1. Hamilton Gardens
Perhaps the city's most popular drawcard to out of towners, the Hamilton Gardens is also a well-loved spot for locals, especially on a gloriously sunny Waikato day. Note, on this kind of day you will almost certainly be able to enjoy watching bridal parties come and go in a constant stream. This place is free to visit and why wouldn’t you?It won the title of International Garden of the Year in 2014 and it is seriously magnificent. I pick a favourite garden every time I go and it changes every time.
The Hamilton Gardens are home to some terrific events, like the annual Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival and Gourmet in the Gardens, a food market held every Sunday night from October through to March.
2. Riverbank Lane
Established in 2014 by a slick local developer named Matt Stark, The Riverbank Lane is a place that sticks out in the CBD and gives it hope. Think Hamilton’s very own Ponsonby Central. The building backs onto the river and is full of boutique businesses that have either started there or ditched tired dwellings to move to Lane and start fresh. Rocket Coffee has café SL28 at the front of the building; the well-loved Browsers secondhand bookshop has recently moved in with a store that looks so good it’s basically a dreamland for all book lovers; the fashion store Bird has just moved in; there’s a hip barber and an ever hipper hair salon; a specialty store for wedding and special evening hire and there are rumours abound about who will be shifting there next.
3. RiffRaff Statue
Hamilton is most proud to have once housed Richard O’Brien, the creator of Rocky Horror Picture Show and we like to announce this fact whenever we can. O’Brien worked in a barbershop on Victoria Street from 1959 to 1964, and in 2004, a cast bronze sculpture of RiffRaff from Rocky Horror made by Weta Workshop was erected in the same spot. Now his residency in Hamilton is a frequent topic of conversation as people pass by the statue and stop to admire it.
It’s rare you’ll see the statue without someone taking a selfie next to it.
4. Duck Island
Locals thought it was a great joke when Duck Island opened its doors in 2015 because it was the middle of winter, but the owners of Chim Choo Ree who masterminded this ice cream parlour knew better and by the first weekend, there was a queue out the door that has never really disappeared. Trust me, it’s worth lining up for.
With classic flavours like vanilla bean and liquorice through to the wild and wonderfuls like strawberry Szechuan peppercorn and the award-winning roasted white chocolate and miso, some hard decisions will have to be made as you stand at the counter.
Once you’ve got your sweet treat, sit in a window seat and watch the colourful characters of Hamilton East as they go about their day.
The Hamilton path network runs north and south along the Waikato River and as you make your way along it, you’ll come across popular parks throughout the city. These pathways showcase the unique beauty of the river in the middle of the city and residents often talk about how that potential could be further harnessed by linking the two more directly. The river path is a popular stretch for runners and the Round the Bridges event utilises its pathways, offering 2km, 6km and 12km running races that draw around 5500 participants each year.