I’m a local to Hamilton (which you all of course know haha!) and I’ve been living here for the last 3 years.
I was actually born here but left when I was 3, then moved back 15 years later for uni, before finally coming back to Hamilton in 2015! I’ve been to many of the things to do in and around Hamilton so I have put together this list for you to take a look at, should you ever be passing through.
Hamilton is a good stopping point between Auckland and Taupo. It’s also not far from Tauranga/Mt Maunganui and Rotorua, just over an hour to drive to each place.
I would recommend staying at least one night to be able to check out everything the city has to offer.
1. Hamilton Gardens
The gardens are super popular with tourists and locals alike. Every time I go there it’s packed with people!
It’s free to visit the gardens and the gates close between 4.00 – 5.30pm in the winter (when daylight savings ends) and between 5.00 – 7.30pm in the summer (when daylight savings starts).
There are a number of different themed gardens to check out like the Paradise Collection, Productive Collection, Fantasy Collection, Cultivar Collection and the Landscape Collection. There is also a cool kids playground, a lake, art gallery, cafe and a lawn where different events are held in the summer.
My personal favourite is the Italian Renaissance garden in the Paradise Collection.
If you enjoy cemeteries, the Hamilton Cemetery is part of the Landscape Collection and a number of old graves grace the lawns. It’s a nice walk up there with a lovely view down over the gardens and the Waikato River.
Make sure you stop at the cafe for a drink and something to eat while you sit out on the patio, overlooking the lake.
Before you go, check out which events are happening, there are loads of different things going all year round. Also, try to attend something on the lawn.
Gourmet Gardens happens every Sunday afternoon over the summer and has loads of food stalls, artisan stalls and live music. Bring a blanket and a picnic and chill out on the Rhododendron Lawn in the summer sun.
We attended a movie in the park night one year. It was a really cool experience! We watched Casablanca on the big screen which was set up on the lawn and we snuggled up in blankets with our picnic.
2. Hamilton Lake (Lake Rotoroa)
The lake is a popular spot in Hamilton and is often quite busy, especially in the summer and on weekends.
There is a path that goes all the way around the lake, approx. 4km and you’ll often find walkers and joggers making their way around. After your walk, you can grab a coffee at the cafe next to the huge playground which is always filled with kids and families.
I always thought the lake was man-made, but it’s not! It was formed about 20,000 years ago after the direction of the river changed and over the years it has been developed by the council.
Unfortunately, you can’t swim in the lake due to toxic algae growth and it’s not safe to drink it or cook with it and I would keep dogs away from it as well, just in case.
3. Hamilton Zoo
The zoo is a great day out for everyone. It’s not a large zoo so it can easily be done in about 3-4hrs depending on whether or not you stop at the cafe for lunch.
As of June 2018, the council is currently doing renovations at the zoo and parts of it are closed off. It looks like new enclosures are being made or extended so it’s not possible to some of the animals in those areas.
According to their website, prices are $23 per adult and $11 for children 3-15yrs but there are options for family passes as well.
There are no lions, cheetahs or orangutans at the zoo unfortunately but there are a few things there that I haven’t seen at other zoos, like a bobcat and a fishing cat.
Ok, so I know Raglan isn’t exactly Hamilton. It’s a 45 min drive from town out to the coast but it’s still worth a visit if you’re in Hamilton for a couple of days!
The small town is situated on the estuary and if you’re lucky enough you might get to see the orca when they come in chasing sting rays (which is not that often!).
There are plenty of cafes around to stop off at for something to eat, personally I recommend the Orca Restaurant & Bar. They have good service and good food at fairly reasonable prices.
There is also a really great fish and chip shop on the pier. It’s super popular and there is often a bit of a wait for the food, but it’s well worth it!
The main beach isn’t too far from town and if you keep going around you’ll come across a couple of other little bays which are nice spots for picnic’s and surfing but I wouldn’t recommend swimming at any other beach that isn’t the main one, where the surf life guards are stationed.
Raglan is known for it’s dangerous surf so it is really important to swim at the patrolled beach, between the flags at all times.
Another little town about 45mins from Hamilton at the base of Mt Pirongia. It’s a popular spot for hikers and trampers with a wide range of trails to do.
The trails are varying degrees of length and difficulty so there is something to suit everyone. I’ve only done the trail that takes about an hour, which is a fairly level trail through the bush and quite a nice one to do if you haven’t got much time.
The town is tiny, there really isn’t too much to see there but if you’re looking to stop for lunch then check out the Persimmon Tree cafe. The food there is great and the service is good, they have a little outdoor seating area too which looks up at Pirongia.
6. Enjoy a cruise down the mighty Waikato river
The Waikato River Explorer has regular scenic cruises along the river from the Hamilton Gardens for 60 – 90 mins.
I haven’t had the pleasure of taking one of these cruises but if you like rivers and beautiful scenery, it’s a good way to pass some time and see a bit more of what Hamilton has to offer.
They have an onboard cafe and bar so you can have a coffee or a glass of wine and take in the beautiful views.
Check out their website for more information on how to book. Prices start at $35 per adult for the cruises from Hamilton Gardens and $60 per adult for the wine tasting cruise.
The wine tasting cruise is only available on weekends starting at 2.30pm and takes about 90 mins. The price includes tasting of 4-5 wines and complimentary bread and dips is served throughout the journey. You can also purchase more wine at the bar on board and wines are available to purchase at the end.
7. Check out Riff Raff
A statue of Richard O’Brien as Riff Raff located at the site of the now demolished Embassy Theatre on Victoria St (the main street in Hamilton City).
The whole square is in a Rocky Horror theme as a tribute to Richard, who lived in Hamilton and worked next door to the site.
8. Waikato Museum
The museum is located a little further down from the statue of Riff Raff and houses a few different exhibits including Exscite, which is a science based, hands on learning exhibit for kids.
Most of the exhibits are free to visit but there are often large exhibits on display which do cost. There is a charge for Exscite as well, $5 per adult and $8 per child (4-14yrs).
Check out their website before you go to see what is on as it changes every few months.
Some other ideas while you’re here
- Hamilton is home to the Waikato Chiefs rugby team and games are often played here over the winter during the Super Rugby competition.
- Also, the Waikato regional rugby team calls Hamilton home and Ranfurly Shield games are sometimes hosted at the grounds in the city. It’s a lot of fun getting out to a game to see Mooloo, the mascot, and hear all the cowbells ringing in the crowd.
- If you’re here in the summer, try and catch a cricket game. Seddon Park often hosts test matches and one day series between the NZ Black Caps and Australia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the UK. There is little shade though so make sure you bring plenty of sunscreen!
- Parana Park is located along the eastern bank of the river, right opposite the main city centre and is home to the Hamilton War Memorial. Every ANZAC day there, a dawn service is held here at approx. 6am and 10am. There is also a playground here and a small paddling pool that is popular with families in the summertime.
- If you need to do some shopping , check out The Base in Te Rapa. Which is so named because an old Air Force base was located there before the shopping mall was built.
Need help planning your trip??
If this is your first time visiting New Zealand and you’re looking for some practical advice on how to plan your trip, make sure you check out Discover Aotearoa’s post “Planning a trip to New Zealand.” There is loads of great tips and information about coming to New Zealand, including what you need and what to expect when you arrive in the country.
Check out my day trips posts to find other great things to check out in New Zealand’s North Island!
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