Seemingly everywhere you go is the majestic Waikato River, shaping the landscape as it flows towards the sea. The longest river in New Zealand, it makes a striking sight between its wide banks and also offers great kayaking, boating and trout fishing spots, particularly on its picturesque hydro lakes. There are also numerous walks and cycle tracks along its banks, including the acclaimed Waikato River Trails. Many tributaries feed into the river, and throughout the region are dramatic waterfalls including Bridal Veil near Raglan, Marokopa Falls on the way to the coast from Waitomo, and Wairere near Matamata.
A Haven for Birdlife
A pure New Zealand is also revealed among the many areas of native bush that adorn the volcanic hills and ranges. The mountain walking trails are easily reached and have options for all levels of fitness. Walk among trees that have been growing for hundreds of years, where a dappled sunlight filters through the canopy and the musical call of the Tui’s, the clapping, whirring sound of a Kereru’s (wood pigeon’s) flight or the friendly, chittering of a Piwakawaka (Fantail) is never far away.
One of the most impressive walks is at the remarkable Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari (Maungatautari Ecological Reserve), a vast sanctuary for endangered native species. Inside its 47km long pest-proof fence, you can visualise New Zealand the way it used to be, and see rare birds like the Hihi (stitchbird), Kaka, Takahe and maybe even Kiwi. Unhindered by pests, both flora and fauna are flourishing in its 3400 hectare expanse. A walk along its well-marked tracks gets you up close to a huge variety of native trees and plants, along with birds and insects. Those with a keen eye may also spot a Tuatara basing in the sunlight inside the Maungatautari wetalnds area.
The Southern Enclosure offers the chance to see birds feeding in the open feeding area along with a 16 metre high canopy viewing platform. The mountain provides many walking trails, or take a guided night walk to see how the bush comes alive under cover of darkness – listen for the call of the Kiwi, and see native Weta and spiders.
Along with this internationally significant project the Hamilton & Waikato region is home to a number of conservation and wildlife initiatives including the Otorohanga KiwiHouse and Native Bird Park, where you are guaranteed to see the kiwi in nocturnal enclosures. There is also a large dome aviary and the chance to learn about New Zealand’s rare birds. Plus you can see the tuatara, a unique reptile that provides a living link to the world of the dinosaurs.
Elsewhere, see what is believed to be the country's tallest Kahikatea tree on the slopes of Mt Pirongia and the tallest Totara further south in Pureora Forest. Or get up close to with most southern stand of Kauri trees in the Hakarimata Range near Ngaruawahia.
Perhaps most jaw-droppingly marvellous of all the region's natural attractions are the world-famous Waitomo Caves, carved out of limestone over millions of years. Under serene farmland are constellations of twinkling glow-worms and unique rock formations which also serve as a reminder that this land was once under the sea. Guided tours recount the geographic and cultural history of the Caves, while there’s plenty of adventure on offer for those keen to try their hand at subterranean black water rafting, ziplining and abseiling.
Hamilton Zoo also boasts a tuatara and a large free-flight aviary where, if you’re lucky, a Kaka, similar to a large parrot, will alight on your shoulder. Plus through the zoo’s community education and conservation programmes 'Eye2Eye' and 'Face2Face' visitors are able to meet some of the species, feed them and assist with their daily husbandry.
The region is also known for its peat lakes, the largest grouping in the country, which offers refuge for many unique plant and animal species while Mt Pirongia, is home to the remarkable and threatened wood rose (Dactylanthus taylorii).
As if all this wasn't enough, the region is home to several internationally recognised wetlands and the west coast's dramatic headlands and harbours provide plenty of places to marvel at nature's spectacle. Not only that, Raglan's surf is known around the world for its long left-hand breaks, and further south at Kawhia, at low tide, a dig at the water's edge is likely to produce your own perfectly formed hot water pool -- or for that matter you can soak in one of the many natural hot pools dotted through the region. With so many options on offer, you'll be spoiled for choice.