Hamilton Rental Car Travel Itinerary
Just an hour and a half’s drive from Auckland, Rotorua, Tauranga, Waihi, Thames and Te Kuiti – Hamilton is a great place to base yourself for an easy week long trip away when exploring the mighty Waikato region and beyond.
Known for its lush green countryside and wide range of outdoor activities, Hamilton and the Waikato region are best explored by car as activities and attractions can be quite spread out. Need some ideas on where to go and what to see in Hamilton and beyond? We’ve put together a handy travel itinerary to get you started.
Hamilton here we come!
- After grabbing a leisurely breakfast at the nearest café (we reckon the Sugar Bowl Café on Maeroa Road, or the French Tart Café on River Road are two top picks). Head on out to the Hamilton Zoo and check out over 600 native and exotic animals and one of the largest free flight aviarys in New Zealand.
- Slow it down a little with a visit to the Waikato Museum of Art for the afternoon and absorb some of the rich history and culture from New Zealand and international artists.
- From the Museum, take a walk along the banks of the Waikato River past the Monument of the Waikato, crossing the river at the Thermal Explorer Highway you will find the famous Hamilton Gardens.
- The Hamilton Gardens comprises of a mixture of separately themed gardens reflecting different “contemporary arts, social structures, philosophies and the changing attitudes to nature” spanning the last 60 odd years. See if you can find all of the mythical beasts in the Tudor Garden, pick up some tips on sustainable gardening at The Sustainable Backyard, or contemplate the meaning of life in the Japanese Garden of Contemplation.
It’s an early start today so grab your morning coffee and let’s hit the road.
- Taking it to the sky, it’s time to see Hamilton from the air, Hot Air Balloon that is. Kicking off at dawn Hot Air Ballooning is the perfect way to watch the sun rise and take in the expansive views over the Waikato.
- After spending the morning floating among the clouds let’s bring it back down to earth with a hearty lunch at the River Kitchen on Victoria Street and fuel up for a tranquil afternoon at the Taitua Arboretum.
- Spread across 22 hectares, the Arboretum features a network of walking tracks, lakes, woodland gardens and beautiful birdlife in their natural habitat. Bring a picnic lunch or afternoon tea and find the perfect spot for relaxing on a sunny afternoon.
We are hitting the road today so grab breakfast on the go from one of the great cafes along Victoria Street and let’s get going.
- Waitomo Caves is the destination today and we are going underground! Exploring the Waitomo Caves is simply a must do when visiting the Waikato.
- Glide through the glow worm caves on a boat or make your way on foot with one of the experienced tour guides. Discover the thousands and thousands of tiny glow worms that light up the caves while listening to an informative commentary on the Caves’ historical and geological significance to the region.
- New Zealand’s longest guided underground walking tour in the Ruakuri Cave is awe inspiring in its sheer size and beauty. A long spiral entrance way makes for an impressive beginning to the tour, with well-formed walkways with handrails and some tunnels making up the rest of the tour. This tour is approximately 2 hours.
- The Aranui Cave offers some huge stalactites and limestone formations, and for those who aren’t too afraid of bugs – a colony of Cave Wetas. This tour is approximately an hour long.
- For those looking for a bit more adventure – give the underground caving and rafting a go. Black water rafting as it is known takes exploring the caves to a whole new level!
- Guided tours for both caves depart on a regular basis throughout the day, it is important to bring a warm jacket and sensible walking shoes. The Ruakuri Cave is wheelchair friendly.
- On your way home stop off at the Otorohanga Kiwi House, home to rare native wildlife such as the kiwi and tuatara. Walk through New Zealand’s largest free-flight dome aviary, see the animals being fed and hear about the animals and conservation efforts from the daily Keeper talks.
Its day 4 and today it’s out of the Waikato and on to the Bay of Plenty we go.
- Just an hour and half’s drive from Hamilton and you will find yourself in New Zealand’s geothermal wonderland – Rotorua. Catering well to tourists visitors will find the city provides a wide array of things to see and do.
- Head out to the Agrodome for a great New Zealand Farm Show where you can get up close and personal with the stars of the show – the sheep!
- Soak up a little bit of culture and mud at the Te Puia Geothermal wonderland. Home to the Pohutu Geyser, Māori cultural performances, and boiling mud pools, Te Puia is a definite must see. Hungry? Be sure to ask for the “Hangi” option and experience the foods of a traditionally cooked Hangi.
- After lunch it’s time to unwind with a visit to the Polynesian Spa on Hinemoa Street. Enjoy the peaceful surrounds while soaking in the geothermal hot mineral pools. Bathing pools are open from 8am right through till 11 pm.
After spending the night in Rotorua, we can get an early start today.
- Just 25 minutes’ drive south east of Rotorua visitors will find the delights of the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Spend some time on a guided boat tour around the geothermal activity and Lake Rotomahana or take a walking tour through the craters and around hot water springs.
- Lunch is back in Rotorua at the Skyline Skyrides Gondola Stratosfare Resturant. Enjoy spectacular views over the city and Lake Rotorua while sampling the delicacies of the region. Book ahead to avoid disappointment, allergy friendly options are available.
- After lunch it’s time to have some fun, the Luge is first up with its adrenaline pumping downhill action, then there are ziplines, the Skyswing and even mountain biking if you are keen. Stay on after dark for a unique stargazing experience high above the city lights.
Leaving Rotorua behind, we are southward bound today…
- Taupo is the destination, but before we get there let’s stop off at the famous Huka Falls for some great photo ops and the chance to see the power and force of the water in action. Every second sees 220,000 litres of water gushing through the narrow gorge. Cross the walkway to get the best views, or take a spin in the Huka Jet to see the Falls from below.
- Just across from the Huka Falls stop is the Craters of the Moon geothermal walkway. Well worth a look if you have the time, see bubbling craters and steaming vents in this low key charitably run feature.
- Grab lunch at the Huka Prawn Park Riverside Restaurant; expect some excellent prawn dishes along with the usual kiwi fare. The Crispy Battered Prawns are our favourites, or go for the comforting Prawn Chowder. You can even catch your own prawns!
- Making it to Taupo just in time for a leisurely stroll along the Lake front, settle into your accommodations and still have plenty of time to choose one of the nearby restaurants for dinner.
Last day, let’s make the most of it!
- Enjoy a early breakfast at the Storehouse Café on Runanga Street, their Fried Chicken Waffles are an interesting twist on the norm, or try the Breakfast Poke Bowl for something a little… Hawaiian.
- Taupo offers up something of an outdoor enthusiasts paradise – fishing, hunting, scenic flights and sky diving are popular pursuits along with getting out on the Lake boating and playing a round of golf. Take your pick for the day – fingers crossed for good weather!
- In the summer, many tourists recommend, the Tongariro Crossing one of the best day walks in New Zealand. If you’re here in winter, a day’s skiing at Whakapapa Ski Field is just 45 minutes away.
- Grab a late lunch at The Bistro on Tamamutu Street and begin the very scenic journey back to Hamilton via State Highway 1 via Tokoroa, Putaruru and Cambridge (2 hrs). Or take the longer scenic route along Highway 30 via Te Kuiti, Otorohanga and Te Awamutu (3hrs).