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Hamilton - Waikato


Hamilton - Waikato

Hamilton & Waikato is a prosperous agricultural region on the banks of the mighty Waikato river. Rolling green hills and long plains stretch above vast underground networks of limestone caves that have attracted adventuring visitors since New Zealand's early days.


View Hamilton - Waikato region maps   

Maps and local travel information for Hamilton - Waikato.


The Hamilton and Waikato region is culturally and historically significant to both Māori and Pakeha (European New Zealanders).

Many Waikato Māori people trace their ancestry back to the Tainui canoe which arrived in New Zealand about 800 years ago. The region was the site of many Māori pa / fortified villages, and an important centre of early Māori commerce.

The Waikato region was the scene of many significant battles. The fierce tribal warfare that broke out amongst iwi (tribes) in the early 1800s escalated with the introduction of European muskets and weaponry.

As British settlers flooded into the country during the mid-1800s, Māori tribes united to choose a Māori king and form the Kingitanga / king movement. The first king was Waikato chief Pōtatau Te Wherowhero whose descendants continue to assume the role of king or queen.

Hamilton city, in the heart of the region and en route between Auckland and Rotorua, is New Zealand’s fourth largest urban area. The university city, on the banks of the Waikato River, is home to major sporting and agricultural events such as the ITM 400 Hamilton V8s supercar street race and 'Fieldays' - the southern hemisphere's largest agricultural show.

With a strong background in dairying and agriculture, Hamilton also has a reputation as a business hub for creativity and innovation.


Waikato - Kawhia beach
Waikato - Kawhia beach

Māori Culture

On the northern bank of the Waikato River, Ngaruawahia is one of the Waikato's oldest settlements and a place of deep significance for Māori.

Turangawaewae marae is New Zealand's only royal residence - home to the reigning Māori monarch Te Arikuni Tuheita Paki. Crowned in 2006, King Tuheita succeeded his late mother - the Māori Queen Dame Te Atairangikaahu - who had reigned for 40 years.

Watching over Ngaruawahia, Mount Taupiri's sacred slopes contain the Waikato’s most significant burial ground where past Māori kings and the Māori Queen are buried.

The annual Turangawaewae Regatta Day - held in mid-March - features a public parade of traditional war canoes on the Waikato River.

In March the tiny coastal town of Kawhia attracts thousands of visitors for the annual Kawhia Kai Festival - an authentic Māori food and culture experience. For the Tainui tribe, Kawhia holds particular significance as the final resting place of the original Tainui waka / canoe.

Waikato - Maori heritage
Waikato - Maori heritage

Nature and Wildlife

Hamilton and Waikato nature and wildlife experiences are as varied as the coastal, riverside, hill and underground landscapes.

Waitomo Caves are an ancient wonderland of stalactites, stalagmites, deep caverns, and underground streams bathed in the ethereal light of millions of glow worms. Named by early Māori explorers - Waitomo translates as wai / water and tomo / hole - the caves are one of New Zealand's original and most famous tourist attractions.

Maungatautari Ecological Island Reserve is a significant conservation project that is restoring the 3,400ha reserve to the way it was in ancient times. Protected by a 47km pest-proof fence, endangered native species such as kiwi, kaka and takahe thrive in their natural environment. The reserve has walking tracks, a forest canopy tower and daily kaka feeding.

The region's native forests and parklands offer a range of easy day walks and multi-day hikes. The walkways in Mt Pirongia Forest Park pass through native bush filled with native NZ birds.

Hamilton Gardens is one of the most popular attractions in the region. Spanning 58ha, the gardens are arranged in themes and collections presenting a wide variety of flora and garden styles from around the world.

Waikato - mighty Waikato river
Waikato - mighty Waikato river

Adventure / Outdoors

The Waitomo Caves are a unique subterranean adventure playground for easy walking cave tours, abseiling, rock climbing and black water rafting thrills. New Zealand’s highest cave abseil descends 100 metres into the ‘Lost World’.

Kawhia harbour is famed for its fishing and beaches. At Te Puia springs on Ocean beach, beachgoers can dig natural spas in the black sands where hot spring waters bubble to the surface.

The deep flowing waters of the mighty Waikato River - a major source of New Zealand's hydro-electricity - are a fly-fishing haven, and the setting for leisurely boat or kayak excursions. Hot air ballooning offers a different perspective on the region's green countryside and meandering waterways.

Raglan, a little coastal town with a relaxed bohemian vibe, has one of New Zealand’s most famous surf beaches. Just 45 minutes west of Hamilton, the black sand beaches and legendary left-hand break at Manu Bay attract surfers from all over the world.

Matamata is home to Hobbiton Movie Set, the village created for the Shire in the Lord of the Rings films. A popular destination for LOTR fans, Hobbiton Movie Set has been rebuilt for filming of The Hobbit movies.

Waikato - Waitomo caves
Waikato - Waitomo caves


  • Waikato River, at 425km, is New Zealand's longest river.
  • Hamilton is New Zealand’s largest inland city.
  • Hobbits once roamed the hills at Hobbiton Movie Set, near Matamata, where the Lord of the Rings film trilogy was filmed.