Hamilton is New Zealand's 4th largest metropolitan area. It is situated in the Waikato district about one and a half hours drive south of Auckland. The local iwi (Maori tribe) is Tainui.
The area now covered by the city was originally the site of a handful of Maori villages, including Kirikiriroa, from which the city takes its Maori name. By the time English settlers arrived, most of these villages, which sat beside the Waikato River, were abandoned. The new English settlement was renamed Hamilton after Captain Fane Charles Hamilton, the popular commander of HMS Esk, who was killed in the battle of Gate Pa, Tauranga. It is now popularly referred to as "Hamiltron, City of the Future," in an ironic stab at the city's reputation as being a "cow town". The city is located near the southernmost navigable reach of the Waikato River, amidst New Zealand's richest and most fertile agricultural land. Initially an agricultural service centre, it now has a growing and diverse economy.
Education and research are important to the city, through the University of Waikato and through the agricultural research centre at Ruakura, which has been responsible for much of New Zealand's innovation in agriculture. Hamilton annually hosts the National Agricultural Fieldays at Mystery Creek, the southern hemisphere's largest agricultural trade exhibition. Manufacturing and retail are also important to the local economy, as is the provision of health services through the Waikato Base Hospital.
Hamilton is a rapidly growing small city of over 120,000 people, including 25,000 students, mostly enrolled in one of the city's two tertiary institutes, The University of Waikato and Waikato Institute of Technology. It is centrally located within the North Island, with around 1.5 million people - 40 percent of New Zealand's total population - living within a 250 kilometre radius. The city lies at a major rail and road nexus. Its airport has now been upgraded to service international flights, although these are still largely restricted to trans-Tasman and Polynesian destinations.
Because of its rapid growth, some consider its more recent suburbs lacking in character; however the centre of the city is vibrant and lively, with the Waikato river bisecting the city. As of2004, the city is a vibrant place enjoying the benefits of rapid growth and not yet suffering from the negative consequences, barring occasional traffic difficulties caused by narrow streets in some of the newer subdivisions.
Hamilton Gardens is the region's most popular tourist attraction and hosts the Hamilton Gardens Summer Festival each year. Other local attractions include Hamilton Zoo, the Waikato Museum of Art and Culture, the Art Post art gallery, and Sky Riverside casino.
The local rugby union teams are Waikato (NPC) and the Chiefs (Super 12). The local colours are yellow, red and black hoops, and the provincial mascot is Mooloo, an anthropomorphic cow.