My Favourite Places in Hamilton

We’ve lived in Hamilton nearly three years now and our Auckland friends still mock us for it. In all honesty, though, it’s a great place to be. Here’s a list of my top ten favourite spots around the city:

10) Down by the river

Hamilton straddles the Waikato River, which, on sunny days, actually looks quite pretty. Extensive pathways adorn both banks, which make for very pleasant walks (and bike rides.) I love having somewhere so peaceful right next to the central business district.

9) Embassy Park, a.k.a. the one with the Rocky Horror statue in it

riff raff statue hamiltonOne of the many paths that leads from Hamilton’s main street down to the river goes through Embassy Park. It’s where the Embassy Theatre used to be, which is where Richard O’Brien, the creator of The Rocky Horror Show, saw his first drag act. There’s a statue of him – well, Riff Raff – as well as a rather quirky public toilet. (It lights up and makes noise when you activate the ‘transducer’… I had a lot of fun with it when I was pissed.) There’s also a sign on the wall telling you how to do the Time Warp. And gargoyles. And a resident population of stray cats.

8) La Cave

This is a shop out in Hillcrest that does imported French food. Cheese, wine, pâté, truffle oil… and baked goods… Heaven, really.

7) The Gouda Cheese Shop

I am obsessed with cheese. There was no way the Dutch cheese shop wouldn’t make it onto a list of my favourite places in Hamilton. It has two branches, one near La Cave and one in Rototuna. They sell both local and imported cheese, as well as Dutch confectionary. You can sample the cheese before you buy it, of course.

Casabella Lane, Hamilton, New Zealand6) Casabella Lane

Hidden amongst Hamilton’s not-so-attractive streets is this adorable, desperately-trying-to-be-European lane. It has fountains and wall foliage and interesting little shops, and I wish there were more places in New Zealand like it.

I probably wouldn’t spend so much time there if it wasn’t for a certain delightful little bookshop called Poppies.

5) Victoria Street Bistro

This is my favourite restaurant, and not just in Hamilton. I love the food so much it’s becoming a tradition to go there for my birthday. It’s in the middle of Hamilton’s main street.

4) The Meteor Theatre

At the top of Victoria Street, this unpretentious theatre has become an important part of my life. I’ve performed in quite a few plays there and witnessed its transformation from a bit shabby to pretty neat. There’s always something interesting on, so if you want to see some original theatre for cheap, check it out.

3) Memorial Park

The first time I explored Memorial Park, I was blown away by how nice it was and continue to be impressed. I wrote more about it in Exploring Hamilton’s Parks.

Memorial Park, Hamilton

2) The Italian Renaissance Garden in the Hamilton Gardens

I’ve written so much about the Hamilton Gardens, because they really are wonderful. It’s hard to choose a favourite garden, but I do love sitting on the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ balcony in the Italian Renaissance Garden.

1) Browsers

Yes. My number one favourite place in Hamilton is a secondhand bookshop. It’s one of the best in the country. (I’ve been to a few!) It has a really cool feel to it and it’s open until 9.30pm on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. If you’re a bibliophile, make it your mission to seek it out on Victoria Street.


Of Calf Club and Culture Shock


I hadn’t long been in New Zealand when I was confronted by the sight of sheep on the school field.

And cows.

And goats.

Walking amongst them was a surreal experience. Adding to my surprise was the fact that none of the other children were wearing shoes. Neither did they seem bothered about stepping in the ever-increasing quantity of dung.

I’d found it strange enough that there were no uniforms at my new school, and that classes finished half an hour earlier than they had in England, and that there was no fence around the school, and that everyone had a meat pie and a chocolate milkshake for lunch, and that they all thought I spoke posh even though my Retford accent was as broad as a donkey’s backside.

Now the school field had become a farmyard.

It was Calf Club Day, an annual event that had been part of rural New Zealand primary school life since the 1920s. Each kid got given their own lamb, or calf, or – err – kid to raise, and then they’d bring them into school and show them off. Then they ate them.

I wasn’t against the killing of animals. I just wasn’t used to children my age being so blasé about it. Typical bloody townie, I suppose. Still, the experience did nothing but add to my impression that the plane which had brought my family to New Zealand had also taken us back in time.

It was as though chaos, the world of the animals, was encroaching upon order, the world of the school. I didn’t like it, but I knew I should have done.

Despite feeling a little left out, I had no desire to raise a farm animal of my own. At that stage, I had no desire to take part in any aspect of New Zealand life.

Those first few months in New Zealand, I felt like I was in a dream. I kept expecting to wake up back in England. I’d write and write until my immediate surroundings disappeared. I’d wish my characters were real, so I could be friends with them.

One day, I ordered a pie and a milkshake from the school tuck shop, but they made me feel sick. The pie was like warm, wet cat food and the milkshake was revoltingly sweet. I didn’t regret the experience, however. Ordering something from the tuck shop, rather than bringing sandwiches from home, seemed to me a sign of integration; of getting into the swing of my new life.

That was over half a lifetime ago. Surely, I’m fully integrated into the culture of New Zealand now? Well I was reading something about ‘being British’ the other day, nodding along as I conformed to trait after trait. Slowly, however, I realised that I was no longer British in at least one respect: I no longer gave a fuck about formality. That’s very Kiwi.

But I’m still not a Kiwi. It’s impossible to feel like one when every new person I meet assumes I’m on holiday, or I’ve just moved here and am therefore ignorant. (Or worse, depending on the individual’s prejudices regarding the English.)

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

“Oh, you’ve still got your accent,” they say.

But I haven’t. I no longer sound like a Retfordian. How could I when I’ve spent nearly twice as long in New Zealand?

So, what is my culture? I was thinking about it last night. (I couldn’t sleep.) I may not be entirely Kiwi; I may not be entirely British. I’ve agonised so long about not fitting in, but I have friends. I have lots of friends. And they’ve all got one thing in common.

I have a culture.

I am a nerd.

female tenth doctor cosplay

Read more about

Kiwis not wearing shoes

Starting school in New Zealand

New Zealand being back in time

My accent dilemma

The Craters of the Moon

The first time I saw the Craters of the Moon, I was crying. The hot, white, sulphurous fumes mingled with my tears, which made my face feel very strange indeed.

I was crying because I was tired, and because my family had just had an argument. I don’t remember what it was about. Perhaps my sister and I hadn’t wanted to visit any more tourist attractions. It was late and we were hungry, but here Dad was, dragging us around yet another site of supposed interest. I didn’t know or care what the place was. I was determined not to enjoy it.

The funny thing is, though, I enjoyed it immensely. I enjoyed it so much I was eager to go back years later. I couldn’t even remember it properly, but I knew it was special.

Craters of the Moon

The Craters of the Moon are just outside Taupō, the last stop on the campervan trip I recently took with my partner. I simply had to see them again. If nothing else, I remembered the feel of walking amongst them. I’d stomped off alone, half-running along the boardwalk, and suddenly I was entranced by the mystical landscape around me. Such wonder made the anger I had for my parents seem insignificant. I was lost in the billowing fumes rising from the muddy craters.

The mud was an odd colour. In fact, the whole landscape was a bit off, as though someone had sat down to paint it, but hadn’t had the right pigments.

Craters of the Moon

My partner and I paid the entry fee – $8 each – and set off along the boardwalk. I could still feel the tears on my face: cool and fresh when the wind licked them; hot and tingly when the fumes did. Of course, I wasn’t crying this time. I was an adult and I had chosen to come. I just hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed; that I hadn’t built it up too much in my mind. (Or my partner’s.)

“It doesn’t look much like the moon,” he said.

He was right, of course. But it did, I thought, look like a Victorian artist’s rendering of the moon. Picture a cartoon featuring the adventures of an intrepid space missionary reaching out to the lunar inhabitants; perhaps planting a Union Flag atop one of the larger craters. Very steampunk.

Admittedly, it’s not one of the best geothermal attractions in New Zealand, but at $8, it’s worth checking out. You can spend an hour wandering around it – more if you allow yourself to become mesmerised by the craters. My partner and I didn’t have time, unfortunately, as we had to return our campervan. I could have gazed into a few of them for ages.

Our Day in Taupō

Maori Rock Carvings, Lake Taupo

The majestic rock carving you see behind us is at the edge of Lake Taupō. It’s the face of Ngātoro-i-rangi, a semi-legendary priest who navigated a canoe to New Zealand from Hawaiki, the mythical Polynesian homeland.

Maori Rock Carvings, Lake Taupo

The romantic in you may fancy it ancient, but it was carved in the 1970s by one of the subject’s descendants. You can only see it from the water. The best way is to book yourself a kayak tour, but you can also catch a scenic cruise.

Maori Rock Carvings, Lake Taupo

This is what we did. It was winter, okay? We went in a replica steamboat. They gave us complimentary wine and cocoa. It was the final full day of our North Island campervan trip. We’d camped for free on the shore of the lake, and so had woken up to this:

Lake Taupo

After wandering through a market that just happened to be on, we headed to the information centre to plan our day. The town of Taupō itself isn’t very impressive, but the range of activities you can do around it truly is.

Huka Falls Jet Boat

Though we ended up going for the more sedate options – the aforementioned cruise and, later, a twilight soak in a geothermal spring – we could have taken a jet boat ride to a volcanic wonderland, or gone white water rafting, bungy jumping or even skydiving!

Huka Falls

With little time left to us between the Māori Rock Carvings and the hot pools, we became Taupō tourist clichés and visited Huka Falls. We’d both been before. They’re so visited because they’re incredibly powerful, a god-like stampede of water forced between narrow banks.

Huka Falls

You can go right up to Huka Falls in a jet boat. Tim did it with his family when he was a kid. (My family did one of the other jet boat rides when I was a kid.) We watched a jet boat spinning around like one of those ground bloom flower fireworks before heading off.

Huka Falls Jet Boat

There was something else I was determined to do before we left Taupō, something I remembered doing as a kid. It was awesome, but I’ll have to leave it for my next post. In the meantime, here’s a cool picture you can share on Pinterest:

Maori Rock Carvings, Lake Taupo