Waikato is a region where the grass is greener in every way. Cloaked in centuries of cultural heritage, Waikato combines adventure activity with stunning scenery. Its diverse landscape features bush-adorning volcanic hills and underground caves – a reminder that this land was once under the sea. The surf town of Raglan offers famous left-hand breaks and a laid-back lifestyle that often sees visitors extend their stay (sometimes permanently!). Waikato is also home to New Zealand’s longest river, the country’s fourth largest city (Hamilton), the world-famous Waitomo Caves, and The Lord of the Rings and Hobbiton movie sets.
KEY TOWNS AND REGIONS
North Waikato’s bush-clad mountains make way for rugged coastlines and the mighty Waikato River, with small towns dotted around the region. The Hakarimata Range, west of Ngaruawahia, is home to the largest kauri trees in the region, while the untouched limestone formations and glowworms of the Nikau Caves offer a unique experience. North Waikato is also home to the site of the infamous Rangiriri battle of 1863 and Hampton Downs Raceway.
Situated on the banks of the Waikato River, Hamilton is popular for its walks, gardens, cafes and nightlife. It has grown rapidly on the back of the agricultural revolution and is one of New Zealand’s largest cities and the heart of the Waikato region. Arts and culture form an important part of the city’s makeup, and this is best experienced at the Waikato Museum.
Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Hamilton Gardens, a stunning selection of themed gardens in park-like surroundings. A shared walkway and cycleway runs for 10km from the central Hamilton along the banks of the Waikato River that you can stroll or bike along. Hamilton is also a well-known destination for sporting events.
Raglan and Kawhia
Only 45 minutes west of Hamilton are the black volcanic sands and the world-class surf of Raglan. Surrounded by water and bush and watched over by Mt Karioi, Raglan is famous for its left-hand surf break and bohemian lifestyle. Nearby Bridal Veil Falls plunges 55m, and is a sight to behold when you take the walk to the pools below. Down the coast from Raglan sits the township of Kawhia, one of the Waikato’s best-kept secrets, home to great fishing and Ocean Beach, where you can dig your very own hot pool in the sand.
Waitomo Caves and surrounds
The world-renowned Waitomo Caves lie an hour south of Hamilton. Explore this magical underground labyrinth of glowworm-lit caves with a guided tour. For those seeking more of an adrenalin rush, black water rafting and abseiling within the caves are an exciting option. Just north of Waitomo is Otorohanga, home to the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park, where you can enjoy close up viewings of the kiwi, other rare birds and the tuatara reptile. Te Kuiti to the south is the shearing capital of the world, and Pureora Forest Park features great walking, biking and hunting experiences.
Rural Waikato – Cambridge, Matamata and Te Aroha
Flanked by horse studs and rich pastures, Cambridge is known for its old English charm and illustrious heritage of thoroughbred racing. Nearby, Maungatautari Ecological Reserve offers superb walking tracks with Lake Karapiro at its base being popular with boaties, kayakers and water-skiers. Also in the region is Matamata, the setting for the Shire in Sir Peter Jackson’s Hobbiton movies. The movie set is the town’s biggest attraction. Just north is the town of Te Aroha, which became known as the first geothermal spa town to attract thousands of visitors every year.
Getting here and around:
Hamilton International and Domestic Airport is only 20 minutes from Hamilton’s main transport hub, and an easy drive from major attractions such as the Waitomo Caves and the Hobbiton Movie Set.
An extensive and well maintained roading network links the Waikato region. Car rentals are easily available and self-drive is the most popular way to get around.
Hamilton Transport Centre is the hub for bus and coach services. Rail links are available to Auckland and Wellington.
Spring (Sep-Nov) – warming up, clear days with cool showers, 8-18°C; Summer (Dec-Feb) – dry and sunny, 21-30°C; Autumn (Mar-May) – moderate rainfall likely, 9-20°C; Winter (Jun-Aug) – heavy rainfall, possibly foggy conditions, 3-15°C.