The Auckland Botanic Gardens

Auckland Botanic Gardens

Sunday morning. Grey rain stippled the windows. So much for meeting Tim’s family at the Auckland Botanic Gardens.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

We tried to think of somewhere else we could go in South Auckland. Somewhere undercover that wasn’t a shopping centre. Easier said than done. We came up with Butterfly Creek and Spookers – can you think of any more?

Auckland Botanic Gardens

We ended up walking around the gardens anyway. It was great. The rain slowed to a drizzle before stopping entirely. We even got some sunshine. That’s the thing about New Zealand weather: the whole ‘four seasons in one day’ thing can work in your favour!

Auckland Botanic Gardens

The Auckland Botanic Gardens are very different to the Hamilton Gardens. They’ve got more room for starters. I definitely prefer the Hamilton Gardens, because each garden is like its own little world, but the Auckland Botanic Gardens have many cool elements to recommend them.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

I liked the edible garden, especially as the café made use of the produce from it. (The café’s food was actually really nice.) I also liked the African garden. The simple conical sculptures – evocative of termite mounds – looked awesome. My favourite garden was possibly the Potter Children’s Garden.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

There’s a Potter Children’s Garden in Hamilton too – at Parana Park, but the one in Auckland is quite distinct. It didn’t have as many ‘playground’ elements, but was more educational. It had a jungle section and a Maori section, for example, as well as an interactive sundial.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

The gardens are very wheelchair friendly, which was good for us with Tim’s grandma. You can borrow mobility scooters from the Visitor Centre for free. The whole place is free to enter too. It’s only about twenty minutes from the airport, so keep it in mind if you’re ever touring New Zealand.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

In case you couldn’t tell, I like visiting gardens. Maybe because I’m English. I wrote an article on NZ Top List called 10 Quite Nice Gardens to Visit in New Zealand. (Because, being English, I also tend towards understatement.) You could also check out my articles about Tupare and Te Puna Quarry Park. Just sayin’.

Taitua Arboretum (with an international forestry expert!)

Chinese Archway, Taitua Arboretum, Hamilton, New Zealand

It’s a beautiful day in Hamilton. The sun’s shining with all the warmth of summer. What a wonderful day to stroll around Taitua Arboretum!

Pity we went yesterday when the weather wasn’t so good.

“Not a sky in the clouds,” a friend of mine said.

Ah well. We still enjoyed it.

FlowersTaitua Arboretum is a few minute’s drive out of Hamilton, towards Raglan. It’s free to enter and contains many hundreds of species of trees, both indigenous and exotic.

Now it just so happens that my partner’s uncle, who’s in New Zealand for a visit and was with us yesterday, is an international forestry expert. So what did Dr Alexander Hinrichs think of Taitua Arboretum?

“It’s pretty nice,” he said as we set out along the main track, umbrellas in hand.

The first place of note we came to was a ring of redwood trees, towering over us as one would expect redwoods to do. Inside the ring would be a nice place for a picnic on a more clement day.

Colourful TreeOn we went, the path carpeted with chestnuts. We were accompanied on our walk by a number of chickens. It was rather amusing to see them sheltering under a fir tree when the rain became too heavy. Even the ducks on the various ponds we passed were seeking shelter.

“It’s a diverse collection,” our international forestry expert commented. “Obviously not planted with any scientific thought, but it’s interesting. I like it.”

According to the leaflet we collected at the entrance, Taitua Arboretum was developed by a husband and wife who sourced many of the trees during their world travels.

It’s a good walk. Not as beautiful as the Hamilton Gardens, but different. Fewer people. More like a bush walk. There are 2.3 kilometres of walking tracks and bridges, according to the leaflet, and it seems a popular place for people to take their dogs.

SculptureThe bamboo tunnel was cool. There was a Chinese archway, a tranquil pond and an intriguing sculpture…

I became rather excited when I saw a stone circle highlighted on the map, but, unfortunately, my excitement was somewhat misguided. (Does anyone know of any properly nice stone circles in New Zealand? Being a British history nerd I rather miss them. Obviously, there won’t be any ancient ones, as New Zealand wasn’t even inhabited by humans in the Neolithic, but maybe a modern enthusiast has built a “fake” one somewhere?)

There was also a classical ruin in the arboretum – fake, of course, but fun. I’m all for building follies – mock ruins of ancient buildings, such as Greek temples or medieval castles. I want to have one in my own garden one day, (though it will probably have to be a small one.) The Taitua ruin isn’t amazing or anything, but it’s a nice idea and I wouldn’t mind having a picnic there one day.

Classical Temple Folly, Taitua Arboretum, Hamilton, New Zealand

We’re all quite keen to go back to Taitua Arboretum on a sunny day. I don’t know if it’s worth travelling to Hamilton solely to visit it, but if you’re in Hamilton anyway then definitely go. You could combine it with a trip to Hamilton Zoo or the breathtaking Bridal Veil Falls.

An English Paradise in Taranaki

This is a rare sight in New Zealand: a beautiful English-style mansion surrounded by perfect gardens – complete with gardeners’ cottage – on a hill overlooking a river. It really is wonderfully twee. It’s called Tupare and it’s located just outside the city of New Plymouth. Built in the 1930s by a rich business man and his wife following an architecturally inspiring honeymoon in England, it’s now owned by the Taranaki Regional Council and is free to enter for everyone.

Tupare Garden StepsI came across a leaflet for Tupare at the Tawhiti Museum, whilst holidaying in Taranaki this summer with my parents and grandfather. My whole family loves nice gardens, so it wasn’t too difficult to convince them to go. My dad, at least, wasn’t expecting much, though. After all, how could somewhere in New Zealand live up all those National Trust houses and gardens we used to visit in England when I was a child?

Well, I don’t know whether we’ve been too long deprived of English historical sites, but Tupare more than surpassed our expectations. We were quite enchanted.

English Country House Tupare

The gardens were gorgeous. Seeing the Tudor-style gatehouse made me feel quite emotional, like I was a kid again, visiting an old country manor. Many paths snaked down to the house and on to the river. I had visions of Mary Lennox in a white dress and straw boater running between the manicured flowerbeds and quaint archways. I think if I lived in Taranaki I’d go there all the time, just to sit and read.

English Garden Tupare

Tours of the house are free too. They don’t run every day, but, quite by accident, our visit coincided with one. Seeing the antique furniture was delightful, but the best part of the house was the playroom: tucked away at the end of the upstairs corridor, all but concealed behind a narrow gap between two walls, only a slim adult would be able to squeeze into it. The children of the house must have found it magical, a hidden world all to themselves.

New Zealand Wood Pigeon Tupare

The only downside of Tupare is part of what makes it special: it’s on a steep hill. The walk back up to the car park was torture! But without the steep hill, there would be no views down to the river. There were a couple of teenage boys swimming in the river when we got there. Just imagine what it must have been like growing up there. It’s like a little bubble of old England. Only the tree ferns at the edge of the garden give away that it’s in New Zealand.

Upon leaving Tupare, we drove to the nearby Pukeiti, an enormous garden that’s been in development since the 1950s. It’s apparently renowned for its rhododendrons, but it was the wrong time of year for us to see them in all their glory. If you want to explore the whole garden, it will take you a few hours, but there are walks of different lengths to choose from. We had lunch at the café, which turned out to be quite nice, and set off on the one-hour Valley of the Giants Walk.

Pukeiti Flowers Taranaki

For us, Pukeiti suffered in comparison to Tupare, but it’s a different kind of garden, surrounded by native rainforest. During our walk, we came across a magnificent, dizzyingly tall hollow tree and some strikingly beautiful flowers. Like Tupare, Pukeiti is owned by the Taranaki Regional Council and is free to enter, as is Hollard Gardens, which we didn’t have time to visit, but which looks rather nice too.

Pink LillySo if any British immigrants to New Zealand find themselves feeling homesick, a road trip to Taranaki may be in order. The old English house and gardens of Tupare filled me with warm feelings, but it’s a great place to visit for anyone. (Unless you have walking difficulties, of course. The hill really is steep.)

I’d suggest taking a picnic with you, along with a blanket to put it in. Oh, and swimming gear might be a good idea too.

Hamilton’s Italian Paradise

ItalianGardenHamilton3There’s only one reason to visit Hamilton: the Gardens. Follow the Waikato River south out of the city centre and there you are. I’ve written about the Hamilton Gardens before, but last weekend I went again and discovered an entrance I never knew existed. I thought I’d seen all there was to see, but it turns out the Gardens are even more wonderful than I already believed.

They’re so extensive, with so many different sections, and they’re growing all the time. The fact that they’re free is an amazing gift to the people of Hamilton. And tourists. When I went on Sunday evening, there were a lot of families wandering around. As well as countless peaceful nooks for picnics, the Gardens have plenty of open spaces for playing.

ItalianGardenHamilton6It’s difficult to say which garden is my favourite. Possibly the Italian Renaissance Garden in the Paradise Collection. That’s where all this article’s photos come from anyway. It’s a very romantic place to sit and write. Of course, I’ve been to the ultimate Italian Renaissance garden, the one belonging to the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, near Rome. But Hamilton’s is pretty good.

ItalianGardenHamilton5I’m rather excited after reading about the Hamilton Gardens’ possible future developments, especially for the proposed eighteenth century garden, which could include classical ruins and a hermit’s cave. I absolutely adore classical ruins, even if they are fake, and find the subject of eighteenth century garden hermits quite fascinating.

ItalianGardenHamilton1(It was a bizarre practice wherein some rich people decided they fancied real life garden ornaments, so employed poor – or extremely eccentric – people to play the parts of hermits. These hermits would dress in rags and live in artificial caves in people’s gardens for a set number of years, during which time they weren’t allowed to speak, or they wouldn’t get paid at the end.)

Watch this episode of Tony Robinson’s The Worst Jobs in History – the garden hermit bit starts at 11:11 – to find out more.

ItalianGardenHamilton2Other possible future gardens include a surrealist garden, which I hope will be like Alice’s Wonderland, and an early twentieth century garden modelled on the one described in Katherine Mansfield’s short story The Garden Party. (Katherine Mansfield is an important figure in New Zealand literature. She was born in Wellington and spent the first nineteen years of her life here.)

Italian FountainBut even if they weren’t to make any new gardens, Hamilton Gardens would be a place to go again and again. I know I gush about them, but I do love them. They’re amongst the best gardens in the entire world. And that’s not just me saying that – they won International Garden of the Year last year.

Go Hamilton!

Exploring Hamilton’s Parks

The Best Place to Go in Hamilton

My family’s been to Hamilton lots since moving to New Zealand. It’s a nice city, despite the comments. (Kiwis think it’s boring. Young people call it Hamiltron, a nickname heaving with irony.)

UnicornThe Waikato River runs through it, there are a few nice restaurants, and it’s got a big, bronze statue of Richard O’Brien in full Rocky Horror costume, designed by Weta Workshop, because he used to live there. If that doesn’t make you want to visit Hamilton, here’s what used to be the official city slogan: Hamilton – more than you expect.

Seriously, though, you should visit.

The best place to go in ‘the Tron’ is the Hamilton Gardens. We go there every time. The gardens are impressive, varied and very beautiful. We rarely get round all of them in one go, but they’re free to enter, so you can go as often as you like.

There’s a lake you can walk around with a waterfall tumbling into it, a huge Victorian flower garden, a café and a giant chessboard, but they’re not the best bits. The best gardens are in the Paradise Collection.

There’s the Japanese garden, where you can sit in peaceful contemplation…

Japanese Pond 2

There’s the English garden, which really did make me feel at home…

English Garden

There’s the Chinese garden, where you can have a lovely picnic next to a pond…

Chinese 2

The American garden, where you can cool your feet with a pleasant paddle…

American

The Indian garden, where your senses are assaulted with vibrant colour…

Indian

And the Italian garden, which feels as romantic as Romeo and Juliet’s Verona…

Italian Fountain

And there are so many other gardens besides, with the Waikato River sailing past in the background. The only bad thing about the Hamilton Gardens is they can get really hot, so make sure you take a floppy hat.

Turtle Dragon