When Hamilton and Waikato Tourism launched The Mighty Waikato brand two years ago, it was a genius move. Waikato was often viewed as only Hamilton and surrounding farmland but it extends so much further than that. In fact, the diversity of experiences in this part of the country is incredible - from farmers' markets to waterfalls to surfing to riverside dining, to movie sets, to abseiling underground to cycling adventures and so much more. Mighty indeed.
Here are five reasons to head to this fascinating part of the country this summer.
Experiences you can't have anywhere else in NZ
There are several truly unique experiences you can only have in the Waikato region, so if - like many families - you're ticking off those New Zealand must-dos this summer, it's a great place to visit.
Of course, there's Hobbiton it should be noted that this is not just for Lord of the Rings fans, but a pretty magical spot for anyone, as well as the annual Balloons Over Waikato hot-air balloon festival and the internationally awarded.
Hamilton Gardens don't miss the Surrealist Garden for mind-bending sights and animatronic trees.
And then there's Zealong a tea plantation in rural New Zealand? Say no more. The tour and tea ceremony is fascinating and the delicious tiered high tea is the perfect way to round it off.
Waikato isn't super showy about all its great kai so it's not always associated with culinary travel - but foodie visitors will find themselves spoilt for choice. There are fabulous farmers' markets in Hamilton and Cambridge, wonderful berry-picking opportunities in multiple locations, amazing riverside dining and drinking (Mr Pickles, Palate and Gothenburg do this particularly well) and so many other fabulous eateries such as Hayes Common, The River Kitchen, Scotts Epicurean, Chilli House (those spicy dumplings!). You just have to think of all the great franchises that have their origins in the Waikato - Winner Winner, mamasdonuts, Good George Brewing - and of course Duck Island Ice Cream.
There are some great hidden gems too - you could miss the entrance to Wonder Horse easily but behind that door are some exceptional cocktails, and the old dairy factory in Matangi isn't where you'd expect to find a banging brewery like Bootleg but you'll be very glad you did.
Geological and ecological wonders
If nature is your thing, the variety of experiences in Waikato will blow your mind.
While it's easy to think Waitomo is only about the original tourist cave, there are actually more than 300 limestone calcified cathedrals of varying sizes and shapes running labyrinth-style under farms, properties and public spaces all around the region.
This means walks are amazing, often combining caves and stalactites and stalagmites (Ruakuri Walk is a particularly good example). There are impressive waterfalls too - Wairere (the North Island's highest) and Marokopa Falls are particular standouts.
Sanctuary Mountain is a highlight - at 3400ha, it's one of the largest pest-proof fenced projects in the world and offers a safe haven for many of New Zealand's most endangered species. Walking through the bush amid tūī, kākā and pīwakawaka is magical and there are even opportunities to see takahē in their natural environment.
Some people think of Waikato as a landlocked region but there are some fantastic opportunities for beachside fun too. Raglan is very popular for its relaxed vibe, superb waves and rugged landscape and has long been a haven for artists, surfers and holidaymakers alike.
It's easy to while away the time browsing boutique cafes and shops, hanging at the beach or kayaking and stand up paddleboarding in the harbour. Kāwhia is more untouched - but is known for its hot water beach and being a great place to forage for seafood.
If you're looking for action, Waikato has plenty of it.
Hampton Downs for car fans seeking speed above ground, and Waitomo Adventures and others for those seeking subterranean thrills - ziplining, abseiling, caving and black water rafting underground will definitely raise your heart rate. If biking spins your wheels you can experience everything from native forest and birdlife to hydro dams, suspension bridges and exhilarating downhills on the Waikato River bike trails.
And if you prefer feet to wheels you'll love the Waiorongomai Valley in Te Aroha, once the site of a gold rush frenzy (New Zealand's oldest bush tramway with original rail is still where it ran, as well as machinery and the remains of gold mines and miners' lodgings).
So if you haven't considered The Mighty Waikato for a summer break, let this year be the year you do. No matter what your tastes, you'll find something you love.
Check alert level restrictions, vaccine requirements and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz