Going Medieval in Tauranga

Roman Helmets, Tauranga Medieval Faire, New Zealand

Gladiators, Tauranga Medieval Faire, New ZealandThe air tasted of sweat, dust and sunscreen. The scent of parched grass, greasy food and distant animal dung hung over the arena. Two potbellied gladiators sized each other up, blunted weapons poised. They hadn’t quite gotten the cheers they’d wanted – the crowd encircling them was half-wilted by the fierce sunlight. I was part of that crowd, and within the sweeping sleeves of my medieval dress my arms were roasting.

Celtic Cross Shield, Tauranga Medieval Faire, New ZealandI knew I’d get too hot wearing my medieval dress to the Tauranga Medieval Faire last weekend, but I couldn’t not wear it. It’s so beautiful. I got heaps of compliments! The Medieval Faire was combined with the A & P Show – that’s agricultural and pastoral – at the Tauranga Racecourse. That’s why you kept getting the smell of animal dung, but for once I didn’t mind. It made the ‘faire’ feel more realistic.

Druid, Tauranga Medieval Faire, New ZealandNot that the gladiator fights were realistic – or medieval. There were Roman reenactors amongst the medieval and Norse reenactors. And an Iron Age hut. It was jolly mix of things. There was even a real druid! I enjoyed having a go at archery – as I always do – and talking to the various stall owners. I’m not usually able to talk to strangers, but, of course, these strangers were just as passionate about history as I was. We all bemoaned New Zealand’s lack of castles!

Roman Standard, Tauranga Medieval Faire, New ZealandIt cost $10 to get into the racecourse. The Medieval Faire itself was free, but you had to pay for the A & P Show, even if you weren’t interested in going round all the farm stuff. Ah well. Hardly a rip-off. It was a good day out. (Even if, due to the heat, we didn’t actually last the full day.)

There seem to be a lot of ‘Medieval Faires’ happening around New Zealand. Apparently, many European-descended Kiwis still yearn for the old world, even as New Zealand moves into the future and talks of severing ties with England. Or maybe dressing up in medieval costumes is just fun.

Suit of Armour, Tauranga Medieval Faire, New ZealandMore from around Tauranga…

10 Free Things to Do in Tauranga

Shopping in Downtown Tauranga

Why Living in Tauranga Ruins You for Life

Mount Maunganui

Te Puna Quarry Park

New Zealand campervan hire

New Plymouth’s Festival of Lights

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

This isn’t fairyland. This is Pukekura Park in New Plymouth. Every summer, from mid-December to late-January, it’s festooned with thousands of magical lights. It’s called the Festival of Lights, and people travel from all over New Zealand to see it. That’s what we did last week.

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New ZealandI’d been wanting to go for a while – ever since I got a small taste of the lights at WOMAD a couple of years ago. I like pretty lights, so I definitely expected to enjoy it. I didn’t expect to be blown away by it, but I was. We all were.

We entered the park just as the sun went down. (Not that we could see it. Taranaki is notoriously cloudy.) We were confronted by a lake filled with glowing spheres that flashed and changed colour. Swimming around the spheres were several confused ducks. They created wonderfully artistic silhouettes against a large, illuminated fountain.

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New ZealandWe walked around the lake until we came upon an otherworldly waterfall. This was the waterfall I’d seen at WOMAD, but it looked even more amazing now. The long drive down to Taranaki would have been worth it just for this, but more wonders were in store.

Further around, the lake was crossed by an elegant bridge. Dangling above it were many dazzling mirror balls, and drifting below it were people in little boats. The sterns of the boats were decorated with peacock-like frills, each lit up a different colour, so that the rowers became works of art themselves.

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

As we walked between the enchanted trees, we became aware of jungle sounds filtering down through the branches. There was obviously a speaker somewhere. We also heard a strange, intermittent beeping that turned out to be coming from a rather unusual art installation.

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

Suspended far above our heads was a sleeping giant. He was snoring and clutching an extremely oversized cell phone. A sign below him encouraged people to text him; the phone beeped every time he received one. I didn’t know whether it was annoying or brilliant.

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

We passed more pieces of art, including a collection of floating jellyfish, until we came to an area where quite a crowd was gathered. It was bathed in black light, so everyone was glowing, but, more importantly, so were the paper planets and squiggles and birds that were hanging overhead. Every child there adored it. Even the stones on the pathway were glowing.

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New ZealandThere was live music too, and a guy selling cinnamon roasted almonds. I clutched the warm packet as we explored the charmingly lit fernery. The whole thing was so romantic. Unfortunately, the lights were turned off at 11pm. I would have liked to have stayed longer.

So if you’re touring New Zealand during January or the latter half of December, it might be a good idea to drop in on New Plymouth. The Festival of Lights won’t disappoint, and there are lots of other great things to do around Taranaki as well, as we found out last week…

Festival of Lights, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

Bridal Veil Falls

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Bridal Veil Falls has to be one of the most photogenic places in New Zealand. I went for the first time last weekend and I didn’t get a single bad picture. Choosing which photographs to use for this post was no mean feat!

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Bridal Veil Falls are located at the end of a very short bush walk near Raglan, just forty minute’s drive from Hamilton. The bush walk comes out at the top of the falls. If you want to see the view from the bottom, which you do, that means a lot of steps to conquer! But it’s not too strenuous.

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There are a lot of nice waterfalls in New Zealand. This is one of the best. If you’re going to be travelling anywhere around Waikato, Bridal Veil Falls is well worth the detour. It’s obviously popular with tourists – I heard a lot of English accents on…

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The Magical Creatures of New Zealand

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Why have we in these isles no fairy dell,

No haunted wood, nor wild enchanted mere?

asked Alexander Bathgate, a nineteenth century Scottish immigrant to New Zealand, in his poem Faerie.

Our woods are dark, our lakelets’ waters clear,

he goes on,

As those of any land where fairies dwell.

In every verdant vale our streamlets tell

Their simple story to the list’ning ear,

Our craggy mountains steep are full of fear –

Even rugged men have felt their awful spell.

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Yet lack they glamour of the fairy tale,

Nor gnome nor goblin do they e’er recall,

Though Nature speaks, e’en in the wind’s sad wail

Who shall give meaning to Her voices all?

The poet’s art, –  as yet without avail, –

Must weave the story of both great and small.*

I must admit, as a fellow British immigrant to New Zealand obsessed with myth and fantasy…

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