On the banks of the languid green Waikato River, New Zealand’s fourth-largest city, HAMILTON, functions as a regional hub rather than a major tourist destination, but it’s within striking distance of some of the North Island’s top spots, such as the surf beaches of Raglan and Waitomo Caves, as well as Auckland, 127km north. It’s worth devoting some time to the excellent Waikato Museum and the tranquil Hamilton Gardens.
Everything of interest in Hamilton is either along or just off the main drag, Victoria Street, which parallels the west bank of the tree-lined Waikato River. One of more striking buildings is the 1924 Wesley Chambers (now Le Grand hotel) on the corner of Collingwood Street, influenced by the buildings of boomtime Chicago. Diagonally opposite, a small open space is graced by a statue of the English-born Rocky Horror Show creator, Richard O’Brien – decked out as Riff Raff, the role he played in the film of the show – who spent his teens and early twenties in Hamilton visiting science fiction double features.
In mid-June, the annual four-day Fieldays festival (w fieldays.co.nz) is held at Mystery Creek Events Centre just outside the city. The largest agricultural field day in the southern hemisphere, it’s a quintessentially Kiwi event with everything from sheep shearing to ploughing contests plus lots of entertainment, mostly with a rural tenor.