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Your Complete Best Things To Do in Hamilton Guide!

12 Best things to do in Hamilton, NZ

Are you looking for the best things to do in Hamilton?

Read this guide!

Hamilton, also known as Kirikiriroa in Maori is often described as being the gateway to the North of New Zealand. This beautiful city is nestled on the banks of the mighty Waikato River (New Zealand’s longest river) and is known for its walks, gardens, cafes and nightlife.

We visited this top NZ destination whilst adventuring on our New Zealand campervan trip!

a complete guide to the best things to do in Hamilton

In this guide you discover all you need to know about:

  • Hamiltion’s History 
  • How to get to Hamilton?
  • Best time to visit Hamilton 
  • Best things to do in Hamilton 
  • Best places to stay in Hamilton 

Hamilton’s History

Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with a lengthy history lesson, but I believe you should have an idea about a places history when visiting for the first time. So here’s a brief summary of how Hamilton developed into the thriving town it is today. 

The earliest recorded settlers in the Hamilton area were Maori from the Tainui waka;

  • 1864 – The first permanent European settlers arrived
  • 1906 – The population of Hamilton was more than 2100
  • 1945 – Hamilton’s population to have reached 22,000
  • 1950 – Domestic air services commenced from Hamilton Airport
  • 1990 – The city was well-established as a capital of the dairy sector
  • 1995 –  Waikato-Tainui signed a deed of settlement with the Crown, giving the tribe an estimated $170m inland and cash
  • 2016 – Hamilton continues to grow rapidly with a heavy student presence

How to get to Hamilton?

The Waikato region is readily accessible and easy to get around, whether flying in, driving, or travelling by train or bus. Self-drive is the most popular option and most attractions are within a comfortable hour’s drive of Hamilton city, while Hamilton Airport services flights throughout New Zealand. 

However, if you’re flying from an international airport you’ll more than likely arrive into Auckland Airport, which is a 1.5hrs drive to Hamiltion along Highway 1. If you’re not lucky enough to have a rental car there’s an InterCity® bus, which operates multiple daily buses from Hamilton to Auckland Airport. Prices vary depending on what day and time you travel, but expect to pay around $20 NZD. 

The best way to explore New Zealand is through self driving, so if you’re old enough and have a valid driving license go book one! There are 6 car hire companies at Auckland Airport: Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty. It’s best to pre book to guarantee a car,especially during the busy summer months and to find the best price available. 

Best time to visit Hamilton?

The mild climate and moderate year round rainfall keep the city and surrounding area very green, making it an ideal place for exploring the outdoor greenery –  there are over145 parks and gardens and 63 sports areas alone! 

But what temperature will you expect to see? Well if you’re looking for the very warmest time to visit Hamilton, the hottest months are February, January, and March were temperatures reach around 25 degrees and rarely drop belows 15 degrees at night. 

During the winter months of June, July and August, temperatures sit around 15 degrees, which is still pleasant for outdoor activities and drop to around 4 degrees at night, so remember to take some warm layers. But don’t worry you won’t be needing any snow boots – the last recorded snow flakes were 2011! 

And what about rain? Well again if you want to stay dry visit in February where you’ll experience around 7 days of rain a month – which is needed to help keep cooler in the hot temperatures. You’ll experience the most amount of rainfall in August so remember to pack a brolly! 

Best things to do in Hamilton 


Embrace Hamilton Gardens 

Hamilton Gardens is one the best things to do in Hamilton
Credit here to the cameraman

Hamilton Gardens are the most visited tourist attraction in Waikato – and I can now see why! Drop-in for a guided tour at 11am every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday or explore the gardens in your own leisurely time. Best of all it’s FREE. Open every day of the year, Hamilton Gardens open their gates at 7:30 – I’d recommend to go early to beat the crowds. Peak times are between 11am – 3pm during summer. 

Price = FREE

Location = Hungerford Crescent, Hamilton

There’s also a cafe and gift shop on-site to grab a bite to eat or take home a souvenir for your loved ones. 

Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautar

Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari is a world-class conservation project which aims to continue the species reintroductions and breeding programmes to create biodiversity in a sound ecological environment.

There are a number of different guided and self-guided tours to participate in – have a look on their website to see what suits your interests best. The park is open every day from 08:30-16:00.

Price = Adult = $22   Child = $10

Location = 99 Tari Road, Pukeatua.

Waitomo Glow Worms Cave

Hamilton Glow worms experience, Hamilton activity
Credit here to the photographer

Discover your moment of magic in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves tour. Known as one of New Zealand’s best natural attractions, take a boat ride through the glow worm grotto, marvel at thousands of magical glowworms and become part of over 130 years of cultural and natural history.

Waitomo Glow Worms Cave is open from 9am daily and operates 365 days a year, with tours departing every 30 minutes daily and last around 45 minutes. Just make sure you wear comfortable shoes and a warm jacket!

Price =  Adult = $55     Child = $25

Location= 39 Waitomo Village Rd, Waitomo Caves, Otorohanga

Hamilton Zoo

animals at the Hamilton Zoo is one of the best things to do in Hamilton

Open everyday 9:30-16:30, Hamilton Zoo is the perfect day out for the whole family. There’s over 600 animals to enjoy from Zebras, to Geckos to Pandas. There’s plenty of zookeeper talks to learn about your favourite animals, as well as face to face encounters for an additional fee. 

Price = Adult = $19     Child = $9

Location =  183 Brymer Road, Baverstock, Hamilton

Day trip to Tauranga

Day trip from Hamilton to Tauranga
Credit here to the cameraman

A 1.5hr drive will take you to Tauranga, a coastline town full of exciting fun things to do, including sailing, fishing and dolphin watching, as well as soaking up some well-deserved sunshine. You can also visit nearby Mount Maunganui, a surf beach town, with an array of lively cafés, restaurants and shops, as well as naturally heated saltwater pools. There is a Gourmet Night Market with an incredible selection of food and fresh produce straight from local farms that you must try too! 

Have a cuppa at Tea Zealong Tea Plantation

the Tea Zealong Tea Plantation is something to do in Hamilton today

Take a tea trail through the history of tea and explore unique sculptures and scenic stops to learn how tea is picked and processed. A ceremonial Zealong tea tasting teaches the art of tea appreciation, of appearance, aroma, and taste, followed by an optional Signature High Tea at the Tea House overlooking the Estate. Tours run Tuesday through Sunday (May-October) or daily (November-April) with two sessions a day starting at 9.30am and 2pm. Each tour last between 60 – 90 minutes and booking is essential. Being the only tea plantation in NZ, who can imagine how popular this place is. 

Price = Starting from $49 

Location = 495 Gordonton Road

Waikato Museum 

Waikato Museum’s exhibitions, events and programmes tell real stories from a regional and global perspective, and include visual art, social history, tangata whenua and science from touring exhibitions, and the museum’s own collections. Open 10am – 5pm everyday, it’s the perfect starting destination for any trip to Hamiltion. 

Price = Free (donations welcome)

Location = 1 Grantham Street, Hamilton

Dine like a Hobbit

If your a fan of Lord of the Rings then this is a must! Located only 45 minutes from Hamilton the Hobbiton Movie Set shows how the movie magic was made. There’s a number of different tours to choose from so check out their website to see what suits you best. 

But why Waikato? Well in 1998, Peter Jackson’s team of location scouts were searching for the iconic rolling hills and lush green pastures of Hobbiton. An aerial search led them to the Alexander farm, a stunning 1,250 acre sheep farm in the heart of the Waikato. They noted the area’s striking similarity to The Shire, as described by JRR Tolkien, and quickly realised that the Hobbits had found a home. Now it’s turned into a Lord of the Rings lover international sensation. 

Price = Varies depending on what tour chosen

Location = 501 Buckland Rd, Hinuera, Matamata

Learn to Surf at Raglan

photo of the surfing activity in Raglan
Credit here to cameraman

A short 40-minute drive will take you to the coastline town of Raglan, best known for its surfing mecca, lively town and bridal veil falls. Take a lesson with Raglan Surf School or hire your own board and tackle the waves. If you’re an expert surfer head to Manu Bay where you can cruise a wave for up to 2 kilometres – awesome! But don’t worry there are plenty other places for all you novices out there. 

Enjoy a River Cruise

Enjoy a relaxing cruise on New Zealand’s longest waterway flowing through Hamilton, with weekly Cafe Cruises, Wine Tasting Cruises and Ferry Trips. A perfect day out for all the family no matter what the weather!

Price = Starting at $35 for a 60 minute cruise 

Location = Hungerford Crescent, Hamilton

Day trip to Rotorua 

Take a day trip to New Zealand’s famous Rotorua – only a 1.5hr drive away. It’s a brilliant place to learn about Mauri culture, as well as witness some of the country’s best natural wonders.  Explore the natural hot springs, have a go at paddleboarding on the stunning Lake Rotorua or tackle one of the many scenic hikes. If you’re not so much of an adrenaline junky, Rotorua is also famous for it spa’s and foodies, making it the perfect destination for anyone! 

Watch The Balloons Over Waikato

If you’re lucky enough to be in Hamilton in March you MUST take part in Balloons Over Waikato, a free festival held every year in the grounds of Hamilton’s University. Watch the balloons inflate, take a scenic flight (obviously there’s an extra fee for this) and enjoy time with friends and family at this major iconic festival in Hamilton. 

Price = FREE

Location =  Innes Common, Hamilton Lake

Best places to stay in Hamilton 

There’s plenty of accommodation options in Hamilton to suit everyone’s budget. Here’s our top 6 from budget to luxury.


Backpackers Central (Approx £39 per night)

Situated in a prime position in the centre of Hamilton near shops, bars and restaurants, Backpackers Central is perfect for a budget stay. Guests have access to safe off street parking, as well as free breakfast every morning – pancakes included! The rooms are basic but clean, which for me is the most important thing and staff are extremely friendly and have fantastic knowledge about the surrounding area. 

Book: Room Here

Abbots Hamilton (Approx £47 per night)

Located a 5-minute walk from Hamilton’s main shops, Abbots Hotel features spacious rooms all with a kitchenette perfect for cooking your own meals if you’re on a budget. There’s also a restaurant onsite if cookings no one of your specialities! Guests also have access to free WIFI for uploading all your Instagram snaps. 

Book: Room Here


Ulster Lodge Motel (Approx £55 per night)

Offering accommodation with free Wi-Fi and free parking, Ulster Lodge Motel is 1.2 miles from Hamilton’s town centre. All rooms are well equipped with a TV, microwave and refrigerator. The area is very quiet and kept clean with excellent housekeeping daily. There’s also plenty of parking too – everything you need for a few days away.

Book: Room Here

Lake Point Motel (Approx 58 per night)

This is one of Hamilton’s best sellers! Just 700 yards from Hamilton Lake, Lake Point Motel offers self-contained accommodation with free wired internet, satellite TV and a kitchenette, as well as free parking on site. The owners are very welcoming and polite and ensure you’ll have a comfortable stay. 

Book: Room Here


Atrium on Ulster (Approx £87 per night)

Atrium On Ulster offers spacious modern studios and 1 and 2-bedroom units with access to a fully equipped fitness room and free internet. All units have a flat-screen TV and a private balcony or courtyard to enjoy. The staff are super friendly and there’s restaurants nearby for a tasty meal. 

Book: Room Here

Arena Court Motor Lodge (Approx £94 per night)

Just 700 yards from the Waikato River, Arena Court offers self-contained accommodation with flat-screen satellite TV, iPod docking station, free Wi-Fi and free parking are available to all guests. The rooms are lovely – fresh, clean and welcoming and sky TV was such a plus. Loved having the option of brewing filter coffee in the morning. The owners were just super lovely and you can tell they care about their customers. 

Book: Room Here

Final Thoughts 

So there you have it, a complete to Hamilton! There’s plenty to do, plenty to see and plenty to eat – it’s no wonder people love living here. 


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