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Known affectionately by locals as ‘The ‘Tron’ (or if the local tourist board would have you believe, the ‘Gateway to the North Island’), Hamilton in New Zealand doesn’t currently feature that highly on the tourist radar, compared to other northern NZ cities.
Just an hour’s drive away from Auckland and nestled on the banks of the mighty Waikato river, Hamilton is often the butt of local jokes but we aren’t sure why. Yes, it isn’t as picturesque as some of the other Kiwi cities, but if you are spending a prolonged about of time in the North Island, it is definitely worth a visit (especially for its nightlife).
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Things to do in Hamilton:
The jewel in Hamilton’s crown (and its most visited attraction), the Hamilton Gardens are the most stunning public gardens in the whole of New Zealand. Across 58 hectares, there are several sections to explore – we adored the ‘Paradise Garden Collection’ which includes themed garden displays that represent China, England, America, Italy, India and Japan (the latter section reminded us of the Japanese gardens in Kensington Gardens in London).
Hamilton Gardens is also home to Te Parapara – New Zealand’s first traditional Maori garden. It highlights traditional Maori customs, materials and traditions relating to food production passed down through generations of Maori families.
The showpiece for us were the Fantasy Gardens, especially the tremendous Tudor Garden (like being back in jolly old England).
Riff Raff Statue
A little piece of ‘Rocky Horror Show’ history in the very heart of Hamilton. Located on Victoria Street, this Riff Raff statue was erected at the former site of the barbers where Hamilton born Richard O’ Brien used to cut hair in the ‘60s (the creator of the Rocky Horror Show – pre his Crystal Maze presenting days, UK readers).
Amazingly, you are also invited to do the Time Warp (again?) on camera, which is then broadcast to the world on the internet (tell your friends in advance!). Bizarre but brilliant!
Running in parallel to the main high street with boardwalks and pathways all along the banks, the mighty Waikato is renowned for its trout fishing, and is an easy way to escape the hustle of the city.
As well as lush riverside walks through the woods, there are also several river cruise companies that chug up and down the Waikato, with running commentaries.
We lived in Auckland for a couple of years and often made the beer-grimage down to Hamilton to spend a few glorious hours drinking cold ones on the main strip. One of our fondest memories was the time the local Monteith’s Brewery bar paired a tasting tray of their core range of beers with an accompanying cheeseboard.
Our favourite spots include The Bank Bar and Brasserie ( as the name suggests, a former bank), the Good George Brewery and Dining Hall and SKYCITY casino (not just for gambling and their outdoor balconies also have nice views of the Waikato River).
If you are visiting Hamilton, two other spots we’ve heard good things about but are yet to visit are Waikato Museum (free admission, with exhibitions and activities telling the stories of the region) and Hamilton Zoo. The famous Waitomo Glowworm caves are also a one hour drive south of Hamilton – you can either take a relaxed guided tour/boat ride or go black water rafting or abseiling!
Check out our other New Zealand blog posts:
- The 10 best day trips from Auckland, New Zealand
- Things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand
- A day trip to Milford Sound, New Zealand
- How to spend a day in Hanmer Springs, New Zealand
- 20 New Zealand food and drinks items you need to try
- A Guide to Arrowtown, New Zealand
- Delivering post on the Picton Mail Boat Cruise
- Visiting the Monteith’s brewery in Greymouth
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Blog post by Neil Hassall and is copyrighted. Please do not use without permission.