Waikato University can trace its history back to 1956, when a small number of Hamiltonian locals decided they wanted their own higher education institution.
The town of Hamilton was, at the time, known mainly for farming, but a long campaign resulted in the formal opening of the institution in 1964. In 1989, the university played a key role in connecting New Zealand to the internet before going on to become the first university in the country to have "cyber-graduates", completing their teaching degrees online. In 1998, Waikato formed an alliance with the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic designed to facilitate teaching in the Western Bay of Plenty.
The university's Hamilton campus covers about 65 hectares, which includes landscaped gardens and lakes, and many sporting and recreational areas. It was designed by the architect John Blake-Kelly in 1964.