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.

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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

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

 

Hamilton’s Historic Estate

Woodlands Historic Homestead

Need help finding things to do in Hamilton, New Zealand? Probably. At first glance, it can seem like the only place worth visiting in Hamilton is the Gardens. At second glance, you have to concede that the zoo is a great place to go in Hamilton as well. Then you’ve got the museum, Taitua Arboretum, Memorial Park and the lake. Admittedly, after that you’re beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel. We’ve lived in Hamilton for two years and we’re rapidly running out of new things to see. We have to keep visiting relatives entertained somehow!

Last weekend, however, we visited somewhere we’d never been before, Woodlands Historic Homestead and Gardens. It’s about fifteen minutes by car from the centre of Hamilton, in a village called Gordonton. (By the looks of things, it won’t be a village much longer. In a few years, it’ll be swallowed up by the growing city and become just another suburb.) We were pleasantly surprised by how nice it was. I mean it’s not amazing or anything, but we’ve definitely found a new place in Hamilton to take our families.

Woodlands EstateWhen we arrived at Woodlands, we were greeted by the sight of uniformed children playing cricket on the lawn. How very English, wot! Also, in the carpark, there was a rustic stall selling produce from the gardens. Things already looked promising. We decided to look around the house first. This usually costs $5, but in the summer holidays it’s just $2. That day we got in for free, as we couldn’t go upstairs. (They were preparing for a wedding. Because of course they were preparing for a wedding.) Going around the gardens is free, but there is a box for donations.

Woodlands Estate SofaIt was by no means the most impressive historic house I’ve been around – not even in New Zealand. It was nice enough, though, and there was a big book you could flip through, explaining the history of the place. (The house was built in the 1870s.) I fell in love with the sofa, and with the book collection at the opposite end of the sitting room.

“No, we’re not coming back here under cover of darkness to steal books,” Tim said.

He’s such a spoilsport.

There was a mildly interesting little cellar and an old kitchen range. I think I saw some William Morris wallpaper. (Recognising William Morris wallpaper makes you sophisticated, right?) Then we stepped out into the gardens. The grass was still saturated from the spate of storms that still haven’t stopped, but that afternoon the sunlight gave the gardens a heavenly aura. We wove between the hedges and down the path to the pond.

Abby at the Woodlands Estate

The bridge over the pond looked quite magical, especially as we were coming up the driveway. The white ducks appeared to glow in the sunlight. It was a lovely place to just… sit. Or take wedding photographs, I suppose. Speaking of which, we found this beribboned swing waiting for the bride.

Woodlands Estate Wedding Swing

It didn’t take us as long as we’d expected to walk around the gardens, so we decided to check out the onsite café. It’s called Prof’s, and, apparently, there’s a quiz there on Friday nights. (Might be worth going to one of these days. I love quizzes.) We found the café to be beautifully decorated on the inside and the menu to be quite irresistible. Sitting in the café was when we decided that we had to bring our families to Woodlands.

The café seemed to cater very well to children. There was sports equipment outside, and board games and books inside. Everything looked very… civilised. Especially with the cricket going on in the background.

Woodlands Historic GardensSo, if you’re travelling around New Zealand and don’t know what to do in Hamilton, Woodlands Historic Homestead and Gardens is a relaxing place to have lunch, with enough to keep both children and adults entertained for a couple of hours. If you’re on a New Zealand campervan trip, the nearest free camping spot (for self-contained vehicles only) is the carpark at Porritt Stadium.

For more places to see in Hamilton, check out the Hamilton category of this blog. (Yes, Hamilton has its own category now. I do live here, after all.)

Not Just Cows and Chlamydia: My First Impressions of Hamilton

I have now lived in Hamilton for two years. It must be doing something right.

POMS AWAY!

Well, I live in Hamilton now. Never thought I’d say that.

For those of you who don’t live in New Zealand, Hamilton is… well, it’s just one of those places. It’s mercilessly mocked by the rest of the country, perhaps a little unfairly.

Cows and chlamydia – that’s what you think of when someone mentions Hamilton. A boring, low-class place, full of upstart dairy farmers, criminals, druggies and teenage parents.

Of course, it’s not just that. Admittedly, I have witnessed more poverty in Hamilton than in either Auckland Central or Tauranga, and the other day I had to walk past a father bellowing, “I’m gonna f**kin’ smash you, c**t!” at his son. However, despite those two negative experiences, I have to say that, so far, I like Hamilton.

waikatoriver

It’s a nice-looking city. I mean, there’s a big river running through it that has some lovely walkways and parks along its…

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The Best Place to Live in New Zealand

Mount Maunganui

POMS AWAY!

Since moving to New Zealand, I’ve lived in four very different places:

1)Waiuku, a sleepy town south of Auckland,

Waiuku

2)Tauranga, a peaceful city in the Bay of Plenty,

Mount Beach

3)Auckland Central, the busiest part of New Zealand’s busiest city, and

Auckland Rangitoto

4)Hamilton, a city that’s mocked by the rest of the country, but actually has a lot going for it.

HamiltonChristmasTree

I’ve also experienced life out at Bethells Beach, as that’s where my partner’s from. He’d tell you it’s the best place to live in the country hands down, but I’m not so sure. Yes, it’s close to a very beautiful beach and boasts magnificent valley views, but it has its disadvantages too.

The mysterious West Coast (Bethells Beach)

So what is the best place to live in New Zealand? Obviously, I can only speak from my own experience, but someone somewhere might find this useful. I’m going to attempt…

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