Exploring Waikato & Waitomo

The Hobbit Motel, Waitomo | Image: Roberto Saltori

Exploring Waikato & Waitomo

At the heart of the Waikato is Hamilton, a riverside city that’s close enough to Auckland for some commuters. The Waikato River bisects the heart of the city and is lined with lush gardens. The city has shopping, accommodation and dining options and the nightlife is pretty lively. Beyond the urban centre are villages serving the farmers and horse breeders of this fertile region.

Around the Regions

The King Country The King Country gained its name as a stronghold of Māori independence in the 19th Century. After the Waikato War between Māori and settlers in the 1860s, Māori King Tawhiao led his people into exile in the region now known as the King Country. Waitomo Caves In the southwest corner of Waikato is a very special region where the hills are a little more rugged and the forest a little more wild, and beneath it lies a phenomenal network of glow-worm caverns and underground rivers. This tiny centre is gateway to a vast cave network and the base for adventure activities. Otorohanga The ‘Kiwiana Town’ of Otorohanga is famous for its murals. Te Kuiti Known as the ‘Shearing Capital of New Zealand’, Te Kuiti is the service centre for surrounding farms.

Do & Discover

There’s some spectacular underground adventures waiting to be experienced in the Waitomo region’s extensive cave system, but much to enjoy above ground in Waikato as well. Take a trip to Hobbiton or get up close with New Zealand native wildlife. Fans of The Lord of the Rings will see a resemblance between the Waikato hills and Hobbiton - it’s no coincidence! Visit Hobbiton Movie Set & Farm Tours in Matamata for the full experience. You can also look for historic sites and little museums in small towns like Te Aroha and Te Awamutu, while the Waikato Museum is the region's largest. Hamilton offers a further range of attractions you'd expect from a large regional centre including SKYCITY Hamilton casino, the well-regarded Hamilton Gardens and Hamilton Zoo. Get up close and personal with more animals at Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari. Rest and relax at the thermal pools at Te Aroha Mineral Spas or opt for active relaxing at Raglan's Solsurfer Surf School. Over the years, the down-to-earth character of the King Country has evolved into a celebration of Kiwi culture, and it’s a great place to get a taste of the ‘real New Zealand’. At the top of the list is Billy Black’s Kiwi Culture Show, an irreverent take on Kiwi culture – catch it at  Woodlyn Park. Waitomo, Maori for ‘the stream that flows into the hole in the ground’, is home to a cave network for myriad adventure activities from glow-worm spotting to the more extreme adventures of black-water rafting and abseiling. Go under with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co.Waitomo Adventures and explore the Waitomo Glow-worm Caves. While in Waitomo you can also check out the Kiwi House Otorohanga and the Waitomo Caves Discovery Centre.

Food & Drink

The Waikato region offers a thriving café scene and a number of laid-back drinking spots. Glam up for a night at the Hamilton Casino, pop into a King Country café for a light lunch, or enjoy great dining in a relaxed ambience in Raglan. Central Hamilton is a good bet for coffee. Try Machina, where an interior of dark leather sets the tone. In Cambridge, try Red Cherry and north of Matamata discover The Kaimai Cheese Company. When dining, there are some excellent restaurants to seek out in Hamilton. Check out the aptly named Palate Restaurant. In Raglan, book a table at Orca Restaurant & Bar and enjoy fantastic views of the harbour. Take the time to stop for lunch in Waitomo where you'll find some excellent cafés tucked away in the region’s villages. Bosco Café, Fat Pigeon Café and HUHU Café are all worth hunting down. Enjoy a fun and fab dinner at Tomo Bar and Eatery, Morepork Piz & Café or The Thirsty Weta Bar & Eatery.


Accommodation in the Waikato and Waitomo region ranges from upmarket hotels in urban Hamilton to secluded cottages in laid-back Raglan. In Hamilton, head to one of the city’s many backpackers or Hamilton City Holiday Park for good cheaper options. For a quality motel try Anglesea Motel, while City Centre B&B and the Novotel Hamilton Tainui offer more exclusive options. In Raglan, the Solscape eco retreat backpackers and Raglan Sunset Motel offer value for money. Over in King Country and Waitomo, good budget accommodation is available at Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park, Kiwi Paka Waitomo or stay onsite at Woodlyn Park, at the Waitomo Lodge Motel or in the Waitomo Caves Hotel.

Local Knowledge

Hamilton International Airport is 20 minutes’ drive from the city and has direct flights to Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North and Christchurch. Hamilton is located on SH 1. It is an easy 1 hour, 30 minute drive from Auckland or Rotorua. With easy-to-navigate roads, this region is ideal for driving. It’s also well served by shuttles and coaches. A daily rail service also connects Hamilton with Auckland and Wellington. Find out more transport options at i-Sites around the region: Cambridge i–SITE, corner Victoria and Queen streets, Hamilton i-SITE, corner Caro and Alexandra streets, Matamata i–SITE at 45 Broadway, Te Aroha i–SITE at 102 Whitaker Street, Te Awamutu i–SITE, 1 Gorst Avenue, Tirau and Tokoroa i–SITEs on SH 1, Otorohanga i–SITE, 27 Turongo Street, Taumarunui i–SITE on Hakiaha Street, Te Kuiti i–SITE on Rora Street and Waitomo i–SITE at 21 Waitomo Village Road.

What's Hot New Zealand Newsletter

Stay in the loop with all the latest food, fashion, trends, events and more. Delivered hot to your inbox every month.