I’m so excited for springtime and warmer days here in New Zealand, and there’s nowhere better to experience it than up in the Waikato region of the North Island. Waikato travel will blow you away.
Lush and bucolic, with rolling green hills dotted with lambs and cows, beneath a bright blue sky, it’s no wonder this is the heart of New Zealand’s farm culture. I love watching everything bloom and finally being warm after months of frosts and snow down south where I call home.
Before we even land at the tiny Hamilton Airport, I’m struck by how green and fresh it seems here. Just south of Auckland lies the Waikato, an area I’ve visited many times but was excited to come back to again. A land of lush pastures, it’s not really surprising to any that Peter Jackson chose this area for the hobbits to call home in the Lord of the Rings films.
Spring here is as impressive as you can imagine, and I want to begin my story by sharing some of my favorite photos from a recent trip up north with you all before digging a little deeper. Enjoy!
Get to know Hamilton
The city of Hamilton is nestled on the banks of the mighty Waikato River on New Zealand’s North Island, and it is known for its walks, gardens, cafes, and nightlife. It’s also known as the Tron. Please, someone, tell me why. I have to know.
One thing I really loved about Hamilton on my Waikato travel was walking along the river, which seems to be the beating heart of the city. I can tell a lot of work has gone into making the riverfront epic, a fun spot to chill downtown. With lots of fun places to eat and explore, I couldn’t get enough.
And then as I was wandering, wearing my first short-sleeve dress this spring (yay it’s so warm!), I stumbled across this incredible mural of a kārearea (native NZ falcon) ❤️ , and I squealed with delight! And unabashed #birdnerd with a penchant for street art that decorates the walls of understated spots, all of my boxes were ticked as I spent a few days exploring Hamilton.
This mural “A Love Story” is based on a local, oral whakataukī (proverb) of a kārearea carrying two twins, Reipae and Reitu, from the Waikato to Whangarei for marriage. Painted by two renowned Auckland artists, Charlie and Janine Williams, it’s an exceptional price sharing a bit of local Māori narratives to the world. Have you seen it?
Dinner at the Chilli House is a must – a local Hamilton institution
Nothing beats spring at the Hamilton Gardens, especially in the early morning before the world wakes up. These gardens are pretty famous in New Zealand – and for a good reason – they’re fantastic!
Not just any old gardens, the Hamilton Gardens are more of a museum of gardens, dedicated to sharing examples of exquisite gardens around the world. As a new student of plant growing and mildly obsessed with historical botany, I was in heaven. Also, plants make me so happy, and nothing is better than a botanical garden in the spring, am I right?
While in Hamilton, we couldn’t resist a visit to New Zealand’s only tea plantation, Zealong Tea Estate.
As a neurotic lifelong coffee addict, I’ve begun drinking tea more and more in recent years, and I loved learning more and more about the process and careful cultivation of tea. And the intricacy of the tea pouring ritual is beautiful 😊
Surf’s up in Raglan
Nothing beats a sunset watching the surf in the sleeping seaside town of Raglan in the Waikato! Waikato’s travel here is incredible.
There’s just something special about this place that keeps bringing me back again and again and again. I love watching the sets roll in as locals jostle for the waves. It’s really mesmerizing. Laidback and chill, unpretentious and captivating, warm and lush, Raglan is a place that gets under your skin and stays a while.
You only have to spend a few hours here before you want to kick off your shoes and never leave. Literally. No one wears shoes here, even in winter. And why would you?
Bridal Veil Falls outside of Raglan is worth a visit!
Marvel at the glowworm caves in Waitomo
Gazing up, it felt like I was looking at a universe of blue stars! But as it turns out, I was looking at a ceiling of bright shiny maggots! I love Mother Nature.
Māori call glowworms titiwai, which refers to lights reflected in water, and they are carnivorous glowing larvae that drip down a long sticky thread in dark, damp environments that entangle insects they attract with their bright lights! Too cool!
The best and most comfortable place to see them in New Zealand is at the Waitomo Caves, where there are various ways of taking them in from a chill walk or boat to an adventurous day floating through underground rivers!
Get your party on at Hobbiton
I can’t talk about exploring the Waikato travel region and not mention that it’s home to the real-life Hobbiton, where the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films were shot. Guy, the Shire, is real and open for visitors. And it’s DELIGHTFUL.
I’ve been many a time to Hobbiton, even when I first moved to New Zealand in 2013. This time, however, I was so excited to return for their annual Hobbit Day, an epic feast and evening party at Hobbiton celebrating International Hobbit Day and Frodo and Bilbo’s birthday. It was actually the most fun!
Hobbiton sure knows how to throw a party, and it’s worth keeping an eye out on their events to try and time your visit when they’ve got something extra special happening.
Even if you don’t love the films as much as me, it’s still a pretty epic place to visit on a trip to New Zealand. The highlight for many, it doesn’t disappoint. Have you been?
Relax and unwind at Villa Walton in Matamata
If you find yourself exploring on my Waikato travel, you have to stay at a B & B or farm stay at one point or another.
After visiting Hobbiton, try and grab a room at Villa Walton, the most elegant historic homestead in picturesque Matamata, overlooking the Kaimai Ranges.
Established in 1904, the rural boutique accommodation of Villa Walton oozes comfort and charm. With amazing homemade brekkie, great company, beautiful style, and a garden to die for, I was gutted only to spend one night here. I’ll be back for longer next time!
Go for a sunset glowworm paddle at Lake Karapiro
After a big day of exploring, we headed out for a perfect sunset guided kayak tour on the pristine Lake Karapiro, a place I’ve never been to before. What a beautiful part of the country the south Waikato is, idyllic, lush, and peaceful.
As the sun set behind the hills, we made our way towards the Pokaiwhenua Stream, a verdant green canyon straight from a storybook with Lake District Adventures.
After waiting for darkness to fall, we floated back through the narrow, steep canyon, in complete darkness, with nothing but millions of blue glowworms twinkling along the canyon walls and the Milky Way shining above our head!
This was definitely not a moment I will ever forget!
Visit the birds at Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari
The lovely native forest around Maungatautari never ceases to blow me away.
A massive predator-free fenced-in eco-sanctuary in the heart of the Waikato travel – the work they’re doing here to bring back our precious native creatures, like kiwi, is both inspiring and powerful.
Maungatautari is a true ecological ‘island,’ an eco-sanctuary inside one of the world’s longest predator-proof fences that allows beautiful New Zealand birdlife to thrive. Here you can find native wildlife, plants, and great walking trails, and I could easily spend hours and hours wandering in this incredible forest. What a place!
I really enjoyed getting up close and personal with kākā, a native New Zealand parrot, found chattering in the forests. They are lovely, and I always try and listen out for them when I know they are in the area.