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Hampden is situated beside a broad bay stretching from Aorere Point to Moeraki Point, on a coastal plain which rises westward to the foothills of the Horse Range and the Kakanui Mountains. The soil of this surrounding plain overlies a limestone formation. The Moeraki Boulders are located two kilometres south of Hampden.

Named in honour of the English politician John Hampden, the streets of Hampden run in a rectangular grid pattern centred on the main highway and the railway. They are named after English locations, hence Lancaster, Shrewsbury, Worcester, and Norfolk. There is surfing on the long beach of the Katiki straight, as well as trout-fishing in the Waianakarua and Shag rivers.

The town includes a rural fire station, a fish-and-chip shop, a supermarket, a motel, and backpackers, a popular camping ground, a café, the Hampden Lodge and mechanics workshop, a second-hand goods shop, a tavern, and a historic town hall which houses a library. Sheep farming is the primary economic activity of the region and is augmented by farming of other livestock.

The Hampden Energy Forum, established in 2007, has grown into a community self-help scheme that involves nearly everyone in the settlement, growing from a small group of enthusiasts who were concerned about the future of small rural communities in “post-oil”
days. The township has continued to be “energy wise” and the community has raised funds to install a charging point for e-vehicles.