Destination Hamilton City
How far to:
Auckland: 125kms, 1,5 hour
Waitomo: 80kms, 1.2 hour
Rotorua: 106kms, 1.4 hour
Tauragna: 120kms, 1.5 hour
Just an hour and a half south of Auckland, Hamilton is readily accessed thanks to its central geographical location and excellent transport links including an extensive expressway as well as rail and Hamilton Airport’s flight schedule that provide direct connections with Wellington, Christchurch, Napier/Hastings, Palmerston North and Nelson.
Hamilton Gardens is a world tour of garden design with each individual garden in the 25-plus collection telling its own story and offering insights into different civilisations ranging from Indian, Japanese, Chinese and Egyptian, to Italian, English and Māori.
Located in Hamilton City along a stretch of the mighty Waikato River, the gardens include paradise, fantasy, landscape, cultivar, and productive collections.
The newest, the Ancient Egyptian Garden, takes visitors back 4,000 years to when the pharaohs ruled. Believed to be the first time such an age-old garden has been recreated, it features flowers, vegetables and fruit often used for sacred rituals, along with temples and pergolas.
With a collection of more than 30,000 taonga (treasures), Waikato Museum – Te Whare Taonga on Waikato – overlooks the Waikato River as it threads its way through Hamilton City.
Highlights include the majestic war waka (canoe) Te Winika on display, the 13 different galleries where a rich blend of artifacts and artworks are exhibited and the fun science galleries for children.
The museum also operates ArtsPost which is dedicated to developing and promoting artists. Based in the nearby heritage building that was once a post office, ArtsPost has exhibition galleries and a gift shop.
Classic Car Museum
Hamilton’s Classic Car Museum is for passionate petrolheads as well as anyone with a passing interest in the history of motor cars or motor bikes – or simply motoring memorabilia.
More than 100 cars, some dating back to the early 1900s, are displayed – check out the 1906 Alldays & Onions four-seater tourer (named after the two men who designed and manufactured it), or maybe the sleek speedster lines of the 1969 McLaren M6 GT are more your style.
Also popular at the museum is the replica 1950s JukeBox Diner where burgers and shakes are served, overlooked by giant posters of Elvis, Abba and Betty Boop.
Cafes, Restaurants & Nightlife
Hamilton City pleases palates with its award winning dining scene that ranges from sophisticated nationally recognised restaurants to casual eateries including burger joints.
Fresh, seasonal and locally produced is a password in most of the kitchens with flavoursome fare that will take your taste buds on a world tour – no passport needed – as well as showcasing intrinsically New Zealand cuisine.
The central city is also abuzz with bars, pubs and clubs where locally crafted beverages frequently feature, including microbrew beers and ciders and locally produced wine. Eclectic DJs, bands and entertainers ensure a good night out night.
After dark entertainment in Hamilton also includes local and visiting musicians, opera, dance, theatre and festivals with first-rate venues around the city including SkyCity, Claudelands Events Centre, and Clarence Street Theatre, and more.
The premier entertainment destination in Hamilton, SkyCity Hamilton is home to a world-class casino, multiple restaurants and cafes, tenpin bowling and regular live entertainment.
With eight eateries and bars to choose from, there is a meal, snack and beverage to please all tastes, including Bowl and Social where refreshments come with 10-pin bowling action.
Zealong Tea Estate
On the outskirts of Hamilton, Zealong Tea Estate is the only commercial tea producer in New Zealand. Apart from the opportunity to taste the range of organic teas, a major drawcard at the estate is the Zealong Teahouse where the signature high tea features your tea of choice served alongside a selection of elegant savoury and sweet bites.
An on-site boutique showcases the Zealong tea range and all things tea like the irresistible hand-crafted tea sets.
Hamilton Zoo is home to 400+ animals including Sumatran tigers, cheetahs, chimpanzees and white rhinos, as well as reptiles – geckos, skinks, turtles, tortoises, and the native New Zealand tuatara and the rare, protected Hochstetter’s frog. With the largest walk-through aviary in New Zealand, Hamilton Zoo is where to get up close to native birds like keas and kakas, as well as the brightly plumed exotics.
The Hamilton Zoo Conservation Fund supports projects in New Zealand and internationally, raising awareness and money for a range of organisations.
Walking and cycling
Hamilton Lake Domain – wide open spaces ribboned with walkways makes Hamilton Lake Domain a go-to for anyone looking for a scenic location for a little fresh air. The 100ha domain is close to the central city, has an off-leash area for dogs and a range of other amenities including picnic tables and a destination playground.
Waikato River Walk – the walking and cycling track along both sides of the river offers scenic views of water, parkland, picnic spots, and city life. There are access points at many of the no exit roads and streets that end at the river and at each of the six road bridges linking the western and eastern sides of the city – look out for the graceful arches of Fairfield Bridge, constructed in the 1930s.
Taitua Arboretum – On the outskirts of Hamilton City, the arboretum is the legacy of farmers John and Bunny Mortimer who had a life-long passion for growing native and exotic trees and shrubs on their land. Today the arboretum is 20 ha of mature trees, lakes and woodland gardens with meandering paths, plentiful birdlife and some great views.
Hamilton Mountain Bike Park – Also known as Pukete Mountain Bike Park, this is where there is a variety of tracks ensuring there are experiences suited to both beginners and families, as well as more advanced riders. All ages and skills are also catered for in regular race series and there are rider development opportunities too for anyone wanting to develop skills.
Te Awa River Ride – One of New Zealand’s Great Rides, the Te Awa River Ride follows the mighty Waikato awa between Ngāruawāhia in the north to Lake Karapiro in the south. The ride also includes shared cycling/walking sections.
Golf at St Andrews
Established in the early 1900s, Hamilton Golf Club – St Andrews is a tree-dotted parkland course alongside the Waikato River. Guest players are welcome and the club stages regular tournaments, including corporate days, and other events throughout the year.
The streets of Hamilton and the city’s public spaces are a visual feast of quirky murals and eye-catching sculptures, a number of them telling local stories.
There is a real connection to the land with natural and landscape themes running through a lot of the works, as well as a focus on the rich Māori culture and history found throughout the Waikato region.
Hamilton’s street art has been created by an eclectic mix of local artists, as well as some of the big names of the New Zealand and international art scene, encouraging visitors to explore the streets and riverside walkways to discover the artistic wonders.
Amongst the iconic works to look out for are the Riff Raff statute that celebrates Hamilton local Richard O’Brien, creator of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and played the Riff Raff character.
Another is Michael Parekowhai’s Tongue of the Dog sculpture which honours the Māori legend of how the Waikato River was created.
Iconic Events: Balloons Over Waikato, Fieldays, Hamilton Arts Festival
Throughout the year Hamilton stages events that also reflect the diversity of the city. Sports fixtures are enormously popular with rugby a major drawcard, both the games played by the hometown team The Chiefs as well as the All Blacks clashes with international touring teams.
Theatrical performances, largescale concerts, and the annual spectacular of the Balloons over Waikato hot air balloon festival, the National Fieldays and the Hamilton Arts Festival mean a packed events calendar.
Hamilton is also home based for the annual Balloons over Waikato festival when balloonists from around the country, and some from overseas, head for the region to show off their hot air balloons. The festival includes opportunities to take flight and there is also a spectacular nightglow when the balloons light up and set sail over the city.
From all music genres – be the musicians local, or from elsewhere in New Zealand or visiting international artists – to drag queens entertaining at Hamilton Gardens, dance, comedy and live theatre, the Waikato is where there is a regular calendar of performances to entertain, intrigue and often inform.
Amongst the leading performing arts venues are Claudelands Events Centre which has a variety of spaces including the GLOBOX Arena, the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts and Clarence Street Theatre.
Shopping in Hamilton City
In Hamilton there is much to tempt visitors looking to purchase something singular to remind them of their time in the city, or a gift for someone special back home – or simply to browse the retail scene, from quirky laneway boutiques, homeware and art stores to shopping complexes.
The Base – One of the largest in New Zealand, this shopping complex is located on the northern side of the city at Te Rapa and consists of the original outdoor strip mall as well as the Te Awa enclosed shopping mall. Parking is plentiful while the retail outlets range from quirky boutiques to national and international brand stores.
Centre Place – In the heart of Hamilton City, Centre Place has shops, eateries, as well as entertainment with Metro by Hoyts and Lido cinemas, plus a fun zone with laser tag, mini golf, virtual reality experiences and escape rooms.
Casabella Lane – This treasure trove lane in the downtown runs between Barton and Anglesea streets and is home to 17 locally owned boutique-style stores.
Cheese shops – For a taste of local artisan cheeses including Mercer Cheese and Meyer Gouda Cheese products, head for either one of the two Gouda Cheese shops – one at Rototuna shopping mall and the other on the Hillcrest roundabout. Both give pride of place to Mercer Cheese and Meyer Gouda Cheese products.
Hamilton East - Downtown and across the river in Hamilton East there are eateries that proudly hero locally grown produce and gourmet food products, and an eclectic mix of bars where the likes of local craft beers and artisan gin are increasingly featured.
Victoria on the River
With coffee shops nearby and just off the main street of Hamilton City, the amphitheatre-style Victoria on the River is a pleasing place to simply sit and watch the swirling Waikato River go by. Park of Hamilton’s central city transformation, Victoria on the River has a green and organic feel thanks to thousands of plants that blend with other native foliage along the riverbank.
As well as being a fine place to relax, have a picnic-style lunch and maybe read a book, the amphitheatre is also where you can catch music, street theatre and other entertainment.
The Riverbank Lane
Located in the heart of Hamilton is The Riverbank Lane, an eclectic bustling community of retail boutiques tempting with fashion and homewares, a hair salon and a barber, eateries, one of the best second hand bookstores around, an art gallery, and a co-working office and meeting space.
Award-winning Mr Pickles Bar & Eatery at the river end of the lane is a great place to simply hang out over canapes and cocktails or treat yourself to a sharing menu. Another one to try is Banh Mi Caphe, a celebration of French influenced Vietnamese food.
Whether you’re looking for fresh-as produce grown in the region, handcrafted cheeses or locally made arts and crafts – or simply something special for yourself or a friend – Hamilton has some great markets where there is often also music and entertainment.
Ever-popular, Hamilton Farmers’ Market is held every Sunday morning at The Barn at Claudelands. Hamilton Farmers’ Market is also where to meet local farmers, growers and producers who are always happy to chat about their goods and share cooking techniques and recipes. Every Friday evening the Hamilton Night market sets up shop at The Base.
Another favourite near Hamilton City is the busy, eclectic Tamahere Country Market held in the ground of St Stephen’s Church at Tamahere. It’s on the third Saturday of each month with special Christmas markets being held leading up to the festive season.
There are plenty of escape rooms in Hamilton to explore – each one of them with a different theme and storyline. Amongst them are the five Confinement Escape Rooms where the options include scavenger hunts through the city, one of them a pub crawl where a scientist developing cocktail recipes stumbles upon something revolutionary. Escape HQ in Hamilton central has rooms to get out of too, as does the Lilliput Fun Zone at Hamilton’s Centre Place shopping and entertainment precinct.
Innovative, interesting and individual about sums up the Waikato’s craft brewers and their brews. Whether your craft brew of choice is pilsner, pale ale, India pale ale, or even hazy pale ale, or a stout, porter or dark beer, tart or fruity, there’s plenty of beer – and ciders – to sip and savour in the Waikato.
Good George Brewing - the Waikato’s hometown hero of craft beer, and more, is Good George Brewing. A little over a decade ago Good George started out in Frankton with a single brewery and dining hall style eatery.
Brewaucracy has its brewery and taproom in Te Rapa. The taproom is designed to be the kind of place craft beer fans will fall in love with. It’s where to see how Brewaucracy’s range of beers are made and to sample them.
Hopnotic Brewery - on the northern side of Hamilton Airport is Hopnotic with its brewery and taproom in an old woolshed where past shearers’ names are stencilled in the rough sawn timber walls.
Bootleg Brewery - in the village of Matangi a short distance from Hamilton City is Bootleg Brewery, housed in part of the historic Matangi dairy factory building, which was the largest dairy factory in the world when it was constructed in 1919.
The Local Taphouse - craft beer fans can also sample local Waikato brews at bars like the Local Taphouse at SkyCity Hamilton and Hamilton Craft in the Hood Street restaurant and bar precinct.