North Waikato (Port Waikato, Pokeno, Mercer, Tuakau, Huntly)
Destination North Waikato
How far to:
Hamilton: 30 kms, 25 mins
Auckland: 93 kms, 1 hour
Surf, sand and shellfish are major draw cards of Port Waikato, a small town at the northern end of the Waikato region of New Zealand. Lying at the mouth of the Waikato River – New Zealand’s longest river – Port Waikato is the quintessential West Coast destination. The lack of crowds is part of the town’s appeal and there’s nowhere better if you want to get away from it all.
This little town has plenty of things to see and do, and the area boasts some of the best surf beaches in New Zealand. It’s also the gateway to soft adventure options, caves and great fishing.
Visit the popular surfing spot at Sunset Beach, join the locals fishing for kahawai, netting for flounder or digging for shellfish, laze around on the black-sand beach, take a walk along the coast and dine on a hard-to-beat fresh fish and chip meal from the local takeaway store.
The Nikau Caves, 40 minutes’ drive away in Waikaretu, are a highlight for visitors. The onsite café serves fresh local food, while the 90 minute cave tour boasts amazing cave formations and twinkling glowworms.
Another popular nearby photo opportunity is the limestone rock outcrops that were used as Weathertop Hollow in the Lord of the Rings films, which can be viewed from the roadside.
Take a tour through the 1km-long Nikau Caves and you’ll have mostly glowworms for company.
The Nikau Caves, on a private farm in the heart of North Waikato, New Zealand, is filled with stalactites, stalagmites and glowworms that twinkle like stars in the night sky.
Nikau Cave has been open to visitors for 14 years and offers a 90-minute guided tour where you learn all about the background behind Nikau Cave’s delicate formations as you walk through streams and clamber over boulders. The soft adventure tour also incorporates a 10m crawl through one section of the cave. Visitors can also enjoy a hot drink and a snack or meal at the adjacent café, which overlooks rocky limestone outcrops
Castaways Resort & Te Karaka Lodge
Throughout the rural landscape there are a raft of accommodation options, from BnB to glamping and the northernmost point at Castaways Resort is a stunning wedding venue and glamping location.
Te Karaka Lodge - a luxurious rural escape into nature - surrounded by breathtaking landscape.
A popular place for travellers to stop, Pokeno used to reside along the main road south. Today visitors are drawn in by the well-known giant (up to) 15 scoop ice-creams on offer, reputed to be the biggest ice creams in New Zealand, with so many tempting flavours it is hard to choose just one.
Situated only 50km southeast of Auckland city, in the northern Waikato region, the town of Pokeno is renowned for its bacon and huge ice creams. Pokeno is reputed to have the biggest ice creams in New Zealand – 15 scoops treats are up for grabs for those who think they can manage them, although sharing with a friend is a good option.
Nearby Pokeno Bacon sells handmade pork goods using only local pigs. The popular store specialises in a range of traditional products from handmade hams and bacon to tasty sausages. The Pokeno Country Market held each Sunday is also a popular North Waikato event.
This small country town boasts a range of collectible stores, a growing café culture and a friendly welcoming community.
One of Tūākau’s top attractions is the Alexandra Redoubt, which overlooks the Waikato River. Named after King Edward VII's bride, the redoubt was built in 1863 by soldiers of the 65th Regiment and the trenches are still clearly visible today.
Pamper yourself with a relaxing river cruise to view the stunning scenery of this part of the Waikato River, with overnight options available, or check out the Tuakau Hotel and La Valla estate, both hidden gems of Tūākau accommodation, each boasting a rich and unique history.
Nestled in the Waikato region of New Zealand, Mercer is a charming town renowned for its historical significance, artisanal cheese at Mercer Cheese, and welcoming community.
For cheese lovers, Mercer is a must-stop along the Hamilton-Auckland journey. A visit to its cheese shop is one of the best things to do in North Waikato if you’re looking for culinary experiences. People in the know make regular stops here, drawn by the award-winning goodies made by Dutch immigrant Albert Alferink at Mercer Cheese.
Local favourites include Gouda, Edam, herb and goat cheese, and the renowned walnut soft cheese. Albert perfected cheese-making in the 1980s and the mouth-watering flavours of his products make Mercer Cheese a must-visit attraction.
Hear the roar of car engines and you’ll know you’ve arrived at Hampton Downs. Just 45 minutes’ drive north of Hamilton, this world-class motorsport venue has three tracks that regularly rev into action; the schedule here is packed with exciting events popular with locals and visitors - offering everything from now-famous go-karts, V8 supercar racing to the on-track muscle car U-drive experiences and everything in between.
Screeching tyres, the smell of oil and cheering crowds make this place a thrilling paradise for the petrol heads among us. With the Meremere Dragway just minutes up the road, and the popular Huntly Speedway also in the North Waikato, there is something for all the motor-sport enthusiasts.
The Waikato War Driving Tour
The Waikato War driving tour will take you on a unique journey to the historic battle-sites of the Waikato War, beginning at Highwic in Auckland. Following the path of war, the self-drive tour sweeps down past the Bombay Hills to Whangamarino, Rangiriri and Ngāruawāhia, continues on to the famous site at Orakau and then culminates at Pirongia, overlooking the King Country where the Kingitanga supporters sought exile after the war.
About 30km north of Hamilton in Waikato, New Zealand, Huntly is home to one of New Zealand’s largest power stations. Its two towering chimneys dominate the horizon on the approach to the town in either direction; they’re an iconic testament to Huntly’s mining history. Coal was discovered here in 1842 by a local reverend and underground and open cast mines still run today.
The picturesque Lake Hakanoa in Huntly, is a popular and easy family friendly walking trail in the North Waikato.
The lake walkway is split into thirteen zones including a native tree reserve, Japanese Garden, Global Garden, Wildlife Gardens, Palm Beach, Contemporary Maori Garden, Green Cathedral, Ponga Grove, wetlands and more, making for great picnic spots along the way.
Thundercross Valley Dirt Bike Park
Located in the picturesque North Waikato region, Thundercross Valley Dirt Bike Park offers a thrilling experience for adventure seekers. With a diverse range of gentle and challenging tracks, riders can navigate rugged terrain, ride down ridges, and conquer muddy trails. Whether you're a seasoned rider or a first-timer looking to try something new, Thundercross Valley Dirt Bike Park guarantees an exhilarating and unforgettable day immersed in nature.