Travel south from Auckland along the Waikato Expressway and you’ll be privy to the rolling hills of the Waikato district. Take the time to meander off the main highway and you’ll find some of the most beautiful, west coast black sand beaches at Port Waikato, Kawhia and Raglan and towns rich in history and culture. Our open vistas await you.
Port Waikato’s raw beauty is home to some of the most iconic scenes of New Zealand. The mouth of the Waikato River (the largest river in New Zealand) meets the Tasman sea and the black sand dunes are a playground for young and old alike. Whitebait season runs between 15 August and 30 November every year and the local delicacy, whitebait fritters, is a delicious way to end the day. Sunset Beach is the main surfing strip and gathers its name unsurprisingly from its abundant sunsets, be sure you take a camera with you! Sinking your toes in the black sand and smelling the salty ocean air is a must-do in this gorgeous township.
Raglan boasts the ‘best left hand break’ in New Zealand so if you’re heading there, you’ll want to pack your surfboard and book accommodation in plenty of time if you’re thinking of visiting in the summer months! The eco-friendly, sustainable, natural Raglan vibe is apparent from the second you arrive and this ethos keeps the community strong and unified. By picking up after yourself, you’ll be adding to the ‘Raglan Experience’ and will keep the beach town clean and green for the next generation. The town’s population swells 300-400% in the summer months so booking accommodation in plenty of time is necessary if you are visiting then. Some of the most unique businesses are based in Raglan. Xtreme Zero Waste diverts 10% of its rubbish to landfill and is a handyman or bargain hunter’s paradise. Raglan Coconut Yoghurt, winner of best Micro Business at the Waikato business Awards in 2016 has developed an allergy-friendly option for yoghurt lovers.
Take the road south from Raglan and head on down to Ruapuke Beach, one of the Waikato’s most remote beaches. Don’t let the gravel road put you off, this isolated quiet beach is a perfect hideaway to rejuvenate the mind, body and soul.
Further south from Ruapuke Beach is Kawhia, the coastal inlet where country meets beach. Riding streets bareback on horses is a common sight and leaping off the wharf is where many young locals dive into the welcoming waters below. There are excellent visitor activities, each with their own unique experience; natural hotpools, horse trekking and heritage cruises are just some of the options available. If you are heading to Kawhia, take your fishing rod as the untouched harbour offers an array of culinary seafood delights.
DID YOU KNOW? You don’t need to travel all the way to Waitomo to get a glowworm experience! Avoid the queues and drive out to Nikau Caves for an authentic glowworm experience. See stalagmites and stalactites, only a 45-50 minute drive from the Waikato Expressway (take Pokeno or Rangiriri exits). Nikau Caves is an unforgettable experience and the café is full of delectable treats to sustain you on your travels.
As well as our seaside options, the Waikato district is also home to the Maori King movement, Kingitanga in Ngaruawahia, the historic coal-mining industry of Huntly and the rapidly expanding upper Waikato towns Pokeno and Tuakau.
Ngaruawahia is a town rich in culture, home of the largest Marae in Waikato, Turangawaewae. The town has the stunning Hakarimata Ranges as a backdrop, a popular walking track with over 100,000 visitors every year. At the entrance to the Hakarimata ranges (off Brownlee Avenue) stands the Tomokanga, the archway, which was blessed on 19 November 2016. The Summit Track has 1,349 steps which make up a 335m climb and offers panoramic views of the Waikato basin. The breathtaking walk is not for the faint-hearted! At the southern end of Ngaruawahia, the Te Awa cycleway connects Waikato district to Hamilton and the addition of the cycle suspension bridge offers families another wonderful recreational option. The Ngaruawahia Golf Course is also on offer.
Huntly is the largest town in the Waikato district and the first town you’ll arrive in if you stay on the Waikato Expressway all the way to Hamilton. On the banks of the Waikato River, you’ll see the Huntly Power Station which is a glimpse into the town’s industrial history and beyond you’ll find some stunning freshwater lakes for sailing, boating and swimming. These lakes were originally open-cast mines and have been converted for recreational use. There are numerous walking tracks around the lake to experience grassroots New Zealand and there are outstanding off-road running and mountain biking tracks for the fitness-minded.
Pokeno may be world famous in New Zealand for its enormous icecreams and delicious bacon, but another feature of the town is its unprecedented growth. Aucklanders are moving to Pokeno in droves because of its proximity, yet the complete change of scenery is what is catching their eyes and hearts. Away from the Auckland metropolis, the calm Waikato influence refreshes the mind and body and the links to the main highway offer commuters an easily-accessible escape. Pokeno is truly a town to look for in future, with projected population growth in the next 10 years looking to overtake Huntly as the largest town in Waikato.
Tuakau Hotel, the four star accommodation and conference centre, marks the start of the main business precinct and its country roots offer a charm unseen elsewhere in the Waikato. Take the Bombay exit off the southern motorway and follow the signs to Tuakau and be transported to the heart of rural New Zealand. Tuakau was home to a young Sir Edmund Hillary, who along with Tenzing Norgay were the first people to climb Mt Everest in 1953. Hillary completed his primary schooling in the Tuakau and the paddocks, hills and tidal creeks helped breed his passion for adventure. The town has grown considerably since its early days and is now a hot-bed of opportunities for businesses and residents alike.
The open Waikato district has something for everyone. Boutique eateries dotted throughout the district, surf beach Port Waikato, natural living mecca Raglan, cultural Ngaruawahia, recreational Huntly, small town charm Tuakau and booming Pokeno. Next time you’re travelling between Hamilton and Auckland, take an exit off the expressway and journey through the Waikato district. We’re full of open opportunities, friendly faces and exciting experiences. Come and see us for yourself!