According to our editor, here's how to spend 24 hours in Hamilton

Our editor Sebastian van der Zwan made a whirlwind trip to the Waikato

By Sebastian van der Zwan
It was only supposed to be a quick trip to Hamilton to see a local friend perform in a play, but she argued that if I was driving all the way down from Auckland, I might as well stay the night and see the sights. After all, it had been years since I'd set foot in Kirikiriroa – or "the Tron", as we used to call it – and it turns out there are plenty of new and exciting things going on.
After the show, we headed to Mr Pickles Bar & Eatery on the banks of the Waikato River, where we soaked up some cocktails while watching the sun set over the water, before gorging on braised beef cheek croquettes and duck-fat potatoes.
Then it was on to the newly revamped Ibis Hamilton Tainui hotel, where we enjoyed a nightcap at the in-house bar Maakona, before bedding down in our very modern and super-comfortable room. Next morning, the breakfast buffet didn't disappoint and the view was a bonus – who knew watching rowers furiously powering along a river could build up such an appetite?!
Well, I'm glad I carb-loaded because we started the day with a 23km cycle trip along Te Awa: The Great New Zealand River Ride. The longest concrete path in the country, it spans the distance between Ngāruawāhia and Lake Karāpiro, but if you're pressed for time like we were, the stretch between Hamilton Gardens and Cambridge's velodrome is a good one.
We were met in the garden carpark by Riverside Adventures, who supplied us with e-bikes, helmets and directions, then set us loose into the suburbs of Hamilton, before the path took us back alongside the mighty Waikato River.
Upon reaching a colony of native bats, cyclists are asked to dismount and walk their bikes. Of course, we didn't see any bats, but it was lovely to slow down and appreciate the lush native bush while locals paddled past in waka ama.
Back on the bicycle, we hurtled along the beautifully engineered path, through the outskirts of Hamilton, past tiny towns and cute-looking cafés, stopping only to admire the river and check out a
wee waterfall, before arriving in Cambridge, where the Riverside Adventures van was waiting to return us to Hamilton.
Refreshed but not exhausted – thanks to the e-bikes – back at the gardens, we signed up for a guided tour ($20 per adult) and followed a friendly, knowledgeable staff member through the labyrinthine complex, learning lots about its native and exotic plants, and the history of gardens, while we wandered from display to display.
A cycle along the Waikato River gets a thumbs up from Seb.
It's a lot of legwork to visit absolutely every area, but must-sees include the colourful Indian Char Bagh Garden, where bright flowers create a living Persian carpet in front of a majestic Taj Mahal-like pavilion, and the geometric Italian Renaissance Garden, where the plants grow alongside statues of mythical Roman characters.
Be transported out of Hamilton with a trip to the Egyptian and Indian-inspired gardens.
And then there's kūmara-filled Te Parapara, Aotearoa's only traditional Māori productive garden, which showcases indigenous practices, materials and ceremonies related to food production and storage, all passed down through the generations.
I also loved the fascinating new Egyptian temple, where papyrus and vines grow among brightly painted pillars and a goldfish-filled pond. To make the most of your visit, plan ahead by visiting hamiltongardens.co.nz.
Learn about traditional practices at Te Parapara.
Now ready for further refreshment, we headed 15 minutes out of town to the Zealong Tea Estate, somewhere I'd been curious about for a long time.
A former dairy farm, it's now the country's only commercial tea plantation, where more than 1.2 million bushes of camellia sinensis thrive in Hamilton's famous fog.
View to a cuppa: Teatime treats at Zealong.
Having already learnt enough about plants, we sat down for high tea at the Teahouse, each picking an interesting-sounding brew from a very long menu, before being shown how to properly pour the water over the teabag for the best-tasting cuppa. A handy heating device at each table keeps the pots warm for top-ups.
Our three-tiered stand of treats included salmon blinis, beetroot and mozzarella tarts, truffle croque monsieurs, lemon meringue tarts and a marvellous mānuka honey mousse cake, but the real star of the show was the view – I wish I could've sat looking out over all those regimented green rows all afternoon instead of driving back home to Auckland.
  • undefined: Sebastian van der Zwan

read more from