Uncover the best things to do in Hamilton with this fantastic travel guide. Whether you have a day, a week or a lifetime in the ‘City of the Future’, you’ll find something fun to keep you entertained here!
There are so many things to do in Hamilton that will keep both locals and tourists busy. From its top-visited attraction – the award-winning Hamilton Gardens – to local riverside jaunts and nearby scenic hikes, there is a lot to do in the city.
This list is a round-up of some of the must-see spots in Hamilton, alongside some lesser-known gems. There really is something for everyone in this guide!
COVID-19 has come with its fair share of challenges for New Zealand businesses. Though we do our best to share accurate information, this can change quickly as some businesses make the decision to operate under reduced hours or hibernate. We suggest you double-check they are open before finalising your plans.
Fun Things to Do in Hamilton
Enjoy Hamilton’s World-Renowned Gardens
Hamilton Gardens is the most visited tourist attraction in the Waikato region… but with good reason!
It is so unique because each enclosed garden has a different theme. This means that in a single afternoon you can roam through Renaissance Italy, meander through Modernist America and stroll through a Surrealist garden straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
I wasn’t surprised to find out these gardens have previously won the International Gardens of the Year Award, alongside others. Nor will you be!
Perfect for families, or single adults with a short attention span (that’s me!), the fact that each garden has a different theme is sure to keep even the most distracted amongst us entertained.
There are plenty of ‘interactive’ elements, such as the surrealist garden’s giant door where you can recreate this photo below. You’ll be sure to look smaller than a Hobbit!
Don’t be mistaken by thinking this garden is all style and no substance; the gardens are also a haven for native trees and flowers.
Guided tours are available for those who want to learn more about both the symbolic and natural significance of the plants cared for here.
Opening hours: 7:30am to 7:30pm.
Entry costs: Free, though you can support the gardens by using the donation boxes or purchasing a detailed map for $2 from the information centre. Guided tours can also be booked for a small fee – $20 for adults, $13 for children and free for kids 5 and under. Those living in Hamilton get a 50% discount on these rates.
Facilities: drinking stations, toilets, a comfortable cafe. Options available for those with limited mobility.
Did you know? There are currently four more gardens in development, including the world’s first recreation of an Ancient Egyptian Garden, so there will be plenty of opportunities for another visit if you couldn’t get enough of this magical place the first time.
If you want to reconnect with nature further from the crowds, you can also visit Taitua Arboretum.
The arboretum covers 20 hectares and has a large collection of native and exotic trees, providing a refuge for local birds and wildlife – as well as city-dwellers needing an escape from the bustling streets!
The area includes open pasture, lakes and gardens, and is best explored by one of the many walking paths.
Opening hours: 8am to half an hour before dusk.
Facilities: Toilets and drinking water at the car park. Dogs allowed on leads. No push bikes.
Additional Nature-Based Things to Do in Hamilton
Aside from the Hamilton Gardens and Arboretum, there are plenty of alternative seasonally or year-round attractions. If you appreciate floral displays and plants you’ll want to consider the following…
- Waikato Cherry Tree Festival – a celebration of the cherry tree blooms including multicultural entertainment and food venders. The event takes place in September, with tickets expected to cost around $40.
- The Zealong Tea Plantation – the only commercial tea plantation in New Zealand is a fun activity for tea-lovers. There you can enjoy a tour of the tea fields and enjoy learning about the history of this comforting beverage. Their luxury high teas are a great way to treat your partner whilst enjoying scenic views over the region. These start at $50.
- Lavender Backyard Garden – Pick your own blueberries or lavender, or simply relax with a coffee while enjoying the purple fields ahead. The company here sells aromatherapy products in the shop. Open November – January.
- Balloons Over Waikato – prefer colourful displays in the sky to those on the ground? This 5-day event takes place every March. It includes a night-time event where glowing balloons float across the sky as fireworks boom alongside orchestral music. What’s more, it’s free!
Arts & Culture in Hamilton
The Sculpture Park
At the 18 hectare Waitakaruru Arboretum lies the 2km nature trail. On this walk over 100 sculptures transform the area into a huge outdoor art gallery.
The area was initially a way to rehabilitate a disused quarry that was first developed in 1991. Now, it is a fun way to enjoy Waikato views, bubbling streams winding through the trees and small waterfalls.
Tickets: The park is only open for casual visitors on Sundays and public holidays, however you can book for other days online in advance. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $5 for 5-14 year olds.
Hamilton Street Art
On your way to lunch in Hamilton central, look out for the colourful street art that lines the walls. Some of these vibrant artworks are hidden down back alleys, while others you’ll catch from the car window as you drive by.
The street art scene here is still growing with the murals an opportunity to champion local artists. You’ll also find a fantastic range of international street artists in the city too.
The most fun way to spot street art is to simply look out for it as you walk around, but you can also search on your map for the Founders Theatre Mural, Anzac Parade or Victoria Street (if you are short on time.)
There is also the annual Boon Street Art Festival, the last of which took place in November 2020 at the University of Waikato.
The Waikato Museum is the best place to visit to learn about local history and culture. Its engaging 13 galleries and 25 exhibitions change throughout the year, making each visit feel new.
The museum aims to tell stories from a regional and global perspective through its interactive programme.
The Maori art here – both historical and contemporary – is a great way to learn about New Zealand’s culture.
Family-friendly exhibitions include learning about local culture when walking around the war waka Te Winika (a Maori canoe) and interactive science exhibitions.
Entry: Free though a donation/koha is welcome. There is an admission fee for some optional exhibitions and activities.
Admission fees apply to some exhibitions and activities.
Visiting Hamilton with your family? There are many more family-friendly activities in Hamilton besides the museum, such as crazy golf, water world, and escape rooms too!
Things to Do in Hamilton: Enjoy the City’s Natural Beauty
Hamilton Lake Domain
Hamilton Lake, or Lake Rotoroa, is a peaceful retreat in the heart of the city. The circular 3.8km trail is an opportunity for a gentle walk, though you can also chill out on a sunny day.
There you can enjoy the easy trails which wind around the lake (perfect for dog-walkers), relax beside the water’s edge or stroll through the romantic rose gardens.
It’s also the perfect spot to stop for a picnic!
Walk the Riverside Walkway
One of the best local strolls in Hamilton is the Riverside Walkway!
Also suitable for cyclists, this path is a lovely way to enjoy the Waikato River, which meanders through the city.
The complete walk is 11km, though it’s easy to access it in the city and just do short sections at a time.
Did you know? The Waikato River is the longest river in New Zealand at 425 kilometres, stretching all the way from Port Waikato to Lake Taupo. Waikato appropriately translates to ‘flowing water’ in the Māori language.
Waikato River Cruises
Want a more relaxing way to enjoy the river scenery? Whether you want a family-friendly eco-tour, or fancy booking one of the Waikato wine cruises for a special occasion, a boat trip surely has to be the most appropriate way to enjoy the mighty Waikato river.
You can take the Waikato River Explorer directly from Hamilton Gardens on specific dates, with trips lasting from 55 – 90 minutes.
Advance booking is required. Ticket prices begin at $29.
Hit the Trails and Enjoy Hamilton Hikes
The rolling countryside that surrounds Hamilton is home to some of New Zealand’s lesser-known hiking trails. These are perfect for anyone looking for something more ambitious than the Riverside Walkway mentioned earlier.
Before embarking on a trail, be sure to make sure you have the appropriate clothing, footwear, and sunscreen if necessary. Fill up your water bottle in advance and take snacks to give you a boost on the steeper trails.
Follow directions – look up a map in advance if you need to – and be sure not to step off the pathways. It’s important to use the boot-cleaning stations as required (usually at the beginning of footpaths next to the car park) in order to protect the native flora and fauna.
The Hakarimata trail has wonderful views across the Waikato Basin from its 374m summit. While only a 2km return, it is steep and a 3 hour timeline is recommended.
There are many different trails to choose from in the Hakarimata Scenic Reserve giving you plenty of opportunities to get to know this area.
If you’re feeling enthusiastic, the full Hakarimata Walkway is 12km (one way) and takes up to 8 hours.
Kauri Loop Track
This walk is a wonderful way to see some of the largest kauri trees in the Waikato region – look out for the Kauri grove about 40 minutes into the walk. The 3km loop takes up to two hours in full.
Te Otamanui Walkway
This 6 – 10km walkway is still being built at present.
Starting at Te Kowhai Village, it will follow the Te Kowhai Stream to the Waipa River.
The development is in part community effort, with boardwalks and pathways being constructed to make this a comfortable walk which does not disturb the native trees.
It will be a great way to see the 60 acre lake, Te Otamanui Lagoon.
Some of the trail is already open, should you wish to view this area’s sprawling wildlife.
Nearby Attractions in the Waikato
Bridal Veil Falls
On my Hamilton day trip from Auckland, I am very glad I made the extra time to visit Bridal Veil Falls. The Pokoka River takes a 55-metre drop over the cliff and into the sublime pool below, and the area is surrounded by lush green trees and shrubs.
The first two lookouts over Bridal Veil Falls are only a 5-minute walk from the carpark, and the bottom platform takes approximately 15-minutes. There is also an additional lookout built into the pathway.
I was impressed by the care taken to give visitors different perspectives of this mighty waterfall!
The walkway here is very well-maintained, though it is quite steep climbing back up the wooden steps at the end of your visit.
From Bridal Veil Falls, you can easily journey further into the scenic surfing town of Raglan.
Related: Things to do in Raglan.
Related: The best places to stay in Raglan.
Hamilton Gardens has become a great detour for tourists (even on a shorter New Zealand road trip) due to its proximity to some of the North Island’s most well-known attractions.
One of these attractions is indeed Hobbiton, which is only a 1-hour drive from central Hamilton.
Whether you’re a fan or not, this is a local must-do!
Fans of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the ‘The Lord of the Rings’ will find themselves in a fantasty wonderland.
Even if you’re not a fan, Hobbiton is well worth a visit – the care and time they put into this attraction is beyond compare in New Zealand!
Related: Read our Hobbition tour review.
Putaruru Blue Springs
Located not far from Hamilton you’ll find the Putaruru Blue Springs – one of the most stunning bodies of water in New Zealand!
From Hamilton, you’ll pass through Tirau (a bit of an attraction in itself!) before turning off to the Putaruru Blue Springs.
Once in the area, you’ll have the choice of parking as completing a 2-hour walk in, or you can drive further around and park just 10 minutes from the springs.
Regardless of which option you choose, the springs are definitely worth the short drive out of Hamilton (and can even be done as a day trip from Auckland.)
Plan Your Visit to the ‘City of the Future’ With our Guide to these Fun Things to Do in Hamilton
With so much to do in the region it’s easy to see why Hamilton is definitely a destination in and of itself.
Next time you’re in the area why not check out a few of the suggestions in our guide?
We guarantee you’ll come away happy!
Guest post by Cassie. Follow her adventures at Cassie the Hag.