If you want rural charm 20 minutes from Hamilton, ring Peter and Daphne Searle at Uliveto Country Stay & Olive Grove, 164 Finlayson Rd., Ngahinapouri (www.uliveto.co.nz; tel. 07/825-2116), which has two lovely rooms for NZ$140 to NZ$150; dinner is available on request. There are two beautiful suites in a separate guest wing at Titoki Boutique Accommodation, 1846 C River Rd. North, Hamilton (www.titokiboutiqueaccommodation.co.nz; tel. 07/854-4044). It's perfect for two couples traveling together (no one under 15 years), and guest have their own lounge and dining room. Rooms are NZ$255 to NZ$275 and breakfast is included. The Novotel Tainui, 7 Alma St., Hamilton (www.novotel.co.nz/Hamilton; tel. 0800/450-050 in NZ, or 07/838-1366), is probably the most convenient and economic of the inner city hotels. New in 1999 (and refurbished in 2005), its large rooms have contemporary decor and overlook either the city or the river. The hotel is Qualmark Enviro-Gold certified and Green Globe benchmarked. Rates are NZ$160 to NZ$365.
There's lots of old-world charm at Emanuels Lake Karapiro Lodge, Karapiro Heights, 1829F State Highway 1, 20km (12 miles) south of Cambridge (www.karapirolodge.co.nz; tel. 07/823-7414; fax 07/823-7219), where Ed and Ann Rompelberg have created a country retreat overlooking Lake Karapiro. The eight rooms are beautifully appointed and have private patios and en-suite bathrooms, and there are a gym, sauna, and Jacuzzi to unwind in. Rooms cost NZ$350 to NZ$800.
Given the nature of this place, I'm surprised no one has thought to build an underground hotel. Perhaps it would be better than some of the aboveground choices: The pickings are slim here. Juno Hall Backpackers, 600 Waitomo Caves Rd. (www.junowaitomo.co.nz; tel./fax 07/878-7649), a new farmhouse-style hostel, has dorm rooms from NZ$27, and doubles from NZ$66 to NZ$95. A nice B&B in Waitomo, Abseil Inn, Waitomo Caves Village (www.abseilinn.co.nz; tel. 07/878-7815), has four rooms from NZ$165 to NZ$185.
Kamahi Cottage, 229 Barber Rd., RD5, Otorohanga (www.kamahi.co.nz; tel./fax 07/873-0849), is 30 minutes from Waitomo Caves and is the nicest B&B in the area. They have a charming self-contained, one-bedroom cottage for NZ$355 to NZ$475. They have an active recycling and conservation program operating on the family farm, with 200 hectares (500 acres) of native forest protected under legal covenant. Free Wi-Fi is available in the nearby homestead and dinners are available on request. As an alternative, you can try the Waitomo Caves Hotel, Lemon Point Road (www.waitomocaveshotel.co.nz; tel. 07/878-8204), but I consider it overrated. It's a shame that this fabulous old building with its rich history and terrific location doesn't live up to its full potential but it's an adequate overnight stay if you've just come to see the caves. Rooms run from NZ$120 to NZ$295.
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.