Originally called Kirikiriroa when the first Maori inhabited the region, it was later renamed Hamilton after Captain Fane Charles Hamilton, the popular commander of HMS Esk, who was killed in the battle of Gate Pa, Tauranga. The city is located at the southernmost navigable reach of the Waikato River, amidst New Zealand's richest and most fertile agricultural land. Initially an agricultural service center, 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 center at Ruakura, which has been responsible for much of New Zealand's innovation in agriculture. Hamilton annually hosts the national 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. It is centrally located 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 main rail and road nexus. Its airport has now been upgraded to service international flights.
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 and some nice botanical gardens. A millennium committee is proposing a major riverside esplanade, incorporating a footbridge, walkways, cafe and entertainment spaces to take full advantage of the beautiful Waikato river. In 2003, the city is a vibrant place enjoying the benefits of rapid growth but not yet suffering from the negative consequences.