A-Z of the Waikato

Photography by: IMAGES: WAIKATO TOURISM / TOURISM NEW ZEALAND, LIZ LIGHT, ZEALONG TEA ESTATE, MADDOX PHOTOGRAPHY


From natural wonders like hot water beaches and magical caves to galleries, gardens and more, the Waikato has lots on offer for motorhomers. Here’s a look at some of the highlights, from A right through to Z

A-Z of the Waikato Copy of Bridal Veil Falls, Raglan (Waikato Tourism).jpg

Aranui Cave

Part of the Waitomo Cave network, Aranui Cave is a place of awe-inspiring beauty. Discovered in 1910, it was formed on an earthquake fault. Rain water seeps through the limestone above, forming masses of fragile stalactites. Sparkling in shades of pink, white and fawn, these natural wonders adorn almost every corner of the roof and walls of the cave, and are a sight to behold. Upon entering the cave, your guide will take you along safe boardwalks into narrow chambers to see these beautiful formations. To visit the cave, book your tickets at waitomo.com.

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Bridal Veil Falls

Located 28km from Raglan on the Kauroa-Kawhia Road, the Bridal Veil Falls track provides a lovely walk through native forest. Falls track is set within the 217-hectare Waireinga Scenic Reserve, and follows the Pakoka River. It’s an easy 15-minute walk to the elegant cascade, where you’ll find two viewing platforms that provide a spectacular vista of the falls and surrounding countryside. Looking down to the base of the waterfall, you will see soft sandstone rocks, worn away by the water to form a large amphitheatre. 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. Access to the falls is via Te Mata Road o the Hamilton/Raglan Highway (SH23). Turn left into Kawhia Road, 1km past Te Mata and travel another 4km to the car park.

Cycle Trails

One of the best ways to explore the Waikato region is to park up your motorhome and get out and about by bike. There are hundreds of kilometres of trails to discover, offering riders a close-up look at the region’s picturesque scenery and fascinating past. The Waikato River Trails take you through native forest, past hydro dams and along suspension bridges. Or to see more of the city, try the Hamilton City River Rides & Walks, which runs for 10km through central Hamilton and along the banks of the Waikato River.

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Duck Island Ice Cream

Take a moment for a sweet stop at Duck Island Ice Cream in either Hamilton East (300a Grey Street), or Riverbank Lane (298 Victoria Street). Here you’ll find a multitude of tasty ice creams including gluten- and dairy-free, and vegan options. Some of the delicious flavours on offer include banana brulee ginger swirl, popcorn white chocolate, ginger bourbon pecan, and ambrosia. Yum! Whet your appetite by checking out the full flavour range at duckislandicecream.co.nz.

E HINA E! E HINE E!

On show at Waikato Museum (Grantham Street, Hamilton) until 21 March 2021, the E Hina e! E Hine E! exhibition explores the contemporary relevance of female Maori and Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) akua/atua (ancestors). Focusing on our profound connections, and told through contemporary and traditional taonga (treasures), oratory, and visual storytelling, this exhibition celebrates the female essence. Free entry. Find out more at waikatomuseum.co.nz.

Farmers markets

The Hamilton Farmers’ Market is held on Sunday mornings between 8am and 12pm. Head on down for delicious breakfast options and a hot co ee. Browse the wonderful variety of stalls from some of the best artisan products and produce in the Waikato. The market began in 2006 with just 15 stallholders and has since blossomed in popularity, becoming one of the more well-known Waikato markets. Today you’ll see a wide range of stalls and fare including fresh local fruits and vegetables, hand-crafted breads and pastries, artisan butchers and fishmongers, honey, condiments and even gourmet dog treats. There is something to fill everyone’s shopping bags. You’ll find the markets at Gate 3, Brooklyn Road in Claudelands.

Gardens

If you haven’t visited the Hamilton Gardens yet, you’re in for a treat. Located on Hungerford Crescent, this award-winning destination is simply magic. Stretching between the Waikato River and SH1 on the edge of Hamilton East, the gardens are free to visit and include large areas of themed landscapes to stroll through, as well as beautifully designed enclosed gardens within five collections: Paradise, Productive, Fantasy, Cultivar, and Landscape. Each collection includes four to six individual gardens to explore. There is plenty of parking for motorhomes, plus an on-site cafe. With so much to see, you may need to plan an entire day to visit. Find out more at hamiltongardens.co.nz.

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Hobbiton

Even if you’re not a fan of the films, the Hobbiton Movie Set is an incredible attraction and a must-do for every Kiwi. And if you are a devotee, then a visit to Hobbiton will be the experience of a lifetime. Tours begin at the Shire, where a tour bus will take you to the movie set. On board the bus, you’ll hear the fascinating story of how the location was found. Once at Hobbiton, you’ll be able to wander around the 12-acre set, past Hobbit Holes, the Mill and into the world-famous Green Dragon Inn, where you can enjoy a complimentary Hobbit Southfarthing beverage. Find out more at hobbitontours.com.

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Inspirit Studio & Gallery

This contemporary art gallery is definitely worth a stop for anyone with an interest in art, sculpture, photography, and creativity. The purpose-built gallery exhibits a diverse range of art from glass and jewellery to wearable art and woodwork, and features an infinity sculpture lawn with stunning rural views of Pirongia and Maungatautari. The gallery is located on 360 Pencarrow Road, Tamahere. For opening hours and more info, visit inspirit.co.nz.

Jukebox Diner

Step back into the rock and roll 50s at the Jukebox Diner on Railside Place, Dinsdale (on the site of the classic car museum – see opposite). This cool eatery is fitted out in the décor of the era with authentic vintagestyle booths and furnishings. The menu is just as cool, with meals like the Texas Hangover (toast, bacon, eggs, pancakes, tater tots and maple), waffles, bacon butties, loaded fries, hot dogs and more. There’s even a ‘Jacinda Burger’ made with New Zealand lamb and haloumi. Check it out for yourself at jukeboxdiner.net.nz.

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Kawhia Hot Water Beach

Less crowded than Coromandel’s Hot Water Beach, hot springs can be found at Kawhia’s Ocean Beach for two hours either side of low tide. Steeped in history, Kawhia is where the Tainui waka (one of the original canoes carrying the first Polynesians) came to rest after its epic trans-Pacific voyage. Today it is a sleepy little spot, far from the madding crowds and all the better for it. But be warned – because this is a black sand beach, it can really heat up in summer, so don’t forget your shoes. To get to the beach, drive to the end of Ocean Beach Road, park in the carpark and walk down over the dunes to the
beach. If you’re not sure where to dig to gain access to the steaming seams, a friendly local will show you the way.

Lavender Backyard Garden

There is nothing quite like the relaxing aroma of freshly picked lavender. At Lavender Backyard Garden in Newstead, you can pick your own lavender and blueberries from December through to January. This boutique, family-owned farm sells wonderful products from on the farm including essential oils, handmade soap, perfume, balms and more. Stop by the co ee cart for a cuppa, a light meal, or some delicious blueberry ice cream. To find out more visit lavenderbackyard.co.nz.

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Motoring Memorabilia 

Mad about motoring? Get along to the Classics Museum, where you will discover a huge collection of all things classic motoring, including 100 cars from 1918 to 1987 – among them a restored 1937 Bedford bus once used to take Hamilton children to school. There’s also a 1937 Bugatti that’s currently under restoration, plus loads of cool memorabilia including a Big Tree garage complete with signs and tools. There are also some incredible motorbikes on display such as a 1929 Indian Scout and a 1915 Excelsior. The museum is located at 11 Railside Place in Hamilton. Find out more at classicsmuseum.co.nz.

Ngarunui Beach

Also known as Ocean Beach, Main Beach or Wainui Beach, Ngarunui is the main sandy swimming beach in Raglan. This magnificent black sand stretch is ideal for swimming, perfect for learning to surf, and also great for simply lying in the sun. There is an area patrolled by surf lifesavers (October to April) immediately in front of the access trail to the beach. The western end is the best place to swim and surf, while the eastern end provides a nice spot for walking. There is also an area of about 1.5km that is leash-free for dogs (but please beware of hot sand during summer).

At low tide, there are often shallow paddling pools for the littlies to enjoy. Don’t forget to pack your sunblock for summer, or a flask of hot coffee in winter.

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Over the moon

Calling all cheese lovers! Head along to boutique cheese factory Over the Moon on SH1 in Putaruru. It’s about an hour’s drive from central Hamilton, but definitely worth it. Taste and buy specialty cheeses, take a tour of the factory and learn about cheesemaking while you watch it being made. The tasting room is open every day, with free tastings from a selection of gourmet cheeses. Over the Moon creates New Zealand’s widest range of specialty cheeses from locally sourced goat, cow, sheep, and buffalo milk. They make around 24,000kg of cheese every year – so be sure to stop by and stock up! Find out more at overthemoondairy.co.nz.

Pick your own fruit

Summer is coming, and so are all those juicy, delicious summer fruits. The Waikato region has lots of great ‘pick your own’ options, from berries and peaches to persimmons and pears. You can find a list
of locations at waikatonz.com/eat-and-drink/pick-your-own-fruit.

Quiz Night at The Quadrant

Fans of The Chase – this is your chance! Get along to quiz night at Hamilton’s The Quadrant Pub and Kitchen and put your trivia knowledge to the test. Every Wednesday is quiz night, kicking off at 7pm and hosted by Quizmaster Big Red. The quiz offers five rounds of big-screen trivia that’s not too hard, but not too easy. Add to the mix some bonus games, great food and drink, a stack of prizes and laughs aplenty, and it’s the place to be on a Wednesday. Pull a team together and join the fun down at The Quadrant. Bookings recommended. Visit thequadrantpub.co.nz to find out more.

Raglan Creative Market

Held on the second Sunday of each month at the Raglan Old School Arts Centre in Whaingaroa-Raglan, the Creative Market has something for everyone. The market reflects the Raglan lifestyle by showcasing the friendly, creative, healthy and alive atmosphere of the area. A place to relax and enjoy the beautiful things in life with Whaingaroa local kai and arts.

Sanctuary Mountain

Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari is an ancient forest that offers a safe haven for many of New Zealand’s endangered birds, skinks, geckos, frogs, bats, and insects. Surrounded by one of the world’s longest pest-proof fences, Sanctuary Mountain is a world-class conservation project which aims to continue the species reintroductions and breeding programmes to create biodiversity in a sound ecological environment. Choose from a variety of experiences, such as a daytime guided tour of the ancient forest, or a dusk-to-dark experience where you can listen for kiwi and see glowworms. The sanctuary is at 99 Tari Road, Pukeatua – about 30 minutes’ drive south of Cambridge. Find out more at sanctuarymountain.co.nz.

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Te Waihou Walkway – Blue Spring

The Te Waihou Walkway and Blue Spring is located in South Waikato near Putaruru. The walk to the springs follows a track alongside the Waihou River, through wetlands, across rolling pastoral land and features views of small waterfalls, native bush and the famous Blue Spring with glimpses of trout along the way. The spring is fed from the Mamaku Plateau, where the water takes up to 100 years to filter through; the resulting water is so pure and clean that it produces a beautiful blue colour and is virtually clear. The Blue Spring walk takes about one and a half hours each way, starting from Whites Road (SH 28), near Putaruru. There is also a shorter walk, 15 minutes each way, to the Blue Spring, accessed from nearby Leslie Road. See waikatonz.com for more.

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Urge Coffee and Tea Boutique

Located on Victoria Street in Hamilton’s CBD, Urge is the go-to spot if you’re craving a cuppa. This award-winning store has over 10 different coffee blends and roasts which can be purchased as beans or ground coffee. You’ll also find a groovy range of Dunoon English fine bone china tea cups, plus breakfast and demitasse cups, mugs and storage jars – perfect for a bit of early Christmas shopping. Find out more at urgecoffee.online.

Vilagrad Winery

Looking for somewhere special for your Sunday lunch? Head along to Vilagrad winery on Rukuhia Road, Ohaupo for a delicious Mediterranean spit roast buffet and enjoy a glass or two of Vilagrad’s award-winning wines. Vilagrad was established in 1922 by Ivan Milicich Snr and is now in its fifth generation as a family-owned and operated winery. Vilagrad is a great place for the whole family, with an exciting new play area for children that includes a playhouse, trampoline, pedal karts and much more. To book, or find out more, visit vilagradwines.co.nz.

Wahine Moe Boat Charters

Discover the rugged beauty of Raglan aboard the Wahine Moe. With over 122km of coastline, the Raglan
Whaingaroa Harbour has many stunning features, views, stories and activities to enjoy. Relax as you sail past the ancient limestone rock formations while the captain and crew share tales of the area’s history. The one-and-a-half hour sunset harbour cruise is a perfect activity for your family or small group to enjoy together. And to top it off, you can choose to include a fresh fish and chip meal from Raglan Fish at the Harbour.

X-Golf Zone

Head along to SkyCity in Hamilton to experience the best international golf courses in the world on the X-Golf simulator. Challenge yourself or a group of mates on over 50 courses, including some of the best-known ones on the PGA tour. The X-Golf simulator measures the motion vector of a golf ball as well as the motion of the golf club such as path, the angle of attack, trajectory and velocity, perfectly replicating the golf ball flight laws of physics. Ideal for avid golfers keen to perfect their swing, or for those just wanting some friendly competition. For more see skycityhamilton.co.nz.

Yoga

Need some time out to stretch and unwind? Head along to St Aidan’s Anglican Church at 24 Thames Street in Hamilton on a ursday night from 7.30pm to 8.30pm for a relaxing session. The class starts with 30 minutes of gentle restorative poses using lots of support from props such as blankets and bolsters so you can get comfortable and begin letting go of tension. That prepares you for a deeper state of release with 30 minutes of yoga nidra, where you lie back and are guided through a relaxation process. This ‘yogic sleep’ is deeply restorative for body and mind. Sessions are $15 and are open to all ages. For more see eventfinda.co.nz/2018/yoga-for-relaxation/hamilton.

Zealong Tea Estate

This special place is New Zealand’s only tea plantation – but it is also so much more. The estate is set over 48 hectares just north of Hamilton on Gordonton Road. From beautiful gardens to exquisite high teas, there is plenty to see and do at Zealong. One of the best ways to explore is to book a Tea Tour, where you will learn about the history of tea in New Zealand. You’ll also take a walk along the tea trail and learn how tea is picked and processed, before enjoying a ceremonial tea tasting. You can also add a high tea to your tour. Find out more and book online at zealong.com.

A-Z of the Waikato Copy of Picking tea at Zealong Tea Estate (Zealong).jpg

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