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New Zealand: Destination Guides

The ultimate student guide to Hamilton

Hamilton is an underrated city that offers great university study options along with the feel of a big city while having the safety and welcoming atmosphere of a small one.

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Hamilton is the fourth biggest city in New Zealand and the largest inland city in the country. This unique city sits at the heart of North Island and offers its residents unparalleled access to everything the region has to offer.


This hidden gem of a city is often be overlooked due to its neighbour Auckland, just a couple of hours away. It’s a fantastic city for international students, however, and you’ll quickly find that this under-appreciated community offers everything you could want at great value. Not only that, but its compact size also means that you’ll never be far from class, Hamilton’s famous gardens, or a bus out to world-famous surf spots.


Outstanding restaurants, a small but active bar and nightlife scene, and a direct train to the centre of Auckland make this a vibrant city for students. You can join thousands of other overseas students in enjoying the city in-between your studies, along with exhilarating outdoor adventures and tours on the weekends or holidays.


Hamilton is home to the prestigious Waikato University, which is in the top one per cent of institutions globally, as well as other institutions that between them provide a broad range of outstanding study options.


Find out how to apply to study in New Zealand


What is Hamilton like?


Location and demographics

Hamilton is an inland city on New Zealand’s North Island with a population of just under 180,000 people. It’s the seat of the Waikato region and is the fourth biggest city in the country. The city is on relatively flat terrain and is known for its rolling landscape, with various low hills, lakes, and rivers.


Hamilton is particularly notable for the diversity of its population compared to the New Zealand average. Just under 70 per cent of the population identify as of European heritage, with more than 20 per cent of the city’s residents being of Māori heritage. The city’s diversity continues to increase with new residents and students from across the world.


Culture and history 

The area in which Hamilton now stands has been inhabited by Māori people for hundreds of years. European settlers established a military outpost on the site of a deserted village in 1864, named after Captain John Hamilton. It grew across the years due to successful farming and timber industries, as well as various industrial activities in the 20th century, and has grown into the most significant inland city in the country. Today, it is a hub for travel, logistics and industry, amongst other things.


Discover more about the university culture in New Zealand


Which universities are in Hamilton?


Hamilton is home to several notable universities and higher education colleges that provide a wide range of courses to choose from, whatever your subject. The city is popular with international students and attracts thousands yearly from all over the world. 


The University of Waikato is ranked 331st in the world according to QS World University Rankings 2023, placing it in the top one per cent of institutions worldwide. It offers dozens of courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels across several subjects, of which ten courses are in the top 200 of their kind globally. With strong industrial and governmental partnerships, excellent facilities, and a reputation for research, this is a great choice for studying in Hamilton.


The Waikato Institute of Technology is a technical college based in Hamilton, offering a broad range of vocational and professional courses to students around the world. It’s a fast-growing institution that maintains three campus sites across the city. Combined with excellent facilities and training equipment, it’s a great choice for career-focused education.


Discover more universities in New Zealand


What does Hamilton offer students?


What transport is available?

Hamilton is a relatively compact city that offers many ways to get around. You can make good use of the city’s bus network, which has over 1,000 different stops across the city, in addition to regional services to help you explore further afield. Night buses are available, and there's a direct train to Auckland. The city is also well-suited for walking and cycling.


What about entertainment and food?

Hamilton is the fourth biggest city in the country and has a food scene to match. This cosmopolitan community loves to dine on everything from modern Kiwi cuisine to al-fresco dining, as well as world food that reflects its diverse population. There’s always something going on if you’re looking for entertainment in Hamilton, with cinemas, theatres, gig venues and several stadiums offering a wide range of sports events.


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Is there accommodation?

As a student in Hamilton, you’ll have a variety of choices when it comes to accommodation. Depending on your budget and lifestyle, you might want to live in student halls on one of Waikato’s several campuses or find a sociable private student hall, combining your rent and bills into one easy package. You can also find private rentals across the city, and your institution can help you find the perfect accommodation


What about public services for students? 

The New Zealand Government runs the International Student Wellbeing Strategy, which supports several services and projects designed to help overseas learners settle in and thrive during their time there. Post-study work permit visas are also available to students who complete an eligible qualification in the country.


How much does it cost to live in Hamilton?


The general cost of the city

By choosing Hamilton as your student city in New Zealand, you can enjoy the best of everything that North Island offers while getting the most out of your student budget. Despite being just a couple of hours from Auckland by train or car, the city is significantly cheaper for large costs like rent. Cities like Christchurch or Wellington may be slightly cheaper for some things, but in Hamilton, you also have easy access to Auckland, the country’s largest metropolis.


Are you looking for a scholarship? Discover the top scholarships in New Zealand


Student budget

As a single international student living in Hamilton, you might expect to spend somewhere between NZD 300 and NZD 650 per week. This includes rent, utilities, food, transportation, and other living costs. Your budget will vary depending on your living arrangements, lifestyle, activities, and where in Hamilton you live.


Read more about how much it costs to study in New Zealand.


Financial requirements

The New Zealand Government asks that international students demonstrate that they have at least NZD 15,000 accessible for the first year of their studies, or NZD 1,250 per month of their studies if the course is 36 months or less. An equivalent value scholarship, sponsorship or financial guarantee from a family member is also accepted. You’ll also need to purchase mandatory health insurance, costing NZD 200 to NZD 700 a year.


Learn more about tuition fees in New Zealand


What are the main attractions in Hamilton?


Hamilton is surrounded by the spectacular landscapes, natural wonders, and unique culture of New Zealand. You’ll never run out of things to do or see if you choose the city as your base. Despite being an inland city, the coast is never far, and the world-famous surf spot Raglan is just a short journey away. This black sand beach draws surfers from all around the world and is a great place to learn or take your skill to the next level.


Not far from Hamilton, the Waitomo Caves offer a truly exceptional underground adventure experience, where you can travel by boat through a network of caves illuminated by thousands of glow worms across the arching limestone ceilings.


It’s no secret that New Zealand is famous for being the set of Lord of the Rings, and Hamilton is home to one of the top filming locations that fans flock to from across the globe. You can visit the famous set and experience this magical world while sampling its cuisine!


The city is also home to stunning gardens, a quality zoo with over 600 species, and is the starting point for all sorts of outdoor adventures, including hot air balloon rides, kayaking tours, and cycling trails.


You might be tempted to skip over Hamilton when searching for your student home in New Zealand, but this city offers an affordable, laid-back lifestyle among some of New Zealand’s best natural treasures. You can find your perfect academic path in New Zealand using our course matcher tool