Top things to do in Hamilton and the Waikato
A closer look at Hamilton and the Waikato region will reveal some amazing scenic surprises. You'll find river and lake adventures, subterranean wonderlands, wildlife hikes and a hip surf town that's not just for wave-chasers. Here's our pick of things to do in Hamilton and close by:
Step into a fantasy world with a Hobbiton tour
Hobbiton™ Movie Set tour will take you through the authentic village that was created for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie series, including The Hobbit. The rustic surroundings and amazing detail make it easy to envision the simple, happy and peaceful lifestyle of a hobbit. A special tour highlight is refreshment time at the Green Dragon Inn, a real pub that serves satisfying food and a range of exclusive Southfarthing ales.
Explore the beauty of Hamilton Gardens
Known as one of the best things to do for free in the Waikato region, Hamilton Gardens combines nature, culture and fun with themed displays that take you around the world. Visit the Indian Char Bagh Garden, Italian Renaissance Garden, Japanese Garden of Contemplation, Chinese Scholar's Garden and English Flower Garden. There's also a traditional Maori productive garden - Te Parapara. If time is on your side, pack a picnic and spend a whole day here.
Experience the mighty Waikato River
Hamilton is bisected by the biggest of the Waikato attractions – the Waikato River, which means 'flowing water' in Māori. Spending some time with this huge natural waterway is part of a well-rounded Waikato holiday. Catch a cruise from the Waikato Museum or Hamilton Gardens and see the river from a comfortable motor-cat with onboard café. Or walk the scenic trail along the western side of the river – it runs from Cobham Bridge to Horotiu Bridge in the heart of the city. You could also hire bikes and ride the riverbank cycleway that runs from Ngaruawahia in the north to Karapiro in the south.
Discover underground entertainment at Waitomo Caves
At Waitomo, water and time have turned a limestone landscape into a labyrinth of caves and grottos. In Te Reo, 'wai' means water and 'tomo' is the word for a sinkhole. Three of the largest caves offer guided tours, including one that takes you on a silent boat trip through a vast underground cavern lit by glowworms. If you're looking for super-adventurous Waikato activities, you'll definitely want to go black water rafting. Kitted out with a wetsuit and caving helmet, you'll float, jump, abseil and squeeze your way through deep cave systems.
Hang out in Raglan
You don't have to be a surfer to love Raglan. Just 35 minutes' drive from Hamilton, this funky little beach town is a place for creative food, artisan shopping, exceptional coffee, estuary kayaking and beach walks on the black sand. The waves are legendary, so bring your favourite board or just keep it basic with some body surfing. Fish and chips is the ultimate kiwiana meal here, or you can stay true to your health kick with kombucha and a salad bowl.
Hike to beautiful Bridal Veil Falls
Handy to Raglan is the short hike to Bridal Veil Falls, aka Waireinga Falls. This 55-metre tumble of water shoots out from the cliffs, then plummets into a deep pool that's framed by grey rocks, bright green moss and native forest. There are two viewing platforms, so you can shoot the falls from every angle. The first section of track to the top lookout is accessible for wheelchairs and buggies.
Go kayaking or have a picnic at Lake Karapiro
The beautifully calm waters of Lake Karapiro are perfect for an on-water adventure involving kayaks or paddleboards. Back on dry land you can enjoy a picnic, and walk or bike the Lake Karapiro section of Te Awa, the Great NZ River Ride. In summer the lake's a cool spot for a swim.
Wander the trails of Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari
South of Hamilton is Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, one of New Zealand's most outstanding conservation projects. The entire perimeter of this mountain is predator-fenced, allowing rare native species to flourish. Follow the trails to find kaka, hihi, tieke, takahe, kakariki and kokako, as well as the usual suspects like tui, piwakawaka, kereru and bellbird. You can also arrange a guided tour after dark to hear kiwi and ruru, and see glowworms.