Hamilton resides in a leafy valley but is surrounded by climbable mountains. The sacred Mount Taupiri is to the north, “Mountain of Love” Mt Te Aroha lies to the east, Raglan’s “Sleeping Lady” Mt Karioi to the west and Mt Pirongia to the south.
Mounts Te Aroha, Karioi and Pirongia all have excellent walking trails and Te Aroha (952 metres) has the added benefit of a post-walk dip in warm thermal pools, a reward for twinging muscles. After climbing Mt Karioi (756 metres), an extinct volcano, you can plunge into the Tasman Sea or sit on warm black sand and watch surfers at Manu Bay ride the world’s longest left-hand break. Mt Pirongia, the highest peak in the Waikato (959 metres), has beautiful bush trails but the tracks are steep, so only for the fit.
The best mountain experience for everyone is Maungatautari (797 metres), south of Cambridge. Fondly referred to by locals as “the Maunga”, but now officially “Sanctuary Maungatautari Mountain”, it is the largest pest-free project in the world and New Zealand’s most ambitious conservation venture. The native bush-clad slopes are more protected than a G8 summit. A 47 kilometre pest-free fence runs up cliffs and through streams around the mountain’s perimeter and if a stoat or rat tries to sneak in, electronic alarms ring. The sanctuary is a safe haven for kiwi, takahe, kaka, the North Island robin and Pacific gecko. There are night tours from October to March when you can shine a light on giant weta and koura (native crayfish), see glow-worms and hear the plaintiff love calls of the kiwi. 99 Tari Road, Pukeatua, (07) 870 5180, sanctuarymountain.co.nz