The Waikato region is now at Orange. For more information visit →

Nature Lovers: 2-3 days

Nature and soft adventure experiences can be found right throughout the drive south from Hamilton to Waitomo. Travel from Hamilton to Maungatautari Ecological Reserve, an internationally significant conservation project which is restoring the mountain and its wildlife to its former glory behind a predator proof fence. From there head to Te Awamutu, birthplace of the famous Finn Brothers from Crowded House fame.

Day 1: Hamilton to Te Awamutu

Takahe on Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, Te Awamutu, NZ

Depart Hamilton, drive south along SH3 towards Te Awamutu. Approx 40 mins from the centre of the city is Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, where native species are flourishing once more behind a pest-proof fence.

Allow half a day for a walk on Maungatautari – guided by appointment or self-guided. Make sure you include the southern enclosure for sightings of native species like the stitchbird. Have lunch at Out in the Styx café.

Head to Te Awamutu, known as the Rose Capital of NZ but also making its name as the “Cow Town” of the Waikato region

  • Visit the Rose Gardens, in full bloom between November and April but pleasant at any time of the year.
  • Visit the highly regarded Te Awamutu Museum with its display on local music heroes the Finn brothers as well as a gallery with Maori taonga (treasures) and a New Zealand Wars exhibition (open seven days).
  • Take the short drive to Mt Pirongia with its huge range of walking and hiking options in native bush, or play a round of golf at one of several local golf courses. The township of Pirongia is worth checking out for good coffee and crafts.

Overnight in Te Awamutu and surrounds

Day 2: Te Awamutu to Otorohanga

Otorohanga Kiwi House, Otorohanga, New Zealand

Head south on SH 3 towards Otorohanga (25 mins), known for its Kiwiana culture and displays along with the Kiwi House.

  • Visit Alphra Lavenders and learn about lavender farming – the main flowering, with great photo opportunities, is early November to the end of January.
  • Check out the Otorohanga Kiwi House to view live kiwi and other native species including the ruru (morepork) and swamp birds. The grounds are a good place for a picnic.
  • Visit the Pou Pou (Maori carved totem poles) in the centre of town – a tribute to the ancestors of the local Maniapoto people.

Stay overnight in a farmstay or other accommodation. Or continue south to Waitomo 15 mins away

Day 3: Waitomo to Hamilton 

Marokopa Falls, Waitomo, New Zealand

Take SH3 south to Waitomo, The world famous cave system with its myriad glowworms has every option from spectacular walks to the adrenalin rush of black water rafting and abseiling.

  • Explore the magical glowworm caves by taking a cave tour (a number of options are available).
  • Visit the Discovery Centre to learn the history of the area and wonders of the caves.
  • Check out the awe-inspiring Mangapohue Natural Bridge.
  • Visit the 35 metre high Marokopa Falls.
  • Challenge yourself by partaking in an action packed caving adventure.

If time allows, head south to the “shearing capital” Te Kuiti, check out its shops and then drive south-east to Pureora Forest for a walk in its majestic bush or cycle along The Timber Trail, or head south-west from Te Kuiti to Piopio to visit Hairy Feet Waitomo, the site of filming locations from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Head back to Hamilton (drive time 1 hour 45 mins).