Middle-earth Movie MagicWhen scouting around for settings for his epic movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Kiwi director Peter Jackson found just what he was looking for in the green rolling paddocks, rugged limestone outcrops and underground caverns of the Waikato region.
Filming locations in the region include the iconic HobbitonTM Movie Set near Matamata, Weathertop Hollow, filmed near Port Waikato, and Trollshaw Forest on rugged farmland near Piopio in Waitomo, and underground sounds recorded in the famous Waitomo Caves.
From spectacular underground caves to the wild coast, Waitomo and its surrounding landscape offers an experience that is unlike any other and is a must-do New Zealand attraction.
This subterranean world of stalagmites, stalactites and underground waterfalls is full of geological and historical wonder. Caving options include gentle boat rides under galaxies of twinkling glow-worms, walking tours of awe-inspiring limestone formations, and an adrenalin-pumping range of adventure activities.
With its black sand, world-class surfing, tranquil harbour and laidback vibe, Raglan is a unique and relatively unknown slice of Kiwi heaven.
Raglan’s bohemian atmosphere and idyllic coastal setting makes it the perfect spot to while away an afternoon browsing among the boutique galleries and shops, lazing on the beach or kayaking on the harbour. While those looking for more adventurous activities can take a short drive to the beaches that make the area a surfing mecca, including Manu Bay which has one of the longest left-hand breaks in the world.
Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari
The largest ecological ‘island’ on mainland New Zealand is a haven for native plants and wildlife such as kiwi, kōkako (wattlebird), tuatara and more. Surrounded by 47km of predator-proof fence which encloses 3400 hectares of Mt Maungatautari, Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari offers daytime guided tours and dusk-to-dark experiences where visitors can listen for kiwi calling, and marvel at curtains of glow-worms.
Kawhia Hot Water Beach
The somewhat untouched nature of Kawhia provides the perfect destination to escape to and is home to one of the region’s best-kept secrets, Kawhia Hot Water Beach. Head to the end of Ocean Beach Road at low tide, over the sand dunes and down onto the beach. Keep an eye out for the hot water bubbling to the surface and once you find the perfect spot, start digging for an instant natural hot water spa, with stunning views to match.
Surrounded by bush and luscious green hills, Lake Karapiro attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year, whether it’s to participate in a major sporting event or simply to have a picnic beside the water. Kayak and stand-up-paddleboard tours are available from nearby businesses, and the calm conditions are great for sailing craft, jet skiing, water skiing, rowing and swimming.
Over one million people visit the Hamilton Gardens each year, making it one of the region’s most popular attractions. Different from a botanical garden, the five enclosed garden collections – Paradise, Productive, Fantasy, Cultivar and Landscape – explore the history, context and meaning of gardens. Each tells a story and offers an insight into a different civilisation including Te Parapara which is New Zealand’s first and only traditional Māori garden, and a rich record of the region’s pre-European history.
On the banks of the Waikato River, in the heart of Hamilton’s south-end cultural precinct, Waikato Museum’s 13 galleries feature more than 25 new exhibitions and 100 public events annually. These exhibitions, events and programmes tell the region’s stories from a local and global perspective, and include visual art, social history, tāngata whenua and science from touring exhibitions, and the museum’s own collections. Highlights include the majestic war waka Te Winika, the fun hands-on science galleries for children, and galleries which exhibit a rich blend of historical and contemporary artworks.
Herd of Cows?
Visitors to Morrinsville are greeted by a colourful herd of cows. The Herd of Cows? street art installation is a collection of life-size cow sculptures throughout the town showcasing the history of Morrinsville and highlighting the town’s strong dairying heritage. Situated on streets throughout Morrinsville’s main centre, including the ‘Mega Cow’ at the southern end of town, each cow is lovingly decorated by artists for local families, community groups or businesses, making each one unique. Call in to the Morrinsville i-SITE Visitor Information Centre for a copy of the trail map and take a walk through the streets of Morrinsville to find them all.
Set in rich farming countryside at the heart of the Waikato region, Cambridge with ‘Olde English’ charm is packed with top galleries, cafés and stores. A wander through the main street of Cambridge will spoil you for choice with everything from gourmet producers and artisan delis, to art galleries, heritage walks, historic buildings, giftware emporiums and designer outlets.
Waikato River Trails
The Waikato River is New Zealand’s longest, and the 100 kilometres of off-road trails that follow the river’s banks between Atiamuri and Pokaiwhenua Bridge are known as the Waikato River Trails. From native forest and birdlife to hydro dams, suspension bridges and exhilarating downhills, there’s plenty for mountain bikers to enjoy along the Waikato River Trails.
The journey takes in five lakes, five hydro dams and a number of small towns and villages, showcasing some of the best of the Waikato heartland.
Hauraki Rail Trail
To the north of the region is one of its hidden gems – the Hauraki Rail Trail. This 160km ride makes a great 3–4-day ride and stretches from Miranda and Thames on the Coromandel Peninsula to the Edwardian spa town of Te Aroha to the south. A fifth section from Te Aroha to Matamata is currently under development and is due to open in late 2019. The journey combines spectacular scenery with a glimpse into the area’s rich gold-mining past. Its easy gradient makes it perfect for relaxed riding and family adventures, and there is the added bonus of a soak in some therapeutic hot pools at the end.
The Timber Trail
The Timber Trail follows historic tramways through the ancient native forest of the Pureora Forest Park. The trail takes in 42 bridges, including eight suspension bridges, as it winds its way through giant rimu, tōtara and kahikatea trees. Stretching across 85km between Pureora village and the old logging town of Ōngarue, The Timber Trail offers riders a two-day backcountry adventure through an area steeped in Māori legends and logging history.
Te Awa – The Great New Zealand River Ride
Riders on the Te Awa Cycleway can take in the full beauty of the Waikato River with a two-hour cycle journey from Ngāruawāhia in the north via Hamilton Gardens all the way to Cambridge and Lake Karapiro. The track is primarily wide, smooth and largely flat making it suitable for cyclists of > all fitness and experience levels. This scenic 70km river ride weaves through rural and urban landscapes, taking in waterfalls and historic Māori sites as well as trendy shops and cafés.
Blue Spring at Te Waihou Walkway
Visit the stunning Blue Spring at Te Waihou Walkway, with water so pure it supplies around 60 per cent of New Zealand’s bottled water. An easy walk for all ages, there is a short 30-minute return walk accessed from Leslie Road or approximately one-and-a-half hours’ walk each way starting from Whites Road (State Highway 28) near Putāruru.
Mangapohue Natural Bridge
A short drive from the famous Waitomo Caves is the Mangapohue Natural Bridge. Follow the boardwalk as it weaves its way through the impressive limestone gorge bringing you underneath the stunning 17m high limestone arch; the remains of an ancient cave system. This easy 20-minute loop walk takes in superb views of the natural bridge and gorge, stalactite-like formations, farmland and 25-million-year-old fossils that are exposed in the limestone outcrops.
Wairēinga/Bridal Veil Falls
Only 15 minutes’ drive from Raglan, the spectacular 55-metre-high Bridal Veil Falls, also known as the Wairēinga Falls is a popular Waikato walking track. This walk is an easy 10-minute one through native bush, following the Pakoka River for most of the way, to two viewing platforms at the top, both providing stunning vistas and ample photo opportunities of the plunging white falls flanked by grey rock and green bush. A steep set of steps leads down to the bottom of the falls. From here there is another magnificent view, directly across the pool and up at the falls.
Hamilton Farmers’ Market
The Hamilton Farmers Market is held each Sunday from 8am to 12pm in a renovated barn at Claudelands Events Centre. The central, all-weather venue makes the market the perfect spot for a relaxed Sunday morning outing. Grab a coffee or fresh smoothie and wander around the stalls meeting the growers and producers first-hand.
Cambridge Farmers’ Market
The Cambridge Farmers Market is a great community market and held every Saturday morning from 8am to 12pm in Victoria Square. Vendors offer a variety of lush locally grown produce including fresh berries, seasonal vegetables, sweet treats (including Waikato’s famous Mamas Donuts) and great coffee.
Good George – Brewery Tour
Go on a pilgrimage to the old St George’s Church where all of Good George beer is made. The team will walk you through the brewing process and show you how they do it; you will get to taste the brews and get a Good George glass to take home with a few surprises along the way.
Zealong Tea Estate
Zealong is the only commercial tea estate in New Zealand, producing award-winning tea. Learn the fascinating story behind Zealong, discover how tea is made, experience a traditional tea ceremony, discover tea’s rich history and culture, and relax over a cup of the world’s purest tea with stunning views over the only tea plantation in New Zealand. Enjoy the legendary high tea with a selection of delicious tea-infused nibbles to complement your tasting experience.
Duck Island Ice Cream
Beginning as a part of the dessert menu at local award-winning restaurant Chim Choo Ree, Duck Island Ice Cream has now become an icon of the Waikato foodie scene. Interesting seasonal flavour profiles include roasted white chocolate and miso, and maple, honeycomb and smoked almond. You will find a rotating choice of 40 flavours in the two scoop shops, in Hamilton East and Riverbank Lane.
Join Waikato locals each weekend as they stock up on fresh local produce, freshly baked bread, meat, free-range eggs, honey and more.
Local eateries, restaurants and gourmet food stores act as proud advocates for regional products, and boutique coffee roasters, microbreweries, artisan bakers and New Zealand’s only tea plantation call the region home.