Springtime for Hamilton Gardens


There’s always something going on at the Hamilton Gardens. The weekend before last there was a model railway exhibition. I wouldn’t have gone to it myself, but my parents were visiting and my dad’s obsessed with trains. His own model railway takes up nearly half a double garage, and he’s started another one in a shed. (Mum wasn’t keen on him building one around the top of their lounge.)

Model Railway

Some of the layouts were quite interesting. I especially enjoyed seeing the ones set in Germany and Austria. They reminded me of my real train journey through Europe. My dad’s layout is based on our hometown in England. Mostly. He’s added a few quirky touches, such as a 1960s police box (or TARDIS) and zombies emerging from a graveyard. It’s really good, actually. The Victorian terraced houses make me nostalgic.

I didn’t find the model railway exhibition nearly as interesting as the gardens themselves, though. I know I go to the gardens a lot, but seeing them in the springtime is something special. I couldn’t resist taking these photos of the Italian Renaissance Garden

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

When my dad finally emerged from the exhibition, he wanted to do some geocaching. It’s another obsession of his, albeit a recent one. There were a few hidden caches around the gardens. In one there was a trackable coin that had been all over the world. I followed him with my mum and partner, catching Pokémon on my phone as I went. I wonder if we’ll ever walk around the gardens normally again!

Cute Animals and Hay Fever


“That’s how we know it’s spring,” Tim said as I tried not to sneeze on a duckling. “Cute animals and hay fever.”

I backed away, drawing out one of my carefully rationed tissues. Pollen filled the air like fairy dust, glistening as it swirled around the trees at the Taitua Arboretum. To be fair it wasn’t just hay fever – I was (and still am) fighting off a bad cold.

We were at the arboretum because my parents were visiting. We’d been before, but until now we’d never seen it bathed in sunlight. It was a little bit magical.


Fluffy, yellow chicks flurried about in the undergrowth. (We couldn’t believe how many chickens there were, actually!) Fantails flitted coquettishly along the branches. Tui serenaded us from above, ducklings begged us for food, and geese drifted towards us. (Tim has a history with geese; perhaps they sensed this as they drifted away again quite quickly.)


I felt like a mucus-laden Disney princess. We even found fairy doors on a couple of tree trunks.


The most magical sight, however, was this.


The photograph doesn’t really capture it, of course: the golden beams of sunlight filtering through the branches; the branches bowing to kiss the surface of the pond; floating leaves forming an illuminated path to the far bank, upon which sits a bench in a sheltered clearing… All rather inviting.


The Taitua Arboretum is a lovely, peaceful place to go for a walk that I imagine would be great for kids. I look forward to visiting it next season. Hopefully I’ll be able to breathe properly then!

The Cult of New Zealand Infallible – healthy patriotism or sinister brainwashing?

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Here’s a story from when I first moved to New Zealand. I’m interested to know what people think about it. Am I making something out of nothing, or is it representative of an underlying issue in Kiwi culture?

First of all, let me say that I love New Zealand. I love living here; I want to grow old here. I genuinely believe that it’s one of the best countries in the world in which to live.

Last week, I had an article published on the New Zealand news site Stuff:

‘Bring a Plate’: Settling into life in New Zealand

In it, I share some of the experiences I had moving to New Zealand at the age of ten, in (what I hope comes across as) a light-heartedly humorous manner. I also state that fifteen years on, as I never lost my English accent, I’m still seen as an outsider…

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The Auckland Botanic Gardens

Auckland Botanic Gardens

Sunday morning. Grey rain stippled the windows. So much for meeting Tim’s family at the Auckland Botanic Gardens.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

We tried to think of somewhere else we could go in South Auckland. Somewhere undercover that wasn’t a shopping centre. Easier said than done. We came up with Butterfly Creek and Spookers – can you think of any more?

Auckland Botanic Gardens

We ended up walking around the gardens anyway. It was great. The rain slowed to a drizzle before stopping entirely. We even got some sunshine. That’s the thing about New Zealand weather: the whole ‘four seasons in one day’ thing can work in your favour!

Auckland Botanic Gardens

The Auckland Botanic Gardens are very different to the Hamilton Gardens. They’ve got more room for starters. I definitely prefer the Hamilton Gardens, because each garden is like its own little world, but the Auckland Botanic Gardens have many cool elements to recommend them.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

I liked the edible garden, especially as the café made use of the produce from it. (The café’s food was actually really nice.) I also liked the African garden. The simple conical sculptures – evocative of termite mounds – looked awesome. My favourite garden was possibly the Potter Children’s Garden.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

There’s a Potter Children’s Garden in Hamilton too – at Parana Park, but the one in Auckland is quite distinct. It didn’t have as many ‘playground’ elements, but was more educational. It had a jungle section and a Maori section, for example, as well as an interactive sundial.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

The gardens are very wheelchair friendly, which was good for us with Tim’s grandma. You can borrow mobility scooters from the Visitor Centre for free. The whole place is free to enter too. It’s only about twenty minutes from the airport, so keep it in mind if you’re ever touring New Zealand.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

In case you couldn’t tell, I like visiting gardens. Maybe because I’m English. I wrote an article on NZ Top List called 10 Quite Nice Gardens to Visit in New Zealand. (Because, being English, I also tend towards understatement.) You could also check out my articles about Tupare and Te Puna Quarry Park. Just sayin’.

European Stereotypes – Confirmed or Busted?

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Are Germans sausage-obsessed sticklers for efficiency? Are the French rude cheese-eaters? Are the English a nation of reserved, tea-drinking, perpetually damp people? Join a New Zealander and a British-immigrant-to-New Zealand’s voyage of discovery…

(Well, actually, it was a train ride of discovery. Many train rides. Through Europe. It was awesome.)

European Stereotype #1:

It’s always raining in England – BUSTED!

I Rule BritanniaWe were in England for three weeks and it only rained twice!

The rest of time it was glorious – so glorious that the New Zealander complained it was too hot. He’s been telling everyone ever since that England is warmer and sunnier than New Zealand, so there you go.

Ruuule Britannia… Britannia rule the waves…

European Stereotype #2:

Germans are a little too into sausages –CONFIRMED!

It was inevitable that I’d eat at least one sausage in Germany, as I’d already promised to try currywurst*, but…

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Saying Goodbye


It was like the classroom was under water.

Or I was trapped in a tank at the edge of it.

The din of the thirty or so ten year olds had become distorted, dancing around my head. My vision blurred.

I felt numb.

It was the last day before the summer holiday. Everyone else was excited; they didn’t care that I was leaving forever.

Nothing seemed real. The world was dissolving before my eyes.

My life was over.


I didn’t immediately register the voice of my headmistress. I had temporarily forgotten the name ‘Abigail’ belonged to me.

“Are you all right?”

How could I ever be all right again? Everything was being taken away from me: my friends, my grandparents, my sense of security… In a few short days, I would be ripped from my home and cast into a strange land that might as well be on another planet!

I looked up at my headmistress, but I didn’t articulate any of that. I couldn’t.

“I just wanted to wish you luck,” she said. “New Zealand won’t know what hit it!”

MirandaThat memory, sitting on the cupboard at the edge of Mr Lilley’s classroom, will be with me until I die. It was the moment it all came crashing down upon me: I was moving to New Zealand.

I suddenly realised what I had to lose. Of course, I’d known theoretically and had already gotten very upset about it on multiple occasions, but I’d never really felt the full impact of it until now.

castleWhen people ask me what I miss most about England, I always say, “Being able to visit a ruined castle every weekend.” As I was sitting on the cupboard at the edge of the classroom, though, the thought of leaving behind so many castles never even crossed my mind. It was the thought of leaving behind my friends and grandparents that broke through my numbness and caused my heart to start carving away at the inside of my chest.

That must surely be the worst part for any immigrant – leaving loved ones behind.

Flights to and from New Zealand are so expensive. It’s simply horrible to think that the thing that prevented me from seeing my grandma more before she died of Alzheimer’s was money. In the twelve years between me moving to New Zealand and her death, I saw her three times. When I lived in England, I saw her practically every day.

She was terrified of flying. We eventually persuaded her to visit us, with my dad’s brother accompanying her. Before she visited New Zealand, the furthest away she’d been from England was Jersey. (A small island between England and France.) I still remember her sitting on a blazing Mount Maunganui beach in her cardigan.

Pilot BayShe visited us once more after that. Then, when I was seventeen, I visited her in England. She hadn’t started to get Alzheimer’s then. She told me things about her life she’d never told me before. I suppose I’d been too young. She told me things that made her blush. We mostly just went for walks into town and stuffed ourselves with all the food I’d loved as a child.

That was the last time I saw her.

It was three or four years later that the Alzheimer’s came. My dad’s brother was left to bear the brunt of it. She ended up thinking he wasn’t her son – he was just someone who looked exactly like her son and was pretending to be him for evil gains. He had to put her in a home eventually. Some of the stories of what she got up to there are quite amusing, despite it all.

Then she was dying. My dad didn’t want me to call her; didn’t want me to remember her like that. But I was adamant. I called my uncle and he handed the phone to Gran.

And she knew me.

I mean she thought I was the little kid version of myself, but she knew me!

I got to say goodbye.


Corsets, Clockwork and a Cicada


Steampunk Market in Kihikihi, you say? I’m there!

Kihikihi is a small town half an hour south of Hamilton. I’d never been there before, but I’m very glad I went. The Steampunk Market took place in the old Town Hall, but there were other historic buildings to explore as well. These included one of the loveliest wooden churches I’ve seen in New Zealand!


The name Kihikihi means ‘cicada’ – it’s onomatopoeic, you see. There’s a sculpture of a cicada outside the church, observing every car driving in and out of the town. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy walking around the town quite as much as I did.


The market wasn’t very large, but there were lots of people there and lots of pretty costumes! Of course, there were corsets for sale. And an abundance of jewellery made out of watch cogs. And top hats and goggles and old bits of junk that looked vaguely cool. That’s what steampunk’s all about!


Further along the street from the Town Hall, there was a colonial jail and house, which were open for viewing. It was a beautiful day. The white, wooden exteriors gleamed in the sunlight. On the veranda of the house, as there so often is, was an old woman spinning wool.


Naturally I dressed up.


I seriously can’t wait until we do another South Island campervan trip, because I want to visit the steampunk capital of New Zealand, Oamaru. Oamaru has a really cool Victorian Precinct selling books, antiques, jewellery and art. In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for historic villages closer to home, such as Howick.


With its heritage trail and collection of second-hand shops, including a 1920s shop was unfortunately closed when we were there, Kihikihi might just be worth visiting – on your way down to Waitomo, perhaps?