There are many excellent cafes in the region, including those serving locally roasted beans. Local craft beers are also a popular drink. Photo / Tourism in Hamilton and Waikato
To help readers make the most of the Easter break, upcoming Anzac long weekend and school holidays, the Waikato Herald asked Hamilton & Waikato Tourism to recommend the top 10 things to do in the area.
From admiring waterfalls and visiting the stunning Hamilton Gardens to subterranean wonders in the Waitomo district, interactive museum exhibits and Middle-earth movie magic, there are many ways to get out and enjoy what Waikato has to offer – while making time, a mighty one Be more local by continuing to support local businesses.
1. Take a hike
Waikato’s myriad of hiking trails are a great way to explore the region in the fall months. From short walks like the 90-minute Pukemokemoke Bush Track or the 60-minute Mangakara Nature Walk in Pirongia Forest Park, to more challenging hikes like Mount Te Aroha, there are routes and trails for families and all fitness levels. While many hiking trails lead through the evergreen native forest, there are plenty of places to see the changing fall colors – one of which is the Taitua Arboretum on the outskirts of Hamilton.
2. Underground Wonders at Waitomo
The impressive Waitomo Caves are a great all-weather option. There’s plenty to choose from, including gentle boat rides beneath galaxies of twinkling fireflies, trekking through the caves to see the magical limestone formations, and a bloody array of adventure activities like blackwater rafting in the depths, jumping underground waterfalls, and rappelling dark rock faces.
3. Encounters with animals
Hamilton Zoo is the place to get up close and personal with a variety of wildlife. The zoo is home to over 600 native and exotic animals. Ōtorohanga Kiwi House features kiwis in a nocturnal enclosure year-round. Abundant native birdlife abounds at Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, and a morning visit is a great time to hear the choir at its best. Cornerstone Alpacas has farm tours where visitors can meet and feed these native South American animals.
4. About the moon
With top-notch interactive exhibits for residents and hikers, the Waikato Museum is a perfect indoor activity for the whole family. Highlights include Exscite, an interactive gallery packed with science-based activities for young people to actively learn while having fun.
The incredible installation Our Moon: Then, Now & Beyond is on view at the museum until June 12.
More space experiences can be had at the Te Awamutu Space Center, which features interactive displays, games and puzzles, and a virtual reality space experience.
5. Gourmet treats
With delights from high tea at Zealong Tea Estate to award-winning restaurants and farmers markets offering artisan produce and fresh produce, there’s no reason to go hungry in the Waikato. Those with a sweet tooth will delight in the local Duck Island Ice Cream in Hamilton East, where flavors range from salted caramel with cocoa crumbs to chunks of peppermint. There are also many excellent cafes in the region, including ones serving locally roasted beans. Local craft beers are also a popular drink.
6. Middle-earth Movie Magic
Hobbiton Movie Set is a must-see for the powerful residents of Waikato. This world-famous attraction offers a first-hand look at the making of Sir Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and the opportunity to inspect the adorable hobbit holes. Guided tours include a complimentary refreshment at The Green Dragon Inn.
7. Escape to the open
Powerful locals can travel the world in their own backyard by exploring Hamilton Gardens, where there are over 20 gardens from different civilizations showcasing historically important garden styles from England, Italy, India, China and Japan. Then there is the Fantasy Collection of Gardens, including the Surrealist Garden, reminiscent of the 1920-1930s when many artists and writers were fascinated by the irrational, inappropriate and provocative.
Waitakaruru Sculpture Park has over 100 sculptures and installations along the park’s 2km art-in-nature trail, making it one of New Zealand’s largest outdoor galleries.
8. On your bike
Exploring the Waikato by bike is a high-level activity with the region’s many hiking trails including Te Awa – the Great New Zealand River Ride, Timber Trail, Hauraki Rail Trail and many more. Whether you’re hurtling down forest-covered hills or gently pedaling along winding rivers and verdant farmland, the Waikato has something for everyone. The Timber Trail, which follows historic streetcars through Pureora Forest Park, stretches 53 miles, crosses 42 bridges, and can be completed in one to three days, depending on riding ability. Overnight camping is permitted along the trail.
There are also many mountain bike trails of varying terrain and gradients – among the trails to check out are those at Raglan, Mt Pirongia and Te Miro.
9. Experience the dive
The Waikato region is blessed with a number of waterfalls, including what is considered one of the most beautiful in the country – the Marokopa Falls in the Waitomo District – and the highest in the North Island – the Wairere Falls, 10 km away. minutes drive from Matamata cascading 153 meters down the steep escarpment.
10. Have fun indoors
Competition is the name of the game at SkyCity Hamilton’s Bowl and Social, where the Tenpin bowling alley will feature world-class bowling technology and the X-Golf simulator will test drive and putting skills. If you have a head for heights, Extreme Edge Hamilton is for you. With over 100 climbing routes at heights of six to eight meters, there are via ferratas for beginners to experienced climbers. Other indoor options include the Leap Trampoline Park and the Hamilton Megazone for laser games.