City Discovery: What You Should Know About Hamilton, New Zealand

Located on New Zealand’s north island, Hamilton is the largest city in the Waikato region. “Waikato” means “flowing water” in Maori and is the name of the region, the river that runs through the city, and the university.

The area where the city of Hamilton sits was previously inhabited by a number of Maori tribes. The Treaty of Waitangi, signed by representatives of the British monarchy and chieftains from various North Island Maori tribes, established New Zealand as part of the British Empire. The signing of the treaty is celebrated each year on February 6th and is known as Waitangi Day.

Here are some Discovery Compass activity suggestions in Hamilton that you won’t want to miss:

Discovery Compass Hamilton


Intercultural experiences highlight exposure with the local culture, promoting a multilateral exchange of ideas, language and opinions.


Throughout the year, Hamilton hosts a number of festivals and events, including the Waikato Food and Wine Festival, Balloons Over Waikato, and the Soundsape music festival. These events allow students the opportunity to engage with culture from across New Zealand and around the world.

Hamilton’s history and location make it a significant place for the North Island Maori nations and an example of the intermingling of European and Maori cultures in New Zealand.

Friends at Hobbiton
Photo by ISA Student Jamee Wallis


ISA excursions and cultural activities highlight historical parts of the local culture to help students better understand their new environment.

Hobbiton Sign
Photo by ISA student Brittany Schultz

Hamilton is best known internationally as the home of the Hobbiton set from the Lord of the Rings films, which is still in film condition and is open to visitors.

Several Maori Pa (villages) along the river have been restored by members of the Maori tribes that reside in the Waikato region. Exploring these areas gives students a glimpse of New Zealand’s pre-European history.


Sociopolitical discovery highlights social and political activities or experiences.

Hamilton’s diverse population is made up of more than 80 ethnic groups and can be experienced throughout the city in its unique shops and restaurants.

The Waikato Museum in Hamilton displays a number of exhibits focused on the social and political history and climate in New Zealand.


Professional experiences provide exposure to professional development opportunities during an ISA program.

Agricultural, particularly the dairy industry, makes up a significant part of the region’s economy and is celebrated at the annual National Agricultural Fieldays, the southern hemisphere’s largest agricultural trade exhibit.

Courtesy of the University of Waikato


Environmental experiences expose students to different environmental aspects of the host country.


An excursion to Titiri Matangi Island allows students the opportunity to explore a wildlife sanctuary that, a few decades before, had been almost completely stripped of native plants. Now, due to one of the country’s most important projects, 60% of the island has been reforested through volunteer efforts while the remaining 40% has been left as grassland.

Due to its location on an inland area of the North Island, Hamilton offers the rare opportunity for students to discover the rolling green hills, forests, mountains, and untouched areas of New Zealand,

Discover more of Hamilton, New Zealand


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As part of the 2015 City Discovery Series, each week ISA will showcase a different location in which we have study abroad programs by highlighting the five parts of the Discovery Compass: Intercultural, Historical, Sociopolitical, Professional and Environmental. The Discovery Compass aims to help students have the best possible study abroad experience by helping them to gain a better understanding of the local environment, customs and people through a variety of experiences.

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.