The upper North Island region of Waikato was named after the longest river in New Zealand. The area is surrounded by rural landscapes, lush forests, as well as natural and man-made attractions. From urban must-sees to active must-dos, here are 20 places in the region that everyone should visit.
If you’re a die-hard Tolkien fan, the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata needs no introduction. A quick drive from Auckland or Hamilton is all it takes to access this wonderful recreation of Middle Earth.
The Waitomo Caves have everything one could ask for – adventurous activities like caving, canyoning and rafting, as well as a relaxed underground cruise along its famous glowworm-lit caverns.
The Hamilton Gardens’ unique concept – which is closer to a garden-based history exhibit than a botanic garden in the strictest of terms – entices nature lovers of all kinds to delve into its magnificent public parkland.
Bridal Veil Falls
The Waireinga/Bridal Veil Falls are located near the town of Raglan. An easy walk up a well-formed track will give you a glimpse of these majestic falls in all their 55-metre glory.
The Wairere Stream near Matamata is surrounded by small wooden bridges, wondrous native trees, cascades and an impressive waterfall. As such, the area is quite popular among nature-loving hikers too.
The Blue Springs at Te Waihou Walkway
In recent years, Te Waihou Walkway has seen a surge in popularity because of the beautiful bright blue coloured springs that run alongside it.
The Waikato River
The Waikato River runs through 425 kilometres (264 miles) of the North Island, rising in the eastern slopes of Mt Ruapehu and emptying into the Tasman Sea at Port Waikato just south of Auckland.
Lake Taupo lies right in the midst of Waikato River, and is New Zealand’s largest lake by surface. It sits in the caldera of the Taupo Volcano, and is a quite a travel hot-spot in the warmer months.
Lake Karapiro is an artificial reservoir on the Waikato River. Located just 30 kilometres (19 miles) south-east of Hamilton, the lake is highly regarded as one of New Zealand’s best rowing competition venues.
Ngarunui Beach, Raglan
Raglan is a town that’s famous for its coastal treasures. Ngarunui, with its rugged shorelines and turbulent waves, is a picturesque beach that is particularly attractive to surfers.
Kawhia’s Hot Water Beach
The town of Kawhia’s best kept secret: a largely-secluded beach with its own, natural, hot water spa. Start with a dip in the cool Pacific Ocean, and finish things off by digging a hole in the sand to enjoy the reinvigorating warm waters.
Otorohanga Kiwi House
As its name suggests, Otorohanga Kiwi House is a must-visit for anyone wanting to see New Zealand’s most famous native bird, as well as a number of other avian species, from up close.
While we’re on the topic of wildlife, Hamilton Zoo is another regional gem that all animal lovers should have on their radar.
Tirau’s Corrugated Iron Buildings
On the prowl for something unique and quirky? The town of Tirau is known for having a gigantic castle, along with a cool collection of corrugated iron buildings.
Arapuni Swing Bridge
The Arapuni Swing Bridge stretches across a bush-lined gorge as it connects to the Arapuni Dam. It was built in the 1920s and is currently one of the main highlights of the Waikato River Trails.
Pirongia Forest Park
Pirongia Forest Park is the largest forested area close to Hamilton. Along with comprising a large variety of plants and animal species, the area is also home to the Kaniwhaniwha Caves, as well as its namesake Mt Pirongia.
The Waikato region has plenty of history to share. Ongarue, for instance, is renowned for its largely unchanged tramway and spiral.
Maungatautari is an eroded andesitic volcano near the Waikato town of Cambridge. It is also the site of one of New Zealand’s most significant ecological restoration projects.
Mangapohue Natural Bridge
While we’re on the subject of natural wonders, the remarkable rocky formations that carved the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, in Waitomo, are bound to amaze all passing travellers.
The Kaimai Range
And we finish things off with the luscious Kaimai Range, which is part of the forested area that divides the Waikato and Bay of Plenty Regions.