Updated: Apr 7, 2020
The mighty Waikato! The Waikato is actually such a big region, so we will just cover the western half in this blog post, and look at east and central in another. From Pokeno to Hamilton to Mokau.
WESTERN #NZMUSTDO HOT LIST:
HAMILTON & GARDENS
RAGLAN SURF TOWN
KAWHIA HOT WATER BEACH
WAITOMO GLOW WORM CAVES
The home of the Maori Queen (which is only open to the public once a year)! This great little town is nestled between Huntly and Hamilton, and boasts the Hakarimata Range AND the Waikato River. With such beauty, it's no wonder the Queen took up residence here! The Hakarimata provides two main walking tracks. We completed the Summit track which takes approximately 3 hours return to a height of 335m. Let us warn you now, there are LOTS of stairs! So don't worry, if you missed leg day at the gym - this will get your muscles burning! I don't think I was mentally prepared for the amount of stairs involved. Maybe if we had read a blog before hand we might have been ready! Check out the views from the top on the video links page: We Won Something!
HOW TO GET THERE: Follow SH1 south until you reach the Thermal Explorer Highway, then follow until you reach Taupiri - turning right will take you directly there.
WHERE TO FREEDOM CAMP: There is a stop right on the river front, equipped with a toilet.
HAMILTON & GARDENS
In fairness to Hamilton, it's not a huge city, and likewise, there is not masses to do. However, if you are passing through, you should definitely stop by Hamilton Gardens - the biggest attraction. Rather than focusing on collections of plants, it focuses on collections of garden design. Based on the banks of the Waikato River, it has some great views overlooking the river, and many different concept garden ideas from all over the world. Spend an hour or a whole day wandering around and getting those unusual selfies! Its a free attraction, with free parking so just bring yourself some food, or grab lunch at their very own cafe! We have a vlog on the gardens on the video links page!
HOW TO GET THERE: The gardens are situated at the south of the city just off SH1 - Thermal Explorer Highway.
WHERE TO CAMP: We stayed at Porritt Stadium near Chartwell, again, this stop has a toilet inside the stadium gates.
The circumstances that surrounded us getting to Raglan, unfortunately weren't too favourable. I mean, who wants to break down on the way, on SH23 just 10km away from Raglan, on a Friday night, with no where to stay?! Yes, this was us. The great people at Top Garage Raglan made sure we were up and running after the weekend, but that's another story! So, we get to Raglan, on Friday night, and what do we do? Wander into town for a takeaway! Even though the town itself is actually rather small, it is gorgeous, with one of the best seaside vibes we experienced so far in our trip. There's some good food options and
the waterfront is just beautiful. There are several companies in town that can educate you on all things watersports! The town has some of the best surf in the country! Surf lessons, paddleboards and kayaks are at your fingertips. Being on the west coast, it also provided us with our best sunset to date! Check out the vlog on the video links page!
HOW TO GET THERE: From Hamilton, take SH23 all the way to Raglan!
WHERE TO CAMP: Unfortunately for you guys, but fortunately for us, the garage allowed us to stay in our van on their forecourt while awaiting to be fixed. But there is freedom camps around the bay - check the Campermate or Wikicamps app.
KAWHIA HOT WATER BEACH
Yes, you heard right, a hot water beach that IS NOT in the Coromandel. Now of course, everyone has heard of the famous beach in Hahei where the heated thermal water makes it's way up through the sand creating hot pools when you dig a hole. So what if I told you there was another, hosting black sand, way less touristy and yet just as amazing?! When we discovered this gem, we just HAD to check it out, and if you're in the area, so do you! We visited in the spring time as well so we had the entire beach to ourselves! We sat bathing in 40 degree thermal water on the beach for hours! Check it out on the video links page!
HOW TO GET THERE: You can go south from Raglan through Makomako, but does include gravel road, so if you want to spare your tyres and windscreen, perhaps take SH23, SH39 then SH21. Its only an extra 30 minutes on the road even though its an extra 100km! TIP: There is a carpark at the base of the beach, once you climb over the dune enter the beach, head 50m towards the sea in approximately a 1o'clock direction. See the vlog for specifics.
WHERE TO CAMP: We chose to park about 30 minutes or so out of town at a place called Operau where they have a stop with cafe and shop. It is free to say and you can have power for $5 if you wish.
WAITOMO GLOW WORM CAVES
Now, I know we already touched on some of the free glow worm caves in the northern part of this island, which are amazing and definitely worth a visit. But if you are extremely limited and only have time to visit one, let it be these ones! There's a reason these are the most famous of them all. Of course, unfortunately, this means they come with a price tag, but well worth it in our opinion. We had the privilege of doing two tours inside these caves, and so can offer recommendations on both. So the main glow worm cave starts on your feet where you will walk down over 200 steps into the depths of the cave and experience the biggest chamber in the cave - the Cathedral, before getting on a boat ride through the Glow Worm Grotto. The grotto was by far the most glow worms we have seen in any cave! The other tour we did was the Black Abyss with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company and involved abseiling, rafting, zip lining and swimming our way through Ruakuri cave before navigating our way through tiny tunnels and climbing waterfalls to get out! We HIGHLY recommend both tours, so see how adventurous you feel! Check out our short vlog on the video links page! There is also heaps of other options and things to do here at Waitomo, including wheel chair friendly cave options and zip-lining. Check out the local i-SITE for all the available options.
HOW TO GET THERE: Follow SH3 to Hangatiki before turning right onto SH37 for Waitomo.
WHERE TO CAMP: We stayed at the Roselands Restaurant (see Campermate) in the heart of Waitomo. This is a great free stop with toilets inside, $5 beers and wines and a $15 buffet menu! What more could you want?! This place gets full pretty quickly so make sure you arrive early.
If you have more time, be sure to also check out:
Bridal Veil Falls a 55m waterfall with multiple viewing platforms. Between Raglan and Kawhia
Otorohanga - Kiwi bird house - where you can see Kiwi up close in moonlit enclosures (Kiwi are nocturnal). Northeast of Waitomo.
Pirongia Forest Park - numerous walking tracks and trails for all abilities! East of Kawhia.