Waikato's incredible Limestone Coast. © WaikatoNZ

Waikato Kiwi Gems


Did you know that the Waikato Region has a hot water beach and pancake rocks? There is also an incredible wildlife sanctuary, ancient Māori heritage, a hidden sculpture garden and a church made from trees. Check out these 10 Waikato Kiwi Gems.

Mount Te Aroha

The summit track to Mount Te Aroha is three hours one way through native bush to the highest point on the Kaimāī Range. Here, you can enjoy 360-degree views across the Waikato and Bay of Plenty. Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngāuruhoe and Mount Taranaki are also visible on a clear day. You’ll need to be feeling energetic, as it gets steep at times. The Summit Track starts at the Mokena Geyser – the world’s only natural soda geyser – in Te Aroha Domain. An easier option is to walk to the Whakapipi Lookout (45 minutes one way which provides panoramic views over the Hauraki Plains. Afterwards, reward your hard work with a relaxing soak in Te Aroha Mineral Spas. Book in advance to secure your private wooden hot tub. 

Te Toto Gorge

Ancient Māori history is abundant along Raglan’s Te Toto Gorge track, recognised with a badge of historical significance. To discover garden ruins that date back to the 1700 – 1800s, head south along Wainui Road. Veer onto Whaanga Road, past iconic surf spot Whale Bay to the start of the track, marked by a car park shared with keen trampers of nearby Mount Karioi. A 30-minute walk one way, Te Toto Gorge track is a much gentler endeavour. From the car park, a short trail leads to a viewing platform which reveals a sheer drop into the gorge and amphitheatre where Māori gardens once thrived; the keen eye will spot remnants of garden plots, stonewalls and karaka groves. Beyond the lookout, the unmarked track winds through an open paddock, descending steeply before flattening out closer to the shoreline. Walkers are treated to expansive views of the rugged west coast. 

Kāwhia Hot Water Beach

For a rustic bathing experience, head to Ocean Beach in Kāwhia. At two hours either side of low tide – BYO spade – and start digging for a free natural hot water spa accompanied by serene harbour views. While you may struggle to dig a pool more than about 20cm deep in the black sand, the water from the Te Puia Spring is pleasantly hot, though the temperature varies depending on location. It's an ideal west coast spot to catch a sunset if the tide is right. To reach the beach, head to the end of Ocean Beach Road and walk over the sand dunes to the edge of the ocean.  

Waireinga / Bridal Veil Falls

Take an easy walk alongside the Pakoka River to the impressive waterfall that tumbles 55 metres over the rocky cliffs. There are two viewing platforms at the top of Bridal Veil Falls, known as Waireinga in Te Reo, both accessible for wheelchairs, that provide excellent views across the tawa-filled forest and rural Waikato landscapes. From the top, steep stairs descend to another viewpoint midway. Carved by centuries of falling water, the sandstone pools at the base of the falls form a natural amphitheatre. If you’re up for more, about 400 metres past the Bridal Veil car park is the beginning of the 6km Pipiwharauroa Way walking and cycling track.

Maungatautari / Sanctuary Mountain 

Maungatautari / Sanctuary Mountain is an inland eco-sanctuary in the heart of Waikato. Here, one of the longest pest-proof fences in the world surrounds a swathe of ancient forest, protecting endangered birds, skinks, geckos, frogs, bats and insects. And wonderfully, visitors are welcome. You can walk well-maintained trails and tracks, surrounded by healthy, mature native bush ringing with bird song, and get the feel of what the entire Waikato would have been like in the past. Guided tours explain this extraordinary conservation project and share details of the creatures and plants enjoying life in the sanctuary. Access is on Tari Rd, Pukeatua, south of Cambridge and east of Te Awamutu.

The Tree Church

Imagine a full size chapel that you can visit, made entirely out of living trees. On the outskirts of Ōhaupō in the Waikato, you’ll find a beautiful garden with this spiritual centrepiece. Whether you are after a place of quiet reflection or a ramble through groomed gardens, the Tree Church provides a leafy backdrop for both. The three hectares of gardens here also feature a labyrinth, European-inspired plantings, flower gardens and Monet-esque lily pond. The church itself is grown from cultivated Australian tea tree walls and a deciduous cut-leaf alder roof which was trained over a temporary metal frame. The church is open to visitors from 10am until 4pm on summer Sundays. 

Limestone Coast

While the Waikato region is renowned for its mighty river, fertile farmland and famous west coast surf breaks at Raglan, there’s a nearby spot that you may not have heard of. The Limestone Coast on the northern shores of Raglan Harbour is home to the North Island's very own pancake rocks. This remarkable stretch of coastline is only accessible by water and best explored by kayak or stand up paddleboard. Cross the stretch of harbour from Raglan township to reach the collection of rocky ‘pancake’ islands and remarkable cliff formations. Depending on the tide you can also find a small black sand beach. If you are not an experienced paddler, take a guided tour with Raglan Kayak and Paddleboard, as the tidal currents can be changeable. 

Te Awa River Ride

Cycle alongside the majestic Waikato River on the scenic Te Awa River Ride. Running for 65km from Ngāruawāhia in the north through to Karapiro in the south, the trail is suitable for both cyclists and walkers and can be tackled in sections if you’re short on time or energy. Mostly comprised of wide concrete paths – it’s the longest concrete trail in New Zealand – Te Awa River Ride is relatively easy going, apart from a small handful of steep sections. Featuring lakes, waterfalls bridges and boardwalks, and winding alongside Hamilton city, Tamahere and pretty Cambridge, there are plenty of trailside distractions along the way.

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Sculpture Park at Waitakaruru Arboretum

An ‘art-in-nature’ experience at Tauwhare on the outskirts of Hamilton, the Waitakaruru Arboretum Sculpture Park is a sprawling garden studded with specimen trees and sculptures in what was once a disused quarry. Today, the 17.5-hectare arboretum is one of New Zealand’s largest outdoor galleries with more than 100 individual artworks as well as regularly changing exhibitions. Take a stroll on the 2km art trail to absorb the tranquil setting, marvel at rare trees from around the world and enjoy the harmonious blend of creativity and cultivated garden spaces. Pack a picnic and plan to stay for a couple of hours to make the most of this special spot.  

Hakarimata Scenic Reserve

Depending on your fitness levels there’s a walk to suit in the Hakarimata Scenic Reserve near the confluence of the Waipā and Waikato rivers in Ngāruawāhia. There are 1,850 hectares of native forest to explore here, including streams, waterfalls and spectacular views all the way to Tongaririo National Park on a clear day for those inclined to tackle the climb to the 374m Hakarimata summit, including a glute-burning 1,349 steps. The easier 1km Waterworks Walk runs alongside the Mangarata Stream through beautiful bush and takes you to the remnants of an old dam. 

Tick off these Waikato Must-Do's while you're here: 

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