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.
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 banks. The council’s obviously made a real effort.
It’s a friendly city. More people say hello to me on the street than in either Auckland or Tauranga – and only some of them are asking for a dollar.
It’s a university city. (I’m still young enough to find the presence students a good thing.)
It’s a cultural city. Seriously – don’t laugh – there’s a lot of good stuff going on. Plays and markets and events at the Hamilton Gardens and such.
It’s an inexpensive city. More and more Aucklanders are moving to Hamilton because houses are cheaper – it’s why my boyfriend and I moved here, to be honest. We’re renting a properly nice two-bedroom flat with all mod cons, five minutes’ walk from the river and city centre, and we’re paying significantly less than what my little sister’s paying for a crummy, damp, kitchenless, two-bedroom hole with no mod cons in Auckland.
Also, Hamilton has very little traffic compared to Auckland. Although how long that will last with all the Aucklanders coming here, I’ve no idea.
The main difference between Hamilton and the two other New Zealand cities I’ve lived in, (Auckland and Tauranga,) is that Hamilton isn’t on the coast. It hit me the other day when I was having lunch in Garden Place, Hamilton’s main square: there weren’t any seagulls mobbing me, only sparrows. It really is strange not to be hearing seagulls all the time.
I suppose I’ll miss being able to walk to a beach whenever I want. But, then again, Hamilton has the Waikato River, and Hamilton Lake, and the absolutely wonderful Hamilton Gardens. I wrote an article about the Hamilton Gardens ages ago, but no doubt I’ll be writing another, more detailed one at some point in the future. They just get better and better.
Hamilton’s CBD is fairly boring, though it does have some quirky touches. Garden Place, for example, has a few sculptures, fountains and a giant chessboard – not to mention a tree over six stories high come Christmas – and on Victoria Street, there’s a Weta Workshop-designed statue of Richard O’Brien from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, along with instructions for performing the Time Warp. (Richard O’Brien used to live in Hamilton, you see.) The council’s clearly doing a good job of making Hamilton continually nicer.
The Garden Place Library is quite impressive. The Waikato Museum on the riverbank looks worth visiting too. The city centre has a solid range of interesting shops and restaurants, and I found a big second-hand bookshop the other day, which I’m happy about. I’ve already got a royalty card.
There’s also a lovely little street called Casabella Lane, which is done up all like a Mediterranean courtyard. Unfortunately, the ‘French’ café there isn’t very good. Such a gorgeous setting deserves better food. There’s a nice bookshop on Casabella Lane, though, and just walking up it is pleasant in itself.
The best thing about Hamilton, apart from the Gardens, is being able to take a few steps off the main shopping street and immediately be at the riverside, on a peaceful path leading off into the trees. In terms of city walks, Hamilton might even be better than Auckland. I did see quite a few condoms in the bushes at the side of the path, but – hey – at least the STD Capital of New Zealand* is getting the safe sex message, right?
*Hamilton is not actually the STD Capital of New Zealand. This doesn’t stop everyone saying it is.