Situated in the central North Island, the diverse Waikato region is well known for its nature-based tourism, underground wonders, Middle-earth movie magic and iconic Waikato River. The region offers something for every visitor, from Hamilton city’s attractions to the stunning black sand surf beaches of Raglan and the rolling hills and ancient bush-clad mountains that shape the landscape.
New Zealand’s fourth largest city, Hamilton is a thriving metropolitan hub on the banks of the Waikato River. With great shopping, a vibrant arts scene, top restaurants and a bustling nightlife, Hamilton offers a myriad of urban entertainment options to choose from. The city is easy to explore – visitors can take a stroll through the award-winning Hamilton Gardens, visit SkyCity Casino, soak up some history at the Waikato Museum, discover the animals at Hamilton Zoo or relax with a picnic at Hamilton Lake.
Classic cars, river cruises, microbrewery tours and more are on offer, and for a truly spectacular view of Hamilton and the wider region a hot air balloon ride is definitely a must. The city is also well known as a business centre for creativity and innovation as well as a destination for national and international events such as the annual Balloons Over Waikato.
If New Zealand’s world-famous adventure tourism is on the agenda, the region boasts some of the country’s best. Millions of years in the making, Waitomo Caves provides an underground playground like no other. Visitors can enjoy great walks and cafes above ground before heading below the surface to experience the awe-inspiring limestone formations and magical boat rides under thousands of twinkling glowworms. For the more adventurous at heart, try abseiling, black water rafting, ziplining and climbing through the cave systems on one of the many adventure tours. Cave networks in North Waikato also offer subterranean adventures.
The water sport options on the mighty Waikato River are also a must. Winding its way through the region, the Waikato River is the longest in New Zealand, and it offers great kayaking, cruising, trout fishing and jet boating, particularly on its picturesque hydro lakes such as Lake Karapiro.
The premier surfing destination of Raglan has one of the longest left-hand surf breaks in the world and is popular with local and international surfers alike. Raglan's relaxed bohemian atmosphere and idyllic setting make it the perfect seaside retreat, only 45 minutes from Hamilton, plus with cruising and kayaking around the harbour, kite surfing, stand-up paddle boarding and more on the agenda, there is something for everyone. For something a bit different, dig your own natural hot pool at low tide south of Raglan at Kawhia’s Ocean Beach.
A slice of the "real Middle-earth", as seen in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, can be found near Matamata. Quietly hidden behind green rolling hills on a sheep farm near Matamata, Hobbiton Movie Set Tours provides visitors with first-hand insights into the details that went into creating the set. Hobbit holes, The Green Dragon Inn, the mill and other structures can be viewed as you are transported into The Shire from Middle-earth. Further south the spectacular limestone cliffs and native forest at Mangaotaki Valley can now be visited, where scenes from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey were also filmed.
With a wealth of protected park land and mountain ranges, the region also offers a range of walking, hiking and cycling tracks. From native bush and farmland to historic landmarks, waterfalls and breath-taking summit views over rivers, lakes and plains, the region's walking tracks and cycle trails have something to suit all ability levels.
Because of its central location, Hamilton is also the perfect base for exploring the wider region and central North Island.
For a range of things to see and do, accommodation and transport options in the Hamilton and Waikato region, visit waikatonz.com