The Must-Do Activities in Hamilton
In the heart of the rural Waikato region and on the banks of New Zealand’s longest river, Hamilton is an intriguing city to visit for its culture, arts and natural attractions. Get a sense of the locals’ creativity and history at the Hamilton Gardens and Waikato Museum and experience stunning natural features, like the wildlife attraction Sanctuary Mountain or on a cruise of the Waikato River. Hamilton also makes an idyllic base for exploring the regional highlights, from the Middle-earth magic of Hobbiton to the glowworm spectacle of the Waitomo Caves.
So, what are the must-dos in Hamilton? Check out our top picks in this list of the Hamilton must-dos!
1. Visit the Hamilton Gardens
Whatever your interests and whatever your budget, don’t miss the Hamilton Gardens. The award-winning gardens is one of the most renowned in the country, featuring around 21 historical and cultural-themed gardens. You can spend a good couple of hours here wandering around, from the Maori fortified village to the Chinese gardens. In between, relax in the on-site cafe, have a picnic by the river or let the kids loose at the garden-themed playground. What’s more, you can take the Hamilton Gardens’ guided tour to learn more about the fascinating transformation of this site from dumping ground to the beautiful gardens you see today.
Location: Hungerford Crescent, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
2. Watch the Birds and Tuatara at Sanctuary Mountain
Connect with nature and enjoy an educational experience at Sanctuary Mountain (Mt Maungatautari). This wildlife sanctuary is just under an hour’s drive from Hamilton Central. Experience one of the self-guided walks through the forested mountain protected by a predator-proof fence or get more insight (and better chances to see rare birds) through a guided walk. Additionally, see the “living dinosaur” the tuatara on the tuatara enclosure tour. We also list this activity in our 10 Things to Do in Hamilton with Kids.
Location: Tari Road, Pukeatua, approximately 55km (34 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
3. Go for a Walk and a Coffee Beside Hamilton Lake
Circumvent some or all of Hamilton Lake on the walkway found close to the city centre. The 3.8km (2.4-mile) paved walk takes you through a number of intriguing landscapes. Venture through lakeside vegetation, grassy parklands ideal for a picnic, over boardwalks, past various playgrounds and to a cafe where you can indulge in a well-deserved coffee. Ducks, geese, pukeko and other birds can often be spotted along the way.
Location: Ruakiwi Road or Lake Cresent, approximately 1km (0.6 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
4. Learn Something New at the Waikato Museum
Another fantastic free thing to do in Hamilton, the Waikato Museum is a place to learn about the region’s fascinating history and see its treasures. Although exhibitions are often changing, you’ll get the chance to see the likes of intricate Maori carvings, contemporary art, artefacts from early European settlers and much more! What’s more, it’s one of the activities you can rely on on a rainy day in Hamilton.
Location: 1 Grantham Street, Hamilton city centre.
5. Take a Trip to the Hobbiton Movie Set
Don’t pretend like it wasn’t on your bucket list anyway! But did you know Hamilton is a great base to visit the Hobbiton Movie Set or take a tour to it? See the home of Bilbo Baggins and enjoy a drink at the Green Dragon Tavern on a two-hour guided tour o this Middle-earth attraction near Matamata. Check out our How to Get the Best Hobbiton Discount if you plan to visit independently. Otherwise, there are some fantastic guided tours with transport from Hamilton included, such as with Headfirst Travel and Clem and Judy Richards.
Location: Buckland Road, Matamata, approximately 46km (29 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
6. Go Shopping!
With three shopping malls and a city centre full of interesting boutiques, Hamilton is one of the best places to stop for shopping on the North Island. Pick up something handcrafted, New Zealand-made and unique at one of Hamilton’s boutiques, such as down the stylish Riverbank Lane off Victoria Street or the attractive European-style Casabella Lane in the city centre. Shopping malls with high street brands include Centre Place, Te Awa & The Base and the Chartwell Shopping Centre. See more activities like this in the 8 Luxury Activities in Hamilton.
Location: The Riverbank Lane – 298 Victoria Street. Casabella Lane – 307 Barton Street. Centre Place – 501 Victoria Street &
56 Ward Street. Te Awa & The Base – Corner of Te Rapa Road and Avalon Drive. Chartwell Shopping Centre – Corner of Comries and Hukanui Road.
7. Enjoy High Tea and a Plantation Tour at Zealong
It’s the only tea plantation in New Zealand so don’t miss this unique foodie experience! Experience a guided plantation tour of the Zealong Tea Estate where you’ll learn about how this plantation came to be, about the picking and processing and much more. The tour concludes with a ceremonial tea tasting and the added option of indulging in high tea. Check out more experiences like this in the 7 Things to Do in Hamilton for Foodies.
Location: 495 Gordonton Road, approximately 11km (7 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
8. Get Your Arboretum Fix
Yes, Hamilton has not one but two arboretums! Stick to your travel budget and experience the great outdoors at the Taitua Arboretum. There are various-length walks throughout the arboretum of mature trees, lakes, gardens and picnic spots. Alternatively, the Sculpture Park at Waitakaruru Arboretum is a little further out of the city and has a small admission fee but is still well worth a visit. This former quarry has been transformed into a stunning display of more than 100 sculptures, 20,000 native and exotic trees, gardens and more.
Location: Taitua Arboretum – Taitua Road, Temple View, approximately 11km (7 miles) from Hamilton city centre. Waitakaruru Arboretum – 207 Scotsman Valley Road, Tauwhare, approximately 20km (12 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
9. Enjoy a Cruise on the Waikato River
Whether you’re watching the sun’s reflection off the large-volume river or the raindrops, a cruise along the Waikato River is a must! Join Waikato River Explorer for an all-weather scenic cruise between the Hamilton Gardens and the Waikato Museum. The boat features a cafe and a fully-licensed bar so you can indulge in some goodies while you enjoy the views from New Zealand’s longest river. Trips depart every 90 minutes. See more like this in the 10 Romantic Activities in Hamilton for Couples.
Location: Hamilton Gardens, Hungerford Crescent, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
10. Take a Trip to the Waitomo Caves
If it’s not on your itinerary already, make sure you include a trip to the Waitomo Caves during your stay in Hamilton. There’s an array of experiences to see the glowworms from the family-friendly CaveWorld tour to the extreme caving experience of Glowing Adventures. There’s so much to cover on this popular area of New Zealand that we have a whole guide dedicated to it in The Complete Guide to Waitomo.
Location: Waitomo, approximately 70km (43 miles) from Hamilton city centre.