To most New Zealanders Christchurch is the Garden city, but many overlook what Hamilton has to offer in its spectacular collections.
From the majestic Waikato River to lakes, walkways and golf courses, the Hamilton Gardens have got to be a one of the best visiting points.
The botanic gardens offer a range of collections to satisfy the novice to the enthusiasts. Discover the paradise collection; home to Chinese Scholar Gardens, English Flower Garden, Japanese Garden of contemplation, American modernist, Italian Renaissance and Indian Char Bagh.
Learn how to make a more productive garden; from the quite unique kitchen garden, to the sustainable, and herb garden. Absorb the traditional knowledge, interpretative material and ceremonies of the Maori in the Te Parapara.
Lose yourself amongst the Fantasy collection of Chinese and Japanese gardens, or unearth the mystique of the Orient.
Become intoxicated with the range of exotic plants and flowers, the blooming Rhododendrons of the Cultivar Collection.
Retreat into the Landscape collection of cemetery designs and valley walk, using natural resources to achieve a Naturalistic/Aesthetic style.
Excite the Child Within
But if you’re not into strolling the magnificent grounds of the gardens, then hide indoors at Exscite – Hamilton’s Interactive Science Centre. Two floors full of interactive, educational exhibits sure to excite the child within.
Learn about the Waikato River history, see if you can spot a Taniwha, hear the call of the wildlife, peer closely at live displays of pest fish, journey along the Discovery Trail to see exclusive river creatures and generate electricity from water.
The Interactive Science Gallery will get your heart racing on the Mario Kart, or discover how fast you can throw a ball.
Wander the halls of the Waikato Museum; exhibitions of history, culture, arts and science, hosting numerous international exhibitions.
If that doesn’t get your heart going, climb at Extreme Edge Indoor Climbing centre. A hundred different top-rope routes, thirty-three climbs and 14.5 of overhanging off the lead wall, it is sure to get the heart pumping.
What is sure to be a family winner? The Hamilton Zoo; home to the largest walk-through aviary and Australasia’s leading white rhino conservation programme.
Meander through the rainforest exhibits, or have face-to-face encounters with tigers, ring-tailed lemurs, capuchins and cheetahs. Feed the smaller animals, or watch the keepers feed the bigger cats.
If you are not strapped for cash then you can choose the Eye 2 Eye encounter. Learn all about your chosen animal, wander through cheetah yards, watch a Rhino training session, feed a chimp, and have a photo with a tuatara, amongst many other exciting tasks.
Experiencing the Great Outdoors
For those that want to experience the great outdoors in true ‘Kiwi’ style bush walks, tramping and hiking in the largest forest park will introduce you to the energetic kiwi lifestyle. Climb up Mount Perugia; an extinct volcano rising 959 metres, bordered by rimu, totara, tawa and tree ferns looming over the path. Stop and listen to the distant call of the kingfisher, kereru and New Zealand falcon, or watch as a fantail hops to one branch after the next in sync with your steps, as though teasing you to come near.
Pass by the rushing water of the rapids gushing over moss-covered rocks. On a clear day you emerge into a clearing at the peak of the mountain, Mount Taranaki and Mount Ruapehu standing tall, like brothers beckoning each other.
Hike to the Wairere Falls; lush green forest envelops large round boulders, water cascading over the jagged rocks, creating layers of flowing water.
Tramp to the Mount Maungatautari summit; the habitat of native species.
Or just relax on Lake Arapuni, where trout fishing and boating are fun activities to enjoy with the family.
For those that are a little more adventurous, Canoe and Kayak Waikato offers two hour guided tours through Hamilton, day or night, kayaking over torrential rapids, or canoeing along still waters.
Karamu Trail Track allows you to ride through native bush, pass along streams and prancing up rolling hill country on horseback.
Relaxing with Food and Wine
Visit the Hilltop Winery set on the pinnacle overlooking the Waikato. Wander through the vineyard to sample Pinot Gris, Flora, Cabernet Franc/Malbec/Merlot grapes and wines. Stay at the B&B set in the tranquil vineyard, splurging on the Hilltop wine and antipasto platter arranged on arrival.
After a busy day, why not sit back and enjoy Hamilton city pass you by on the Waikato River. Sixty to ninety minutes of listening to music play as you cruise on the still waters.
The Family Friendly Jazz and Blues Hangi Dinner Cruise sails along the river. Live jazz and blues band play those catchy tunes, while you peer out over the water’s edge. A heavenly smell wafts to your nose, alerting you to dinner. Bite into the most succulent meat you would have ever tasted, cooked for a long period under the ground.
Hobbiton Farm is a must-see for any ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans. Near Matamata on a private farmland, you can experience what it was like in the Shire. The two hour guided tour will take you over the lush green land of the sheep farm, bringing you to your first glimpse of the Shire.
Amble along the pathway beside the tranquil river, past small chimneys popping out from the hillside, squat down to peer at the Hobbit holes in the hills. Pass by the Green Dragon Inn and the Mill while listening to how Middle Earth was created.
Rest a spell in the Shires Rest café, relaxing on the balcony overlooking the man-made paradise. Bite into fresh lamb burgers, crisp salads, crusty bread, fresh fruit and chocolate mud cake.
If you still haven’t had enough, you can take the Sheep Farm Experience. Pet and feed hand-reared sheep, watch a demonstration of sheep shearing, hand bottle pet lambs, and hold a little black or while lamb.
Raglan may be a little drive away from Hamilton, but it is definitely worth the trip. About forty minutes from Hamilton you come across the place well-known for the surfing lifestyle. Try your hand at surfing with the Surf Safe Surf Coaching on Ngaruniui Beach; black sand beach surrounded by hills.
Roam the lush hills and paved pathways on horseback with the Magic Mountain Horse Treks over farmland, or to Bridal Veil Falls.
Be a little more daring and take the Wildcoast Extreme Horse Adventure treks over farmland, up Mount Karioi, ride through native bush, pass by bubbling streams, roving along Ruapuke beach; the glistening of the black iron (volcanic) sand beckoning.
Watch ancient limestone formations fade by, wildlife peeking out of their seclusion, listen to stories told, and enjoy a gourmet BBQ with local produce on the Wahinemoe Harbour cruises.
One of the most popular tourist destinations is only an hour’s ride from Hamilton. Stare spellbound as tiny glow worms radiate luminescent light above you. Sit in a boat travelling along the still waters, listening to your guide tell you stories of these caves.
Commencing at the Cathedral; eighteen metres in height, famous singers stand marvelled at the purity of the sound. Jagged golden formations extend out a narrow passageway, as though you are walking through a lost secret passage. Proceed along a narrow passageway to the Tomo; a sixteen metre vertical limestone shaft marking the course of a waterfall, which today flows during heavy rain, as though the water is frozen on the shaft.
Glide silently along staring up at a starry sky, cruise underground along the Waitomo River, allow the galaxy of light to guide your way.
Only a short distance away you can tour the Ruakuri Cave; the longest underground guided walking tour of the caves. Journey through the spiral entrance, limestone formations cascading down frozen in time, crystal rain of light, distant thunder of subterranean waterfalls fills this cavern.
Your children can start off with an adventure of trying to unearth hidden treasure, hold tightly to tin cans as you cautiously wander into ‘ghost alley’. Silence seems to echo off the walls, visitors afraid to speak as though scared of what they may awaken.
Emerge onto Ruakuri Bush trail, the brightness of the sun failing to compare to the sprinkling of light in the caves, try to spot native wildlife hiding from the cavern holding secrets yet to be discovered.
A five minute drive from Waitomo caves will bring you to Aranui Cave. Some may say not as exciting as the other two, this cave still holds national treasures. Just inside the entrance is a colony of cave wetas, entering into the cave hazy light created by stalagmites; pale brown, pink and white creates radiating light throughout the cavernous trip.
The other garden city offers a splendid array of treats, excited to be discovered.
Hamilton New Zealand, “What to see and do”, Accessed 02/08/11
Hamilton Zoo, “The Animal Encounters”, Accessed 02/08/11
Waitomo, “Waitomo Glowworm Caves’, Accessed 02/08/11
“Raglan”, Accessed 02/08/11, www.raglan.net.nz
“Cruise Waikato”, Accessed 02/08/11, www.cruise-waikato.co.nz
“Hobbiton Tours”, Accessed 02/08/11, www.hobbitontours.com