North Island - West Must Dos!
The western side of the North Island is commonly skipped or only just brushed upon by travelers to New Zealand, mainly because of the great attraction to the east side, but the West has SO much going on!
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 below!
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!
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!
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! 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.
Mt Taranaki (Mt Egmont)
Mt Taranaki (or Mt Egmont as it is also known) is a near symmetrical, active stratovolcano often mistaken for Mt Fuji in Japan. It is visible, on a clear day, from as far as Lake Taupo in the centre of New Zealand! However, on a cloudy day, you wouldn't even know it was there - even at this picturesque spot above. Unsurprisingly, there are numerous trails and hikes around the mountain - lots starting from the visitor centre situated about 1000m elevation. The most well known hike here would have to be the Pouakai Crossing to the hut, and furthermore to the tarns (ponds). We were super excited to complete our first moderate length hike. When we visited in Spring time however, there had been a small landslide, closing off some of the track. We visited the DOC inside the visitor centre (TIP: camp the night before for an awesome sunrise above the clouds!) who advised us there is actually a shorter track that also goes to the hut and tarns. This track is called Mangorei Track and starts from the car park at Mangorei Road. It takes approximately 1hr30 to the hut, and a further 15 minutes to the tarn. With incredible views stretching out to the ocean, it's a MUST DO in our opinion.
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.
Thank you for taking the time to read our blog post about our favourite spots in Waikato, if you have any other hidden gems we forgot to mention or need to know about, let us know!