Neat in the Neighbourhood: Hamilton East
Hamilton East is a suburb brimming with a unique charm that effortlessly blends the old with the new. With its tree-lined streets and a palpable sense of community, this historic quarter offers a more laid-back vibe than the city centre while still pulsing with vibrant, youthful energy.
Words by: Nicola Amy Hinman
Photos by: Anna Briggs
For a city that prides itself on sport and agriculture, Hamilton East is injecting a much-welcomed dose of creative flair to the Waikato region.
Locally owned and operated ice cream and fried chicken joints lie opposite vintage shops, and down a converted alleyway you’ll find anything from yoga to modern-day grocers. A young and enthusiastic atmosphere makes this suburb a bubbly addition to the centre of town located just over the bridge.
Ham East (as it's known by Hamiltonians) has its own distinct rhythm, an eclectic mix of locals, students and visitors. As you wander the streets, be struck by the eclectic mix of architecture – from quaint, well-preserved villas to modern developments that speak of the suburb's growth and adaptability. This architectural mosaic adds to the suburb's picturesque scenery and hints at its rich history.
Every day here feels like a weekend. Hamilton East is a suburb that invites you to take it slow, savour the moments, and enjoy life's simple pleasures. As you get to know this eclectic suburb, you'll discover why Hamilton East is not just a place to visit but a place to love.
Known affectionately as ‘Irishtown’ in the mid 20th Century due to the high number of Irish inhabitants, Hamilton East now welcomes visitors from all around the globe, and most notably to the stunning Hamilton Gardens that sees about 1.3 million people through its gates every year.
Iconic Hamilton East Experiences
Home to the beloved Hamilton Gardens, Hamilton East steals the show when it comes to quintessential Hamilton experiences. It's worth making a day of it, or at least an entire afternoon; take a picnic and take your time - the gardens are a true spectacle. Among the most popular are the Paradise Gardens - a collection of five distinctive international gardens that transport you momentarily to different places around the world.
Wandering around the suburb for a dose of street art spotting is always a fun idea. In recent years, Boon Arts' commissioned murals have added a splash of colour to Hamilton East's suburban landscape. You'll notice dramatic hero walls created by local and international street artists, but keep an eye out for some hidden gems in alleys and laneways, too.
Last but certainly not least, the mighty Waikato River runs along the edge of this much-loved eclectic suburb. Head down Clyde or Cook Streets to join the walking trail along the river to Hayes Paddock - a lovely park on the river's edge with a playground and a perfect family-friendly swimming spot. On a hot day, it's best enjoyed with a scoop (or three) of Duck Island ice cream.
The Best Lunch and Brunch Spots
Hamilton East is so much more than just a pretty face. The suburb is an absolute haven for foodies, offering its brand of iconic dining experiences. Whether you're searching for a hearty lunch, a quick bite, or a sophisticated dinner spot, there's something for every palate and every wallet. But the arena where Ham East shines is its solid collection of neighbourhood brunch spots.
Among these, none shines quite as brightly as Hayes Common. Set in a cosy, inviting space with a touch of rustic charm, it's the kind of place where you immediately feel at ease. With its excellent food and coffee, relaxed neighbourhood atmosphere, and friendly service, it's easy to see why this spot is a local favourite.
Grey St Kitchen is another community hotspot with a small but mighty brunch menu and fresh coffee roasted on-site. House-made treats from the cabinet, as are their imaginative smoothie options, are seriously a go here. Space Cadet is also well known for its impressive cabinet of house-made baked goods and its fun, eclectic decor. The quirky neighbourhood café is a staple of Lovegrove Lane (a collection of small owner-operators' businesses just off Grey St). It feels like a retro holiday - an epic spot to start your day.
Ethical Shopping and Artisan Pantry Staples
In Hamilton East, ethical shopping is not just a trend but a way of life. Tucked inside the lively Made precinct, FOUND is a treasure trove for conscious shoppers with its vibrant collection of pre-loved goods interspersed with pieces from New Zealand and Australian designers. Just a short walk away on Grey St, Recycle Boutique turns thrifting into a fashion statement, offering a curated selection of second hand designer clothing that makes style affordable and eco-friendly.
Framing House down Lovegrove Lane is another precious spot. While best known for their conservation framing service, they also stock a delightful collection of New Zealand-made homewares - primarily ceramics and textiles. If handmade ceramics and lifestyle homewares are a drawcard for you, then make sure you also head to The Larder at Made Market. A diverse collective of local artisans and small producers, The Larder is a haven for ethical shopping.
Home to a refillery, a family-owned butchery, and an award-winning bakery - Made Market is the goods for artisan pantry staples. For some seriously well-made bread (and a cheeky sausage roll for the road), grab yourself some fresh sourdough from Volare. Then head to The Larder, where you'll find local honey, plant-based treats, doggy goodies, condiments and cookies. You can even stop by the Made Mess Hall and pick up a few bottles of local craft beer from Hāpi to take home with you.
Treat Yourself in Hamilton East
Hamilton East has some neat spots when needing a wee pick-me-up or a celebratory sweet treat. There's nothing quite like some fresh flowers to brighten your day, and no doubt a visit to The Flower Crate will do just that. A sanctuary of ethical treasures and all things green, this earthy spot on Lovegrove Lane infuses you with a good dose of calm as you choose your blooms. You may just be tempted to take a new little green-potted friend home with you, too.
For your 3 pm sugar fix, stop by Made Market for handmade donuts, Turkish baklava, or a few scoops from the adorable Little 'Lato. And if Volare has yet to sell out of their delicious flaky pastries, grab them while you can!
Once the sugar high wears off, you may need a little zen, so head back to Lovegrove Lane and partake in a rejuvenating Yin yoga class or meditation session at Sun Salute while you unwind. The calming, cosy space is a pleasure for your senses - you'll indeed walk away feeling revived.
Of course, we'd be remiss not to mention Duck Island - the OG of treat yo'self spots in Ham East. Like a Willy Wonka experience for your tastebuds, this Grey Street gem is chock full of imaginative ice cream flavours and an aesthetically pleasing space to boot. Let your inner child go wild and indulge in all the fun ones like Fairy Bread, Toasted Marshmallow, or Peanut Butter Cookie Dough.
Where to Wine and Dine
For the crème de la crème of dining experiences in Hamilton Kirikiriroa, a night at The Green is an absolute must. But be sure to plan ahead because this intimate Chef's Table-style restaurant is usually booked out months in advance. You and seven other lucky guests will enjoy a dinner party-style six-course degustation centred around the Chef's Table, complete with personalised recommendations from the resident sommelier.
When a splash of vibrant colour and a good serving of authentic, tasty Vietnamese fare is more what you're in the mood for, then Rice Rice Baby is your destination. Think fab cocktails, street food vibes, and a menu filled to the brim with the chefs' treasured family recipes passed through many generations. With the pulsing beats and plastic seats, it's almost like eating on a street corner in Ho Chi Minh, sans the crazy traffic.
If you've yet to decide what you feel like for dinner tonight and all you know is there's no way you're down for cooking, it's time to pay a visit to the Made Mess Hall. Decked out with every kind of cuisine under the sun, it's like an international food hall, only with way more class, not to mention a wine bar and craft beers to boot.
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