It is in Waikato that the grass grows faster through the year than anywhere else in the world and the cows that crop it daily are the pride of the people. Daily herds graze freely on Waikato pastures along the fertile river valleys. On the flats and rolling country, farm diversification has expanded the production of fruit and vegetables. Waikato is also home to many thoroughbred horses and dairy cattle studs.
Hamilton is New Zealand’s fourth largest city. Straddling the Waikato River, it is a 50 km (30 miles) inland in the heart of the farmland. Most of the city’s riverbanks are covered by parklands and footpaths, which provide popular walking and jogging routes for locals and visitors.
The first settlers arrived in Hamilton through the Waikato River. The European settlers built and developed Hamilton in the 1860s with businesses growing on the riverbanks. Today, the commercial hub of the city runs parallel to the river on the west bank. River cruises provide meals and a more panoramic view of the city. Although the river is a recreational asset for the region, its importance is also seen in the eight power stations that harness the river’s waters, providing one-third of the nation’s hydroelectric power. At the back of each dam are artificial lakes, which are popular spots for fishing, boating and rowing.
Upwards from Hamilton is the peaceful town of Cambridge, which sits on the Waikato river 24 km (15 miles) from Hamilton. The town’s charming Anglican church, tree-lined streets, and village’s green give it a very English atmosphere.
Morrinsville, Te Aroha and Matamata
Over on the east of Waikato River are the towns of Morrinsville, Te Aroha, and Matamata.
Morrinsville is a center for the surrounding dairy land, with its own large processing factory. Tours of the town can be arranged.
Te Aroha is on the Waihou River farther east. The town was once a gold town and fashionable Victorian spa sitting at the foot of the 952 meter (3,123-ft) bush-clad Mount Te Aroha. The world’s only known hot soda water fountain, Mokena Geyser, is found here.
Well-known for its thoroughbred racehorse stables is Matamata. A three-story blockhouse constructed in 1881 by an early landowner, Josiah Clifton Firth, is a reminder of the settlers’ insecurities after the wars. Now it is part of a reserve containing a museum. Several walk-paths leads into and over the Kaimai-Mamaku forest park and the Wairere Falls. South of Matamata lie the pine forests and farmlands of Putaruru and Tokoroa.
Further down the river from Hamilton is Ngaruawahia, capital of the Maori King movement and a significant Maori cultural center. On the east riverbank is the Turangawaewae Marae, which contains traditionally carved meeting houses and a modern concert hall, and is only open to the public on special occasions. A sacred burial ground for Waikato tribes is Mount Taupiri, 6 km (4 miles) downstream.
Dubbed the ‘rose town’ is Te Awamutu, located southwest of Hamilton. It is famous for its fragrant gardens and rose shows. One of New Zealand’s oldest and finest churches built in 1856 is St. John’s Anglican Church, which sits on the main street. Another is St. Paul’s, which lies to the east of Hairini. Both churches are renown for their exquisite stained glass windows.
At the northern King Country is the popular Waitomo Caves and glow-worm grottoes. There are three caves that are open to the public: Waitomo, Ruakuri, and Aranui. A remarkable boat ride to view the glow-worms, a speleological museum, adventure caving, a model Maori village, and bush walks are among offered.
The main town of the King Country, Te Kuiti, also known as the ‘shearing capital of the world’, was the venue for the NZ Shearing Championships and Te Kuiti Muster in 1997. The Tokanganui-a-Noho carved meeting house may be visited by arrangement.
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