Boon After Dark is a light sculpture exhibition, which launched this week, set in the central city’s Garden Place, to light up the winter nights. Check out the interactive Shrooms – giant immersive mushrooms created by design studio Amigo & Amigo. Visit after dark for the full experience (and remember to follow the social-distancing rules).

Where to eat in Hamilton

The Camarosa restaurant is named after the variety of strawberry that grows at the Ruakura Berry Farm next door. The concept is farm to plate – a cafe by day and restaurant by night, serving up the best of Waikato’s produce. There are oysters from Kawhia, the lamb loin Wellington, from Hastings.

For tapas and sunshine, Gothenburg – on the banks of the Waikato River – is a good spot. It is surrounded by greenery, with a towering ceiling and windows right to the ground. A stunning spot on a sunny day. In the evenings, choose the chef’s menu – a five-course tasting experience.

Take a little side trip to Southeast Asia, at Banh Mi Caphe owner Anh serves up the food she learned from her grandmother – herby healthy banh mi, banh xeo (savoury pancakes), pho, bun (noodle salads) and all kind of traditional Vietnamese curries.

Where to drink in Hamilton

You’ll have seen Good George growlers in the supermarkets all around Auckland. They started out in Hamilton, and on the site of the original brewery now offer a dining hall – now serving a huge menu of burgers, pizzas and platters, and a lot of craft beer and cider on tap. You can take a brewery tour after lunch, and buy some of the Good George hand sanitiser while you’re there – pre-lockdown, the company converted some of their beer brewing facilities into sanitiser production units.

Caffeine fix? Milton’s is a canteen-style joint, which is open for breakfast and lunch. You’ll find brunch salads, hash browns and halloumi, and some very pretty coffee art to boot.

For cocktails, as well as craft beer and local wines, Wonder Horse is open 5 till late. They run weekly beer and whisky clubs, and serve some fancy bar snacks on the side (Szechuan calamari? Thank you very much).


Where to stay in Hamilton

If you’re staying in town, book a spot overlooking the Waikato River. There are B&Bs up and down the banks. Just out of town, The Monastery used to do what it says on the tin. Now this historic home (which has been a family manor, a wellness retreat after World War II and a boys’ boarding school as well as a home for priests) offers 5ha of manicured gardens, river access, and five rooms to choose from.

Five minutes to the west, you’ll find the magical Underhill Valley, a lovers’ nook built into a hillside from timber and iron, and lined with animal furs. It’s is off-grid, and self-catering (you’ll need to fire up the old-style coal range a few hours early to warm it up for cooking). Overlooking a pond and farmland, this is a picturesque and romantic spot for two.