blueberries to 19th century estate gardens with a cricket pavilion and rustic garden seats.
SCENIC RESERVES – PLACES TO VISIT IN THE WAIKATO
Discover Mangakino’s picturesque lakefront and remember to pack a picnic. For a coffee buffs the quirky waterfront cafe should be popped on the bucket list. The Bus Stop Cafe is fun and a very good reason to hang out at a lake without the hard work of preparing snacks. Check out Bus Stop Cafe for menu details. There are toilets and picnic tables.
MANGAPOHUE NATURAL ROCK ARCH BRIDGE
View Mangapohue Natural Bridge, limestone arches spanning the Mangapohue River. Fossil hunters look for limestone bluffs and cliffs where layers of oyster shell fossils are evident to the naked eye. Mangapohue Natural Bridge has spectacular sights. The 17 metre-high limestone arch which spans Mangapohue Stream is the remnants of an ancient cave system.
Lake Karapiro kayaking either guided or self-guided, is one of the locals’ favourite summer haunts with its water sports and kayaking tour options.
BEACHES, RIVERS & WATERFALLS IN THE WAIKATO
MAROKOPA – Tunnel Beach
Marokopa there are plenty of things to do. A place that is known for its beach access. And the wild west coast beach is not really swimmable. A remote beach with the only access through a stock tunnel is the main reason for the trek to Marokopa. Waikawau Beach is the majesty of nature in unravelled glory.
Waikawau Tunnel and beach Sandstone cliffs are tinted with orange, yellow and creams. The beach and headlands remind visitors that there are places where people are few and far between. Waikawau beach is raw, elemental and wild. You feel like an adventurer especially after the journey to the location.
Had enough beaches? There’s one of New Zealand waterfall jewells with a very satisfying constant cascade of water to visit nearby. Marokopa Waterfalls has a short easy boardwalk access, it is photogenic and glorious. Marokopa Falls have a 30 metre drop and are phenomenal and while readily accessible are not on the tourist circuit. The impressive waterfalls are located in Tawarau Forest. The short loop track leads to a platform overlooking the base of the falls
Find out where New Zealand’s North Island’s sole inland beach is located on Hamilton city walks and enjoy a dip in the cool waters of the Waikato River.
BRIDAL VEIL FALLS
Bridal Veil Falls is a stunning single sheer sparkling drop of water. The walk is very popular with excellent signage describing flora and fauna. There is roadside parking which in the summer months can be full. For visitors parking on the roadside verges take care walking towards the scenic reserve.
… learn more about Bridal Veil Falls on Raglan day trips to Kawhia and Aotea Harbours inland route
Bridal Veil Waterfall
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. Find out what makes the place one of New Zealand’s internationally renowned tourist attractions. Captivating Waitomo is not just a subterranean cave rather it’s a lush, natural world weaving holiday magic for over 150 years and counting.
Piopio is recognisable as the film location of The Hobbit trilogy. Piopio sits between the underground world of the Waitomo Caves and Taranaki’s surf coast. Piopio’s location offers a base to explore the Waitomo Caves as well as proximity to Waitomo’s wild west coast.
RAGLAN IS ADVENTURE CENTRAL FOR WAKATO VISITORS
- Grab a complimentary wetsuit and try your hand at surfing
- Canyon natural rock slides into crystal clear mountain pools with Raglan Rock
- Ocean Beach, Waikato Horse ride into the tidal pools with a guided trek
- Kayak along the coast exploring estuaries and quiet waterways
FAMILY FRIENDLY FUN IN THE WAIKATO
Discover interactive activities that push, pull and engage with objects capturing children’s attention. Waikato Museum has the Exscite Science Gallery where manipulating magnetic fields bounces differing colours onto the floor.
Ngatea Water Gardens feeding the ducks
WAIKATO FAMILY FRIENDLY HIGHLIGHTS
- Quirky cool collections from thousands of bottlecaps at Ngatea Water Gardens to Hamilton’s Classic Museum petrol signs and vintage cars
- Adventures with the pedal to the floor at Drift Kart challenges to looking upwards at an indoor climbing wall
- Outdoors with the mighty Waikato river trails and summits to clamber
- Water sports at Lake Karapiro
- Indoors museums and galleries where jumping, pulling and pushing levers is encouraged
- New Zealand’s top playgrounds to burn off excess energy
Check out Gardens and Parks for ideas from Taitua Aboretum for quiet green spaces, woodland gardens and walking trails. Dogs on a leash are welcome.
Conservation and sustainability are part of the kids’ world with Sanctuary Mountain giving everybody a chance to walk in a protected world where Aotearoa New Zealand wildlife flourishes.
TOP PICK FOR THE YOUNG CONSERVATIONIST – WAIKATO
National Wetland Centre –Waikato
- Learn the critical importance of wetlands in New Zealand
- Find out about life in a wetland
Kaka, Sanctuary Mountain
Stunning rock formations at Mangaotaki Valley, the filming location of `The Hobbit, an Unexpected Journey`
FAMILY FRIENDLY MANGAOTAKI VALLEY WALK – TOP PICK
This gentle loop walking track is an 800m fantasy walk worthy of inclusion in the Lord of the Rings film locations. The massive boulders littering the landscape are covered in mosses and gnarled kahikatea trees artly grow up and around the boulders. The shaded walk is another imaginative landscape perfect for kids as The Mangaotaki River is ideal for the novice fly fisherman, with no shortage of rainbow trout, with access gained via the Mangoataki Scenic Reserve. Make sure you have the required licence to fish.
- Length: 800m
- Duration: ½ hour
- Grade: Easy
The Mangaotaki Valley was the filming location for Trollshaw Forest in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Visit Rotopiko Reserve and picnic inside the predator proof fence. Enjoy easy walks, lake views, ancient swamp forest, rare plants and native birds. Try your hand at family-oriented interactive discovery trail – play Eels and Ladders, Mudfish Scrabble, and try to identify what bird walked across the boardwalk. Lakes of the Waikato River catchment The Serpentine Lakes belong to a chain of more than 30 peat lakes scattered along the historic course of the Waikato River. These shallow, naturally tea-coloured lakes represent the largest collection of this wetland type in New Zealand. The Waikato peat lakes are ecologically, culturally and spiritually significant and highly valued as places for recreation, education and research… check out TRAVEL PACK SECTION for brochure.
CAMBRIDGE AVANTIDROME – PRACTICE YOUR BIKE SKILLS
Cambridge’s Avantidrome is a great bike skills park catering to all ages. Kids will enjoy themini roading system with traffic lights and stop signs. You can take your own bikes, trikes or scooters or hire bikes there for adults and kids over the age of 6. Entry is free.
INDUGLE / ROMANCE
WAIKATO ROMANTIC THINGS TO DO FOR COUPLES
If you’re out on a summer Sunday, Hamilton Gardens’ Gourmet in the Gardens is a fun way to spend the evening. Here, handpicked food trucks, popular with locals offer tasty cuisines from around the world. Free entry.
Mt Te Aroha + hot tub soak
Perhaps a hike up Mt Te Aroha is a fantastic way to spend quality time together with a Te Aroha spa booked as a treat for afterwards. The summit track is three hours one way through native bush to the highest point on the Kaimāī Range. The panormanic views across the Waikato and Bay of Plenty stretch to the distant Mt Ruapehu, Ngāuruhoe and Taranaki on clear days. It is a steep climb yet one of the favourite day walks in the North Island.
A picnic within the Te Aroha Domain is a budget option and find the footbath. Te Aroha is part of the Auckland weekend escape destinations meaning bookings are necessary for must-go attractions.
Waikato romantic places, things to do for couples
Running out of ideas for a romantic weekend then Waikato is the place to be. Diverse entertainment from urban Hamilton to remote quiet locations. Consider beach settings of Raglan or lakes and rivers in central Waikato.
EAT & DRINK – COUPLES PLACES TO GO
The imaginative name for ice cream heavenly treats is matched only by the names of Duck Island ice cream. You can order roasted white chocolate or cinnamon smoked apple pie or fairy bread. Wward-winning Duck Island Ice Cream in either Hamilton East or Riverbank Lane in the CBD.
Find zen at Zealong Tea Estate
Slow down and enjoy the ancient rituals of a tea ceremony at Zealong Tea Estate in Waikato.
- 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
Hamilton 7 great cafes where to go
Hamilton with the majestic Waikato River, its wintery morning mists and green pastoral countryside has memorable cafes in picturesque settings. Cafes and Hamilton the place is bursting with great places to eat and drink.
WAIKATO, ODD, UNUSUAL AND FASCINATING PLACES TO GO
Learn about classic cars and enjoy nostalgic glimpses of 1950’s road signage from the heyday of the Sunday drive.
A Wētā – Mahoenui
Mahoenui giant Weta @Department of Conservation
In 1962 a new species of giant wētā was found in a gorse patch on a farm in Mahoenui. The gorse, which protected the insects, was reserved by the Department of Conservation. Mahoenui is the only place these wētā have been found. Mahoenui giant wētā are one of the world’s largest insects. It’s likely that the wētā were once present throughout the lowland forests of Waikato. Mahoenui Giant Wētā Scientific Reserve is managed by the Department of Conservation.
The Mangaotaki Valley was the filming location for Trollshaw Forest in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
ART & HERITAGE IN THE WAIKATO – PLACES TO GO
WAIKATO REGIONAL ART GALLERIES
Waikato Regional Art Galleries are a feast from Wallace Art Centre, Morrisville with its contemporary focus on emerging and established artists to towns such as Cambridge with its well known Saturday market.
WAIKATO MUSEUMS & GALLERIES
Kawhia wharf area
- Kawhia Regatta, New Year’s day is a whale boat race, organised by the Kawhia Rowing Regatta Club and Te Waitere Boat Club
- Maori Kai Festival – February over Waitangi weekend world famous in New Zealand with a growing international presence
- Wakeboarding championships held at Lake Maraetai
- Artbeat Otorohanga (summer)
- The popular Waikato Cherry Tree Festival – a multicultural celebration of spring featuring flowers, food entertainment and activities returns with covid19, regulatory obstacles and disappointments in 2020 as a backdrop to the planned late September events
SHOPPING, MARKETS IN THE WAIKATO
Where to go
Discover Hamilton’s shopping spirit. Hamilton, with its golden triangle of Auckland and Tauranga is home to international brands, hot fashionista trends and a population ready to shop. Hamilton has three significant shopping malls, The Base, Centre Place and Chartwell Shopping Centre. Hamilton has a surprise for dedicated shoppers with a town meets country vibe with a well known second hand book shops, opportunity shops and thrift stores as well as innovative local designers whose works are showcased in Hamilton.
Need an excuse for a day trip, a girls day out and about in Hamilton from either Auckland or Tauranga. Here’s the road map for your shopping trip.
Let’s get the inside lane to what is hot and what is grab at ArtsPost Galleries & Shop. The heritage post office building, under the management of Waikato Museum is split into three spaces each focused on different elements of Aotearoa New Zealand art and craft scene. These spaces are dynamic and influenced by exhibitions and artists. The gallery is named to honour well known citizens in the Waikato arts scene (see Travel Pack Section for details).
- Free entry between 10.00 am – 4.00 pm
- Online shopping portal for those pieces you left behind
- Extensive range of NZ art from ceramics, prints, paintings, jewellery and Kiwiana
Beautiful pottery objects ArtsPost Galleries
Hankering after a leisurely browse in a bookshop without best sellers dominating the space. Browsers is the place to go. Take a virtual tour of the beautiful store with its ceiling high shelves. The bookstore’s focus is arts, photography, fishing, hunting, exploring, music, mysticism, NZ and quality fiction. Yet there is more with an excellent children’s section. And most importantly the bookshop is not musty or moudly, the light filled space is inviting and the passionate Rachel Pope, owner and manager knows every title.
Damaged books are lovingly repaired and good for resale.
298 Victoria Street, Hamilton Central
FREE ATTRACTIONS IN THE WAIKATO
The best places to go in the Waikato are free:
- Raglan wild west coast surf beaches with a safe Te Kopua beach & estuary for families to paddle
- Summer weekends in the Hamilton Gardens’ Gourmet in the Gardens is a fun way to spend the evening. Here, handpicked food trucks popular with locals offer tasty cuisines from around the world. Bring a picnic rug and enjoy the entertainment.
- Walkato River walks
- Cambridge’s Avantidrome is a great bike skills park with free entry
- Check out Hamilton’s street art installations
Raglan Te Kopua Estuary Beach
KIWI TOWNS WORTH A DETOUR
Heritage villages have big stories and quirky stops tempting visitors to explore the Waikato’s side roads from Marokopa with its stunning waterfalls and tunnel leading to a wild west coast beach where the only footsteps are yours.
Kiwi preservation house and zoo in Otorohanga
Perhaps it’s Otorohanga with its delightful, amusing kiwiana trail and kiwi house. The New Zealand story told in public art installations is a great stop for all age groups and perfect for instagram collectors of where to go for the next selfie. How about a town where there is a traditional whale boat festival
Te Waitere and great walks. Cambridge is Waikato local favourite weekend destination with its superb year round weekend market and urban vibe combined with countryside vistas. Cambridge, Waikato trip guide, what to do, best activities. A picture postcard kiwi town where spring and autumn is showcased with leaf glory lining the main street Victorian streetscape. Shopping in Cambridge is a pleasure, not a large shopping mall in sight, traditional high street shopping with plenty of cafes to restore flagging energy.
HAMILTON CITY, WAIKATO
WHAT TO SEE AND DO TOP SIGHTS IN HAMILTON, WAIKATO
- Waikato River walks exploring shady corners, popping into nearby cafes
- Vibrant art and heritage culture from vintage vehicle museums to a contemporary art galleries
- Fascinating collection of second hand shops
- Street art and festival season celebrating the Waikato
- A perfect place to rest your head while you explore the Waikato district
Hamilton and the Waikato River are synonymous with identity and the city spirit. In 1993 the Waitangi Tribunal acknowledged that the river was a taonga (treasure) for tribes of Tainui and Ngāti Tūwharetoa. The Mighty Waikato River offers city dwellers and visitors alike shaded walks, a place to relax and revive and a sense of community.
New Zealand’s longest river charges through the Waikato for 425 kilometres and for 16 of those, it makes its way through Hamilton, the largest inland city in New Zealand.
Hamilton is a great place for kids, family and friends with quirky museums, an interesting riverwalk, playgrounds, check out our Hamilton travel guide.
Sunset along the Waikato River in Hamilton, Waikato
Raglan is a North Island west coast gem, Waikato region near Hamilton. The black sand beaches of Ngarunui Beach and Manu Bay are surfing favourites. There is a well established surf club culture, surf schools and tourism experiences focused on the outdoors and the beach.
Raglan with its urban vibe meets casual beach hangouts is known for its creative spirit with many artists calling the place home. Spend time in Raglan exploring an art gallery trail or a weekend enjoying the annual festivals such as Soundsplash. Raglan Old School Arts Centre, as the creative voice for the area manages workshops and weekends finding your creative soul.
And visitors not interested in surfing are not disappointed with 10 things to do around Raglan that do not involve surfing ⋆ Travel Blog to check out. Nearby Raglan follow a road less travelled where crowds are not an issue.
Raglan what to do with kids is a holiday check list what to do with family and friends. There are horse treks, the glorious adrenaline rush of Raglan Rock Adventures or estuary walks.
RAGLAN – NATURE & OUTDOORS
Bridal Veil Falls is a bucket list destination for waterfall buffs with its horsetail sheer glittering drop. It’s a reasonable walk to the falls with a helpful guide marking off the steps already taken. It is definitely worth the puff and effort to get to an instagram favourite. MOUNT KARIOI is an extinct volcano now covered in temperate rainforest with sweeping views over the Tasman Sea. The steep sided mountain is a medium grade walk.
RAGLAN – FACTS AND GETTING THERE
Raglan travel guide has advice on the best time to go, getting there and tips where to go and what to see. For camping holidays Raglan is a local North Island favourite with sites booking out well in advance of the peak summer season, check out 12 places to go camping in the Waikato and Central Plateau: location map and tips on what to do nearby
Whale Bay, Raglan
Thames School of Mines
THAMES GATEWAY TOWN TO THE COROMANDEL
Thames is just over an hour’s drive from Hamilton creating opportunities to explore the gateway town of the Coromandel. Thames – Coromandel district has a layered history from Maori settlements, gold and coal mining and today supporting the agricultural sector.
The Waikato region is dominated by one large urban area (Hamilton) with key attractions such as Waitomo Caves in a rural setting. Either a guided tour bus or private / rental vehicle is required.
Ensure you have allowed sufficient time between attractions to arrive at your destination in time to enjoy the experience. Remember always check opening hours to avoid disappointment.
- Hamilton to Auckland (motorway) 120 km 1 hour 10 minutes
- Hamilton to Raglan 40 km 35 minutes
- Hamilton to Waitomo Caves 69 km 55 minutes
- Hamilton to Otorohanga 56.5 km 45 minutes
- Hamilton to Piopio 102 km 1 20 minutes
- Hamilton to Lake Karapiro 50 km 45 minutes
- Hamilton to Cambridge 25 km 26 minutes
- Hamilton to Sanctuary Mountain 59 km 53 minutes
- Hamilton to Thames 112km 1 25 minutes
Coburn St bridge, Hamilton, Waikato
Hamilton, Waikato bus stop artwork
WAIKATO BUS NETWORK
Hamilton city is serviced by INTERCITY BUS and has its own urban bus network. Hamilton buses – BUSIT has a number of routes to the regions, Regional buses – BUSIT. For visitors who are using public transport the regional bus network connects to TAUPO, a visitor hot spot.
There are no regional trains however the Auckland to Wellington once daily train service stops in Hamilton as well there is a commuter train service between Auckland and Hamilton. The profitability of the commuter Auckland to Hamilton service means it is advisable to check its timetable and whether it is continuing to operate.
Check Timetable – Te Huia train Auckland to Hamilton for up to date information.
Commuter train stops in Huntly.
BEST TIME TO VISIT – WAIKATO
Between November to March. The lush farmland with its emerald green pasture enjoys year round moisture, especially in the autumn / spring months. An umbrella and clothing layers is recommended year round.
WEATHER IN WAIKATO
Waikato Weather Forecasts and Observations – MetService New Zealand
Hamilton The average summer temperature is between 24.9°C and 22.2°C. It does not snow in Hamilton however in winter the average temperature is between 12°C and 16°C. Rain is most likely to occur between October to December (spring to early summer) perfect for baby lambs, not so perfect for visitors.
TRAVEL PACK INFORMATION
The Waikato is a local government region of the upper North Island of New Zealand. It covers the Waikato District, Waipa District, Matamata-Piako District, South Waikato District and Hamilton City, as …Wikipedia.
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