A Quick Guide to Hamilton [+ to the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival]

Hamilton has its own particular brand of understated beauty. The city, at times best known for its bogan residents, is made up of distinct features and neighbours regions so wild and typically New Zealand, the traveller is left with plenty to fill a few days. Locally brewed, high-percentage craft beers and fusion restaurants are the tipples of choice within the city boundaries – Hamilton is a city that knows how to have fun and keeps many of its secret gems to itself. With more than its fair share of outdoorsy type adventures [we’re talking caving, 100m abseils, and so on], it’s a spot not just for those escaping Auckland on a long weekend, but for anyone who seeks to see more facets of Aotearoa.

Explore

Good George Brewery Three mates make excellent beer, think locally, and have lots of fun while doing so. The brews are delivered with the help of a converted fire engine and ACDC resides in the beer fridge. Take a brewery tour to find out what I’m talking about.
Hamilton Gardens Completely hidden and unexpected, the gardens are a delight. No exaggerations here! Should you be visiting in February, the Hamilton Gardens Art Festival is not to be missed [see more in the events section]. The Hamilton Gardens Cafe also prepares outstanding picnic baskets, which I can’t recommend enough.
Hamilton Lake Tranquil at dawn and/or sunset and gorgeous for a quick run.
Hamilton Zoo As a general rule, I don’t encourage visiting zoos. Hamilton Zoo is an exception to the rule; thanks to its genuine focus on animal conservation, the saving of endangered species, and its educational work.
Hobbiton Were you really in New Zealand if you didn’t see Hobbiton?
Marokopa Falls Easy stroll to the lookout with a side of extra thrill for those wanting to get a little closer.
Omaru Fals A truly hidden gem, so keep this one to yourself! 1.8km walk each way.
Blue Spring / Te Waihou Walkway Some of New Zealand’s bluest, clearest water set against native bush. The scene has an oasis-like feel to it. Remember to preserve and respect the pristine waters and don’t enter the water. Park on Leslie Road and follow the path for less than half an hour. It will be a 1.5 hour walk from Whites Road.
Raglan Sun’s out, surf’s up. The North Island’s counterpart to the South Island’s wild West Coast.
Waikato Museum Neat museum with a plethora of galleries and exhibitions. Ideal for rainy days. An excellent Bob Marley exhibition is on until April 2.
Waitomo Step into the appropriately named Lost World. We’re talking otherworldly glowworm caves, 100m abseiling, canyoneering, kayaking and more.
Zealong Tea Estate Home to exclusively organic grown goodness, this Hamilton institution teaches tea appreciation like no other.

For day walks and multi day tramps in the Waikato region, click here.

Events

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival: February 17-26 A yearly 10 day long event, putting some of the country’s best cultural and musical shows on display. Pack your own picnic, grab your friends and make a day out of it. My favourite shows are listed below. For a complete line up, click here.
The Floating Theatre An intimately set, floating art form. A must!
Opera at Twilight Set in the Medici Court (Italian Gardens), just like it should be. An artistic delight that will take you right to continental Europe.
Sunset Symphony A Viennese waltz at sunset, anyone? Yes, please!
Marley Top Kiwi artists paying homage to the one and only Mr Bob Marley.
Perhaps Hope They call it an ‘eco-apocalyptic circus show’. A beautiful, frank comment on climate change mixed with extraordinary human strength.

Balloons Over Waikato: March 22-26 Even balloons come in all sizes and shapes. Spectacular as the sun sets and/or rises.

Eat

[all vegan friendly]
Restaurant on Alma Beautifully presented local fare. Dine al fresco.
Dough Bros Because pizza is always a good idea.
Duck Island Icecream Organic, vegan ice-cream made to perfection. Try the sundae!
Huhu Cafe [Waitomo] A true gem in-midst of the Lost World.
La Parilla Spanish delights to share. Be sure to taste the paprika almonds.
Nourish Pod Very much delivers on its promise to nourish.
The Vegan Buffet The name says it all. Dig in!
Two Birds Eatery Everything a plant-based restaurant should be.

Stay

Canopy Glamping at Underhill Beautifully set up glamping site. Environmentally friendly with lots of comfort and excitement for Middle Earth.
Novotel A little more fuss, still centrally located. Gorgeous upmarket option.
Sudima Friendly, no-fuss option centrally located.

Get There and Away

Auckland, the Coromandel, and Rotorua are all an under 2hr drive away. If you’re traveling on a shoestring, buses are ideal; Inter City, Naked Bus and Kiwi Experience all pass through and the Hamilton Transport Centre is within walking distance to most hostels and hotels. Waitomo and most waterfalls are a 60 minute drive south.

When to Go

Check the event calendar and beat the cricket fans during summer. Other than that, its humid, warm climate makes the Waikato a favourite all year round.

Photos

To see my Hamilton and Waikato photo diary including most of what is mentioned here, click here.

Tip

Remember when I said Hamiltonians know how to have fun? Their event programme will keep you busy, click here to see what’s on.
Also, search for #HamiltonWaikato on the gram and find out about the best photo spots and scenic secrets.

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