Guide To Lake Ngaroto And Waipa Region
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The Waipa region is located in the Waikato, just south of Hamilton, and is home to the towns of Te Awamutu and Cambridge, as well as Lake Ngaroto, the region’s largest peat lake and home to wildlife and fascinating natural ecosystems. The area is a mixture of farmland and natural bush, and it’s an interesting place to get a grasp of how agriculture and settlement has shaped the country. The easiest way to get around is with a rental car of your choice, ensuring you can enjoy all the attractions the area has to offer.
Lake Ngaroto is located just a short drive north of Te Awamutu, so it’s perfect for a day trip while staying in the pleasant, picturesque town. It is a large peat or marsh lake, with a surface area of 108 ha. It represents an important ecosystem that local environment groups are working hard to protect and preserve – New Zealand is full of natural wetlands, some of which have been drained to make room for more farmland.
Having large areas in tact promotes the growth of native bird, reptile, fish and amphibian populations. For this reason, power boats are banned on Lake Ngaroto, as it may disturb native flora and fauna. This makes it very popular for sailing and kayaking, providing peaceful and still waters. Swimming is not recommended, as the water quality is poor.
However even more popular than the lake surface itself are the walks that circle the area. The main walk takes around an hour and a half, with flat surfaces but frequent boardwalks as you cross the marshes, which may be difficult for those in wheelchairs. The path is well-maintained and open all year round, though in winter it may get boggy and slippery, and in summer there is very little shade so sun protection is necessary.
The gentle walk is the perfect way to experience the natural wetland of the Waikato region. Along the way, signs and information boards provide an explanation of the history and ecology of the lake. If you’re careful and quiet, you’ll be able to see native birds that make marshlands their home, such as herons. Be aware however that May and June are duck hunting seasons – you won’t see the hunters, but they may be using the track and may cause ducks to flee the area.
The town of Te Awamutu is a short distance from the lake, and is a lovely destination in its own right. It’s a classic Waikato gem, with lots of characterful accommodation, food, attractions and local produce and dairy products.
For any green-thumbs, the Te Awamutu Rose Gardens must be the first stop on your visit. With free admission, it’s one of the busiest places in the region during summer, attracting thousands of visitors from across the world every year. This is because the garden stands out as world class, with 2,500 individual rose bushes from 50 varieties.
They are carefully laid out, inspired by classic rose gardens from around the globe, and meticulously maintained and flowering between November and May. It’s absolutely worth the time to stroll through and enjoy the fantastic scents and colours, including a special variety bred just for the Te Awamutu garden.
Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari is one of the best places in the country to experience the native forest of New Zealand the way it was originally. Surrounded by the world’s longest pest-proof fence, teams of workers ensure that the forest within is a safe sanctuary for many endangered species such as tuatara, giant weta, bats, frogs, and of course our many native birds.
It’s New Zealand’s most ambitious restoration project, hoping to restore an entire mountain to the way it was before widespread deforestation and pest introduction occurred. There are many different walking tracks throughout the sanctuary, depending on what you want to see, ranging from a few hours to 5-6 hours. There are also as guided tours with an expert who can explain the amazing birdsong you are hearing.
The conservation effort is ongoing, and proceeds continue to help with breeding programs, such as those to return the kiwi population back to its original numbers. It’s a beautiful, peaceful park, and requires the co-operation of visitors to ensure no pests or predators inadvertently make it through the barrier.
For those interested in the indigenous culture and history of New Zealand, the Te Awamutu Museum displays information and treasures belonging to local Maori tribes. Te Uenuku is a carved post covered in unique designs that was once lost near the Lake Ngaroto, but now sits proudly in the museum for all to see. There’s also an exhibition that celebrates local music legends Tim and Neil Finn, with memorabilia and facts from their lives growing up in the Waikato.
Alphra Lavenders is a free tourist attraction, located a short drive from Te Awamutu. You’re welcome to browse the rows of beautiful fragrant lavender bushes, the flowers of which are used in products designed to relax and heal people. They are open all year round, with flowering between November and January, and the shop is open throughout the year with scented products for you to enjoy.
There are also a number of walking tracks, such as Yarndley’s Bush – which winds through 14 hectares of Kahikatea bush forest. The walk takes around 30 minutes, and is easy going along well maintained wooden boardwalks, with a viewing platform halfway through. The Kahikatea tree once covered the Waikato region, the tallest native tree in New Zealand and capable of reaching 500 years of age.
Mt Pirongia is also definitely worth a visit for trampers, with a range of moderate to difficult walks depending on how long you have to spend. For beginners, the Mangakara Nature Walk is quite gentle, and takes around an hour. On your walk, you’re likely to see wood pigeon and other native birds, as well as native trees such as kahikatea, tawa and rimu. It follows a stream for some of the way, with many places to stop and rest, with an easy and well-maintained shingle path.
Another town in the Waipa region is Cambridge, with a charming historic main street with picturesque buildings that house businesses and residents alike.
If you’re a fan of the Lord of the Rings, then the absolute first stop on your list must be Hobbiton. The real set used in the movies, guided tours explain how the sets were used and the process behind filming. As part of a working farm, there are also animals to pet and rural sights to see while you visit. It’s located just an 18 minute drive from Cambridge.
The area around Cambridge is famous for its horse breeding and training, with many world-class racehorses hailing from nearby farms. In addition to breeding and showing, there is also plenty for more casual horse lovers, such as pony riding for kids and horse treks through native forest. If you come at the right time of year, you may be able to catch a horse or harness race at the local racecourse. Some local studs offer public tours, which you can book from the i-Site Information Centre.
From Cambridge, you’re also a stone’s throw from the Waitomo cave network. This is an unmissable attraction for anyone interested in adventure, geology and the natural beauty of glow worms. For those who prefer to get wet and wild, guided tours take you through black rapids, through tiny tunnels in the rock, and down massive chasms.
If you prefer a more relaxed pace, gentle boat tours will take you through the glow worm caves, so that you can enjoy the splendour without needing a change of clothes. At all times, guides will accompany you and ensure your safety and enjoyment.
Cambridge offers many walking and cycling trails, for those who have brought a bike with them on their holiday. The region is very flat, which is why it has been chosen for farming, and as a result there are many smooth and easy bike paths. You can pick up a map of paths from the visitor information centre, and spend the day whizzing through the town.
For those who want a longer journey and more of a challenge, the Waikato River Trails offer 100km of track, running past five lakes. You can also enjoy a safe path from Cambridge to Lake Karapiro, around 6kms of dedicated pathway that leads to the Mighty River Domain, near Lake Karapiro.
For anyone looking to experience an authentic slice of rural life in New Zealand, Lake Ngaroto and Waipa offer a mixture of picturesque farmland and well preserved native forest. You can enjoy it on foot with myriad walks through both marshland and bush, or with a New Zealand rental car to take in the views. The local towns offer great places to eat, drink and stay, as well as information on the best local attractions and places to visit.