While you’re here, you won’t want to miss –
There’s a lot more to the Waikato than first meets the eye. Perhaps that’s because its major tourist attractions are situated out in the countryside just waiting to be discovered. As you drive through the undulating hills, you’ll pass sprawling farms with grazing cows sprinkled with a few sheep and local fruit stands.
Stop off at one of the small towns for a cuppa and pie at a local bakery. Victoriana towns, glow-worm caves and a Middle-earth movie set are just a few of the things to do you’ll find in Waikato.
The Waikato is primarily a dairy farming region and proud of its large contribution to New Zealand’s dairy industry. The main city, Hamilton, despite being the 4th largest and fastest growing city in New Zealand, still retains a lot of provincial charm.
Traversing through its center and into the lush green countryside, is the Waikato River.
In Māori, “Waikato” means “flowing water” – the river has the distinction of being the longest one in New Zealand.
Meander through the Waikato on your vacation and stop to enjoy and explore its unexpected pleasures along the way.
Friendly locals and a wonderful setting on the banks of the Waikato River ensure you’ll have a fun time and ample choices when it comes to things to do in Hamilton.
Head to Hood Street for great pubs and restaurants or, if it’s a hot day, stretch out for a nap in a shady riverside park. Sunday farmers markets offer fresh produce and there are lots of eclectic art galleries and boutiques.
For garden lovers, the much praised Hamilton Gardens south of the city should be top on your list. Wander through the beautiful collection of themed landscapes, including a Chinese Scholar’s Garden, Japanese Garden of Contemplation, Italian Renaissance Garden and Victorian Flower Garden.
Wandering is also the name of the game – but in a more organised fashion – when your vacation travels take you down a rural country road to visit Hobbiton.
The movie set where parts of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings movies were filmed is situated on a working farm near Matamata.
After much searching, Peter Jackson commandeered the site for its pine tree and lake setting. Over 40 hobbit holes including Bag End – complete with all the details – and their Hobbit-sized gardens, were created to feature in his Oscar-winning films.
Today, you can wander through the lovingly recreated facades on a two-hour guided tour, ending with a refreshing drink at the Green Dragon Inn. Even if you’re not a Hobbit fan, the setting is magical and well worth a stop.
Cambridge & Tirau
Apart from Hobbiton, the Waikato is famous for its small picturesque towns dotted over the landscape. Some of these can be surprisingly big on great food or specialty stores. Cambridge and Tirau, just south of Hamilton, are lucky enough to have both.
The “Town of Trees,” as Cambridge is known, has several fabulous large antique stores packed to the brim with all sorts of pottery, furniture, glassware and trinkets.
And if you’re looking for rural serenity, then Cambridge’s wide tree-lined Victoria Street is reminiscent of its peaceful British namesake. This is Cambridge’s main thoroughfare and where you’ll find cafes selling Cornish pasties and Prince Albert The Olde English Pub, juggled between Thai restaurants and Fish & Chips carry-outs.
Drive still further south and slightly to the east, and you’ll come to Tirau, the little town that’s big on shopping, and corrugated iron sculptures.
If you’re looking for New Zealand souvenirs of your vacation, then you’re sure to find something in Tirau in the choice of art and craft shops. It’s a creative town with events where artists paint in the streets, people proffer up garden art and large corrugated iron sculptures crop up unexpectedly. The most recognizable are the giant dog information center and its neighboring giant sheep wool center.
Two highlights of the Waikato region involve being way below ground and high above the earth.
The glow-worm caves of Waitomo near Otorohanga are one of the most popular things to do in Waikato. Descend beneath the earth to a twinkling network of caves and rivers to experience the astonishingly blue lights of thousands of glow worms.
Set aside at least half a day to explore this subterranean wonderland by guided tour and boat trip. If you’re more inclined to extreme adventure, we can also arrange high adrenalin activities that include rafting, abseiling and canyoning in the twinkling caves.
If you like air shows with a twist, you’ll love the annual Balloons Over Waikato festival in early April. This five-day event is a visually stunning fiesta. Balloon enthusiasts from all over the country sail their creations majestically through the sky at sunrise and take part in a colorful balloon parade. A Night Glow Balloon event complete with fireworks and a concert complete the spectacle.
The Waikato is full of surprises if you take the time on your vacation to discover them. Everyone will definitely find something to enjoy.