Add to the mix that this is also the town of spirited champions, both equine and human, and it’s surrounded by beautiful countryside, and you have the Cambridge that is so irresistible visitors wish they had planned to stay longer, and many return – again and again.
Cambridge Rich Heritage
Many of Cambridge’s buildings that date back to the Victorian and Edwardian eras are protected and can be admired as you stroll around the streets. Amongst the particularly picturesque are St Andrew’s Anglican Church, constructed in 1881, and Cambridge Primary School, built in 1879.
There is also the Edwardian style Cambridge Town Hall, constructed in 1909, which overlooks Jubilee Gardens and the cenotaph where the town’s ANZAC remembrance day is held each year.
Cambridge Museum is housed in the old courthouse and has an extensive collection of artefacts and archives showcasing the history of the region.
The Equine Stars Walk of Fame
A walking tour of town will get you acquainted with many of the winners that make Cambridge proud. The Equine Stars Walk of Fame on Victoria Street celebrates winning horses, as does the mare and foal statute in Jubilee Gardens outside the Edwardian era town hall where there is also a war memorial and clock tower.
Antiques & Shopping in Cambridge
Amongst the drawcards are antique stores, several of which have been in business in Cambridge for 40 years or more and are highly respected for their fine art and genuine antiques. They source yesteryear treasures locally and internationally, including furniture, art works, silverware, pewter, glass, crystal, jewellery, and more.
Some antique stores to look out for are Heritage Gallery, Alys Antiques and Fine Art, Antiques on Victoria, Colonial Heritage Antiques, and Collective on Empire.
Visitors with shopping in mind will be delighted by the variety they’ll find in Cambridge, from books, boots and gifts to homewares, high fashion, sports gear, gourmet foods, and more. Here are some to check out – The Store, O’Dell Home, Hus, Simply Divine Kitchen, Green With Envy, Wallace Cotton, Leven, Rumor, Mavis & Mick.
Cambridge also boasts a number of second-hand and charity stores offering visitors a chance to recycle, slow down fast fashion and support a good cause. They are well-stocked with the usual clothing, footwear, homewares, linen, sports gear, children’s clothing, toys, books, and furniture.
Dining out in Cambridge
Fast becoming a foodie destination, Cambridge is where to eat out and treat your taste buds to some of the best with chefs taking pleasure in offering deliciousness that showcases the fresh produce and artisan products the Waikato region is known for.
Some eateries and bars are housed in heritage buildings, the charming atmosphere adding to your dining experience, while others are in more modern settings in the new buildings that herald the expansion of this once sleepy town.
In central Cambridge celebrated bars and eateries include Alpino where the fare and atmosphere are authentically Italian. Housed in the protected building that was the town’s post office, Alpino caught the attention of Cuisine Good Food Award judges who said this is a restaurant to watch.
A church built in the late 1800s is home to the hip Good Union bar and eatery where the beverages are crafted by Hamilton-based Good George Brewery and the burgers are legendary.
Amongst the other eateries in town are Onyx, Paddock, Suburban Kitchen and out in the recently developed residential area of St Kilda the St Kilda Café & Bistro where the outdoor seating area looks out over restored wetlands and a children’s playground.
Just out of town in the surrounding countryside are further cafés to try. There’s The Bikery at Grassroots Trust Velodrome, Lilly Pad Café on Kaipaki Road – make time to pop into the adjacent Garden Art Studio – and Café Irresistiblue at Monavale Blueberries.
Cycling in Cambridge and Surrounds
Cyclists will be drawn to the Te Awa River Ride, part of which runs through the streets of Cambridge. This scenic 65km cycling and walking trail stretches from Ngāruawāhia to Lake Karapiro.
Cambridge’s Grassroots Trust Velodrome, adjacent to St Peter’s School, is the headquarters of Cycling New Zealand, and where winners can be seen in action alongside aspiring talent. Visitors can also have a go and experience riding on the world-class velodrome track. Next to the velodrome there is the Gallagher Bike Skills Park where youngsters can test their ability on a range of track surfaces and contours as well as learn road rules.
Amongst the cycling adventures located just out of town is Te Miro Mountain Bike Park. The variety of terrain and tracks ensures the park is popular with active families as well as hard-core mountain bikers.
Cambridge Farmers Market & Tomtit Farm
Each Saturday morning Cambridge Farmers’ Market sets up in Victoria Square opposite the clock tower offering fresh fruit and vegetables, local artisan food products including small goods, pies to eat there and then or take home, freshly baked bread, plants, flowers, coffee of course and live music.
In the nearby village of Matangi, Tomtit Farm, which supplies locals with organic vegetables, invites visitors to PYO flowers on certain dates from November to April. Check the farm’s website and Facebook page for dates.
On the big screen
Cambridge’s Tivoli Cinema is an independent and takes pride in featuring an intriguing mix of movies, both New Zealand productions and international. Three state of the art auditoriums are equipped with fully digital projection and designed to ensure audience comfort with lounge-style chairs and side tables for drinks and nibbles, including the popular gourmet platters you can order and take in to enjoy as you watch the movie.
Jet boating in Cambridge
The mighty Waikato River flows through Cambridge and one of the ways to get out on the water is in a powerful 450 hp V8 jet boat. Camjet promises adrenalin rushes taking visitors along the scenic river to the base Karapiro Dam, crossing three sets of rapids and navigating two waterfalls with some 360° spins thrown in.
Renowned as a world-class rowing destination, Lake Karapiro is where to go to do a bit of rowing yourself or to kayak, canoe, paddleboard, jet ski or water ski. Park of the Waikato River, the lake was formed back in 1947 when the Karapiro Power Station and dam was constructed. At 21kms in length the lake is an impressive sight especially as you drive across the top of the dam.
Lake Karapiro is home-base for Rowing New Zealand and the adjacent Don Rowlands Events Centre is often at the heart of the action with its outdoor deck area and grandstand providing the perfect viewing spot for any event happening on the water.
Surrounding parkland includes camping facilities, picnic areas and walking trails.
Walking Tracks in Cambridge
Cambridge is a great town to go strolling in. Apart from the heritage buildings and tree-lined streets, there is the ‘hidden lake’ – Lake Te Koo Utu – so-called because it’s below street level and out of sight unless you go looking. Tracks circle the lake and explore the forest-clad slopes.
A short distance from Cambridge are three walks of note. There is Maungakawa Scenic Reserve, a 10-minute drive, where the walling track is an easy 30-minute loop with stunning views out over surrounding countryside and native trees.
The Sculpture Park at Waitakaruru Arboretum is a similar distance, this time to the north of Cambridge. Most sections of the all-weather walking tracks around the arboretum are accessible by wheelchair and also suitable for push chairs. Now a magnificent park with collections of trees and shrubs from around the world, as well as native plantings, this was once a hard-rock quarry. It is a dramatic setting for some 70 sculptures.
Some 30 minutes from Cambridge is Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, the largest ecological ‘island’ on mainland New Zealand. Enclosed by 47kms of predator-proof fence, this is a haven for rare and endangered native species. Take a guided tour or nature walk and discover why this amazing project is so special.
Wineries & Vineyards in Waipa
The mighty maunga/mountain has views over Lake Karapiro and farming country, including the ordered rows of vines at Takapoto Estate. As well as vinting chardonnay and Bordeaux wine styles, the estate also hosts weddings and show jumping with a winter series and the Takapoto Classic held each February.
Another Waikato vineyard is Vilagrad Winery, located 20 minutes from Cambridge to the west. Vilagrad brought home a silver medal for its pinot gris in the prestigious London International Wine and Spirits competition, regarded as the Olympics of wine awards.