Not to be missed:
- Underground Adventures
- Otorohanga Kiwihouse & Native Bird Park
- Marokopa Falls Waitomo
- Kawhia Hot Water Beach
- The Timber Trail
An hour south of Hamilton the mystical world of the Waitomo region awaits. This is a land of contrasts with many of the area’s natural wonders to be found below the earth’s surface as rolling hills, unspoilt native forest and rich farmland gives way to subterranean limestone caverns.
Millions of years in the making, Waitomo’s labyrinth of caves draws people looking for adventure as well as visitors seeking a more leisurely, but no less spectacular, experience. In Māori ‘wai’ means water and ‘tomo’ means hole or shaft in the ground.
The tourism companies guiding visitors through this underground treasure are deeply committed to protecting the fragile ecosystem – below ground their careful management includes sensors to detect everything from carbon dioxide, temperature and humidity to wind direction and speed, water temperature and levels and glowworm populations; above ground, among the sustainability moves are energy efficient buildings, tree planting and pest control.
In the vicinity of the caves there are cafés, picnic spots and some top walks, including the easy trail through the forest of tropical-looking nikau trees and towering tawa to see the beautiful Marokopa Falls.
Just off SH3, the main highway that travels south of Hamilton, the Waitomo Caves are easy to find.
There are also lots of small towns enroute to stop off for coffee, ice creams and to explore local shops. Be sure to follow the street signs as SH3 often skirts around the centre of these rural towns.
Ōtorohanga is the kiwiana capital of New Zealand. Here all things New Zealand are celebrated in the main street and in the Sir Edmund Hillary Walkway, from No. 8 wire, gumboots and buzzy bee toys to pavlova, school milk and Vegemite. It’s also home to Ōtorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park. Guaranteed are sightings of the nocturnal, flightless kiwi bird that has come to represent the country.
Te Kūiti is the self-styled sheep shearing capital of the world. The town has its own version of the running of the bulls, the Great New Zealand Muster event – only it’s with sheep. Te Kūiti street art installations honour the feats of local shearing champion David Fagan and local farmer and All Blacks rugby legend Sir Colin Meads. The giant weta, one of the world’s largest insects which is found in nearby scrubland, is also a sculpture subject.
Immediately after a berry farm that also tempts with fresh fruit ice creams, is the vibrant small town of Piopio. Nearby walking and mountain biking trails explore farmland and native forest leading to waterfalls and limestone outcrops, including the rocky formations where scenes in the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey where filmed.
The road to the south-east over the ranges between Te Kūiti and Lake Taupo leads to Pureora Forest Park, a haven of native forest ribboned with walking and biking trails, including the Timber Trail Cycleway.
To the west of the Waitomo Caves is the coastline where the rugged land of the Waikato meets the Tasman Sea. Amongst the far-flung beach communities is Kāwhia, where the region’s first Māori people landed in their great voyaging canoe, Tainui. With fresh seafood, friendly locals and even a hot water beach, Kāwhia is a real hidden gem.
How far to:
- Auckland: 190kms 2 hours 40 mins
- Rotorua: 150kms 2 hours 10 mins
- Tauranga: 188kms 2 hours 30 mins