Hamilton Gardens is a wonderful day trip from Auckland, and whilst spending the whole day enjoying this small city will make for a more chilled day out… combining it with Bridal Veil Falls will make this day trip one to remember!
If you have enough time for a weekend away, or are doing a longer North Island road trip, you could definitely stay in the pretty surf town of Raglan. This will make for a pretty, rural escape from Auckland but is also a great place for outdoors activities such as hiking and, of course, surfing. This way, you could easily visit Hamilton Gardens on the way there.
As I work full-time, and cannot yet afford a night away in New Zealand on my low budget, I chose to do Hamilton & Raglan as a day trip from where I live in Auckland, so the itinerary for this trip is based on a one day time scale.
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(adapted on the day for bad weather)
- Hamilton Gardens
- Lunch and stroll around Hamilton
- Bridal Veil Falls
- Michael Hope Lookout
However, I have given a few other suggestions for anyone who does want to expand their time in the area. For a very chilled day out, or if you don’t have much time, stick to just seeing Hamilton Gardens and Bridal Veil Falls.
Hamilton Gardens is a 1.5 hour drive from Auckland, though may be closer to 2 hours if you are travelling at peak time.
Hamilton Gardens is the most visited tourist attraction in Waikato and it’s easy to see why. Probably the most unique and varied gardens I’ve ever visited, Hamilton Gardens aims to show the ‘story’ of gardens over the past 4000 years, and how our attitudes towards the natural world have shifted throughout different cultures and centuries. Each garden here has a specific concept and design, within the context of a specific moment in history.
The gardens are FREE ENTRY and open between 7:30am – 730pm every day of the year. However, they accept donations. There is no obligation as the donation bins on the pathway where there are no staff so you can donate whatever you feel comfortable with, if you wish. There is also a gift shop and cafe. Maps of the gardens are $2.
However, if you’re a true garden enthusiast with a little money to spare and would prefer a more well-informed look around, consider this Hamilton Gardens 75-minute guided walking tour.
I really liked that each garden has a different THEME! It makes a trip down to Hamilton Gardens from Auckland feel very worth it as it’s like multiple gardens for the price of one. (With that price being… free!) Definitely, one to add to your New Zealand bucket list, especially if you’re already in the North Island.
My favourite gardens were probably the Italian Renaissance garden, Chinese Scholars’ garden and the Surrealist garden with its ‘Alice in Wonderland’ vibe. You could also spend longer discovering the various blooms – such as the Rose and Camellia Garden, or walking around the pathways of the Woodland Gardens.
However, for me the concept gardens were most interesting simply as they were so unique! And although the many gardens aimed to give a taste of countries around the world, from England to Italy to Japan, and themes such as ‘American Modernist’ and ‘Fantasy’ may seem a little kitsch for some, I thought it was a thoroughly fun experience! It would be a wonderful day trip for families too, with something for young children and grandparents alike.
I visited in spring when the beautiful flowers were truly in bloom… though it did rain the whole day, so I was glad I had a coat! (Actually I had two coats on cuz I hate the cold, but y’know, most people probably don’t do that.) Autumn looks like a beautiful time to visit, with the expansive foliage changing colour with the seasons. Summer would of course be a lovely time to stroll around the gardens too.
More things to do in Hamilton:
Take a river cruise for a Waikato river
With an advance booking you can take the Waikato river explorer, a cruise which winds through Hamilton.
There are many options suitable for families or corporate events, from the ‘river cafe’ option (29$) to a Saturday wine tasting cruise at 49$. Check times and departure points in advance – many leave from Hamilton Gardens making it an easy attraction to combine this with.
Depending on your ticket choice, cruises take between 55 – 90 minutes.
Prefer something more family friendly? Check out this ecological jetboat tour of the Waikato RIver.
Hamilton Lake Domain
Hamilton Lake Domain will be a lovely picnic spot if you visit in summer, and a nice way to save money on lunch. There are pretty rose gardens, and paths snaking through the trees where you’ll spot locals walking their dogs.
Currently they are also making a boardwalk down by the lake which looks like it will be a very chill spot once it’s complete!
An easy trail, the Hamilton Lake Walkway, is a comfortable 3.8km stroll. Facilities include toilets and a cafe and you can park down by the waterfront.
Hiking near Hamilton
For stunning New Zealand scenery just moments from Hamilton, look up the Hakarimata Lookouts and Walkway or the Te Otamanui Walkway. These are just 20 or 10 minutes drive from Hamilton city respectfully, in the direction of Auckland.
Hamilton Street Art
Keep an eye out for Hamilton’s vibrant street art! There are some artworks drawn on to the side of buildings which you can spot from the road while you’re driving around, and others down side streets you can enjoy on foot.
Lunch at Two Birds Eatery
I’m mentioning this spot for anyone with dietary requirements! Two Birds eatery is perfect for vegans, with many options available down to even including vegan aioli for chips. Gluten free and healthy yet filling options are also available.
There is a sweet garden area outside to enjoy your meal on a dry day – the flowers were in bloom when I visited in October making this outdoors area look very charming. (Though I stayed warm and dry indoors!)
Bridal Veil Falls
The drive from Hamilton Gardens to Bridal Veil Falls takes 45 minutes. The falls are a 15 minute drive from Raglan.
Bridal Veil Falls are a 55 metre high waterfall in Raglan, tumbling down from the Pakoka River and forming a large photogenic pool at the bottom.
I appreciated that four separate viewing platforms have been constructed, allowing visitors to enjoy different perspectives of the waterfalls. It felt like a very satisfying detour.
The first two viewpoints are only around 1 minute from the car park, along a flat pathway.
The second two view points are five and ten minutes down steep steps till you reach the bottom of the falls. Thankfully, the path is beautifully maintained. You don’t need hiking boots but sneakers are recommended. Watch your step if it’s slippery.
Since Raglan was only a 15-minute drive from the falls, we chose to check out this charming rural surf town, known for it’s green rolling hills and gorgeous coastline.
Since it was raining during my day trip, my friend and I decided not to undertake any hikes – the wind and rain really picked up at this point too. However, it was still fun to see the landscapes from the car, even if our visibility was limited.
I’ve listed some options we would have considered, had the weather been better:
Karioi Summit Track
The drive is about 20 minutes from Raglan or 40 minutes from Bridal Veil Falls. The road from Raglan to the track is a windy, gravel road. We noticed #a warning sign asking drivers to be careful if taking this road due to the steep drop.
The hike begins from the Kirioi Summit Track carpark and takes around 3-3.5 hours to complete the full track, or shorter to just get a taste of the landscapes here. There is a lookout with panoramic views as well as the Kirioi summit itself.
This is an advanced track so find out more details before you here from the official site here.
On a sunny day, what could be better than relaxing at the stunning Ngarunui Beach? If you like surfing, this would be an ideal place for a weekend trip, but anyone can enjoy watching the mighty waves froth against the coastline from the black sand beach.
You could also enjoy a gentle walk from here through the Wainui Reserve Bush Park.
Michael Hope Lookout
Just moments from the beach, this lookout is a wonderful way to see the Raglan shore. There are benches where you could enjoy lunch or sunset here on a sunny day. It was still raining when I visited, so I was happy to get a beautiful look over Raglan just two metres from the car!
Although I had initially planned to finish my day with one of the smaller hikes, I decided against it this particular day as the rain only got heavier and the wind stronger. Despite that minor hiccup, it could not leave me feeling any less positive about my day trip from Auckland!
From the conceptual gardens at Hamilton, to the wilderness and waterfalls and Raglan, I felt this was a wonderful and varied day trip sure to satisfy even those of us who get bored easy! It was a brilliant first taste of New Zealand’s nature on my day off work!