Just 130km south of Auckland, Hamilton is New Zealand's fourth largest city and sits on the Waikato river, the country's longest. With plenty of green spaces, a young population, and plenty of culture, nightlife and entertainment, Hamilton is fast becoming one of New Zealand's most desirable places to live.
The city is split by the river, where there are lots of scenic walks, parks and gardens to while away a few sunny hours. On the western side, the city's main hub of Victoria Street in Hamilton Central is populated with numerous hotels, hostels, shops, bars and restaurants.
Wander off along historic Hood Street to dig out some other great places to eat and drink – Hamilton has a fantastic 'foodie' scene, with a variety of cuisines to sample. Also off the busy Victoria Street, is vibrant Garden Place, an urban 'plaza park', with lots of places to sit down with a coffee in between shops, and which hosts many community events throughout the year.
The 'motel triangle' of Ulster Street, Mill Street and Anglesea Street offers plenty of good quality accommodation, as do the suburbs of Frankton, Beerescourt and Te Rapa. To the south of the western side you'll find Lake Domain Reserve, on the banks of the tranquil Hamilton Lake (Lake Rotoroa) – popular with city workers who like to stroll the 45-minute circular walk during their lunch breaks.
Victoria Bridge is one of six bridges that link east and west Hamilton, and will take you over to Soldiers Memorial Park, and Jubilee Park in Claudelands. Also in Hamilton East, you'll find some of the larger hotels, and the city has excellent public transport links into town, so getting around isn't a problem.
Hamilton Airport is located in the south, 20 minutes from the city centre. Also in the south, but walkable from the CBD, is Hamilton Gardens, a must-visit haven of parkland, ornamental and kitchen gardens and some great botanical collections. If you're feeling fit, start here, then continue up the river on one of the many self-guided walks that run north and south through the city along the water, part of the 'Scenic Walkways' network of paths across Hamilton.
Waikato Stadium in Willoughby Park, is home to the Chiefs and Waikato rugby teams, and is also where you can catch a live concert or two. Culture vultures should head to Founders Theatre on Tristram Street or The Meteor on Victoria Street, for plays, performance art and exhibitions. This area as a whole, known as Hamilton North, also includes Casabella Lane, a quaint Spanish street offering boutique shops and cute restaurants.
Kids can be kept entertained at Hamilton Zoo or the famous Waterworld, both in Te Rapa. For nightlife, head to SkyCity for all-hours action at the casino, or just wander up Victoria Street for a huge selection of wine bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
Hamilton East and Frankton have good markets at weekends and on Sundays, try heading over to St Peter's Cathedral at the south end of Victoria Street, modelled on a 15th century church in Norfolk, England.