Hamilton student life
Basically, Hamilton is a sleepy town besides weekends when party is definetely on..! It can best be described as a student city as most of the activities going on is somehow related to Uni.
It's located about two hours south of Auckland, with easy access to most sights. One of NZ's best surfing beaches, Raglan, is located just an hour away, where you will also be able to watch the occational regge-concert. The Coromandels is another two hrs drive northeast, and is definately worth a visit (as long as you stay away from the cheesy round-trips offered by most travel agencies...). The best hike on the north island - the Tongariro Crossing - is located in the middle of North Island, 2,5 hrs southeast. It's not an option to miss out...if possible, visit during late fall or winter: more beautiful, less people and the rangers are friendlier (and might even let you in on some inside-information about the best places to visit...).
I studied at Waikato University in the spring of 2005 through an exchange program with my university in Bergen, Norway. The campus is located about 10 mins (by car) outside the city centre (which isn't actually much of a centre). The campus has good facilities with a large sports-ground, a decent gym, a large library and a variety of shops and cafés around. The dormitorys, however, are not much to talk about, especially not the fully-catered ones as the food tends to be deep-fried whatever, with the occational burger or pizza as weekend treats... You'll be better off seeking the self-catered option (although it lacks the socializing qualities as it is located outside of campus) or finding a flat with friendly people (lots of them around :)). Most overseas students tend to stay the first semester on campus, making friends before moving to a flat with his 'mateys' for the next semester. This is probably the best option if your staying for a whole year.
The courses offered changes from semester to semester, and I can't really recommend any of the ones I did. Frankly, there won't be much time for studying in between weekend travels, partying an socializing. However, it's not a bad idea to catch up on some NZ history (since you're there after all) and maybe try to learn some Maori since it's one of the countries official languages. Most overseas students take this courses, which makes the teachers more aware of the problems of combining travel and studies and therfore easier to get extensions...