Landlocked cities in an island nation are never going to have the glamorous appeal of their coastal cousins. Rotorua compensates with boiling mud and Taupo has its lake, but Hamilton, despite the majestic Waikato River, is more prosaic.
The city definitely has an appeal, with vibrant bars and excellent restaurants and cafes around Hood and Victoria Sts. You’re guaranteed to eat really well after visiting highlights like the Hamilton Gardens.
The great grey-green Waikato River rolls right through town, but the city’s layout largely ignores its presence: unless you’re driving across a bridge you’ll hardly know it’s there. Thankfully, work has begun on a development to provide access from the CBD to riverside walking trails.
Most people blast along SH1 between Auckland and Hamilton in about 1½ hours, but if you’re keen to meander, the upper Waikato has some interesting diversions including Ngaruawahia, where you will find Turangawaewae Marae.