Lacing up your walking shoes is one of the best ways to explore Hamilton and the Mighty Waikato. The region features an abundance of breathtaking vistas with staggering mountains, lush bush, tranquil springs and—of course—the iconic Waikato River. Embrace all that the region has to offer and get your heart rate up while you’re at it. Here are the best walks in Hamilton and the wider Waikato region.
Hakarimata Summit Track
It would be a crime to kick-start this list with anything other than the famous Hakarimata Summit Track. The Ngaruawahia walk gives your glutes a hearty workout as you scale the 1349 steps to the summit. The much-loved (and equally hated) staircase is a popular challenge with locals and visitors alike—totally fitspo people are known to run the track. At the top, you’ll discover a summit tower sitting 374 metres above sea level with views across the Waikato Basin and beyond. The walk takes around three hours return depending on your fitness level.
The Hakarimata Walkway is the summit track’s lesser-known sibling. The 12km walk sees you walking the length of the Hakarimata Ranges—with a pit-stop at the famous summit look-out. The one-way track can be walked in either direction and is a full day’s effort, taking about 7.5 hours. The northern section starts 7km south of Huntly (from Parker Road), while the southern section starts 3km south of Ngaruawahia (from Waingaro Road). Don’t forget to organise return transport back to your car before you embark on your adventure.
If you prefer a leisurely walk but still want a decent dose of nature, look no further than Taitua Arboretum. The Insta-worthy arboretum is home to countless towering trees spread across 22 lush hectares. Meander the network of walking tracks as you discover lakes, woodland gardens, and open pastures home to friendly farm animals. The tranquil setting is perfect for Sunday strolls, family outings or as a summery picnic spot. You’ll feel as though you’re a million miles from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Te Waihou Walkway
You can’t call yourself a Hamiltonian if you don’t have a gram of Putaruru’s Blue Spring on your Instafeed. Follow the Te Waihou Walkway along the Waihou River to the famous Blue Spring—one of the purest water sources in the world. The track winds 4.7km (1.5 hours one way) through wetlands, rolling pastures and past small waterfalls to the famous spring. The spring supplies around 60 per cent of New Zealand’s bottled water and is so pure that it produces a striking blue colour while being virtually clear. See it to believe it and discover what makes it one of the Waikato’s best walks.
Karioi Summit Tracks
There’s a lot to love about Raglan including the challenging summit tracks scaling Mount Karioi. The views from the top are nothing short of spectacular where you can see the rugged West Coast as far south as Mount Taranaki. The Mt Karioi Track (2.5 to 3 hours one way) is the steeper of the two tracks up to the summit with chains and ladders installed in parts to help navigate rocky sections. The Wairake Track (2 to 3 hours one way) is not as steep and is the shorter route to the summit. To get the best of both worlds, combine both tracks and cross the mountain—you’ll need to arrange transport in advance.
Te Aroha Summit Track
Speaking of summits, keen trampers can also scale the Te Aroha Summit Track. The three-hour walk (one way) will guide you through native bush before becoming steep and exposed as you near the summit. Your hard efforts will pay off when you feast your eyes on 360-degree views across the Waikato and Bay Of Plenty. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe or even Taranaki on a clear day. The best part? The track starts and ends near the Te Aroha Mineral Spas so you can treat your muscles to a post-walk soak. Now that’s tramping done right!
Nikau Walk & Kaniwhaniwha Caves
Mount Pirongia and the surrounding forest park offers numerous walking tracks perfect for weekend adventures. A must-do is the Nikau Walk combined with the Kaniwhaniwha Caves. The track follows a stream through a dense native forest brimming with nikau palms and tree ferns. The 7km loop track takes around 2.5 hours return but you’ll want to allow an extra 30 minutes to check out the Kaniwhaniwha Caves. Make sure you pack a torch as you can walk through the 20-metre long main cave.
Hamilton Lake Domain
Hamilton Lake Domain is known and loved for providing one of the city’s most-popular walkways. Whatever day or time you visit, the perimeter of the lake is bustling with walkers and runners alike—and dogs love it too! Embark on a Sunday stroll with your BFF and loop the 3.8km path before refuelling with coffee and eggs bene from The Verandah cafe. The lake is also home to a weekly Parkrun where participants can participate in a free 5km timed run.
Waikato River Paths
Let’s be honest, no round-up of Hamilton’s best walks would be complete without mentioning the city’s river paths. Along the western side of the river, the path runs from Cobham Bridge to Horotiu bridge—essentially the length of the city. On the eastern side, the path isn’t continuous but you will find links to the likes of the Hamilton Gardens and Memorial Park (both of which are worth a visit). The river paths are popular with walkers, runners and cyclists and are easily accessible for a weekday stroll to clear the mind.
After all that exertion, feel free to treat yourself to one of Hamilton's best cheap eats.