Artisans and architecture in Hamilton
New Zealand's fourth largest city is understated yet thriving
"Kia ora!" Having taken several flights throughout our trip to this island country, we grew accustomed to the warm greetings of the Air New Zealand flight attendants each time we arrived at a new destination.
After a flight of just over an hour from the capital Wellington, we landed at Rotorua Regional Airport.
Our extremely dedicated and efficient hosts from Tourism New Zealand collected the keys to our rental cars, and we were all looking forward to the road trip on North Island.
A driving holiday is certainly an excellent way to see a beautiful country such as New Zealand, and we were pumped.
After about an hour and a half on the road, we arrived at Hamilton, the metropolitan hub at the centre of the Waikato region.
Hamilton, New Zealand's fourth largest city, sits on the banks of the Waikato River - the pulse of jet-boaters, rowers and kayakers. Its location also means being surrounded by nature and agriculture.
The rich agricultural land contributes to Hamilton's reputation as a centre of gourmet and award-winning artisans.
Locally-owned Dough Bros was the perfect end to the first leg of our road trip. Do not be fooled by the minimalist decor - the food was far from simple.
As each dish was served, our eyes widened in disbelief at how good they look and grew wider still as we took that first bite.
The food was divine. The satisfaction still lingers in my mind and I would happily return to Hamilton just for that experience again. If you are looking for a casual dining experience with delectable food choices, take note of this eatery.
Early the next morning, we were taken to an old, quaint church building in Somerset Street. It was hard to guess what this establishment is just by looking at its facade.
As we stepped into the building, we were pleasantly surprised to see a relaxed, open and cosy restaurant setting.
The wonderment grew as we went further in. Men in oversized overalls and huge black rubber boots were scurrying around several gigantic aluminium tanks that were so tall they were certainly beyond the reach of the hobbit me.
This 1960s church has been converted to not only a restaurant but also a fully-functioning brewery. How cool is that?
Good George Brewing has a full kitchen that serves amazing food and desserts. Guests can even book a tour of the brewery, which includes beer and cider tasting, with a shared platter to savour afterwards.
The combination of the quaint and the new, the unique architecture and the delectable menu makes this place a cool venue for special functions too.
After all the eating, it was time we did some walking. We headed for the jewel of this understated yet thriving city, Hamilton Gardens.
Home to a series of gardens featuring different parts of the world, Hamilton Gardens transport you to the country it features in an instance.
This award-winning attraction is a must-do and perfect for flora and fauna lovers, with carefully designed greenery and brightly-coloured flower beds.
My favourite was the Italian Renaissance Garden. With features dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries, it impressively built elements of classical myths into its luxurious setting.
An example would be the water fountain in the centre of the garden. It is symbolic of the progression of water, as it travels from the bubbly grotto to a waterfall and then to a sophisticated fountain.
In February each year, the garden is abuzz with entertainment as it celebrates the iconic open-air Hamilton Gardens Art Festival.
Hamilton's thriving art scene highlights the creative diversity of the city.
There is also plenty for families to do, from a visit to the zoo to a ride in hot air balloons. Nature walks and scenic river cruises are abundant too.
Plus, New Zealand's only tea-plantation, Zealong Tea Estate, is a mere 10 minutes away from the city.
So, it is not having nothing to do in this cosy, understated city that you should worry about - it is more of not having enough time to do it all.
Hamilton is 1½ hour drive from Auckland. For more information on the tours and trip ideas, go to www.newzealand.com/sg