Hamilton & Waikato New Zealand© Hamilton & Waikato New Zealand
Hamilton & Waikato New Zealand

Hamilton – Guide for Backpackers

© Hamilton & Waikato New Zealand

Things to Do in Hamilton for Backpackers

The main hub of the Waikato region, home of hot air balloon events, the mighty Waikato River, and some of New Zealand’s best gardens, Hamilton has plenty of reasons to lure us backpackers in.

If the fascinating Maori history, New Zealand’s only tea plantation and affordable shopping weren’t enough, Hamilton is a great central base when doing some short trips around the Waikato. Head to Raglan on the coast or go explore the Waitomo caves and more! Read more about Waikato’s attractions in Waikato – Guide for Backpackers.

Hamilton is a city that can be enjoyed in New Zealand without breaking the bank. Check out these 10 Free or Cheap Things to do in Hamilton to keep the costs down while still having an awesome time in the centre of Waikato.

So, discover the best things to do in Hamilton in our backpacker guide below!

Things You Can’t Miss in Hamilton

  • Step into many different countries in the Hamilton Gardens
  • Walk along the mighty Waikato River on the Waikato River Trails
  • See some fascinating Maori art at the Waikato Museum
  • Shop for bargains in the endless amount of op-shops
  • Party on Victoria Street, home to Hamilton’s nightlife.

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Hamilton Walks and Mountain Bike Trails

Dotted with lakes and with a massive river running right through the middle of it, Hamilton sure has plenty to see while going for a stroll on the city’s walkways.

Like all great cities, Hamilton has a park to escape to when you need a dose of nature. Hamilton Lake Domain does just the job with a lake surrounded by natural vegetation and grassy areas perfect for a picnic. Watch the birdlife as you take the 3.8km (2.4-mile) walk around the lake following an easy trail over boardwalks.

Spanning almost the entire length of the city, the Waikato River Walkway gets you beside New Zealand’s longest river on a walk every-changing as it goes. One moment you are surrounded by native bush, the next you are in a recreational area watching rowers on the river, the next you will be in the Hamilton Gardens. The Waikato River Walkway can be both cycled and walked. There are many entry points to the walkway (just head toward the river). Most entry points can be found on the western side of the Waikato River.

Walk among woodland gardens in the Taitua Arboretum. On the outskirts of Hamilton onTaitua Road, Taitua Arboretum has a network of easy walking trails with lakes and heaps of birdlife. You could definitely find yourself relaxing in the environment all day.

Finally, for those who enjoy downhill thrills, hire a mountain bike and hit the Hamilton Mountain Bike Track. The Hamilton Mountain Bike Track is great for beginners as well as advanced riders wanting to get back into the swing of things with Grade 2-3 terrain. The single track spans 10km (6 miles) and can be accessed via Maui Street. See here more about mountain biking in New Zealand.

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Nature Experiences in Hamilton

Stepping into one of Hamilton’s experiences with nature takes you around the world, whether its in international gardens or coming face-to-face with the animals of Africa in Hamilton Zoo.

Winning numerous Garden of the Year awards, the Hamilton Gardens is a free-entry must-do in Hamilton. Walking through a labyrinth of themed gardens feels like stepping into several different countries. Springtime is obviously the best time to visit, but the gardens are spectacular all year round. Find the Hamilton Gardens just off State Highway 1, Cobham Drive. You can either take the 29 Bus or walk there on the Waikato River Trails.

Hamilton Zoo is home to more than 600 native and exotic animals, giving you the chance to get up close to some of the world’s most intriguing animals. Find the Hamilton Zoo on Brymer Road.

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Cultural Experiences in Hamilton

Maori culture plays a significant role in Hamilton and the Waikato region, which you can learn about the free-entry Waikato Museum. Find out about Maori King movement and the Waikato Land Wars of the nineteenth century. The Waikato Museum has fascinating Maori art and carvings on display including a grand waka (canoe).

Hamilton is also home to the Classics Museum, a collection of classic cars with a real feeling of yesteryear. Not just displaying cars, the Classics Museum also shows petrol memorabilia and a funky American-style diner.

To top it all off, go get a photo with the statue of Riff Raff on Victoria Street, dedicated to the creator of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Do the Time Warp.

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Shopping, Food and Nightlife in Hamilton

If you need to stock up on supplies or just want to treat yourself, then Hamilton is the place to shop for affordable clothes, gifts or whatever else. Have a run to The Base Outlet, a shopping mall with a selection of outlet stores from well-known brands. You’ll get some more quirky finds at the southern end of Hamilton’s CBD, with the fabulous laneway, Casabella Lane, as well as the numerous op-shops around Liverpool Street, Ulster Street, River Road and Te Aroha Street.

When it comes to nightlife and having a drink or two, some say that Hamilton’s nightlife even surpasses Auckland’s. Judge for yourself with a great selection of bars on Victoria Street. Choose from a selection of sports bars, student bars, nightclubs, casino and more!

Finally, treat yourself at New Zealand’s only tea plantation, Zealong. Take an affordable tour around the plantation, find out how tea is made, and end with some tastings of some fine oolong tea. Or how about a cafe cruise on the Waikato River (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)?

Check out more 10 Free or Cheap Things to Do in Hamilton.

If You Have More Time in Hamilton…

  • Catch the Balloons Over Waikato event happening every year in March…
  • Or ride in a hot air balloon yourself with the Kiwi Balloon Company
  • Take a tour around the Good George Brewing brewery on Somerset Street
  • Race your mates on one of the largest indoor go-kart racetrack, Daytona Indoor Raceway
  • Hop on a cruise along the Waikato River (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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