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Volcanic Plateau i-SITE
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Fresh and local products and produce is best and Hamilton and the Waikato region is the place to make the most of some of New Zealand’s best. Enjoy award-winning cheese and wine, sample fresh produce such as asparagus or blueberries, browse at the numerous farmers markets, and dine at top cafes and restaurants.
As you might expect in a region famous for its dairy farming, local cheesemakers have established themselves as leaders in New Zealand, winning multiple awards. But the fertile soil and benign climate also means there other artisan producers are also popping up, helped by the proliferation of farmers’ and other gourmet food stores in the area. Top this off with the award-winning wine makers who have also made the region their home and the thriving café/restaurants scene and you’ve got a foodies’ heaven.
The Hamilton and Waikato region has come to dominate the national cheese awards. The well established Mercer Cheese in the north of the region has been a consistent award winner and in 2009 it was joined at the top of the tree by a newcomer, Over The Moon Dairy Company from Putaruru – between them they took out two supreme awards. But there’s no surprise there and the reputation of its artisan producers is steadily growing – including others like Cloudy Mountain Cheese in Pirongia and Aroha Organic Goat Cheese near Te Aroha.
Wine lovers can sample the offerings from wineries including Vilagrad in Ohaupo just south of Hamilton (established in 1922 and still family run) and Mystery Creek Wines near the airport. Boutique, organic Lane’s End Wines, based just outside Hamilton also sells its product through the weekly farmers markets. Grape varieties grown in the region include chardonnay, merlot and gewurztraminer.
With its excellent growing climate, the Waikato also has a number of orchards, berry growers and market gardens so the best of fresh produce is never far away including, in season, prized asparagus and blueberries. Then there is free range pork, bacon and eggs along with jams and chutneys made by the likes of Wild Country Foods and Savour The Taste. The newest addition to the list is Zealong Tea just outside Hamilton, which is making premium oolong tea and is the first plantation of its kind outside of Asia.
Farmers’ markets are held every weekend in Hamilton and Cambridge along with a host of other popular markets varying from weekly to monthly and selling foodstuffs as well as crafts, including at Tamahere, Raglan, Pirongia and Tirau. Between them, they showcase a range of locally produced foods including breads, honeys, cheeses and meats. Everywhere you go, you are likely to find roadside stalls offering the freshest produce at bargain basement prices, or you can pick your own.
Wine enthusiasts should add Lake Taupo’s emerging vineyards to their ‘discovery’ list. The wines are a reflection of the area’s unique terroir; high altitude, cool climate and free-draining with deep pumice and gravel soils laid down by volcanic eruptions. Some you may like to visit:
Kuratau River Wines, Taupo
Located above the Kuratau River which flows into Lake Taupo, with its own unique soil and climatic characteristics, the Kuratau River Wines vineyard was planted with Pinot Gris and Pinot.
Martin Watt Wine, Taupo
Produce wine from the oldest vineyard in the region, Pukawa Vineyard. Mouthwatering Riesling and Pinot Noir is produced on a magical site overlooking the pristine waters of Lake Taupo.
Omori Estate, Taupo
Nestled in the south-west corner of Lake Taupo, bordered by the Omori Stream. Our first olives were planted in 2001 and the vineyard was planted on the Stream Block in 2002 with Pinot Noir and in 2003 with Pinot Gris grapes. The production of both wines and olive oils began in 2005.
Forty minutes south of Hamilton, Maungatautari Ecological Reserve has extra interest from the many native bird species being released and nurtured in the mountain predator free environment. The summit walk takes five or six hours while shorter walks in the southern enclosure virtually guarantee a view of endangered New Zealand bird species, now beginning to thrive in the area.
You’ll never be far from clear mountain streams on the likes of Pirongia, and waterfall walks are scattered through the region, including the spectacular and aptly named Bridal Veil near Raglan and the Wairere Falls near Matamata. Marvel at South Waikato’s Waihou Stream with its stunning crystal clear and bright blue water due to the optical purity of the water or simply walk along the banks of the Waikato River and marvel at its flow.
Some short walks in this region include:
Rimu Walking Track, Taupo - 30 minutes for the circuit. A pleasant loop track though stunning podocarp forest. Cross the bridge at the Kakaho Campground and follow the river around to a great swimming hole. From here there is a climb up to a lookout with good views of Mount Pureora then you circle back to join the road just above the campground.
Waihora Lagoon Walking Track, Taupo - 20 minutes return. Drive up Waihora Road off SH 32. Follow the signs to the Waihora Lagoon carpark. It’s an easy, flat walk in to the small rain-fed lake surrounded by immensely tall kahikatea and rimu trees.
Motuoapa Cliff Lookout Walking Track, Taupo - 15 - 20 minutes, return via same track
Begins beside northern end of Motuoapa Lodge in Motuoapa, 10 km north of Turangi on SH 1. The track heads up to the volcanic cliffs behind Motuoapa to a wooden viewing platform. The lookout offers excellent views of Stump Bay, Motuoapa Peninsula, the South Taupō wetlands and Lake Taupō. Please treat this area with respect as it is of cultural importance to Ngati Tuwharetoa. Return via the same track, or for a slight variation during the descent, continue along a path which leads to the north end of the settlement and return alongside the state highway to the track entrance.
Tauranga/Taupō River Walking Track , Taupo - 30 minutes, return via same track. Park on the south side of the Tauranga/Taupō River (about 12 km north of Turangi on SH 1). Cross the bridge. The track entrance is marked on the left at the corner. This track follows the tranquil Tauranga/Taupō River for 15 minutes to the shore of Lake Taupō. The beach is a great spot for picnicking, fishing and swimming. Enjoy panoramic views of the Western Bays, Motutaiko Island, Taupō town and Mt Tauhara. Those wanting a longer walk can continue on along the foreshore toward the lakefront settlement of Waitetoko. The first public access to SH 1 is at Mac’s Road, 10-15 minutes along the beach.
Hamurana Springs track, Rotorua
This track is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. It offers easy walking with beautiful scenic views throughout the whole stream-side walk, which passes through a grove of redwoods. Only 20 minutes one way.
Hinehopu/Hongi's Track, Rotorua
The track runs from Korokitewao Bay (Lake Rotoiti) to Te Pohue Bay (Lake Rotoehu), through a forest of rimu, tawa, pukatea and rewarewa. It leads to SH 30 at the sacred matai, then a small loop track takes you back to the previous track or on to Lake Rotoehu (15 minutes from the sacred matai). Numerous tranquil picnic spots can be found around the lakes. 1 hour 30 mins one way.
Waitomo Walkway, Waitomo
Is an easy grade except for some short steep parts. It starts in the Waitomo Village (opposite the Discovery Centre) and passes up through bush and across farmland with some great views back to the Waitomo Village. It then crosses the Te Anga Road beyond the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. From here it follows the Waitomo Stream through a mix of shady forest and open farmland to the Ruakuri Scenic Reserve where there is a large picnic area, BBQs and the spectacular 45min Ruakuri Bushwalk. 1 hour 15 minutes one way.
Waitomo Caves car park walk, Waitomo
5 -10 min one way. An easy walk that starts as part of the Waitomo Walkway and then continues left along the banks of the Waitomo stream to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves car park. See also the Ruakuri Scenic Reserve and the spectacular 30min Ruakuri Bushwalk which are at the end of the Waitomo Walkway.