When you think of the Waikato, you might think of cow bells, rugby, sport, students and farming; but there is much more to this stunning region than first meets the eye. Beginning at the northern tip of the region, Miranda is known for its popular hot springs and the gorgeous Firth of Thames, which is listed as a wetland of international importance. If you're lucky, you might even spot some travelling whales in the ocean, in particular - the southern right whale.
Travel further along to the Coromandel and enjoy a wide range of tramping activities at the Coromandel Forest Park. From Broken Hills walking tracks, which includes a number of trips through old mining areas and is said to be an 'easy' walk, for all ages, through to the more advanced Kauaeranga Valley tramping tracks which travel along the Kauaeranga river and take in a variety of stunning vistas including bush-clad hills, bluffs and gorges.
While you are walking the tracks, you might want to take yourself back to the origins of kauri logging which took place during the 1920s.
After a day or so enjoying the tracks, you might like to cool yourself off at one of the many beautiful beaches around the peninsula, including the famous Hot Water Beach, which is famous for its hot springs underneath the sand. During low tide, tourists and locals alike enjoy digging holes in the sand, allowing hot water to burst to the surface. The hot water travels up from fissures below the ground.
With an estimate of 700,000 visitors per year, Hot Water Beach continues to be a popular spot but if you would prefer to travel to a quieter spot, you might like to travel down to Tairua beach or enjoy the relaxed lifestyle of Slipper Island, just three kilometres off the east coast of the peninsula, with its own volcanic cone on Crater Island and plenty of beautiful spots to go diving and snorkelling.
After an enjoyable holiday in the Coromandel, you can't visit the Waikato without checking out the famous Lemon and Paeroa bottle in the sleepy town of Paeroa. While it is only a small village, by international standards, Paeroa still has a lot going for it. The original home of Paeroa mineral water, used in L&P drinks, it is also home to the former National Bank of New Zealand's gold refinery, which was built in 1914 and is now a private home.
Travelling through the countryside on your way to Hamilton, the farming community is evident as well as the abundant mineral springs beneath the ground. Te Aroha is home to another mineral pool for visitors to calm their aching bones and the Waitakaruru Arobretum in Morrinsville is a beautiful sculpture and garden park which has taken over a disused quarry.
The hub of the Waikato has to be Hamilton, which is home to Waikato's University, the Waikato Museum and the Hamilton Gardens, just to name a few.
The country's fourth populous city began as an agricultural centre and is now a popular metropolitan region thanks to its central position in the North Island. Originally known as Kirikiriroa (long stretch of gravel), the city was named after Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton, who was killed during the battle of Gate Pa which took place in Tauranga on April 29, 1864.
The city of Hamilton is cut down the middle by the Waikato River and is famous for the Balloons over Waikato, hot air balloon festival which takes place every year in April. Hamilton Gardens is the most popular tourist attraction, with a variety of themed gardens ranging from the Indian Char Bagh garden to the Modernist and English Flower garden. Work on the beautiful section began in the 1960s when it was just a city rubbish dump covered in blackberries. Prior to this it had been used as a pre-European pa, British military post and Victorian rifle-range and dog-dosing station.
Enjoy the city centre night life and cafe culture along Victoria Street and take in the sights on a river cruise before you travel further down to Waitomo Caves, just past Otorohanga on State Highway 3. The name Waitomo comes from wai meaning water and tomo which means sinkhole. The whole name can be roughly translated to mean 'water passing through a hole.'
Renowned for the glow worms that live inside the cave system and provide a beautiful view for those who visit the inside of the caves, there is also a wide range of adventure to be had including black water rafting, craft beer brewery tours and leisurely walks through the Waitomo Walkway and Ruakuri Scenic Reserve.
As the country widens out, it is difficult to decide where to travel next. You can visit the west coast and enjoy New Plymouth's coastal walkways and the towering view of Mount Taranaki, or you could choose to make your way along the east coast through Waihau Bay, Te Puia Springs and on to Gisborne.
On this trip, a visit straight through the country was in order. Next stop was the city of a thousand smells - Rotorua. Welcomed by the sulphurous smell of a city renowned for its thermal activity, it doesn't take long to get used to the aroma and instead enjoy the stunning views and huge amount of activities that this city offers.
One of the top spots to visit is the Buried Village was a settlement founded in 1848 where tourists could stay while they visited the famous Pink and White Terraces - or the eighth natural wonder of the world, which were mostly destroyed during the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera. The springs were a popular spot for visitors and when the explosion took place, on June 10, 1886 up to 150 people were killed. The Buried Village covers the remains of the settlement of Te Wairoa and showcases what life would have been like prior to the explosion.
A variety of thermal wonders including Wai o Tapu Thermal Wonderland, Rotorua Lakes and Whakarewarewa, the living Maori Village are all top spots to visit as well as the luge situated at Skyline Rotorua which is popular for all ages and abilities and accessible from the gondola which travels up Mount Ngongotaha.
With so much to see and do in Rotorua, it would be advised to stay for at least a few days before you travel further down to Taupō, the home to the largest lake, by surface area, in New Zealand. It is also the second largest freshwater lake by surface area in geopolitical Oceania.
From the northeast part of the lake, the water charges into the Waikato River and flows over the Huka Falls, which is an 11 metre high waterfall. The ecological wonder is estimated to be the most visited and photographed natural attraction in the country. From fishing to jet-boating and everything in between, Taupo is every nature-lovers Nirvana and it's well known for being just a hop, skip and a jump from the ski fields of Ruapehu - from the beach and lakes to the snow in just one day!
In the next New Zealand roadie featured in elocal, we will find out more about Taupo and travel further down the coast to the ski fields of Ruapehu and find out what makes our capital city tick.