Te Awamutu, or That Time a Chicken Burst Out of Our Laundry Basket

It’s one of those small towns you drive through on the way to somewhere else. It’s a pleasant, forgettable settlement whose only claim to fame is that Tim and Neil Finn (of Crowded House) come from there. I’m talking, of course, of Te Awamutu. (You may have driven through it.)

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

Te Awamutu lies half an hour south of Hamilton, on State Highway 3. If you find yourself on a New Zealand self-drive holiday, you’ll probably pass through it on your way to Waitomo. When you do, stop. Make your way to Te Awamutu War Memorial Park off Mutu Street. It’s well worth a look.

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park is an unexpectedly lovely place to stretch your legs. It has a beautiful colonnaded walkway entwined with roses, a tranquil pond with a fairy tale-esque stone bridge, the most interesting war memorial I’ve seen and, most importantly for me, an amphitheatre.

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

It’s only a small amphitheatre, but it’s rather pretty, being decorated with stone relief carvings and surrounded by roses. Plays are often performed there, a couple of which I’ve been in. If you were wondering about the chicken from the title of this blog, here’s where it enters.

We were staging an afternoon performance of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, the most important prop of which is a laundry basket. (The play’s antagonist, Falstaff, is tricked into hiding inside it with hilarious consequences.)

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

I should mention at this point that Te Awamutu War Memorial Park is absolutely teeming with ducks and chickens, both of which are very friendly. One particular chicken had come to see the play. It spent some time watching in fascination from the wings. Then, just before we were due to carry the laundry basket on stage, it jumped in.

Well, if it wanted to be part of the show, who were we to turf it out? We carried the laundry basket onto the stage, placing it in the centre as we were meant to… whereupon the chicken burst out, flapping and squawking, and ran away through the middle of the audience. There followed a little improvisation involving telling off the servants for letting a chicken in the house, which the audience found utterly delightful.

A Duck with Its Head in a Bucket

The abundance of amiable fowl seems to attract many locals to the park. Last time I was there, for an evening picnic with my partner, there was an old woman standing in the midst of hundreds of ducks, feeding them from a bucket. The quacking din was incredible!

We noticed one duck had outsmarted the others and was plunging its head into the old woman’s bucket whenever her back was turned. Of course, the presence of such scavengers can make for a less than relaxing picnic. It was a charming sunset, though.

Te Awamutu War Memorial

So don’t just drive through Te Awamutu – take a little time to appreciate the War Memorial Park. There’s even a free camping spot ten minutes up the road from it at Lake Ngaroto. It’s quiet with nice views and clean, flushing toilets – perfect if you hire a campervan for your New Zealand trip.

Te Awamutu Memorial Park

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The Best Places to Eat in Hamilton

I’ve lived in Hamilton, New Zealand for nearly two-and-a-half years. Here’s a list of the best restaurants, bars and cafes I’ve found so far:

1) Victoria Street Bistro

Despite looking fairly unassuming from the outside, Victoria Street Bistro is simply the best restaurant in Hamilton. The food is not only divine, it’s different. It’s creative – stuff you wouldn’t normally think to eat. It’s expensive, but totally worth it. The atmosphere is cosy and modern at the same time. This place is always winning awards and it’s not hard to see why. I can’t wait to go again for my birthday!

2) Gothenburg

Perhaps the best thing about Gothenburg Café/Restaurant/Bar is the location: it overlooks the river by the Waikato Museum. I say ‘perhaps the best thing’ because their tapas are exquisite. It also has a great selection of wine and beer – including Belgian beer. Due to its location, it’s especially nice to sit outside, even at night. The only problem with this place is deciding which tapas plates to choose – they’re all so scrumptious!

3) Palate

The very posh Palate Restaurant also overlooks the river, but further along and more up in the trees than Gothenburg. I’m not blown away by their décor, though the chairs in the waiting area are pretty cool in a steampunk-evil-overlord kind of way. It seems more clinical than cosy, which is a shame because the food is amazing. The balance of flavours in every dish is so delicate that it can make you like things you previously thought you hated. For example, I used to think both paua and olives were disgusting, but at Palate they tasted like ambrosia. (The mythological food of the gods; not that dodgy desert.) The menu at Palate is limited, but this is a good thing. The painstaking thought that has gone into every meal is evident. Such an experience is worth the cost – a main meal alone costs what I would usually spend on food for an entire week!

4) Prof’s at Woodlands

I wrote a blog about Woodlands Historic Homestead and Gardens a few weeks ago. It’s a short drive from the centre of Hamilton and worth a visit for the café alone. The food is lovely, changing with the seasons and garnished with herbs from the adjacent gardens. The décor is delightful: as perfect for a spot of high tea as it is for relaxing with the kids. Prof’s is situated on the edge of a cricket lawn and has a variety of books, games and sporting equipment available for use – including a giant chess set!

Casabella Lane, Hamilton, New Zealand5) Kino Sushi

Kino Sushi can be found at two separate locations in Hamilton Central. One is on Victoria Street, opposite the Centre Place shopping mall. The other is down the magically Mediterranean Casabella Lane, which you might think is an odd place for a Japanese café, but who cares? It’s yummy sushi. The Victoria Street Kino Sushi is cheaper, but the Casabella Lane one is in a much nicer setting.

6) Nancy’s Dumplings & Buns

This is a tiny place that’s actually right next-door to Victoria Street Bistro. It’s not much to look at, but their dumplings are really tasty. There’s a whole range of condiments you can put on them. I always get their $5 Chinese Burger – I’m just a sucker for that gloriously greasy pork!

7) Spices Indian Cuisine

I’ve tried lots of different Indian takeaways in Hamilton: Spices at Five Cross Roads is the best. Their sauces are rich without being sickly, and they’re not stingy with their meat. I’m always impressed with their naan bread. Unlike other Indian takeaways, Spices has a tantalising cabinet filled with sweets. I can never resist a ladoo!

8) Good George Brewing & Dining Hall

Good George is a local Hamiltonian brewing company. They own a few different pubs around the city, but the Good George Brewing and Dining Hall is housed in an old church. I think this is one of the reasons my parents like it so much – it feels more “English” than other New Zealand pubs. Naturally, it has good beer (and cider) and the food’s decent too. Their speciality is burgers.

Hamilton Gardens’ Alice in Wonderland Sculpture

9) Mavis & Co Eatery

Mavis & Co is a local Hamilton catering company. They own three cafes around the city; the one I’m familiar with is in Hamilton East. It’s located in a crummy car park behind a gym, but don’t let that put you off. The atmosphere is pleasant and the dessert cabinet makes for a beautiful display. The menu is varied and appetising. There’s also an interesting selection of tea and, according to my family, the coffee and hot chocolate are above average.

10) Duck Island Ice Cream

This place is in Hamilton East and, I must admit, I haven’t actually been to it. However, practically everyone I know in Hamilton has and, at some point, raved to me about it. I promise I’ll go soon, guys! Apparently, it’s one of the best ice cream parlours in New Zealand. It has an innovative and heavenly range of ice cream flavours, including coconut milk ice cream for those of us upon whom lactose wages an unfortunate war. I can’t wait to try some, but maybe I’ll wait until the weather warms up again.

The Best Place to Go in Hamilton

Casabella Lane, Hamilton, New Zealand

 

Hamurana Springs

Hamurana Springs, Rotorua, New Zealand

You know what’s great about my parents living in Tauranga? It’s less than an hour’s drive from Rotorua. Now I’m not saying there’s nothing to do in Tauranga – far from it, but Rotorua is a tourist mecca.

There are so many fantastic things to do in Rotorua that I’m not even going to bother listing them here. (See my Top 10 Things to Do in Rotorua and my How to Do Rotorua on the Cheap if you’re interested.)

Last weekend, I visited my parents for Mother’s Day. (For some reason, Mother’s Day in New Zealand coincides with Mother’s Day in the US; not the UK.) Given the year my mum’s had, I thought I’d better turn up in person.

I wanted to take her somewhere a bit different, so Rotorua was the obvious choice. But where in Rotorua? We couldn’t go to any hot pools, as she’s just had surgery on her leg. This also ruled out doing anything adventurous, or anything that would involve a lot of walking or standing around.

If you have any familiarity with Rotorua, you’ll know that doesn’t leave a lot of options.

Hamurana Springs, Rotorua

Hamurana Springs to the rescue.

The walk around Hamurana Springs is short, easy and surprisingly beautiful. Before we’d even got to the springs, I was marvelling at the giant redwood trees bordering the path. It was perfect for my mum, who’s being given another dose of radiation even as I write this.

Redwoods at Hamurana Springs, Rotorua

When you get to the first spring, there are two viewing platforms, one high up and one at the water. You don’t expect it to be quite so clear, but it’s magical. It’s the deepest spring in the North Island – about fifteen metres, though it doesn’t look it.

You’re not allowed to swim in the springs anymore, but many people bring their drink bottles to fill up. I realised that this is the vision many foreigners have of New Zealand, of pure, sparkling streams we can drink from at will. Yeah. Sure.

You may notice something in the water that seems to glow: it’s a painted stone. There are a few such stones placed in various spots around the springs. Trying to find them all is a lovely little addition to an already lovely walk.

Hamurana Springs

I couldn’t get over the way the water rippled, and the way the light reflected upon it. When the sun came out, the water turned the most gorgeous shade of blue. I hadn’t seen anything like it since the glacial streams of the South Island. I couldn’t resist dipping my hand in.

Ripples at Hamurana

The second spring is called Dancing Sands. In order to see why, you have to spend a few moments getting your eye in. As the water rushes up through the sand, it creates a myriad of miniature cyclones that dance upon the streambed. They look like swirls of fairy dust.

Of course, the truly magical part of Hamurana Springs is the colour of the water. It’s not just blue. Beneath the surface lies luscious, emerald foliage. In places, it looks almost deliberate, like the hedges of an underwater maze. Ephemeral sapphires await the daring adventurer.

Foliage at Hamurana

This wonderful walk is completely free, and only fifteen minutes from the centre of Rotorua. You have no excuse not to go!

Why Is It So Difficult to Pronounce Māori Words Correctly?

Well… it isn’t, technically. Te Reo (the language) is fairly consistent. But many pākehā (non-Māori New Zealanders) are so set in their ways that they refuse to even try.

I’m not having a go. When you’ve grown up hearing something pronounced a certain way, it’s incredibly hard to start saying it a different way. You automatically say it the way you’ve always heard everyone saying it.

I’m genuinely trying, and I only remember to pronounce, for example, the name of the city in which my parents live, Tauranga, correctly about fifty percent of the time.

The irony is when I first moved to New Zealand, as a child, I pronounced Māori place names more correctly than I do now. That’s because I was learning them fresh. My Kiwi friends, though, laughed at me for saying things differently to the way they had grown up saying them. Soon, I grew accustomed to the “pākehā” way of pronouncing Māori place names and thought nothing more of it.

When I was seventeen, my drama class went on a school trip to England. (Yes, it was an expensive school trip.) For the first week, we attended a school in Devon, mingling with the local students. Of course, we talked a lot about the school in New Zealand that we were from, Otumoetai College. We pronounced it ‘oh-too-mow-tie’, or the even lazier ‘oh-da-mow-die’, as we always had.

Then, at the end of the week, our drama teacher stood up to officially thank our host school, and he used the proper pronunciation of Otumoetai: ‘awe-too-moy-tie’. The British kids started laughing – they thought our teacher was saying it wrong!

(Our teacher went on to impress the British kids greatly by making them think he could speak Te Reo Māori. In a serious, speech-making tone, he reeled off a list of Māori place names. “Whakatane, Rotorua, Papakura, Waiuku…” Of course, us New Zealand kids thought it was hilarious.)

Lately, the New Zealand media has been giving a lot of attention to the issues surrounding the pākehā perception of Te Reo. Should it, for example, be the law to teach the Māori language in New Zealand schools?

I’m all for it. Learning another language is good for a child’s development, as is the instilment of a certain cultural appreciation. I also believe in making an effort to pronounce Māori words correctly, which is why I do make the effort. I don’t always succeed.

It’s not just that your brain automatically jumps to the pronunciation you’re used to hearing. It’s that when you do make an effort to say something correctly, and everyone around you isn’t bothered, it makes you feel like a pretentious wanker.

And, of course, what if you do make an effort and get it wrong?

A few times, I’ve gone to say something the correct way and bottled it halfway through, coming out with something that’s half-right; half-inarticulate mumble. Something like ‘awe-too… mow-die’. It’s silly, I know. But I’m going to keep trying.

It’s a matter of principle.

I’ll leave you with a story I heard when I first moved to New Zealand. I don’t know whether it’s an anecdote, a joke, or an urban legend, but here it is:

A couple of well-meaning English tourists were on holiday in New Zealand, and a Kiwi asked them where they were staying.

“Onehunga,” they replied, pronouncing it ‘one’ – as in the number one – ‘hung-a’.

After a moment of confusion, the Kiwi said, “Oh, you mean ‘o-ne-hu-nga’. O-N-E is pronounced ‘o-ne’, not ‘one.’”

“Oh, right,” the tourists said. “In that case would you please direct us to O-ne Tree Hill?”

My Wandering Accent

Sometimes I feel like I’ll never be a New Zealander. As soon as I open my mouth, people assume I’m on holiday here. Or that I’m one of Britain’s post-Brexit escapees. It’s the same conversation every time:

“No, I’ve lived here since I was child,” I say.

“Oh, your accent’s still really strong,” they say.

“They don’t think so back in Britain,” I say. “They tell me I sound slightly Australian.”

It’s the inflection, I think. I’ve picked up on the Kiwi inflection, but not the vowel sounds.

People say I haven’t lost my accent, but a while ago Dad was digitising some home movies, and we were all shocked at how strong my accent used to be! There’s a video of a tiny me reciting Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, and my short ‘a’s and short ‘u’s stand out like gunshots.

That’s the Northern accent. Those harsh, practical vowel sounds are obviously so ingrained in me that no amount of Kiwi influence can erase them. Only smudge them.

“Your accent’s all over the place, to be honest,” a British friend told me recently. “But you can still tell you’re fundamentally a Northerner. I couldn’t say where in the North…”

My accent’s partly all over the place because I spend a lot of time putting accents on, especially the various British accents. If I watch Shirley Valentine or Red Dwarf, I’ll briefly become a Scouser. Once, I binge-watched the entire first series of The Crown and, without meaning to, spoke in an awfully plummy RP accent for the rest of the week. I find it surprising difficult to put on a Kiwi accent, though.

When I first moved to New Zealand, I was very stubborn about keeping my English identity. I didn’t want to lose my accent. I exaggerated the Northern as a matter of course. (This was partly because my Kiwi classmates thought that being English automatically made you posh. I. AM. NOT. POSH.)

As with my accent, I accidentally, and then accidentally-on-purpose, wrote £ signs on my maths work instead of $ signs. Then, one day, I realised I’d been using $ signs without thinking about it. My parents also pointed out that I was beginning to sound Kiwi. I stopped. I haven’t started again.

The Kiwi accent is so laidback, you see. All the vowels end up sounding the same. They get blurred together in a sort of lazy, monotonous mumble. As soon as you put any effort into a Kiwi accent, it becomes Australian. (And you can’t fake an accent without putting any conscious effort into it.)

The only time I’ve ever come out with a Kiwi accent is when I haven’t been thinking about it.

Once, I had such a sore throat that I was putting as little effort into speaking as possible.

“You sound like a Kiwi right now,” a Kiwi friend said.

Another time, I was pretending to whine about something, and my Kiwi flatmate said, “Ooh, you sounded Kiwi then.”

“That’s because I was whining,” I replied.

He pulled the finger at me.

“I’m not trying to insult the Kiwi accent,” I continued, battling to construct an academic argument through our laughter.  I really hadn’t meant it as an insult. (That time.) “It’s just the truth.”

Various Kiwi comedians have pointed out the whiny and monotonous nature of the Kiwi accent. It sounds like an accent that’s trying its best to be unobtrusive. Maybe it’s all to do with Tall Poppy Syndrome. Kiwis don’t want to stand out. (As a country we do, but not so much as individuals.) I occasionally catch myself deliberately toning down my articulation so people won’t think I’m pretentious.

Hey – I never realised quite how many metaphors for the Kiwi attitude to life can be found in the Kiwi accent. (I should also point out here that, on the whole, unpretentiousness is a good thing, and one of the reasons I like living in New Zealand. Laziness – or, to put it another way, carefreeness – can also be a good thing. What’s the point of working hard if you don’t enjoy life?)

I may not habitually speak in a Kiwi accent, but I have, of course, picked up plenty of Kiwi slang. I criminally overuse the word ‘awesome’. I never say ‘sweet as’, but I quite often respond to people with ‘sweet’ – in a Kiwi accent, I might add. I don’t try – it doesn’t work in any British accent. (Try grunting the word ‘swede’ with an upward inflection. That might get you close.)

I feel like my years in New Zealand have kind of neutralised my original accent; averaged it out across all of England. I definitely sound posher than I did as a kid. More Southern, even though those harsh, Northern vowels can still be detected by someone who knows what they’re listening for. It’s easy to slip back, though.

It’s so funny meeting another English person at a party. I met someone from near Nottingham (Not-ing-um) once and, before I knew it, I was speaking with the broadest Nottinghamshire accent imaginable. So was the other person. It was like a positive feedback loop. My partner said the same thing happened when we met a lady from Yorkshire in an antiques shop. He said he watched in bewilderment as our accents just got stronger and stronger. It’s a wonder all the Yorkshire didn’t explode and knock over a table of antique teacups.