Hamilton is the seat and most populous city of the Waikato Region, in the North Island of New Zealand.
The city encompasses a land area of about 98 km2 (38 sq mi) on the banks of the Waikato River, and is home to 150,200 people, making it New Zealand’s fourth most-populous city. Hamilton City is part of the wider Hamilton Urban Area, which also encompasses the nearby towns of Ngaruawahia, Te Awamutu and Cambridge.
Initially an agricultural service centre, Hamilton now has a growing and diverse economy and is the third fastest growing urban area in New Zealand (behind Pukekohe and Auckland). Education and research and development play an important part in Hamilton’s economy, as the city is home to approximately 40,000 tertiary students and 1,000 PhD-qualified scientists.
Hamilton Central, on the Waikato River, is a bustling retail precinct. The entertainment area is quite vibrant due to the large student population. The 2008 Lonely Planet guide states that “the city’s main street has sprouted a sophisticated and vibrant stretch of bars and eateries that on the weekend at least leave Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour for dead in the boozy fun stakes.” Many of the city’s venues and attractions are located on the old Town Belt, including Hamilton Gardens, Waikato Stadium, Seddon Park, Founders Theatre and the Hamilton Lake Domain.
As of 2014, the city continues to grow rapidly. Development is focused on the northern end of the city although in 2012 the council made a decision to balance the city’s growth by approving an urban development to the south. Traffic congestion is increasing due to population growth, though the council has undertaken many road development projects to try to keep up with the rapid growth. State Highway 1 runs through the western and southern suburbs and has a major junction with State Highway 3 south of the city centre, which contributes to congestion. The Hamilton City Council is building a 2/4-lane arterial road, Wairere Drive, through the northern and eastern suburbs to form a 25 km suburban ring road with State Highway 1, which is due for completion in early 2015., while the New Zealand Transport Agency plans to complete the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway by 2019, easing congestion taking State Highway 1 out of the city and bypassing it to the east.
The rapid growth of Hamilton has brought with it the side effects of urban sprawl especially to the north east of the city in the Rototuna area. Further development is planned in the Rototuna and Peacocke suburbs. There has been significant development of lifestyle blocks adjacent to the Hamilton Urban Area, in particular Tamahere, and Matangi.
In 2004, Hamilton City Council honoured former resident Richard O’Brien with a life-size bronze statue of him as Riff Raff in his space suit, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The statue was designed by WETA Workshops, who had done the props for The Lord of the Rings films. It stands on the former site of the Embassy Cinema, where Richard watched science fiction-double features.
Several Maori Pa have been part restored at Pukete, Hikuwai and Miropiko along the banks of the Waikato River.
The city is host to a large number of small galleries and the Waikato Museum. The latter includes Te Winika, one of the best-preserved waka (Māori war canoe) from the pre-colonisation era.
Hamilton is host to several large scale music festivals including the Soundscape music festival, which is one of New Zealand’s largest street parties, and the Parachute music festival. The city also hosts the Opus Chamber Orchestra which draws musicians from around the Waikato Region and is the home of the New Zealand Chamber Soloists. An ongoing classical concert series featuring world class musicians is held throughout the year at the Gallagher Concert Chamber, organised by the University of Waikato, Conservatorium of Music.