The Waikato has a number of interesting wetlands, ancient forests set on dormant volcanoes and coastal areas harbouring large populations of migratory bird.
There are two sites in the area that are protected under the Ramsar International Convention on wetlands, out of a total of six in New Zealand: the Whangamarino swamp north of Hamilton and the Kopuatai Peat Dome on the Hauraki Plains.
Whangamarino is the second largest swamp complex in New Zealand and is crucial for the protection of wetland life. It is one of the few remaining native habitats for threatened species such as the longfin eel and the Australasian bittern. The swamp is home to rare plants including water milfoil, swamp helmet orchid and club moss.
The Kopuatai Peat Dome, comprising an area of more than 9000 Ha, is the largest unaltered peat bog in New Zealand. It provides a natural habitat for endangered species as the black mudfish, longfin eel and brown teal. It is also home for a variety of native plants including an ecologically important remnant of kahikatea forest. The dome plays a crucial role in retaining floodwater from Waitoa and Piako catchments.
Most of the native forest in Waikato can be found in old volcanoes, namely Mt Pirongia, Mt Karioi, Mt Te Aroha, Mt Kakepuku and Maungatautari. The latter, located near Cambridge, has been fenced for protection against pests.
Other places of interest within the region are the Hakarimata Ranges near Hamilton and a special bird feeding site on the shell banks of the Firth of Thames near Miranda.
Thousands of migratory birds of 74 species can be seen in the shell banks, including waders, cormorants, spoonbills, plovers, godwits and many more. The banks are an example of a Chenier plain, a rare landform made up of fossilised cockle shells, which several shorebirds use as a high tide roost.