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Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Hamilton, New Zealand

Hamilton, New Zealand's fourth-largest city, lies in the fertile plain of the Waikato River. The country's only inland city, it has developed spectacularly since 1950. It has a university and several agricultural and food-science research institutes, including the Meat Industry Research Institute of New Zealand.
The military settlement of Hamilton was established in 1864, after the end of the land war in the Waikato area, on the site of an abandoned Maori village. Instead of being paid the soldiers were given land to cultivate. The town is named after Captain John Hamilton, who was killed in the Battle of Gate Pa, near Tauranga on the Bay of Plenty.

Waikato Museum of Art and History

The museum has a large collection of Maori material, particularly on the Tainui tribe. Its prize exhibit is a carved war canoe of 1845. Also of interest are examples of modern woodcarving and weaving from Ngaruawahia.
Official site: www.waikatomuseum.org.nz
Address: 1 Grantham Street, New Zealand

Waikato River

The Hamilton Gardens on the banks of the Waikato River are particularly beautiful when the roses are in bloom. An excursion steamer, the Waipa Delta, plies along the river.

Victoria Street

In Victoria Street, which runs parallel to the river, and Main Street there are a number of commercial art galleries.

Bank of New Zealand

The Bank of New Zealand building (1878) is one of the town's historic buildings which has been converted for other purposes.

Surroundings

Hamilton SurroundingsHamilton Surroundings Tony Foster

Ngaruawahia, New Zealand

20km northwest of Hamilton is Ngaruawahia, once capital of a Maori kingdom of the Waikato tribes, where Chief Te Wherowhero was elected king as Potatau I in 1858. The present queen (since 1966) is the sixth (and first female) ruler of the Waikato tribes. A new king or queen is elected in a solemn ceremonial at the end of the tangi mourning ceremonies for the dead ruler, in the presence of the body on its bier.
During the land wars, which rapidly spread from Taranaki to the Waikato area, it became evident that the situation of the royal residence at the two rivers was a source of danger rather than security. After British gunboats on the Waikato had taken the Maori strongholds at Meremere and Rangiriri in 1863, Ngaruawahia was abandoned without a fight. After the battle of Orakau the king sought refuge with the tribes in King Country.
Maori land was then surveyed by the government and sold. Even after peace was concluded in 1881 it was many years before a new residence of the Maori kings was established here. Finally in 1920 land on the river was bought back from settlers and the stronghold of Turangawaewae Pa was built. A major part in the rebuilding of the royal residence was played by the Maori princess Te Puea Hernagi (1884-1952). The first building erected was the Arehurewa shrine for relics, followed in 1923 by the Kiwikiwi meeting house. The first post of the Mahinarangi meeting house was driven into the ground by the famous Maori politician Apirana Ngati. Turongo was built in 1933, a residence for King Koroki designed by Princess Te Puea (a richly carved six-sided tower-like structure). The Kimiora Cultural Complex (1974) contains a large mural. The queen's palace is not open to the public; it can be entered only on special occasions.

Raglan

50km west of Hamilton, on the Tasman Sea, is Raglan, a pleasant seaside resort with a beach of black sand. It is named after Lord Raglan, commander of British forces in the Crimean War. The first white mission station in the Waikato region was established here in the 1830s.

Bridal Veil Falls

The bottom of Bridal Veil Falls.
It is worth making a detour south from Raglan to the magical Bridal Veil Falls, which really do wave in the wind like a white veil. When the sun is shining from the right direction they also glisten with all the colors of the rainbow.

Taupiri Mountain

7km north of Ngaruawahia, on the banks of the Waikato, is Taupiri Mountain (288m). The hill, which to the Maoris is sacred, was returned to them by the government only in 1975. On the slopes of the hill, which has been fortified since early times, is the tapu burial place of the Maori kings.

Huntly, New Zealand

On the lower course of the Waikato River, 33km north of Hamilton, is the town of Huntly (pop. 7,000). Here the river cuts through two huge coalfields that were opened in the 1840s. The coal deposits were systematically surveyed by the geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter in 1859. After a number of serious accidents in the underground workings opencast mining started in 1940. There are now, however, two new underground mines.
Huntly's coal-fired power station was completed in 1981. Its twin cooling towers, 150m high, are prominent features of the landscape.

Rangiriri, New Zealand

17km north of Huntly is Rangiriri, which in 1863, during the land wars, was the scene of a bloody encounter between British troops and Maoris. It was only after two unsuccessful assaults on the Maori stronghold here that it finally fell to the British. The main fortifications stand on the west side of Highway 1.

Te Aroha

53km northeast of Hamilton on Highway 26 is the long-established spa resort of Te Aroha situated at the foot of the hill of the same name on the fringes of the Kaimai Range. It still preserves its turn-of-the 19th C. Victorian bathhouses and spa establishments. There are three different mineral springs, whose water is used both for drinking and bathing. The old bathhouse No. 1 has been replaced by a modern establishment. From Mount Te Aroha (952 m; trails, shuttle bus) there are beautiful views. Within easy reach of Te Aroha are the Kaimai Range (trails) and the imposing Wairere Falls (150m high).
Official site: www.tearohanz.co.nz/
Address: 102 Whitaker Street, New Zealand

Matamata, New Zealand

60km east of Hamilton, on Highway 27, is the little town of Matamata (Waikato region; pop. 6000), the commercial center of an agricultural region (sheep, dairy farming, horse breeding). The town owes its origin to a 19th C. British immigrant named Firth who leased more than 22,000ha of land from the local Maori chief, Wiremu Tamihana. He drained the swamps, built a road to the military settlement of Cambridge and made the Waihou River navigable for cargo vessels. By the end of the century, however, his little empire had collapsed. He built the three-story Firth Tower (1881; 3km east of Matamata) as a refuge against Maori raids. Beside the tower are his house and a number of other old buildings.

Hobbiton

The Alexander family farm was converted into Middle Earth as it closely resembled the description by J.R. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings. Total site construction took nine months. The land also supports a thriving sheep and beef cattle business.
Official site: www.hobbitontours.com/
Address: The Shire's Rest, 501 Buckland Road, New Zealand

Kaimai Range

Northeast of Matamata is the Kaimai Range, through which there are a number of trails. One particularly attractive trip is to the imposing Wairere Falls, 150m high. The trail takes off from the Matamata-Okauia-Gordon road.

Cambridge, New Zealand

A half-hour drive southeast from Hamilton is the English-looking town of Cambridge (pop. 11,000), on the Waikato River, in the commercial center of an agricultural area (cattle, sheep, horses; dairy farming). Cambridge was originally a military settlement established during the land wars in the Waikato region, on the site of a fortified Maori village. British gunboats could sail up the Waikato River as far as this point. It is disputed whether the town was called Cambridge because the Waikato was thought to resemble the English river Cam or as a compliment to the then commander-in-chief of the British army, the Duke of Cambridge. Historic buildings include St Andrew's Church (1881; Anglican), the Primary School (1879) and the old Court House with its handsome facade, now housing the Municipal Museum.

Lake Karapiro

Southeast of Cambridge is Lake Karapiro, a 24km long reservoir supplying the Karapiro hydroelectric station (viewing is possible). It is the lowest of a chain of power stations on the Waikato that were brought into operation in 1948.

Te Awamutu, New Zealand

30km south of Hamilton (Highway 3), on the Waipa River, is the old Maori settlement of Te Awamutu (pop. 8500). The name means 'end of the river' (that is, the highest point at which it was navigable by canoes). A mission station was established here in 1839. Te Awamutu is now the commercial center of a dairy farming area. The last battles of the land war in the Waikato region were fought hereabouts in the late summer of 1864. The decisive battle was fought at Orakau, only 8km from Te Awamutu, on March 31st 1864. The heroic resistance of Rewi Maniapoto provided material for the early New Zealand film Rewi's Last Stand.
After the end of the land war in the Waikato region British soldiers were settled on land confiscated from the Maoris. The Puniu River marked the boundary between the confiscated land and the King Country, which no settler dared enter until a peace treaty was signed with King Tawhiao in 1881. The railroad reached Te Awamutu in 1880.
St John's Anglican Church (1854) has fine stained glass and interesting gravestones. Beside it, in sharp contrast, is a modern church built in 1965.

Pirongia Forest Park

Pirongia Forest Park (15km west of Te Awamutu), centerd on an extinct volcano (959m), can be explored on a network of trails with mountain huts and fine views.
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