Hamilton Gardens, Cobham Drive (tel. 07/838-6782; www.hamiltongardens.co.nz), is the region's most popular visitor destination. It consists of 58 hectares (143 acres) of specialty gardens along the banks of the Waikato River. You don't have to be a gardener to appreciate the serenity of the Japanese Garden, the beauty of the herb garden or the brilliance of the Indian Char Bagh and Italian renaissance gardens. The Gardens Terrace restaurant and the Gardens Café are both open daily from 10am to 5pm in summer and until 4pm in winter. The gardens themselves are open 7am to 6pm. An onsite information center is open daily 9am to 5pm. Hamilton Lake and its 56-hectare (138-acre) reserve is also a pleasant place for a quiet wander. You can do a delightful 45-minute circular walk around the lake, or relax at its lovely restaurant, while kids unwind in the large playground. It's just up the hill from the central business district, off Ruakiwi and Lake roads (two entrances).

The Waikato Museum & Arts Post, Victoria and Grantham streets (tel. 07/838-6606; www.waikatomuseum.co.nz and www.artspost.co.nz), and Exscite ★★★ (tel. 07/838-6553; fax 07/838-6571) are especially good value and fun experiences for kids. The museum has a fine display of Maori art and carving from the area's Tainui people; Te Winika, a 200-year-old carved waka taua (war canoe), is a key attraction. Exscite is a madhouse of colorful fun designed as a learning environment for children. Museum admission is by donation (some exhibitions are charged); Exscite costs NZ$5 for adults, NZ$3 for kids, NZ$20 for a family. The museum, Exscite, and Arts Post are open daily from 10am to 4:30pm (closed Dec 25).

Hamilton Zoo and the FreeFlight Sanctuary, Brymer Road (tel. 07/838-6720; www.hamiltonzoo.co.nz), is a 25-hectare (62-acre) retreat for over 600 native and exotic animals and the largest walk-through bird aviary in Australasia. It's 5 minutes off State Highway 1, west of Hamilton, and is open daily from 9am to 5pm (last admission at 3:30pm). They also have late night openings (until 8pm) on Wednesdays and Saturdays in January and Saturdays in February. Guided tours and up-close animal encounters are also offered and must be booked (prices vary). Zoo entry is NZ$15 adults, NZ$7 children 2 to 16, and NZ$42 for a family. Onsite Flavours Café is open daily from 9am to 5pm. The Waikato River is an integral part of the city's character and there's no better way to get a feel for that than taking a leisurely trip with Cruise Waikato, Memorial Park Jetty, Memorial Drive, near Victoria Bridge (tel. 0508/426-458 in NZ; www.cruise-waikato.co.nz). They operate daily with sailings from Memorial Drive at 2pm; a general cruise costs NZ$25 for adults and NZ$12 for children 14 and under. There are a number of other history and food cruises priced around NZ$30 to NZ$$45. Bookings are essential.

When it turns dark, you might like to try your luck in Hamilton's casino complex, SKYCITY Hamilton, 346 Victoria St. (tel. 07/834-4900; www.skycityhamilton.co.nz), which has 20 gaming tables, 300 gaming machines, plus bar and restaurant facilities. It's open daily 9am to 3am.

To learn about activities in the smaller rural towns of Morrinsville, Matamata, Ngaruawahia, Te Aroha, and Te Awamutu, pick up brochures from the Hamilton visitor center.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.