- Spirit Cave, WaitomoSurfer catching a wave, Raglan – Waikato Right
Magnificent scenic walks are plentiful through the region’s parks and natural forests.
Seemingly everywhere you go is the majestic Waikato River, shaping the landscape as it flows towards the sea. The longest river in New Zealand, it makes a striking sight between its wide banks and also offers great kayaking, boating and trout fishing spots, particularly on its picturesque hydro lakes. There are also numerous walks and cycle tracks along its banks, including the acclaimed Waikato River Trails and the newly opened sections of Te Awa – The Great NZ River Ride. Many tributaries feed into the river, and throughout the region are dramatic waterfalls including Bridal Veil near Raglan, Marokopa Falls on the way to the coast from Waitomo, and Wairere near Matamata.
A pure New Zealand is also revealed among the many areas of native bush that adorn the volcanic hills and ranges. They are easily reached and have options for all levels of fitness. Walk among trees that have been growing for hundreds of years, where a dappled sunlight filters through the canopy and the musical call of the tui is never far away.
One of the most impressive walks is at the remarkable Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, a vast sanctuary for endangered native species. Inside its 47km long pest-proof fence, you can visualise New Zealand the way it used to be, and see rare birds like the Hihi (stitchbird), Takahe and maybe even Kiwi. Elsewhere, see what is believed to be the country’s tallest Kahikatea tree on the slopes of Mt Pirongia and the tallest Totara further south in Pureora Forest. Or get up close to an impressive stand of Kauri in the Hakarimata Range near Ngaruawahia. Stunning flora can also be found within the region’s main city of Hamilton. Set on 54 hectares the city’s most visited attraction, the Hamilton Gardens, is located on the outskirts of the CBD and traces the Story of Gardens through different civilisations and time. This concept is considered internationally unique and as such Hamilton Gardens has recently won the prestigious 2014 International Garden of the Year award.
Perhaps most magnificent of all the region’s natural attractions are the world-famous Waitomo Caves, carved out of limestone over millions of years. Under serene farmland are constellations of twinkling glowworms and unique rock formations which also serve as a reminder that this land was once under the sea. Guided tours recount the geographic and cultural history of the caves, while there’s plenty of adventure on offer for those keen to try their hand at subterranean black water rafting, zip-lining and abseiling. As if all this wasn’t enough, the region is home to several internationally recognised wetlands and the west coast’s dramatic headlands and harbours provide plenty of places to marvel at nature’s spectacle.
Not only that, Raglan’s surf is known around the world for its long left-hand breaks, and further south at Kawhia, around low tide, a dig at the water’s edge is likely to produce your own perfectly formed hot water pool – or for that matter you can soak in one of the natural hot pools dotted through the region. With so many options on offer, you’ll be spoiled for choice.