Grabaseat Destination: Hamilton

Taking the mickey out of Hamilton is soooo 20th century. These days, it’s a cool University town, with some of the best nightlife in the country and enough interesting stuff to easily fill a long weekend visit.

Half of Hamiltonians are under 30, making for a buzzy inner city on most nights of the week. Unlike it’s smug big brother Auckland, most of Hamilton’s bars and restaurants are in one walkable stretch – the sheer number of people wandering around looking for fun makes every Saturday night feel like New Year’s Eve.

Hamilton knows that, historically, it’s had a bit of an image problem. So the city has compensated by packing the calendar full of events: the site of 30 balloons hovering over the lake is enough to melt the heart of the hardest bogan, while even the city’s cultural elite must feel an excited flutter at the first roar of the V8s.

Part of the problem for Hamilton used to be that it had 16km of Waikato River running through the middle of town, but didn’t do anything with it. The only way to see the bloody thing was to walk across the bridge, but you couldn’t linger too long or police and ambulance staff would turn up and try to talk you down.

Thankfully there are now some beautifully maintained walkways around the river. Or, if you time it right, the Round-the-Bridges and the Hamilton half marathon are two excellent ways to see the best parts. We know, running doesn’t sound like much of a holiday to us either, but apparently lots of people are into it.

Make sure you visit the world-class Hamilton Gardens – a sprawling, magnificently conceived collection of themed gardens that runs along the south east edge of the river. Entry is free and there’s something for everyone – whether you’re an elderly begonia enthusiast with a passion for renaissance landscaping, or a teenage couple scouting for a decent park bench to have your first pash.