Kia ora: Cambridge

Elisabeth Easther discovers Waikato's champion town

The Karapiro Cycle and Walkway. Photo / Christine Cornege
The Karapiro Cycle and Walkway. Photo / Christine Cornege

Origin of name: Known as Kemureti in Maori, while in pre-colonial times, the pa here was called Horitiu. The area was later named after the Duke of Cambridge who was Commander and Chief of the British Army when they invaded the Waikato region.

Population: About 16,500.

Where is it: On the banks of the Waikato River, 24km south east of Hamilton, 146km south of Auckland.

The town slogan: Town of Trees and Champions, or Come Home to Cambridge, depending whom you talk to.

The town mascot: The mature oak trees and the bronze horse outside the i-site.

Interesting fact: Many Cambridge soldiers helped liberate the town of Le Quesnoy in France in 1918, and a sister city link was set up in the early 1990s. Kiwis are revered in Le Quesnoy, where they still recognise Anzac Day.

Main industry: The horse business, Cambridge produces world-class thoroughbreds including 13 Melbourne Cup winners. Dairy farming is also big.

Source of pride: The plethora of Olympic medal winners - notably in equestrian and rowing events.

Most famous locals: Sarah Ulmer, Mark Todd, all the rowers and the band The Datsuns.

Best reason to stop: Antique shops, cafes, and the parking's still free. And it's pretty as a picture.

Best place to take the kids: Leamington Domain is charming, with a fab playground and every Sunday a miniature railway rolls out.

Best place to get a drink: Spoiled for choice, but locals say The Stables, GPO and The Five Stags are all good.

Best food: Onyx, Deli on the Corner and Kebabalicious's chicken salad is said to be delicious.

Best flat white: Café 55 - this seems to be unanimous.

Best bakery: Leamington Bakery. Anyone for a steak and blue cheese pie?

Best museum: Cambridge Museum on Victoria St, small, quaint, and filled with curiosities including a stuffed rat.

Best view: Gudex Memorial at the top of Maungakawa Reserve, or out across Lake Karapiro from Mighty River Domain

Best facilities: The aptly named Cambridge Superloo.

Best park: Lake Te Ko Utu (translation, "the place to scoop up water"), several lovely walks originate there. It's outstanding all year round, but autumn takes the cake.

Here for a short time: Cross the historic high-level bridge and admire the Waikato River.

Best kept secret: Maungatautari Ecological Island, 37km from Cambridge, 3400 hectares of predator-free awesomeness.

Best shop: Wrights Bookshop, a family business run by book lovers for book lovers.

Best swim: Lake Karapiro - bracing.

Not long now: The long-awaited Cambridge Velodrome will be open soon, expect more champions.

Wildest wildlife: The various native species introduced back to Maungatautari including giant weta, tuatara, kokako, kiwi and the occasional visiting kakapo.

When a local has visitors from abroad staying, what do they take them to do? Lunch at a country café, The Boat Shed is a beauty, and Mighty River Domain in summer.

Safety warnings: Don't swim by the Dominion Road boat ramp. And never stand behind a horse.

BEST RIDE: The Karapiro Cycle and Walkway (pictured top) is a recently developed section of the Te Awa Great New Zealand River Ride. The 6km path takes travellers from the town, along Maungatautari Road and to Karapiro for great views of the water.

Thanks to Liz Stolwyk for her invaluable assistance.

- NZ Herald

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