If you’re looking for an exciting and educational experience, start with a trip to Hamilton Zoo where you will find hours of fun exploring and meeting the wide variety of rare and endangered animals from around the world. “Meet the Keeper” sessions run daily and will leave the kids enthralled with trivia, and for those animal lovers who are eager for a close-up encounter, Face 2 Face tours are a unique behind the scenes experiences where you can learn more about the zoo’s incredible creatures.
Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari also offers picturesque walking trails through ancient native forest, with a variety of friendly birdlife to spot. The largest inland ecological island in NZ, Sanctuary Mountain is also home to Tuataru, and boasts a canopy viewing tower for a birds eye view of the forest.
In the south of the region, the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park is home to many of New Zealand’s native birds and reptiles, including our national icon the Kiwi and the Tuatara which pre-dates dinosaurs. With one of the best nocturnal kiwi viewing facilities in New Zealand, a sighting of the kiwi is guaranteed. You will also find a celebration of all things Kiwiana in Otorohanga, with the Sir Ed Hillary Walkway offering a great snapshot of New Zealand’s icons, heroes and traditions.
The idyllic west coast beaches of Raglan and Kawhia are an easy drive from Hamilton. An ideal size for families, they are great spots to create lifelong memories. Raglan offers plenty of accommodation and dining options as well as fantastic beach activities, why not give surfing a go with Raglan Surfing School or hire a kayak and explore the limestone coast. The final resting place of the Tainui waka, the smaller seaside town of Kawhia is rich with culture and heritage and at low tide you can dig your own hot pool on the ocean beach.
Families also have the perfect chance to explore the Waikato River and Lake Karapiro on a relaxed kayak tour or a leisurely boat cruise. Walkways and cycle tracks hug the river banks providing plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors.
Middle-earth Movie Magic
Middle-earth movie magic can be found in the lush green countryside near Matamata, where The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie trilogies were filmed. Future generations will be inspired on a guided tour of Hobbiton™ Movie Set where you can see the hobbit holes tucked into the hillside and learn about a significant part of New Zealand’s film history. Other filming locations in the Waikato include Weathertop Hollow from The Lord of The Rings trilogy, filmed near Port Waikato, Trollshaw forest filmed on rugged farm land near Piopio, and underground sounds recorded in the famous Waitomo Caves.
The Great Outdoors
There are plenty of opportunities for families to explore the natural wonders of the truly diverse region. The Waitomo Caves are a must-do activity; a million years in the making, they are like nowhere else on earth. Weird and wonderful stalactites and stalagmites decorate the caves interior and gentle boat rides will take you under magnificent skies of glowworms. Families will also enjoy the Troll Cave, a cave tour designed specifically with children in mind, and great for all ages. Above ground you will find great walking trails such at the Marokopa Falls and Mangapohue Natural Bridge, along with farm parks, farm shows and great dining options.
North Waikato is the home of motor sport action with Hampton Downs offering both track experiences and go karting. Also in North Waikato is the Bush Tramway Club where you can take a ride back in time aboard the Nostalgic Steam Train on the first Sunday of every month.
For active family fun, there are numerous walks and parks to experience as much of the great outdoors as you want and plenty of wide open spaces in the region where families can simply enjoy being together. Hire bikes and wind through amazing native bush and open farmland on the Waikato River Trail. Hamilton Gardens and the Hamilton Lake are idyllic spots to enjoy a picnic. There are many great playgrounds across the region to keep the kids entertained for hours, for a full list of playgrounds click here.
Visit one of the many great walking tracks throughout the region such as those found on Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari which are suitable for all levels and also provide native wildlife encounters, or the spectacular Bridal Veil Falls near Raglan for stunning views - sure to burn off any extra energy.
Wet days can sometimes be a challenge with children, but luckily the region has the perfect variety of all-weather destinations. SkyCity Hamilton provides hours of family entertainment all under one roof, with tenpin bowling, an escape room and cafes and restaurants to refuel afterwards.
In central Hamilton, Waikato Museum makes learning fun. Inquisitive children of all ages will happily spend hours in total absorption in the Exscite interactive science gallery. The changing exhibitions bring the region’s stories to life, with a focus on the regions rich culture and engaging hands-on experiences. While indoor trampoline parks, rock climbing and go karting are also on offer in Hamilton City.
Older children will love taking on one the immersive escape rooms at Escapist, then refuel afterwards in the board game cafe.