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Nature Lovers: 2-3 days

If your perfect holiday is full immersion in some of the best Mother Nature has to offer, this is the itinerary for you. It takes the road south from Hamilton City, calling first in Te Awamutu, famed for its beautiful rose gardens and where the museum is also well worth a visit. From there head to the award-winning nature experience that is Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari before driving to Ōtorohanga where a visit to the kiwi house and bird park is a must. Then there is the underground magic that is the Waitomo Caves to explore.

Day 1: Hamilton to Te Awamutu

Depart Hamilton, driving south along SH3 to Te Awamutu and spend the morning checking out this rural town.

In Te Awamutu

  • Visit Te Awamutu Rose Gardens, in full bloom between November and April but pleasant any time of the year.
  • Visit Te Awamutu Museum (open daily except Sundays). Long-term exhibitions include the Te Ara Wai Journey gallery - the first stop on your free self-guided journey of culturally significant sites through the Waipā district as well as a gallery with Māori taonga (treasures) and a New Zealand Wars display.
  • Alternatively, head for nearby Mt Pirongia where you will find a wide variety of walking and hiking trails through native forest, ranging from short and easy to longer and more challenging.
  • The local golf clubs in Te Awamutu and Pirongia also welcome visitors if a morning of golf is your preference.

Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari

After lunch, head for the acclaimed Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari

Here you can take a guided tour or go walkabout by yourself. Ensure you visit the southern enclosure to see the native birdlife that makes the mountain home, including the rare stitchbird, or hihi in Māori.

Following your visit to Sanctuary Mountain, drive to Ōtorohanga. If you have time, consider stopping enroute at Alphra Lavender, near Kihikihi, where the fields are in full bloom with great photo opportunities from late November to January, and there’s a farm shop selling delightful lavender products.

Stay overnight in Ōtorohanga and surrounds. Accommodation options include farmstays, bed and breakfasts and motels.

Day 2: Ōtorohanga to Waitomo

Spend your morning exploring the town of Ōtorohanga.

Renowned for its Kiwiana displays, Ōtorohanga is home to the acclaimed Ōtorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park, just a short 15-20 minute drive from the captivating Waitomo Caves region.

In Ōtorohanga

  • A must-do is visiting Ōtorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park to view live kiwi and other native species.
  • Swing by the pou (carved Māori totem poles) in the centre of town which honour the ancestors of the local Maniapoto people.
  • Take a Kiwiana walk through town to see the quirky displays that pay tribute to all things Kiwi, from the buzzy bee children’s toy, paua, pavlova and hokey pokey ice cream, to gumboots, the haka, mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary and All Blacks’ legend Sir Colin Meads.

After some lunch, or at least coffee and ice cream, drive the short distance south on SH3 to Waitomo Caves. On arrival, you might like to stretch your legs with one or two easy nature-packed walks - one to see the 35-metre high Marokopa Falls, often described as the most beautiful in the country.

Stay overnight in Waitomo and surrounds. Accommodation options include farmstays, bed and breakfasts and motels.

Day 3: Waitomo to Hamilton

Explore world famous Waitomo Caves

The world famous Waitomo Caves with their dramatic underground limestone formations, stalagmites, stalactites, rushing subterranean streams and waterfalls, and the sparkling displays of glowworms offer experiences to suit any visitor. There are leisurely tours where guides provide commentary about the geological and human history of the caves, including Māori myths and legends, through to the adrenalin rush of blackwater rafting and abseiling in the dark depths.

In Waitomo

  • Explore the magical glowworm caves by taking one of the many different tours of the caves.

  • Visit the Waitomo Discovery Centre to learn the history of the area and wonders of the caves.

  • Challenge yourself with one of the action-packed caving adventures.

To experience more above ground nature, drive south-east to the Pureora Forest for an afternoon walk or bike ride in the majestic bush, or head for the Piopio area to visit Hairy Feet Waitomo, the site of filming locations from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Return to Hamilton.