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

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

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

Marokopa Falls (and a Taste of Fame!)

I’m sitting in Hamilton’s Italian Renaissance Garden and my day has just been made.

It’s sunny, but cool. Tim’s working next to me and my parents are geocaching in one of the other gardens. It’s the school holidays, which explains all the children. Spring is very much in evidence.

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New ZealandI should be working too, but I can’t: my brain’s still swooning from the dizzying heights of fame.

It’s finally happened, you see.

A complete stranger approached me – here in the Hamilton Gardens – and said, “Are you Abigail Simpson? I read your blog!”

Oh. My. God.

Definitive proof that Poms Away isn’t read merely by friends, family and that person who keeps clicking on it after typing ‘amateur hairy chinese bush’ into a search engine! (One of my earliest posts describes the kiwi as a hairy fruit, also known as a Chinese gooseberry, that grows on a bush. I can only imagine the searcher’s disappointment.)

Marokopa FallsBut anyway.

I’m supposed to be writing more about mine and Tim’s recent campervan trip. We did so much in nine days. I’ve spent the last three Poms Away articles describing places in Waitomo alone! We were there two nights. Before leaving for Tongariro National Park, we took advantage of a sunny winter morning to see Marokopa Falls and the Mangapohue Natural Bridge.

You may as well, as we did, visit Marokopa Falls and the Mangapohue Natural Bridge at the same time, as they’re just up the road from each other. Marokopa Falls are at the end of a really short track. You pretty much just park up and you’re there. Here’s a picture of our two-berth campervan rental at the side of the road, with sheep in the background just so you can be sure it’s in New Zealand:

Campervan Marokopa Falls

I hesitate to say that Marokopa Falls are beautiful, if only because I always seem to be visiting waterfalls and they’re all beautiful. I mean I wrote an article about the best waterfalls to visit in the North Island for Not Australia and I can’t say Marokopa Falls are any better than any of those. They are fairly impressive, though. Marokopa Falls are quite wide and there’s an interesting rock formation down the side.

Marokopa Falls

I’m not saying Marokopa Falls aren’t worth visiting, but if you’ve only got time to do one or the other, definitely do the natural bridge. Mangapohue Natural Bridge… well, actually, I’ll leave that for my next article.

Marokopa Falls

Oh, just FYI: the picture at the top of this article wasn’t taken by me. It’s a public domain image from pixabay.com. The other photos are mine, though.

Also, I had a go at making an ad for one of my other sites, www.trippla.nz – what do you think? Does it look like a “real” ad?

New Zealand road trip itinerary ideas

Springtime for Hamilton Gardens

There’s always something going on at the Hamilton Gardens. The weekend before last there was a model railway exhibition. I wouldn’t have gone to it myself, but my parents were visiting and my dad’s obsessed with trains. His own model railway takes up nearly half a double garage, and he’s started another one in a shed. (Mum wasn’t keen on him building one around the top of their lounge.)

Model Railway

Some of the layouts were quite interesting. I especially enjoyed seeing the ones set in Germany and Austria. They reminded me of my real train journey through Europe. My dad’s layout is based on our hometown in England. Mostly. He’s added a few quirky touches, such as a 1960s police box (or TARDIS) and zombies emerging from a graveyard. It’s really good, actually. The Victorian terraced houses make me nostalgic.

I didn’t find the model railway exhibition nearly as interesting as the gardens themselves, though. I know I go to the gardens a lot, but seeing them in the springtime is something special. I couldn’t resist taking these photos of the Italian Renaissance Garden

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

When my dad finally emerged from the exhibition, he wanted to do some geocaching. It’s another obsession of his, albeit a recent one. There were a few hidden caches around the gardens. In one there was a trackable coin that had been all over the world. I followed him with my mum and partner, catching Pokémon on my phone as I went. I wonder if we’ll ever walk around the gardens normally again!

Getting Lost in Fantasy Gardens

If you’re travelling around New Zealand and you like gardens, visit Hamilton. Hamilton Gardens won International Garden of the Year 2014 and it’s still growing.

The wonder of Hamilton Gardens lies in its layout. It has many different collections of gardens within it. I’ve already blogged about the Paradise Collection (and in particular the Italian Renaissance Garden,) so this time I’ll be focussing on the Fantasy Collection.

Tropical Garden

Enter through the Tropical Garden. On a sunny day you’ll be dazzled by colour and succulent smells. Luscious greenery frames a long pool. Cross the bridge and pass under the archway…

Hamilton Gardens

You’ll find yourself in a circular courtyard with many more archways; many paths to choose from. A certain set of bronze sculptures serves to remind you that you’re in a fantasy world…

Alice in Wonderland

Alice, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare taking tea in Wonderland

Archway

The Chinoiserie Archway

Choose one arch and you’re in the Tudor Garden; another and you’re in the Chinoiserie Garden. The Tudor Garden is a blend of history and fantasy: a period building and hedge patterns surrounded by poles, on the top of which perch various mythical beasts. The Chinoiserie Garden is a recreation of what eighteenth-century Europeans thought Chinese gardens looked like – a sort of Oriental fantasy. It’s possibly the least interesting garden in the complex.

Here’s a picture from the actual Chinese Garden (in the Paradise Collection…)

ChineseGarden

Next to the Fantasy Collection, which has more gardens under construction, is the Productive Collection. This includes a traditional Maori garden, an enormous vegetable garden, a herb garden and the charming Sustainable Backyard.

The Herb Garden is beautiful, but probably not anything you haven’t seen before.

HerbGarden2

The Sustainable Backyard is a quirky working garden showcasing many interesting ideas.

Couch Sustainable Garden Hamilton Gardens New Zealand

Yup, that couch has old remote controls stuck in it. Among other things.

Hamilton Gardens is free to enter. It’s got other collections, as well as a café overlooking a lake. Well worth a visit anyway. I go all the time.

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

Exploring Hamilton’s Parks

Say what you like about Hamilton, it’s got some pretty nice parks. I’ve just been for a walk along the east side of the river, passing through Parana Park, Memorial Park and Hayes Paddock and, I have to say, I was impressed.

It was great walking by the river, seeing the city centre along the opposite bank, separated from the water by trees. There are always people rowing on the river. To have such a peaceful stroll in such an urban area is something special. It made me feel good about moving to Hamilton.

But the parks would be impressive even without the Waikato River. Well, Memorial Park and Parana Park would be, anyway. Hayes Paddock is nothing special, but it does have an adult fitness trail – various pieces of free public exercise equipment placed at points on either side of the path.

Walking through Memorial Park and Parana Park just made me smile. They’re right by each other, so it’s one big park really. Memorial Park, of course, has a war memorial, but it also has a Spitfire. Just casually in the middle of the park.

MemorialParksSpitfire

It’s quite enlightening walking around, as there are a few signs explaining the history of both parks, contributing to my education in the history of Hamilton as a whole. There’s also a preserved Victorian gunship, which brought Hamilton’s earliest European settlers up the river in 1864.

MemorialPark1

Memorial Park has a beautiful flower garden. The colours were so bright – I suppose I was lucky to see it for the first time at this time of year. The benches in it looked so inviting, as did the cool colonnaded area behind it. I love grottos like this!

MemorialPark2

I also love stone bridges. One connects Memorial Park to Parana Park, over a little stream. I followed the stream, accompanied by a mother duck with ducklings in tow. There are a few charming pathways through the trees. It’ll take another visit to the park to find them all.

ParanaParkSteps

The best thing about Parana Park is the Potter Children’s Garden. It isn’t just a playground. It’s wonderful. It even has an aviary with exotic birds chirping away inside it. There’s a big, multi-sectioned paddling pool with running water, an amphitheatre, a playhouse, balancing beams…

ParanaParkChildrensGarden2

And it all looks so nice, complete with a fancy lookout platform over the river. There are even a couple of little tunnels that look like hobbit holes. I kinda get the feeling that was done deliberately. Waikato is the home of Hobbiton, after all. (I went there last year. It was AWESOME.)

ParanaParkChildrensGarden1

Waikato has some great places to visit. Hamilton itself isn’t exactly a dream holiday destination, but if you’re passing through and you don’t have hours to explore the incredible Hamilton Gardens, you could stop a while in Memorial/Parana Park. Especially if you have kids.

You can’t park a campervan overnight there, unfortunately – in fact, a look at the Rankers map has just shown me that you can’t camp for free anywhere in Hamilton. (Unlike in Tauranga, for example.) There are free spots in Ngaruawahia, though, and that’s only a little way outside Hamilton. Better than nothing.

Hey – there’s another slogan for you, Hamilton: ‘Better than nothing.’ (Hamilton has an amusing history of failed slogans, including ‘More than you expect’ and ‘City of the Future’. There is currently no slogan. I think they’ve given up.)

ParanaParkSculpture

Not Just Cows and Chlamydia: My First Impressions of Hamilton

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 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.

gardenplaceThe 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.

riffraffHamilton’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.

casabellalane1There’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?

riverside

*Hamilton is not actually the STD Capital of New Zealand. This doesn’t stop everyone saying it is.

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