The region gets its name from the Waikato River; waikato is a Māori word meaning flowing water and this area is home to the Waikato iwi (tribe). With coasts on the western and northeastern sides of the North Island, the region stretches from Lake Taupo and northern King Country in the south, north to the Coromandel Peninsula. It is bounded by Auckland in the north, Bay of Plenty in the east, Hawke's Bay in the southeast, and ManawatuWanganui and Taranaki in the south.
The landscapes you will come across in the Waikato will forever linger in your memory. There’s pure tranquillity above ground and the most astonishing adventures below, Waikato is the first region south of Greater Auckland. Above ground the view is dominated by the lifeforce of the region, the Waikato River, and the surrounding rolling lush, green farmland. The main centre is Hamilton, a city that serves the flourishing farming and university community. From the d ecko f a classic paddle steamer you can view the mighty Waikato, at 425km the longest river in New Zealand. Absorb one of the region’s best experiences aboard the steamer with a wonderful commentary on local landmarks, the history of the region and riverbank life. Hamilton is famous for its themed gardens and the local zoo, which has the largest free flight aviary in the Southern Hemisphere. Te Aroha is renowned for its relaxing hot mineral pools and Cambridge for its antiques arts and crafts. In the Waitomo area, south of Hamilton, there's a natural wonderland to explore. Massive underground caverns are adorned with glistening stalactites and stalagmites, formations that have been millions of years in the making. You can glide through the darkness on a water barge and admire the wonders of nature where the glowworms overhead sparkle like an eerie underground sky. For a change of pace visit the West Coast beach town of Raglan, which is known throughout the international surfing community for its amazing lefthand break. There are many New Zealand musicians and artists here who find it irresistible and love the laidback lifestyle. The region’s natural attractions are crowned by New Zealand’s largest lake, Lake Taupo, a mecca for holidaymakers, boating enthusiasts and trout fishermen.
Great cafes and restaurants abound in all sorts of interesting places in the Waikato region. From Raglan and Cambridge to Hamilton and Taupo, there’s a hive of activity opportunities for tourists and locals alike with the region boasting wonderful lakes and surrounding mountains. Taupo District has the distinction of straddling the boundaries of four different regions with the majority of this being in the Waikato at 73%. The waters of Lake Taupo create the easily viewed Huka Falls with their impressive 11 metredrop. These waters are also responsible for the world famous trout fishery that attracts the rich and famous to New Zealand’s bestknown luxury lodge (Huka Lodge).
Water sports and fishing dominate this area, so there’s lots of employment on offer in the hospitality industry. In Hamilton's there are many hotels and lodges, some small and some larger, such as the 177roomNovotel Hotel. At the southern end of the main street in Hamilton there are some excellent restaurants, cafes and bars. Unlike in some seasonal cities and towns, custom in Hamilton is steady all year due to the city’s proximity to Auckland. If you love the great outdoors check out Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand’s largest skiing and snowboarding area, and Matamata, where you can plan your Lord of the Rings visit to Hobbiton country. Wonderful cattle and crops dominate the area and there are local thoroughbred stables around Cambridge. The north of the region around Te Kauwhata produces some of New Zealand's best wines. The region is particularly notable for its cCabernet ssauvignon, cChardonnay and s wines. New Zealand is internationally known for its wine and there are a number of boutique wine producers in the region, seven within close proximity of the river. The small local towns of Tuakau, Pukekohe and Waiuku also have several excellent cafes and restaurants.
Population: As of the 2006 Census, the Waikato region had a resident population of 406,600.
The people of the Waikato occasionally use the nickname Mooloo to apply to themselves or to their region, particularly in relation to sporting endeavors. The word was likely first applied to the Waikato provincial rugby team. Its origin is related to the mascot of a pantomime like milking cow used in parades, public events and sports matches, particularly rugby, reflecting the importance of the dairy industry to the region.
Waikato is the fourthlargest region in the country in terms of both area and population. It has an area of 25,000 km² and the Cambridge district of the Waikato is the heart of New Zealand’s racing and thoroughbred industry. Farming and horticulture are mainstays of the regional economy. Hamilton, New Zealand’s largest inland city, is the major centre, with an urban population in 2006 of 158,500. It is home to University of Waikato and Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec). The towns of Tokoroa, Te Awamutu and Cambridge each have populations of about 10,000 to 15,000 people in the tow ships and surrounding rural areas.
The region also includes the smaller towns of Huntly, Matamata, Morrinsville, Ngaruawahia, Otorohanga, Putaruru, Raglan, Te Kauwhata, Te Kuiti, and Tirau. Other towns within the Waikato region, but outside the traditional Waikato area, include Tuakau and Mercer, south of Auckland; Paeroa, Te Aroha, Thames, Whangamata, and Whitianga around the Thames Valley and Coromandel Peninsula; and Taupo (population 22,300) and Turangi in the southeast.
Land Area: Approximately 25,000 km2, or 2.5 million hectares
Main Centres: Hamilton, Cambridge, Coromandel, Huntly, Matamata, Miranda, Morrinsville, Ngaruawahia, Ngatea, Paeroa, Pirongia, Putaruru, Raglan, Taupiri, Taupo, Te Aroha, Te Awamutu, Te Kauwhata, Te Kowhai, Te Kuiti, Thames, Tirau, Tokoroa, Waihi.
On the Waikato River, small private beaches and tiny communities are still alive with local Maori culture and history. The lower region of the Waikato River played a large part in the early history of New Zealand. In 1863-64 it was used by the British as a passage for their gunboats to get close enough to shell the local Maori fortifications (pa's) during the land wars. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the western North Island contained some of the most densely populated parts of New Zealand, inhabited by iwi such as Ngāti Toa and Tainui.
The Waikato has a prominent history, particularly regarding relationships between Māori and European in early colonial New Zealand. During the Land Wars of the 1860s, the Waikato was the scene of major bloodshed in what is referred to as the Invasion of the Waikato. During 1863 and 1864 fighting occurred at Meremere, Ngaruawahia, Rangiaowhia (southwest of Cambridge), and Orakau (near Te Awamutu). Eventually the King Movement forces pulled back to positions in the area tothe south of the Waikato, still known as the King Country. In more recent and tranquil times at Matamata there is a farm that was the location for the Hobbiton set in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
When filming was c omplete it was decided to leave the Hobbit holes built on location as tourist attractions, since they were designed to b lend seamlessly into the e nvironment. A "Welcome to Hobbiton" sign greets visitors on the main road. Waikato’s famous sons include Richard O’Brien, who was the writer of the international cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Tim & Neil Finn from the bands Spliz Enz & Crowded House.
Activities: What to do there?
Waikato has something for everyone’s taste, whether it’s abseiling into Mangapu Cave, known as the Lost World, or kayaking and exploring the many smaller waterways, or casting a line in this fisherman’s paradise, there is something for everyone. Throughout this region there are opportunities for adventure, relaxation or shopping. The energetic can go tramping, rafting, mountain biking horse riding or golfing. If you have a head for heights Waikato has some great hot air ballooning options and you can unwind afterwards on a wine tour, or at the cafes and restaurants. If shopping is more your thing, there are plenty of antique shops to whet your appetite. In Cambridge, there’s the chance to take a tour of the surrounding worldleading stud farms.
There's a live music scene in Raglan, plus excellent surfing. Raglan also has the Eco Reggae Festival which is held every summer, attracting some of the biggest names in roots, reggae and dub, as well as local acts. The Musicians' Club in Raglan have openmic nightsat the Town Hall. To the east of the region, the land rises towards the forested slopes of the Kaimai and Mamaku ranges, great places for tramping. The upper reaches of the Waikato River are used for hydroelectricity, thanks to several large artificial lakes in the region's southeast, the earliest created being Lake Karapiro, now developed as a worldclass rowing centre and which will be the centre for the world rowing champs in 2010. Check out Huka Falls by jet boat or take a trip to Maungatautari. This comprises both Maori and private land and is becoming an increasingly popular destination for walkers and trampers.
Waikato hosts the Chiefs Super 14 rugby team and don’t forget to visit Hobbiton village from the Lord of the Rings in Matamata, or take a soak in the relaxing hot mineral pools at Te Aroha. Alternatively you could just hang out in the city of Hamilton or take a visit to the largest lake in New Zealand at Taupo where more delights await you.
There are galleries and museums in the region that are filled with artistic treasures, many influenced by the strong cultural influence of the district. Many local artists exhibit at a variety of galleries around Waikato. Visit the local information centre for more details or try Artpost Gallery or the Waikato Museum of Art and History.
Cafés, restaurants, shopping and night life the Waikato has all the entertainment you need. For instance, Hamilton has a great variety of shopping and is sure to have the gift, souvenir or fashion accessory you seek. Outside of the main city, every major town in the Waikato region has a unique shoppingo pportunity to offer you – see Cambridge for its wonderful antiques and arts and crafts, Tirau for great souvenirs or Otorohanga for Kiwi icons. If you are looking for something a little more exhilarating there is the Hamilton Casino, which is open daily. Waikato hosts a variety of sporting, festival, theatre and arts events, many of which take place in Hamilton city. See this website’s list of festivals or visit www.mysterycreek.co.nz or www.hamiltonevents.co.nz
Airport: There are several airports in the Waikato region, the largest of which is Hamilton International Airport which serves both domestic and international flights. There are direct flights to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and regular flights to other destinations throughout the North Island. As of 1 September 2009, Pacific Blue now offers three international flights a week, to and from Brisbane and Sydney. There are other airports at Taupo, Matarangi, Pauanui, Raglan, Thames, Tokoroa, Whitianga.
Roads: Hamilton is about 130km (80 miles) south of Auckland. It sits at a major road and rail nexus in the centre of the Waikato basin. Cars are the t ransportm edium of c hoice in this flat, sprawling city and throughout the entire region. New Zealand's main road artery, State Highway 1, runs through several of Hamilton's suburbs and connects with State Highway 3 within the city boundaries. Taupo is served by State Highways SH 1 and SH 5, and the Thermal Explorer Highway touring route. All three highways run concurrently for 11 km from Wairakei in the north, along Tongariro Street and Lake Terrace, to southern Taupo.
Buses: An extensive bus network provides coverage of Hamilton City. Many routes extend radially from the central business district, while two ring routes encompass the central business district and the outer suburbs. A lot of the smaller areas have buses but you will need to check locally. Taupo also has great bus links.
Ferries: Check out www.hamiltoninfo.co.nz for local boat hireage and any other Waikato information. Train: Hamilton is the r ailway junction of the E ast Coast Main Trunk line with the North Island. Rail passengers are served by a large station located at Frankton Junction, but rail passenger services are currently (2009) limited to The Overlander, a (mostly) daily service which operates between Auckland and Wellington, and is aimed primarily at tourists. Hamilton's rail network serves as a major hub for the distribution of dairy products to the ports of Auckland and Tauranga. This hub is located at Crawford St. Hamilton also has an underground station in the central city located in a tunnel which runs from the Claudelands Rail Bridge through to Ward Park and is currently disused.
Cycling: Hamilton has extensive cycleways that link the city centre with the outlying suburbs. These cycleways consist of a mixture of dedicated cycle lanes and mixed use cycle/walk ways. Most small towns are great to cycle around and you can check out cycle tours online. Taupo has fantastic cycling and if you are into mountain biking Lake Taupo has over 80km of purposecut mountain biking tracks.