The 15 BEST things to do in Cambridge New Zealand
Cambridge is one of the most beautiful towns in the Waikato. It’s only half an hour from where I grew up and a favourite place of mine to visit on the weekends because of the many things to do. Cambridge is a huge sporting hub so there’s heaps of sports and outdoors activities in Cambridge but there are also plenty of cultural activities and great cafes.
Quick Facts on Cambridge
- Cambridge is in the Waikato region of the central North Island and you’ll find Cambridge in my Waikato road trip itinerary.
- Only about 20,000 people live in Cambridge, which makes it a ‘large town’ by New Zealand standards.
- Cambridge has won several awards for being New Zealand’s most beautiful large town.
Getting to Cambridge
The closest city to Cambridge is Hamilton which is only a 20-30 minute drive away on the speedy new expressway (I learnt to drive on this road). From Hamilton, you can fly domestically to Wellington or Christchurch (Hamilton Airport used to be international but isn’t anymore).
You can also get to Cambridge by bus from Auckland in under 3 hours. The bus stops in Hamilton and a bunch of small towns on the way and is the cheapest way to get to Cambridge if you don’t have a car. Read my full guide on getting around New Zealand by bus.
15 Things to Do in Cambridge
1 Walk Lake Te Koo Utu
According to my mum, this is the thing to do in Cambridge and I can see why because this short walk is crazy beautiful, particularly in autumn when all the trees lining the lake are covered in blazing-fire-coloured leaves. You might also spot native pukeko pecking around by the waterfront. Look out for black and blue feathers and red beaks.
The loop track is only 1km and is flat enough to be accessible for prams and wheelchairs. You can get to the lake from a couple of points on its circumference, but the prettiest is the track down from the historic wrought iron gates on Victoria Street (Cambridge’s main road). That’s also where you’ll find the information signs telling you about the lake and the plant life.
2 Climb the horse statue
Right outside the Cambridge Town Hall and across the road from Victoria Square is a statue of a mama and baby horse. The challenge here is to see if you can climb up on the horse to get a photo looking like the olde mayor of Cambridge. Also see if you can spot the horse-themed mosaics embedded in the pavement on Victoria Street that commemorate various moments from New Zealand’s horsey history.
The reason for the statue is that Cambridge is the national centre of all things horse related. The town is surrounded by horse studs and the Cambridge raceway hosts many major races. If you’re at all interested in racing you can check out their weekly events, full calendar is here.
3 Shop at the Farmers markets
The Cambridge Farmers’ Markets are the best place to spend a Saturday morning in Cambridge. Held every week in leafy Victoria Square, they showcase local artisan producers, selling everything from organic vege to homemade chilli sauces. Make sure to grab an almond croissant from Volare Bakery and a coffee from Manuka Brothers to start the day off right.
You will need to get up kinda early though as they’re only on until 12pm and the best produce goes quick. Some weeks there is live music and there are picnic tables where you can enjoy your purchases.
4 Browse the Homewares stores
If I had a big house to decorate, I would be heading straight to the homewares stores in Cambridge. There are so many super aesthetic homeware stores in Cambridge, probably because the demographic here is older and affluent. Even if you aren’t looking for yourself, there are incredible gift options.
Most of the stores are on Victoria Street or just a block off so you can easily wander between. My top three picks are Hus (huge), Odell Home and Olio Design. For something a bit quirkier, there’s also Antiques on Victoria – they had an old dentist chair in when we visited, kinda creepy.
5 Tour or bike a lap of the Avantidrome
The Avantidrome is this giant velodrome. It’s new and shiny and purpose built to train New Zealand’s next gold medallists. What’s cool is that the Avantidrome is open to the public so you can go and do a tour, see the track, learn about the intense training that goes down here and have a go at track cycling yourself. So, if you’ve ever watched the speedsters flying around at the Olympics, that can be you! They even provide the bike and helmet.
6 Visit St Andrews church
St Andrews Church is the prettiest building in Cambridge. That’s a pretty high bar in a town that’s won awards for being pretty. The current church was completed in 1881 and cost only £2205! You can also see the original church from 1873 on the property. St Andrews is a working Anglican church, but anyone can respectfully pop in to see the building.
The Spire of St Andrew’s church is the highest point in Cambridge, which tells you a lot about how urban this town isn’t.
7 Bike the town
The Te Awa Trail (the river in Māori) runs almost the length of the Waikato and passes through Cambridge. You can jump on the trail in the town and ride south to Karapiro (8km one way) or north towards Hamilton (around 30km). The concreted path makes for super easy riding and you can even hire an e-bike if you’re worried about fitness or want to cover more ground.
I’ve walked and run several sections of the trail and love how calm and peaceful it is down by the river. You really do see the best of the Waikato from the riverside. In the Karapiro direction you might spot Olympic rowers training while in the Hamilton direction there are gullies, bridges and hills to keep things interesting. Maps and bike hire are available through Cambridge i-Site.
8 Visit Cambridge Museum
Whether you want to get a sense of the town’s history or are looking for a rainy day activity in Cambridge, the Cambridge Museum is the place to go. It’s housed in the beautiful Old Courthouse building and surrounded by rose gardens.
Cambridge has a really interesting history both from the Māori (indigenous New Zealanders) and European perspectives. The Cambridge area was the site of several Māori pa (fortified settlements) with links to Māori kings. It was also tragically the scene of battles during the New Zealand Land Wars of the 19th Century. You can learn all about this at the museum.
9 Go for a Jetboat ride
Jet boating isn’t just a Queenstown thing guys. As it turns out, you can also explore the mighty Waikato River, which runs through Cambridge, by jet boat too. CamJet operate “extreme jet boat tours” from 15 minutes up to 45 minutes. The 45 minute option takes you all the way to the Karapiro Dam.
I like that with these tours you get the range of experience from spins in the wide-open sections of the river to speeding between the narrow sides of the Cambridge gorge. Their boats are much smaller than most jet boats (ie in Queenstown or overseas) and the minimum booking is two people so you might well end up with a private trip.
10 Drive the Cambridge art trail
The Cambridge Art Trail is different to walking street art trails, instead it’s focused on small galleries that showcase local artists and unfortunately you’ll need a car to get between them. If you’re looking for some art to kit out a house or just want to see some new and interesting works from emerging artists, then this is a great thing to do.
You can find a map of all the galleries here along with details of opening hours. It’s worth calling ahead to make sure all galleries will be open when you visit.
11 Kayak Karapiro
Out at Karapiro Lake you’ll see all water sports in action from kayaking to rowing and water skis. You can get involved with a kayak tour running from Cambridge or by hiring a paddle board at the lake. Make sure to ask about where to find the hidden waterfalls.
This is a particularly good option in summer as it can get fairly hot in Cambridge. Most of the Waikato is a basin so heat tends to settle. Just make sure to book well in advance as these activities are popular with school groups and families.
12 Do a Farm tour
Cambridge is in the heart of the Waikato dairy farming region and is a hub for the farming community, which is obvious when you pass all the farm supply stores on the way into town. If you’ve never been on a farm before then Cambridge is a great place to have that experience. There are a couple of farms close to Cambridge that offer tours where you’ll be shown around the milking shed and learn about the workings of the farm. These are working farms, not high traffic tourism businesses so it’s best to enquire and book through the Cambridge i-SITE.
13 Relax on a River cruise
It’s not exaggerating to say that the river is the heart of the Waikato region. Growing up around here so much of what you do is based around the river, even just how we navigate. So, it makes sense that when you’re visiting a river town you should take the chance to get out on the river. You can do an ecological river tour with CamJet where you’ll see waterfalls, fish and all sorts of birdlife. This is the more relaxing alternative to the jetboat!
The river itself is mostly brown, but the lush bush overing the riverbanks the whole way along makes up for it. In the Cambridge sections you’ll feel very remote.
14 Walk the Sporting Walk of Fame
Cambridge is the home of high-performance sports in NZ, at one point all of our gold medallists from Athens lived in Cambridge. You can find out about new Zealand’s sporting heroes on the Duke Street Walk of Fame. This street is lined with bronze plaques depicting top performers in sports from rowing to equestrian.
There is also a mural on Victoria Street (next to the blue ANZ bank) which depicts all the Melbourne Cup wining horses that were bred near Cambridge.
15 Go shopping in the boutiques
I nearly spent my entire NZ trip budget in Cambridge, they have such good clothes stores! Again, most of the best stores are on or around Victoria Street. There is everything form ultra-cute baby clothes to on trend streetwear. Many of the stores stock primarily New Zealand designers as well which means your clothes are going to be locally and sustainably made, perfect as a not-corny souvenir of your Cambridge trip. I loved Leven and Rumor.
Where to eat in Cambridge
- For breakfast and lunch – Paddock Café on Victoria Street. This corner cafe has sunny outdoor seating and sells the best coffee plus heaps of yummy cabinet food.
- For dinner – Good Neighbour. Good Neighbour is part of the Hamilton-based Good George group of restaurants. Their focus is their craft beer and gin but the food is really good too.
Find places to stay in Cambridge.
Cambridge has so many options for things to do, you can easily fill a day, weekend or even most of a week here. It’s a pretty outdoorsy place, so try and time your visit for good weather days to make the most of it and make sure to bring layers in winter – it gets frosty in the mornings in the Waikato.