Hamilton’s Italian Paradise

ItalianGardenHamilton3There’s only one reason to visit Hamilton: the Gardens. Follow the Waikato River south out of the city centre and there you are. I’ve written about the Hamilton Gardens before, but last weekend I went again and discovered an entrance I never knew existed. I thought I’d seen all there was to see, but it turns out the Gardens are even more wonderful than I already believed.

They’re so extensive, with so many different sections, and they’re growing all the time. The fact that they’re free is an amazing gift to the people of Hamilton. And tourists. When I went on Sunday evening, there were a lot of families wandering around. As well as countless peaceful nooks for picnics, the Gardens have plenty of open spaces for playing.

ItalianGardenHamilton6It’s difficult to say which garden is my favourite. Possibly the Italian Renaissance Garden in the Paradise Collection. That’s where all this article’s photos come from anyway. It’s a very romantic place to sit and write. Of course, I’ve been to the ultimate Italian Renaissance garden, the one belonging to the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, near Rome. But Hamilton’s is pretty good.

ItalianGardenHamilton5I’m rather excited after reading about the Hamilton Gardens’ possible future developments, especially for the proposed eighteenth century garden, which could include classical ruins and a hermit’s cave. I absolutely adore classical ruins, even if they are fake, and find the subject of eighteenth century garden hermits quite fascinating.

ItalianGardenHamilton1(It was a bizarre practice wherein some rich people decided they fancied real life garden ornaments, so employed poor – or extremely eccentric – people to play the parts of hermits. These hermits would dress in rags and live in artificial caves in people’s gardens for a set number of years, during which time they weren’t allowed to speak, or they wouldn’t get paid at the end.)

Watch this episode of Tony Robinson’s The Worst Jobs in History – the garden hermit bit starts at 11:11 – to find out more.

ItalianGardenHamilton2Other possible future gardens include a surrealist garden, which I hope will be like Alice’s Wonderland, and an early twentieth century garden modelled on the one described in Katherine Mansfield’s short story The Garden Party. (Katherine Mansfield is an important figure in New Zealand literature. She was born in Wellington and spent the first nineteen years of her life here.)

Italian FountainBut even if they weren’t to make any new gardens, Hamilton Gardens would be a place to go again and again. I know I gush about them, but I do love them. They’re amongst the best gardens in the entire world. And that’s not just me saying that – they won International Garden of the Year last year.

Go Hamilton!

Exploring Hamilton’s Parks

New Zealand Citizenship vs. Permanent Residency

new-zealand-654980_640I’ve lived in New Zealand for over half my life, but I’m not a New Zealand citizen. I’m only a permanent resident.

People are often surprised at this. Why haven’t I gone for citizenship, they ask?

Because I’ve never had to. New Zealand permanent residents have pretty much the same rights as citizens. We can vote, we can come and go as we please, and we have access to free healthcare, education and, should we need it, the benefit.

That, and going for citizenship would be extra hassle and cost a lot. My parents never applied when my sister and I were children because it would have cost thousands to do the whole family at once.

I’ll apply one day, when I can afford it. When I do, I’ll go for dual citizenship. I definitely don’t want to give up my British passport – it gives me the option of living and working anywhere in the EU indefinitely! A New Zealand passport only gives you that option for Australia.

The option of living and working indefinitely in Australia is one of the few advantages that New Zealand citizens have over permanent residents. Luckily for me, I have no desire to live in Australia.

The other things New Zealand citizens can do that permanent residents can’t are stand for public office and represent New Zealand at international sporting events. I have no desire to do those things either.

So it would seem I don’t ever need to apply for New Zealand citizenship. I mean a New Zealand passport would entitle me to New Zealand consular protection, which could be important one day. And it would mean that I could never be deported from New Zealand, which would be an unfortunate occurrence. Not that I’m planning on doing anything that could result in my deportation…

Like I said, I’ll apply one day. It would be nice to actually be a New Zealander, having spent most of my life in New Zealand. I’m still definitely British to everyone that meets me, though – the existential crisis of the immigrant child.

There have been a couple of times when not having a New Zealand passport has inconvenienced me. I don’t mind having to wait in a longer queue at the airport when returning to New Zealand, but I’m extremely annoyed by the following:

Sometimes, you’re asked to give identification in the form of either a driver’s licence or a New Zealand passport. And I don’t have a driver’s licence. (I know – oh my god – I’m twenty-three and I don’t have a driver’s licence! In New Zealand, not having a driver’s licence is like not liking rugby. Maybe I’m not qualified to be a New Zealander after all.)

wallet-26089_640Thankfully, I’ve only encountered this flawed identification system twice. If your company uses it, PLEASE change it. I don’t want to have to either learn to drive or go through the New Zealand citizenship application process just to prove to you what my British passport, my HANZ identification card, my student ID and my bank statements already prove.

But that’s by the by.

10 Totally Awesome New Zealand Holiday Tips

queenstown-beach

New Zealand has so many great places to visit. I’ve written about a lot of them, here and on other websites. Lately, though, people have been asking me for some more general New Zealand holiday tips. So here they are.

1) Wear sunscreen.

Seriously, even if you think you won’t get sunburnt, you will. Hole in the ozone layer and all that. People have come to New Zealand from Sub-Saharan Africa and got sunburnt.

2) Swim between the flags.

The sea around New Zealand is dangerous, with strong currents that drag you under even when the waves are small. Don’t ignore the Surf Life Saving warnings, and don’t try to swim when the flags aren’t out.

yelloweyedpenguin3) Respect the nature.

New Zealand is an island nation with a delicate ecosystem. So many of its native plant and animal species are endangered. Think carefully about what you bring into New Zealand, resist the temptation to take natural “souvenirs” and try not to kill anything.

4) Be careful with your money.

New Zealand’s more expensive than people think. Some of the tourist attractions are extortionate, but you’ll be shocked by food and fuel prices too. If you’re on a tight budget, New Zealand’s the perfect country for couchsurfing, what with Kiwis being so friendly and laidback. To save money on food, shop at supermarkets and Asian grocery stores, but be prepared for shops to be closed on Saturday afternoons, Sundays and public holidays, especially in more rural areas.

5) Learn the road rules.

Warning SheepPublic transport here isn’t the best. No wonder so many tourists see little choice but to hire a car in New Zealand. The most important rule to remember is to DRIVE ON THE LEFT. (That did need to be in capitals. A surprising number of tourists forget this with occasionally fatal consequences.) When you’re driving in New Zealand, you also need to keep in mind that the country is bigger than you think, and full of hills and windy roads. The speed limits are probably lower than you’re used to as well. It’s easy to underestimate journey times.

6) Hire a campervan.

If you can afford it, this is easily the most convenient way to travel around New Zealand. You can hire campervans cheaply in New Zealand, especially in winter.

7) Don’t rely on your mobile phone.

When you’re travelling around New Zealand, you’ll enter some pretty remote areas and find yourself without a signal. Even the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, for example, which is on the edge of New Zealand’s largest city, has very limited mobile coverage. Always tell someone where you’re going before you trek off into the wilderness.

8) Decide what kind of holiday you want before you come.

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Lake Tekapo, a point in favour of the South Island

The North Island is very different from the South Island, and you shouldn’t try to do both unless you’ve got at least a month to spare. Basically, the North Island has beaches and volcanoes; the South Island has glaciers and mountains. I go into more detail in The North Island vs. the South Island on Not Australia.

9) Beware Kiwi-isms.

New Zealand is an English-speaking country, but some of the vernacular may catch you out. Take, for example, the seemingly innocuous ‘yeah-nah’. When a Kiwi says this it can be, as a friend of mine put it, “affirmative, negative, or neither, or both.” Listen carefully. For more Kiwi-isms, see 10 Silly Things Kiwis Say.

10) Don’t go to Huka Falls.

All the tour buses go there and all the tourist information sites tell you to go there. They’re New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction. But they’re not THAT great. There are better places to see in your limited time here. Less crowded places. Trust me.

Pilot Bay 2

What’s Wrong with New Zealand’s Education System?

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POMS AWAY!

Seriously, I’m asking you.

People are always complaining about how bad New Zealand’s education system is, yet it’s ranked amongst the best in the world by the OECD. And I got through it okay.

I moved to New Zealand from the UK at the end of July, 2001. I was ten years old and had just finished Year Five. In New Zealand, the school year begins in February, not September, so I was short-changed on my summer holiday and thrown straight into the local primary school. The question was should I be put into a Year Five class or a Year Six class – do one-and-a-half years of Year Five or half a year of Year Six? The problem was solved by putting me in a combined Year Five and Six class with the intention of deciding where I belonged on the basis of how well I did.

My primary school in England had a uniform My primary…

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