Garden Views

chinese bridge hamilton gardens

Yesterday was the first day of spring. The sun was shining and I couldn’t resist the allure of one of my favourite places in New Zealand…

fountain italian garden hamilton

… the Hamilton Gardens. Armed with my camera, I dove through the Father’s Day crowd to the Italian Renaissance Garden.

statue wolf romulus remus italian garden hamilton

Tim and I will be saying our wedding vows in the Italian Garden next year. I hope the weather’s just as nice!

statue italian garden hamilton

italian garden hamilton

swallows statue

See the swallows perched on top of that statue? They’re probably nesting in the Japanese Garden again.

indian garden hamilton

As usual, the Indian Garden was bursting with colour…

chinese garden hamilton

… and the Chinese Garden was perfectly peaceful.

chinese garden hamilton

statue cave chinese garden hamilton

Many visitors miss this little statue, tucked away inside a little cave at the edge of the pond.

chinese bridge hamilton gardens

What’s with the Giant, Glowing Things in Garden Place?

HYBYCOZO

Something strange has appeared in the centre of Hamilton, New Zealand. Something that would not look out of place in Doctor Who.

Have the Borg descended? Do we finally have solid evidence that God plays Dungeons & Dragons with the universe?

No, it’s merely an installation of street art called Boon After Dark. It’s pretty cool, though.

Earlier in 2019, something called the Boon Street Art Festival took place in Hamilton. (I was one of the performers at the official opening, dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland.)

Several artists were commissioned to paint elaborate murals on various buildings around the city centre. It was obviously a success, so now we have these sci-fi-looking things, made by the HYBYCOZO collective.

FYI, HYBYCOZO stands for the Hyperspace Bypass Construction Zone, a reference that can only commend them in my eyes. I’d love to see more of their stuff.

These sculptures will be at Garden Place in Hamilton until 30th November, 2019. They’re free to see, so swing by.

All the Colours of the Waikato Show

waikato show

One of the most important events of the Hamiltonian year is the Waikato Show. It’s been held every year since 1908, which means this year’s show was the 111th in a row! I’d never been before, but one of my jobs involves wandering around events in outrageous costumes, so…

waikato show

Yup, that’s me. I was asked if I was feeling blue by no less than nine people.

Now, I’d expected the Waikato Show to be boring, which is why I’d never been before. I thought it would be all tractors and livestock and lame fairground rides. I was wrong. I’d have been happy wandering around the place even I wasn’t being paid to.

waikato show

There was so much to see. Yes, there was the expected sheep shearing and competitive wood chopping, but there were also local products to sample like cheese and honey, jewellery stalls, animal rescue shelters and a guide dog organisation that’d brought friendly dogs along for people to pat, a good variety of food stalls, electric cars and, amongst many other things, the Imperial Fifth Waikato Dragoons Regiment led by Major Blunder.

waikato show

The Waikato Show began as a way to connect the townsfolk of Hamilton to the agricultural workers of the surrounding region. It still is, but now it’s less livestock and more lifestyle expo. There were rather a lot of alpacas, though. They didn’t like my costume.

Being on duty, I couldn’t give into my urge to collect a free sample from every single stall that offered one, but I did get some locally made goat cheese. I will never not get goat cheese. At some point, someone gave me a blue lollipop because it matched my costume. It was fun telling children not to eat too many blue lollipops, because look what happens!

waikato show

I wasn’t the only performer from the Free Lunch Street Theatre Company wandering around the show. I was the Blue Lady; we also had the Silver Lady, the Golden Girl, the Red Queen and a pair of Red Footmen. Against the backdrop of the sun-brightened fairground rides, we all looked wonderfully garish! So many people asked for photos. Humans like us even if alpacas don’t.

waikato show

So, that was the Waikato Show. In other news, guess who’ll be representing Hamilton at the National Harry Potter Quiz Championship in Wellington – this nerd!

Abigail Simpson

My team, the DA, came second in the Hamilton Harry Potter Quiz, and I got the prize for third-best costume: the Golden Snitch. (A very short and very fabulous dress covered entirely in gold sequins, plus a pair of angel wings!) It seems, then, that a campervan trip to Wellington is in order…

waikato show

Frankton Thunder

I went to a cool, little festival the other day. There were classic cars, steampunk market stalls, old motorbikes, bands, vintage pin-up girls, army vehicles, awesome costumes and even an electric car that had been opened up to reveal its inner workings. It was an annual festival called Frankton Thunder. It took place in Frankton Village, a part of Hamilton I’d never been to before. I’ll definitely go again, though – it looked like there were a few interesting shops around.

The sun was bright and the cars were gleaming. I was wearing a hastily-thrown-together steampunk costume, (because, as you know, I grab any excuse to wear a costume, even though most of mine are still packed from moving house,) which – much to my surprise – won a spot prize from the Hamilton Steampunk Society! It was their first market and it was a good one. My mum got us a couple of fabulous hats.

At one point whilst we were browsing the stalls, some Glen Miller music started playing. Now that’s my kind of festival! There were a few food trucks off to the side, but we ended up going into a nice café with our steampunk purchases. I didn’t end up buying a chainmail (well, scale mail) bikini, but I was very tempted. Aw hell, I was tempted by everything – it was that kind of market – from corsets to blasters to a gorgeous edition of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

As well as the steampunk stalls, there were a few wonderful-looking steampunk vehicles on display. The creativity of some of them astounded me. They were made out of quite ordinary vehicles, a bit of bike here; a bit of tractor there. They weren’t truly Victorian, but they were cool. I also enjoyed looking at the army vehicles and classic cars more than I thought I would. Overall, the festival was a bit of an eclectic mix, but it worked. I look forward to next years’ Frankton Thunder.

There seems to be a festival on every weekend in Hamilton at the moment. I really do enjoy living here. During the six months my fiancé and I were away in Europe, even more improvements have been made, including a beautiful area in the centre of town, down by the river. I need to get some pictures of it! In fact, I have a whole lineup of new places I need to visit and blog about. (If anyone has any suggestions, feel free to drop a comment below.) It’s going to be a busy year.

The Katherine Mansfield Garden

katherine mansfield garden hamilton new zealand

One of the first things we did upon returning to New Zealand was visit the Hamilton Gardens. During the six months we were overseas, a new garden had opened as part of the Fantasy Collection. I was quite excited to see it, as it had been themed around a certain famous New Zealand writer, Katherine Mansfield.

katherine mansfieldIf you haven’t heard of Katherine Mansfield, she lived an interesting life, scandalising the polite society of the early twentieth century. She was friends with Virginia Woolf and shared my love of Oscar Wilde. She died in the 1920s, young, of tuberculosis, leaving behind a wonderful bouquet of short stories.

When I was a teenager, a kind stranger read some of my writing and sent me a postcard with her picture on it. Having moved to New Zealand from England only a few years previously, this was the first I’d heard of Katherine Mansfield. I’ve held an affection for her ever since.

katherine mansfield garden hamilton new zealand

The Katherine Mansfield Garden in Hamilton features the facade of a posh colonial villa, old-fashioned flowerbeds surrounding a fountain, a mock tennis court with a marquee, under which lies a long table laden with (presumably fake) cakes and jellies, and – in pride of place – a Model T Ford. No doubt it will be a fantastic place for events.

katherine mansfield garden hamilton new zealand model t ford

As my regular readers are aware, the Hamilton Gardens are a magical place to visit. I’m very likely saying my “I dos” there next year! Here’s a list of other articles I’ve written about them:

The Best Place to Go in Hamilton

Hamilton’s Italian Paradise

Getting Lost in Fantasy Gardens

Springtime for Hamilton Gardens

There’s a church made of trees – and it’s just outside Hamilton!

The Tree Church

That’s right. There’s a tree church… in Ohaupo.

The Tree Church

It was made by this guy whose job was transplanting trees, so he decided to transplant some into his own garden in the shape of a church. It looked so amazing that people persuaded him to open it to the public, and the rest is history.

The Tree Church

It’s not just a church: there’s a whole massive garden to explore, with a labyrinth, a pond, a stunning avenue of trees and absolutely glorious flowers. And cats.

The Tree Church

The ginger cat, in particular, has become world-famous for its habit of lounging in the Tree Church and charming the tourists. As soon as it saw me, it sprang up and trotted towards me, meowing. I never wanted to leave it!

The Tree Church

The Tree Church is only open on Tuesdays and Sundays from late October until the end of March, between the hours of 10 and 4, but you can book it for weddings as well. It costs $15 to enter, and children under twelve are only allowed in by prior arrangement.

The Tree Church

Whilst we were walking around, my partner Tim turned to me and said, “This has got to be one of the best places to go in the Waikato. Up there with Hobbiton.”

The Tree Church

High praise, indeed.

The Tree Church

It was beautiful. We had the perfect weather for it.

The Tree Church

We ended up chatting to the owner for a while. The poor guy hates being stuck in the ticket booth when he could be gardening!

Butterfly

Sitting inside the Tree Church was so wonderfully peaceful. There was an altar, a bell and a crucifix, but also pentagrams on the doors. I didn’t feel especially spiritual inside it, because I’m not a spiritual person, but I could tell that other people would. I felt that it would be a magical place to spend time writing in.

The Tree Church

If you fancy visiting this place, check out the Tree Church website.

The Tree Church

Photos from Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival

Free Lunch Street Theatre Company

The 2018 Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival has been fantastic. From Shirley Valentine performed in the Italian Renaissance Garden to A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed amongst the trees, I have loved every moment of it. Especially because I have had the privilege of performing in it myself.

Free Lunch Street Theatre Company

One day, I was a fairy, flitting around getting photographs with children. One older boy tried to get smart with me, telling me he didn’t believe in fairies. Of course, I replied that every time someone says that, a fairy drops down dead. I expected him to laugh and repeat it, but instead he looked quite guilty and told me he’d chase away anyone who said it!

Free Lunch Street Theatre Company

Another older boy threatened to hit me, so I told him (wisely or not) that fairies can only be harmed by iron, to which the boy replied, “There’s iron in my body!” Clever child, you must concede, so I leaned in and said, “I’d better not eat you then.”

Free Lunch Street Theatre Company

One day, I was Marie Antoinette, promenading around with a fellow courtly lady. For the last half-hour or so, two little girls, attached themselves to us, so we taught them how to say, “Bonsoir, monsieur!”

Free Lunch Street Theatre Company

One day, I was a flapper statue as part of the entertainment for the Katherine Mansfield Garden Party. Katherine Mansfield is New Zealand’s most celebrated author, who died at a tragically young age in the 1920s. The garden party had live jazz music and vintage stalls, and I got a photograph with a little girl who was rather apathetic towards my presence until she found out that we were both called Abby!

Free Lunch Street Theatre Company

The Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival happens every year in February, so if you’re anywhere near the Waikato then, come and join in. I met a couple of British tourists there: I’d just slumped gratefully into a seat at the café when this bloke leaned over and said, “Shouldn’t you be standing still?” I told him I’d just finished “me” shift and he asked if I was travelling.

“No, me family immigrated ’ere when ah were a kid,” I said.

Yes, I was playing up my accent for the fun of it. I often do that. When a few older men started to get a bit handsy with me when I was the fairy, for example, I suddenly came out with a roguish Scouse accent that made it easier for me to fend off their actions and make my escape before anything happened. But I digress.

Free Lunch Street Theatre Company

This British couple were surprised to hear that Hamilton is like New Zealand’s equivalent of Coventry, a city mercilessly mocked merely because it is. To them, Hamilton seemed like a beacon of culture. And it is! Enjoy the pictures and make sure you visit yourself one day.

Free Lunch Street Theatre Company

Thank you to the Free Lunch Street Theatre Company, of which I am a part, for posing for these wonderful photos, taken by my partner, Tim.

Free Lunch Street Theatre Company

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.

Our First Year in New Zealand

I’ve been going through Dad’s old photographs, watching my sister and I grow up. The photos from 2001, our first year in New Zealand, brought back so many memories: places I’d forgotten we’d visited. I thought I’d share them with you now.

I was ten years old when we moved to New Zealand; my sister was seven. Dad emigrated six months before us, so when we finally arrived with Mum, he was bursting to show us the places he’d discovered. He couldn’t even wait for us to get over our jetlag!

It was the middle of winter, but the weather was still nice. Dad immediately took us to buy wetsuits and surfboards. I’d never been surfing before, as we’d lived nowhere near a beach in England, but I took to it at once. It was like riding a rollercoaster!

My sister enjoyed it too, at least until we realised her lips had gone blue! Maybe surfing in winter hadn’t been such a good idea after all. My sister had already thrown up in the local newsagent’s after OD’ing on kiwifruit, the first time we walked into town. She can’t stand kiwifruit to this day.

Despite the rocky start, and the frankly comical number of accidental injuries she gave herself that first year, my sister thrived in New Zealand. She’s a true nature-lover, so New Zealand is the perfect place for her. She’s currently down in the South Island studying wildlife conservation.

I, on the other hand, didn’t thrive. I missed England too much. I still managed to have fun, though, whether playing at Kariotahi Beach,

Kariotahi Beach

crawling through lava caves on the island volcano of Rangitoto,

Rangitoto

or pretending to be Merlin at the Waikato Museum.

Waikato Museum

We visited Auckland Zoo a lot,

Feeding Giraffe at Auckland Zoo

saw many of New Zealand’s North Island waterfalls,

Hunua Falls

had a ride on the Glenbrook Vintage Railway,

Glenbrook Vintage Railway

and found this old plane that someone had converted into a garage somewhere out in the wop-wops.

We went to Cathedral Cove,

Cathedral Cove

the Auckland Domain,

Auckland Domain

the Hamilton Gardens,

Hamilton Gardens

and so many other places – I’m not going to list them all. But I will mention Muriwai Beach so I can show you this picture Dad took.

Muriwai Gannet

It sure was an action-packed first year in New Zealand!

Finally, here’s a picture I found of our first Christmas in New Zealand.

It’s me and my sister jumping on our new trampoline. You couldn’t do that on Christmas Day in England!

“The New Zealand of New Zealand”: Theatrical Life in Hamilton

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

Many New Zealanders think Hamilton is a cultural (and actual) wasteland, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Since moving here, I’ve infiltrated the local theatre scene and, believe it or not, found it to be thriving. Here to talk about it is prolific writer, actor and director Ross MacLeod.

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

The Macbeths

Ross is currently working on an original comedy sketch show called Like, Shakespeare?, a hilarious pop culture car crash between classical theatre and the Information Age. If you’d like to see how the Macbeths fair in marriage counselling, how Iago does in daytime television, or what the Merry Wives of Tinder get up to, get yourself down to Hamilton’s Meteor Theatre from August 3rd – 5th, 2017!

So, Ross, how long have you lived in Hamilton?

Twenty years. I moved here for university in 1998.

And what’s it like to live in?

I like it. Obviously, no place is perfect, but for me it has the right balance of not-too-big and not-too-small. The only thing I miss is the beach in summer.

How long have you been… well… theatrical?

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

Bottom from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

I think I had my first lead role, the Pied Piper, in Standard 3, (or Year 5 in the current system.) I think I did quite a bit of performing and creating before then. I was in various school shows over the years, and since moving to Hamilton I’ve been pretty steadily involved.

How has the theatre scene in Hamilton changed since then, or in the last decade or so?

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

Shakespeare at the Hamilton Gardens

I think different art forms go through ebbs and flows. I arrived here not long after the Elektra theatre company had stopped operating and the Hamilton Community Arts Council had passed The Meteor over to the City Council. But drama on campus was pretty active, with Upstage, the uni drama group, producing quite a bit. That tailed off in the early 2000s, with a few independent groups working and even Hamilton Operatic having trouble, having to pass Clarence Street Theatre back to the council too. But then the pendulum started swinging back. More theatre groups started popping up and now both The Meteor and Clarence Street are back in community hands with a vibrant theatre scene. And then there are other things that have continued and evolved over time, like the Summer Shakespeare, which has been going on longer than I’ve been here.

What do you think of the New Zealand attitude to theatre in general?

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

Kryztal Kapulet, (because she thinks it’s cooler if it’s spelt with a K)

In some ways, I see Hamilton as a microcosm of the country. We’re the New Zealand of New Zealand. We produce a lot of good writers and performers, but only ever consider them as successes once they make it elsewhere. We’re a net exporter of talent.

And while we actually innovate and create challenging art, it takes time before it’s “safe” for the general population to absorb it as part of the NZ identity. Most famous NZ plays are pretty iconoclastic works. But in a lot of ways we’re quite conservative as an art consuming culture. Our tastes, in general, are for safe and comfortable things.

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

Diamantay Montague

Roger Hall is probably New Zealand’s most successful playwright and he’s perfected the niche of his work growing older with the baby boomer generation. But new works have a much tougher time. And while we seem to love musicals, getting an audience for an original one is a real uphill battle.

I think the biggest change it’s no longer taken as a given that we’re a monolithic culture. As we become more accepting of the variety in what it means to be a New Zealander, I think the attitudes to theatre will start to change, sections at a time.

That’s a really cool answer… So, will you tell us more about what you’re working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on an original comedy sketch show called Like, Shakespeare?. It’s about putting classical characters into modern settings and finding the comedy in both. It’s been great to get some of the people I work with writing for the first time in an encouraging setting. After that I have an improvised horror play in the Hamilton Fringe Festival in October, and am hopefully getting an original musical of mine on stage in 2018.

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

Two households, both as undignified as each other…

Thanks, Ross! So Like, Shakespeare? starts at 7.30pm on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of August (2017,) with a matinee performance at 2pm on the 5th, at the Meteor Theatre. If you’re anywhere near Hamilton, come and check it out because – guess what? – I’m in it! I wrote a whole bit where the Capulets and the Montagues are CHAVs on a Jeremy Kyle-like show… it’s going to be awesome. See you there!

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

… that is the Millenial Question

Oh, and check out our promotional video to see what I look like as the girl from The Ring