North Waikato (Port Waikato, Pokeno, Mercer, Tuakau, Huntly)

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The river runs deep and so does the spirit in the north Waikato, with its rich history and remarkable stories. Steeped in history and culture the North Waikato showcases the region’s uniquely significant Māori and European heritage.

Destination North Waikato

Home of the Māori King and the Kingitanga movement, historical landmarks and battle sites can be found throughout the area. The area’s rich mineral deposits mean it was, and still is, a significant source of the nation’s power - first with coal mining and now with thermal power.

Port Waikato

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.

Nikau Caves

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.

Pokeno

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.

Tūākau

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.

Mercer

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.

Say cheese

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.

Hampton Downs

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.

Huntly

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.

Lake Hakanoa

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.

Top activities in North Waikato

top pick Hampton Downs Motorsport Park
from
$49
Te Kauwhata

Hampton Downs Motorsport Park & Events Centre

The now-famous Hampton Downs Go Karts are an adrenaline pumping experience on the undulating 530m outdoor track. Our big track experiences include hot laps in a Lamborghini Huracan or a hot lap in our brand new TA2 a genuine V8 Mustang Race Car, drive a V8 Muscle Car, drive a Radical SR3, and a Lexus Safety Car ride for the whole family. Also on offer is our Jeep Wrangler 4WD experience. Other attractions at Hampton Downs include Mad Mike Whiddett’s Mad Lab, the Toyota Racing Series "Live Workshop" and the McLaren Heritage Centre. Don't miss our very own car show, Caffeine and Gasoline held on the last Sunday of each month and if you want to get your own car out on our many tracks check out Auto Addict on our website. Award-winning coffee.
top pick Elliot Baptist
from
$15
Huntly

The Glen Afton Line

A volunteer heritage railway group providing the public with steam &/or diesel train rides on 5km of the old Rotowaro to Glen Afton branch line 12km drive west of Huntly. Open days operate on the first Sunday of every month. For other dates or to charter a train for your group contact the Secretary by email. The Open Day ticket covers rides on the main train between 10.00am and 3.00pm. Rides on an old bush "jigger" are usually available at a small extra cost. Souvenirs, a sausage sizzle, other food items and drinks are normally available on Open Days. We have EFTPOS. As well as train rides, the railway has a significant collection of heritage industrial railway items on display, much of which came from the coal & timber industries.
top pick Matahuru Valley Walk
from
$375
Te Kauwhata

Matahuru Valley Walk

The Matahuru Valley Walk is special. We offer two packages - Either 1 or 2 night retreat. Tui Ridge is a comfortable secluded farmhouse with your walks either leaving straight from there or a short 5 minute drive down the valley. No packing your bags up to go to the next bunk house here! You can relax and follow your own timetable; have a leisurely breakfast and a relaxing read of your magazine before starting your walk at 10 - no problem. We cater for a range of abilities and fitness levels. We can also offer several options for walkers - including a few shorter walks. We have an abundance of beautiful farmland, stunning views, several stands of native bush and the Matahuru Stream.
top pick P Twiss
from
$0.01
Huntly

Mercer Art and History Museum

Mercer Art and History Museum is just off the motorway in Mercer, exactly opposite the world famous Mercer Cheese Shop. The artifacts include wonderful photos and a slide show of Mercer as it was when the river was an important trade route, railway station and bustling village. The museum has been established in memory of Caesar Roose, founder of Roose Shipping Company. He was renowned up and down the river as a businessman, flax and timer miller, entrepreneur, community leader and philanthropist. Open Friday and Saturday 10 am to 2 pm and other times by arrangement. Entry by koha or donation.
top pick The Pokeno Whisky Company
from
$25
Pōkeno

Pokeno Whisky Company

Pokeno Whisky crafts a range of exciting and contemporary New Zealand Single Malts. Focused on quality there is no compromise in anything that we do. During the Distillery tour, we will walk you through the process in detail, and finish the tour with a tasting of our core range of New Zealand single Malts. There is an on site distillery shop for purchase of products.
top pick Thundercross
from
$25
Rangiriri

Thundercross Valley Dirt Bike Park

Thundercross Valley Dirt Bike track was established 20 years ago by owner and champion rider, James Fowlie and his family. Set in 750 acres of stunning, rolling countryside, the Park is a popular destination for visitors from all around the world, including first-timers, advanced riders, adrenaline seekers and families alike. Bring your own bike or hire one of ours. No licence or experience necessary. We provide a totally unique experience. You can have a lesson with New Zealand's most experienced coach & try out the delights of dirt biking in a safe and friendly environment. Full protective gear provided. Come and visit us soon.
top pick Michael Joseph
from
$25
Port Waikato

Nikau Cave & Cafe

Nikau Cave is less than 90 minutes drive southwest of Auckland, has thousands of glowworms and amazing formations, but no crowds. The 90 minute tour is personal and unhurried. Located on a working farm, the cave is 1km long with a stream running through it and is in its natural state. Most of the cave is open and spacious, except for a 12m length which must be crawled through. We provide a helmet and flashlight. A moderate level of fitness is required and a change of clothes and shoes with good tread. Surrounded by a river, the café is designed to showcase the stunning landscape. The seasonally inspired menu offers a range of fresh and locally produced dishes and drinks. Bookings are essential for caving.
top pick Samuel Bloch
Free
Pōkeno

Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre

The Shorebird Centre is an information and education centre where you can learn more about the birds and the natural history of the area from our displays. Relax and take a break or browse our shop for great gifts and an extensive range of natural history books. Check the local sightings and high tide times then ask our knowledgeable staff and volunteers about the best viewing opportunities. Two hours either side of high tide is the best time to walk our easy trail to view thousands of shorebirds as they come in to roost and rest. Our Shorebird Centre is a registered charity, committed to the conservation of shorebirds and their habitats, so donations are always appreciated.

Top accommodation in North Waikato

top pick Off The Beaten Track Beach Cottage
from
$165
Ngāruawāhia

Off The Beaten Track - The Beach Cottage

The Beach Cottage is a recently rejuvenated 50-year-old bach overlooking the beautiful remote Waikorea beach. Waikorea Beach is located between Raglan and Port Waikato on the West Coast of New Zealand's North Island. The Cottage is a 2 bedroom New Zealand style bach overlooking the beach, with every room offering an amazing view. The Cottage is set on a 1500 acre sheep and cattle farm. To keep you warm in the evenings the cosy lounge has an open fire and there are an outdoor brazier and firewood to burn.
top pick Lakewood
from
$70
Huntly

Lakewood Lodge

We are the Adventure Farm Camp Specialists for over 21 years. We offer adventure farm camps for groups plus families. Try fun Horse Games on our arena, Kayaking on our gentle river, exciting twin 120m Flying Foxes, 11 metre high Climbing Wall, Archery and Low Ropes Challenge, all with trained instructors in a beautiful, peaceful environment. We are situated half way between Auckland and Hamilton with a river boundary and a picturesque lake. We specialise in groups of young people aged 8 - 16.We pick you up from the airport, provide fun, organised activities at Lakewood Lodge day and evening, plus our own tour leader takes you on a choice of excursions eg Rotorua, Hobbiton, SkyTower, Rainbows End. We look after you very well with great meals
top pick Tui Ridge Homestay
from
$230
Te Kauwhata

Tui Ridge Homestay

Relax, unwind and enjoy a slower pace of life with an escape to beautiful Tui Ridge Homestay, set in the picturesque Matahuru Valley, North Waikato. Located in the heart of a working sheep and beef farm, this original farm cottage is nestled amongst stands of native bush. Private, secluded and inviting, our rustic cottage has been lovingly restored to ensure you enjoy all the comforts of home, while experiencing the best country life has to offer. The property offers spacious accommodation for up to 11 guests across its four bedrooms. Full kitchen and laundry facilities are available. All linens and towels are supplied throughout your stay, and you’ll be toasty at night with our 100% wool duvets.
top pick Tuakau Hotel
from
$160
Tuakau

Tuakau Hotel

Our vision is rooted in our unique position as the gateway between the vibrant heart of Auckland and the serene beauty of Waikato. Nestled between these two worlds, we offer a haven where history and modern comfort converge. Our commitment to sustainability, local excellence, and active community engagement is the foundation of our identity. We take pride in being a catalyst for local growth, and in embodying the spirit of genuine local hospitality. Whether serving corporate guests seeking the comforts of home or leisure travelers eager to explore, we offer them the opportunity to immerse themselves in our local are before continuing their journey to their next destination.
top pick Hilary Smythe
from
$220
Tuakau

Miller House

At Miller House your booking ensures luxurious privacy and great hospitality. The elegant rooms open through French doors to the verandas where extensive breakfasts can be enjoyed. The house dates to 1895 when James Miller bought the land in Onewhero. The property has over 12 acres of grounds, guests can enjoy wandering through the gardens and 3 acres of private native bush with its spring fed stream, native pigeons, Pukekos, Tuis and beautiful ancient trees. There is a huge range of attractions, beaches, day trips, motor racing, sky diving, local museums etc. plus free WIFI, TV, croquet and petanque, interesting rare books, chess, to enjoy. (Additional single room on request). Great location, refined relaxation, and a warm welcome here.
top pick J Sedgwick
from
$150
Te Kauwhata

The Candlemaker's Country Cottage

The Candlemaker's Country Cottage has attention to detail and offers the following: one bedroom with walk in wardrobe and luggage facilities, lounge with tv and sofas and library; fully equipped kitchen and very large tiled dining room. Elegant en suite bathroom with top quality accessories. Queen bed in separate living area sleeps an extra two people in complete privacy. Off street parking in the 'best street' in Te Kauwhata's semi rural area, with amazing views out to Lake Waikare. Continental breakfast includes locally sourced produce where possible, cereal, fruit and breads. We aim to make your stay as great as possible. Dinner available, on negotiation.
top pick Port Waikato Holiday Park
from
$90
Port Waikato

Port Waikato Holiday Park

This fantastic location is only an hours drive from downtown Auckland and 30 minutes from State Highway 1 at Pokeno and provides a wider range of leisure activities than your average seaside destination. You have the mighty Waikato River - fish, swim, whitebait, flounder, hunt, kayak, jet ski, water ski, boat. Then there is Sunset Beach, a vast stretch of drift wood strewn sand and dunes. And those sunsets! All just begging to be captured on camera and canvas. Surfers know there's a good left break at the southern end, yet close enough to the Surf Club and summer patrols. Take your boogie board and the kids, a picnic lunch and sun screen. Take the cliff top path onto the bluff for panoramic views. Take a rod and cast for snapper.
top pick Port Waikato Holiday Park
from
$36
Port Waikato

Port Waikato Holiday Park

This fantastic location is only an hours drive from downtown Auckland and 30 minutes from State Highway 1 at Pokeno and provides a wider range of leisure activities than your average seaside destination. You have the mighty Waikato River - fish, swim, whitebait, flounder, hunt, kayak, jet ski, water ski, boat. Then there is Sunset Beach, a vast stretch of drift wood strewn sand and dunes. And those sunsets! All just begging to be captured on camera and canvas. Surfers know there's a good left break at the southern end, yet close enough to the Surf Club and summer patrols. Take your boogie board and the kids, a picnic lunch and sun screen. Take the cliff top path onto the bluff for panoramic views. Take a rod and cast for snapper.