South of Auckland, the spectacular farming country of the Waikato region stretches from Pokeno to Taupo and provides travellers with a close view of the prime countryside that supports the best of New Zealand’s farming. Modern dairy farms, traditional sheep farms, deer farms, and some of the world’s best horse studs are features of the Waikato region.
Bordered on the west by the Tasman Sea and on the east by the Bay of Plenty, the region is home to New Zealand’s best known river the Waikato, which flows from Lake Taupo to the Tasman Sea.
The Waikato was settled as early as the 14th century by Maori, with many pa (villages) being established throughout the region. In the early 1800s Maori tribal warfare broke out and the participants were exploited by European traders who supplied weaponry, thereby escalating the warfare. By the 1840s the influence of missionaries ensured that peace was established.
Maori resistance to increasing land sales to European settlers started the Land Wars of the 1860s. In 1863 the New Zealand Settlements Act was established and 500,000 hectares of land was confiscated from the Maori people. Once the land wars were settled, land clearing and development began and dairy farming became the main agricultural activity.
The Waikato region is dotted with prosperous and attractive small settlements. The main city, Hamilton is New Zealand’s fourth largest city and is an important agricultural centre. Hamilton is an attractive and enterprising city with a large number of public gardens and green belts. The city has a range of sophisticated restaurants and bars and is also a major sporting centre, having a proud history in rugby union, New Zealand’s national sport.
Many special attractions can be found in the Waikato.
An hour or so south of Hamilton is the town of Matamata which in addition to being a major horse breeding and training centre is known as Hobbiton. Since the success of the Lord of the Rings movies and the subsequent opening of the Hobbiton Movie Set Tours, Matamata has attracted visitors from around the world.
Roughly the same distance southwest of Hamilton lies Waitomo, an amazing region that offers adventure sports, caving, blackwater rafting and the world-renowned glow-worm caves.
Must-see attractions in the area are the Ruakuri Caves, the legendary Black Water Rafting, and the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park attractions. Long considered a very special attraction for visitors, the Waitomo Caves are considered a natural wonder and need to be visited to be believed.
A number of settlements in the Waikato are well worth a visit. To the west, on the Tasman Sea is one of the world’s great surf spots, the exciting village of Raglan. Renowned for its extensive left hand break, Raglan offers opportunities for experienced surfers and beginners alike.
On State Highway One heading south towards Taupo is Tirau, a vibrant little town set among fertile farmland. This small town has a variety of unique shops, cafés and restaurants including a corrugated Big Dog information centre.
Only 30 minutes south of Hamilton is Cambridge, best known for its horse stables, which have produced many champion thoroughbreds and show jumpers. Built around a charming village green, Cambridge is a delightful example of a New Zealand country town.