If you’re looking for an exciting and educational experience, start with a trip to Hamilton Zoo where you will find hours of fun exploring and meeting the wide variety of rare and endangered animals from around the world. “Meet the Keeper” sessions run daily and will leave the kids enthralled with trivia, and for those animal lovers who are eager for a close-up encounter, Eye 2 Eye and Face 2 Face tours are a unique behind the scenes experiences where you can learn more about the zoo’s incredible creatures.
In the south of the region, the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park is home to many of New Zealand’s native birds and reptiles, including our national icon the Kiwi and the Tuatara which pre-dates dinosaurs. With one of the best nocturnal kiwi viewing facilities in New Zealand, a sighting of the kiwi is guaranteed. You will also find a celebration of all things Kiwiana in Otorohanga, with the Sir Ed Hillary Walkway offering a great snapshot of New Zealand’s icons, heroes and traditions.
At Pirongia Clydesdales, children have the chance to pet the animals in the Animal Park and take a wagon ride with the gentle giant Clydesdale horses around the charming village of Pirongia. With their “Little Clydesdale” Cafe and a carriage and harness museum, it makes for a great day out. A myriad of other horse riding options are also available in the region, with stunning coastal, riverside and mountain treks on offer.
The idyllic west coast beaches of Raglan and Kawhia are an easy drive from Hamilton. An ideal size for families, they are great spots to create lifelong memories. Raglan offers plenty of accommodation and dining options as well as fantastic surf and beach activities from kayaking to harbour cruising. As the final resting place of the Tainui waka, the smaller seaside town of Kawhia is rich with culture and heritage and at low tide you can dig your own hot pool on the ocean beach.
Families also have the perfect chance to explore the Waikato River and Lake Karapiro on a relaxed canoe tour or a leisurely boat cruise. Walkways and cycle tracks hug the river banks providing plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors.
In Hamilton, Waterworld’s under-cover pools and hydroslides offer endless in-water activities, or for a great day-trip, head for Te Aroha Mineral Spas and Hot Pools (50 minutes north east of Hamilton) which have been drawing visitors for centuries, to experience the health-giving properties of the natural mineral water, from New Zealand’s only known soda-spring geyser deep under Mt Te Aroha. The area is also rich with historic walking tracks and relics from the town’s prosperous gold-mining days and awesome mountain bike tracks.
Middle-earth Movie Magic
Middle-earth movie magic can be found in the lush green countryside near Matamata, where the Hobbiton scenes from The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy were filmed. Future generations will be inspired on a two-hour guided tour of the movie set where you can see the hobbit holes tucked into the hillside and learn about a significant part of New Zealand’s film history. Discover Movie Magic
The Great Outdoors
There are plenty of opportunities for families to explore the natural wonders of the truly diverse region. The Waitomo Caves are a must-do activity; a million years in the making, they are like nowhere else on earth. Weird and wonderful stalactites and stalagmites decorate the caves interior and gentle boat rides will take you under magnificent skies of glowworms. Above ground you will find New Zealand’s only Angora rabbit shearing show, the Waitomo Big Bird Farm Show and the comical Billy Black Kiwi Culture Show, with everything from exploding logs to a famous dancing pig.
North Waikato is the home of motor sport action with Hampton Downs offering various motor sport experiences as well as an Adventure Park with paintball shooting, archery and a confidence course. Also in North Waikato is the Bush Tramway Club where you can take a ride back in time aboard the Nostalgic Steam Train on the first Sunday of every month.
For active family fun, there are numerous walks, cycleways and parks to experience as much of the great outdoors as you want and plenty of wide open spaces in the region where families can simply enjoy being together. The Hamilton Gardens and the Hamilton Lake are idyllic spots to enjoy a picnic and the playgrounds will keep children entertained for hours.
Visit one of the many great walking tracks throughout the region such as those found on Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari which are suitable for all levels and also provide native wildlife encounters, or the spectacular Bridal Veil Falls near Raglan for stunning views – sure to burn off any extra energy.
Wet days can sometimes be a challenge with children, but luckily the region has the perfect variety of all-weather destinations. The SkyCity entertainment complex provides endless family entertainment all under one roof, with tenpin bowling, Megazone lazer tag and Timezone with cafes and restaurants to refuel in afterwards.
To indulge a sweet tooth, head to Candyland (east of Taupiri) to learn the secrets of sweet-making. Kids will be wide-eyed in wonder at the candy-making show and they can even create their own lollipop as an edible souvenir.
In central Hamilton, Waikato Museum makes learning fun. Inquisitive children of all ages will happily spend hours in total absorption in the Exscite interactive science gallery. The changing exhibitions bring the region’s stories to life, with a focus on the regions rich culture and engaging hands-on experiences.