Top 10 Places to Hunt Pokémon in Hamilton

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of a certain massively successful mobile game called Pokémon Go. Perhaps it made you wish you were living under a rock, but not me. I’m one of those people who purchased a smart phone just to play it, having never owned one before. I’m a child of the ’90s, you see. I played the Game Boy games, collected the cards, and watched the series whenever my parents didn’t turn it off.

Is it a good game? I wouldn’t go that far, but since starting it I’ve been walking approximately fifty kilometres a week. Okay, so maybe I would go that far – I’ve lost three kilos! My epic quest to catch ’em all has led me places I’ve never been before; down streets I’d never otherwise explore. I’ve lived in Hamilton nearly two years and feel I know it better now, all thanks to Pokémon.

So… where are the best spots to catch Pokémon in Hamilton? Here are the top ten places I’ve found:

1) Hamilton Gardens

Of course Hamilton’s best (and practically only) tourist attraction is teeming with Pokémon. The gardens are a joy to walk around anyway – I’ve said so many times before – and now there’s an added bonus.

ChineseGarden

Check out the Hamilton Gardens

2) Hamilton Lake

While perhaps not devastatingly beautiful, Hamilton Lake is a fantastic place to go for walk. The path is perfect the whole way round, and it has a rather impressive playground. Of course, it’s a preferred hangout of water Pokémon.

Pukeko at Hamilton Lake
Check out Hamilton Lake

3) Memorial Park

Memorial Park can be almost as beautiful as the gardens. It – and its immediate neighbour, Parana Park – is absolutely full of Pokémon. I bet it’s never seen so many people in it at once, except during the ANZAC Day dawn service! Parking on the adjacent street has become a nightmare, and someone’s even had the foresight to set up a coffee cart. Some nights, there are hundreds of players wandering back and forth, eyes glued to their phones. It’s a beautiful thing. Rather satisfyingly, the gym in Memorial Park is a Spitfire.

Memorial Park, Hamilton
Check out Memorial Park

4) Along the River

The city of Hamilton is bisected by the Waikato River, and there are paths down both sides that go for miles. This is a great thing for residents of the city – one of the many reasons I love living here – and it’s not bad for Pokémon either. One particularly rich section, I’ve found, lies between the Fairfield and Pukete bridges on the west bank.

5) Garden Place

Garden Place is the city of Hamilton’s main square. The whole city centre’s okay for Pokémon, really, but Garden Place has a high density of PokéStops. You’ll often get lures there at lunchtime.

Garden Place, Hamilton

6) The Waikato Uni campus

I went to the University of Auckland, the students of which have sometimes been known to look down upon the University of Waikato. I was surprised, therefore, to find that the Waikato Uni campus is a lot nicer to walk around than the Auckland Uni campus. There are three lakes and plenty of Pokémon.

7) Victoria Street

This is Hamilton’s main street. Upon it, you’ll find an awesome statue of Riff Raff from Rocky Horror, which is now also a Pokémon gym.

riffraff

8) The Base

This is a huge shopping centre on the edge of Hamilton. The supply of Pokémon here is never-ending.

9) Five Cross Roads

This is just a collection of shops, mostly takeaways, at a roundabout where five roads meet. No reason to go there, really, but I was surprised at the sheer number of Pokémon.

10) Seddon Park

A cricket ground on the edge of the city centre, a walk around the perimeter of Seddon Park can yield great rewards Pokémon-wise. It’s next-door to the small-but-sweet Boyes Park, which has a rather striking feature fountain.

Boyes Park, Hamilton

You might say I’ve got far too much time on my hands, but it doesn’t feel like it! Besides, it’s an interesting way to keep myself fit. Nerds like me need all the encouragement we can get to go outside.

If you’re a fellow Hamiltonian Pokémon trainer, do please share the good spots you’ve found!

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The Best Place to Live in New Zealand

Mount Maunganui

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 an analysis of the four places I’ve lived, plus Bethells, beginning with…

Waiuku

Waiuku Weather StoneI was ten years old when we found ourselves in Waiuku, a small town surrounded by farmland. It’s located at the southern tip of the Manukau Harbour and is within easy driving distance of several beaches. The two nicest are Awhitu and Kariotahi, which, despite being quite close to one another, are whole worlds apart. Awhitu has calm waters and golden sand, making it perfect for picnics, whereas Kariotahi has wild waves and velvety, black sand, making it perfect for surfing. It’s also perfect for watching the sun set over the Tasman Sea from the cliff tops.

Waiuku Clock TowerIn Waiuku, we lived within easy walking distance of yet another beach, this one called Sandspit. I was always wandering down there. There was a big slide in the water… It’s still there, actually. I went to Sandspit Road School, a primary school that starts at Year 1 and finishes at Year 8. I remember being quite disappointed that I wouldn’t move up to “big school” in Year 7, as I would have done in England, instead having to wait until Year 9. I was bullied quite badly in the mean time. (I believe this had more to do with New Zealand’s – and especially small-town New Zealand’s – tendencies towards anti-intellectualism and tall poppy syndrome, though, than with me being an immigrant. See The People of New Zealand for an account of my first day of school in New Zealand.)

WaiukuDespite the bullying, Waiuku always felt like a safe town to me. My parents were letting me walk places on my own within days of settling there. The town centre was quiet, but lovely, with a few nice cafes and historic buildings. When my family first moved there, we believed it a wonderfully idyllic place. It was only after a few years that we were itching to get out. My parents both taught at Waiuku College, which had a rather high proportion of newly-emigrated teachers. We soon found out that was because no one who was familiar with Waiuku wanted to teach there. The newly-emigrated teachers were, like us, still seeing things through rose-tinted glasses.

The Kentish Hotel, WaiukuNot that rose-tinted, though. I mean, compared to where we’d just come from, Waiuku really was great. People mock it, and it does have its bad aspects, but it’s not a bad place to live. I recently returned there for a few hours with my partner, only to find that it’s actually improved in the ten years since I lived there. And it’s set to grow even further. With the Auckland housing shortage and rocketing house prices, Waiuku’s becoming a popular place to commute from. It’s only a fifty-minute drive from Auckland City. Well, fifty minutes without traffic, that is. With traffic, I shudder to think.

WaiukuOnce, I would have said don’t live in Waiuku. Run from it. But I’m not going to say that now. If you’re after a peaceful, small-town life that’s not too isolated, you could do a lot worse. Waiuku’s problems are the problems you’d expect of any small town; its rewards are many.

Tauranga

Mount Maunganui BeachWhen my family lived in Waiuku, we once went on holiday to Tauranga. I never dreamed we’d end up living there! It’s somewhere rich people live. We were never rich. We lived in a tiny terrace with a shared garden in England, but, lifestyle-wise, we got very lucky, I guess. When we moved to New Zealand in 2001, the exchange rate was three New Zealand dollars for every one pound, so we ended up with a house far nicer than we ever could have had in England. Then, when we moved to Tauranga, my nana sold her house in England and came to live with us, so we could get an even nicer house… Yeah, we got lucky.

Red Square, TaurangaTauranga is a balmy, coastal city that’s an extremely popular retirement destination. I love the fact that while it has all the amenities of a city, it’s still quite small. It feels so laidback, especially compared to Auckland – even Hamilton. It has lots of flash bars and restaurants, and plenty of awesome places to go shopping, but it’s relaxed. You can stroll along the harbourfront and climb Mount Maunganui, and you can take your pick of beaches.

TaurangaOf course, being a city, Tauranga has a few different schools to choose from. The school I ended up at, Otumoetai College, turned out to be a lot better for me than Waiuku College had been. Waiuku College had been too small to offer subjects such as Classical Studies, which turned out to be my favourite subject! There were simply more opportunities at Otumoetai. I wasn’t bullied there, either, although that might be to do with the fact that I was now in Sixth Form, or Year 12, and bullying tends to drop off at that age.

Mount Bench(My little sister got bullied there, though. One boy in particular wouldn’t leave her alone. Until the day she lost it in front of the whole school and started beating him up. The teachers hated to punish her, really.)

I was only in Tauranga for two years before it was time to leave for university. I chose the University of Auckland partly because it’s the only university in New Zealand to be ranked amongst the top 100 universities in the world, and partly because it’s only a three-hour drive from Tauranga. My parents still live in Tauranga, so I go back a lot and, every time I do, I marvel at how wonderful a place it is to live.

Auckland Central

Sky TowerI lived in Auckland Central from 2009 – 2013. Three of those years I spent on Whitaker Place, the most densely populated street in New Zealand. (Parking was a nightmare.) Whitaker Place is five minute’s walk from the main University of Auckland campus, so, naturally, it’s chock-a-block with student accommodation. When I lived there, a single room cost about $200 per week to rent and, knowing Auckland, it’s probably gone up significantly since. (And the Student Loan still only goes up to $176.86 per week.) Yes, Auckland prices are horrendous, but what’s it like to live in the city?

Auckland Domain Winter GardenActually pretty good. Auckland’s a very walkable city, and while its public transport isn’t the best, its buses are adequate. There are several great areas you can walk to from the centre: the Domain, Albert Park, Mount Eden and the harbourfront all come to mind. Being New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland has the most jobs and the most things happening. Not being in Auckland, I miss being able to easily get to so many events. Many tourists and immigrants actually find Auckland a peaceful city, because, comparatively, it is. Fewer than two million people live there!

Auckland Book SwapAuckland feels very fresh as a city. Being right on the sea helps, I suppose. There are so many beaches, and nature walks are only half an hour’s drive away. Auckland was recently ranked as the world’s third most liveable city, because it does have a lot going for it. I managed to enjoy living there and, being a student, I really didn’t have any money to spare. If you do live in Auckland, though, be prepared to spend well over half of what you earn on housing, and be prepared to get stuck in traffic.

Hamilton

Garden Place, HamiltonDue to the Auckland housing crisis, more and more jafas are moving down to Hamilton, which is driving up Hamilton house prices, which is p**sing off all the Hamiltonians now having to compete for flats. (Jafa = Just Another F**king Aucklander.) Whenever this fact is mentioned, my partner and I look awkwardly away and begin to innocently whistle. Hamilton is an hour-and-a-half’s drive south of Auckland, and whilst some people are prepared to commute that far, my partner and I came here because it’s where he happened to score an IT job out of uni.

Waikato River, HamiltonWe also chose Hamilton because we wanted to live far enough away from our parents to feel independent, yet close enough to visit easily. Hamilton is an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Tauranga, where my parents live, and two hours from Bethells Beach, which I’ll talk about next.

That’s the thing about Hamilton. People are always talking about how conveniently close it is to other places. Oh, it’s great if you want to visit Raglan, or Waitomo, or Hobbiton… As for Hamilton itself, well…

Casabella Lane, HamiltonWhen we said we were moving here, people laughed at us. Hamilton is a small city, larger than Tauranga, but seen somehow as being comprised of farmers with ideas above their station. People mock it as the STD capital of New Zealand, even though statistics show that it’s not. True, the city centre of Hamilton isn’t particularly nice, except for Garden Place and Casabella Lane (in the picture,) there are a lot of beggars, and there’s not all that much to do, but, in all seriousness, Hamilton doesn’t deserve the reputation it has.

Chinese Garden, Hamilton GardensHamilton has three great things going for it: Firstly, the Hamilton Gardens. They’re officially amongst the best gardens in the world and they’re free to enter. Secondly, the Waikato River. While it’s polluted by farm run-off to the extent that you wouldn’t want to swim in it, (though people still do,) it looks very pretty, running directly through the city with plenty of trees, parks and bicycle paths along its banks. Thirdly, Hamilton Zoo is just as good as good as Auckland Zoo, if not better. Hamilton’s also got a lake that’s pleasant to walk around, walking distance from the city centre. Just don’t go there at night.

Parana Park Childrens Garden, HamiltonMy partner and I actually quite enjoy living here. It’s nice to be able to walk and cycle places. (We only use the car for visiting our parents.) It’s got a few excellent playgrounds, (not that we’re planning on having kids any time soon,) and nice-looking houses. Whenever we go back to Auckland, my partner looks out of the window and goes, “Wow, look at the all the tall buildings and flashy lights! I’m not used to it anymore!”

Bethells Beach

Bethells BeachAlthough we met when we both lived on Whitaker Place, attending uni, my partner is from Bethells Beach, a community out in the wop-wops, on the very west coast of Auckland. It’s a rugged place, full of aging hippies living alternative lifestyles. It’s so peaceful. The only sound you occasionally hear echoing through the valley, my partner once joked, is that of a police helicopter searching for marijuana patches. Also known as Te Henga, Bethells Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole of New Zealand. I’m not biased. Well, I am, but it’s not just me. So many films, television series and music videos use Bethells for a location, especially those in the fantasy genre. It has a magical quality, something that just draws people to it… The community at Bethells is closer than in any place I’ve lived. People don’t just know their neighbours, they invite them to parties. They even have bands down at the beach in summer.

Bethells BeachBethells is surrounded by the emerald bush of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. Whenever we’re driving there, when we get to the edge of Auckland City and the trees start coming up around us, my partner simply sighs in relief. Of course, its isolation is both a pro and a con. It’s a half-hour drive along narrow, winding and sometimes unsealed roads to the nearest shops, further to a big supermarket. It’s ironic that people trying to lead such environmentally friendly lifestyles are forced to use so much petrol. Until recently, the Internet out at Bethells was almost unusable, but it’s getting better. The biggest drawback for me is all the mosquitoes, but apart from that, life at Bethells is almost perfect.

Bethells BeachIf you love nature, want to know your neighbours, enjoy a quiet life, want beach views, don’t get car sick and don’t mind long drives to buy food or, indeed, go anywhere else at all, Bethells Beach is a great place to live.

Tauranga Rocks 4I honestly think you could be happy living anywhere I’ve mentioned. I think it’s obvious, though, that my favourite is Tauranga. It’s peaceful, with beaches right on your doorstep, not to mention Mount Maunganui, and other nature walks an easy drive away, but with all the convenience that cities bring.

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.

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.

New Zealand’s Biggest Christmas Tree

This is the biggest Christmas tree in New Zealand.

HamiltonChristmasTree2

It can be found in the centre of Hamilton, in the square known as Garden Place, every December.

HamiltonChristmasTree4

These photographs were taken yesterday. It was boiling hot. Unblemished blue skies and Christmas trees… I’ve lived in New Zealand for over half my life and still – still – in my mind, these things just don’t mix!

Me for scale

Me for scale

The tree is twenty-seven metres tall – that’s over six storeys high. It certainly looks impressive by the sweltering light of day, but night-time is when it really shines. The official turning on of the lights had to be delayed this year, though, due to bad weather.

HamiltonChristmasTree3

I know! The weather’s all over the place at the moment, but that’s spring for you.

A Wander through Waikato Museum

I’ve been meaning to visit our local museum for ages. I’ve walked past it so many times, on Hamilton’s main street, overlooking the Waikato River. It’s free to enter, except for a couple of children’s exhibitions, and doesn’t take that long to go round. It’s also in quite a nice building, at least from the back, the side facing the river. Well today I finally checked it out.

Waikato Museum

Part of the back of the museum

By far the best exhibition was entitled ‘For us They Fell’, all about the people of Waikato’s involvement in the First World War, but I also enjoyed ‘Passing People’, and exhibition showcasing the art of John Badcock.

Each of his paintings seemed ultra-realistic – not photorealistic, but more than that. It was like you could see the lives of the people; imagine their stories. Each person was unique and amazing. I almost expected them to start talking, which is not a feeling I’ve ever had before when looking at a painting.

Waikato Museum

More of the back of the museum

There were other art exhibitions in the museum, but they didn’t really capture me. The place actually seemed more of an art gallery than a museum, but there was a small exhibition about the Freemasons, and another exhibition displaying a giant penguin fossil found in Kawhia in 2006.

The most beautiful exhibition was about the Maori King movement, an integral part of the history of Waikato – and I wished they’d gone into more detail! The centrepiece was a (restored) 200-year-old canoe, or waka, called Te Winika. You weren’t allowed to take photographs in the exhibition, but here’s a picture of Te Whare Waka o Te Winika from the outside:

Waikato Museum Te Whare Waka o Te Winika

And this is something I almost missed entirely, a piece of art you have to look out of one of the museum’s windows to see, suspended between the trees, over the river:

WaikatoMuseum4

Cool, eh?

I’m a history geek, so I like visiting museums. Here’s a link to a thing I made about some of the best museums in New Zealand:

10 Quite Cool Museums to Visit in New Zealand

A Walk around Hamilton Lake

So I finally got around to going to Lake Rotoroa, or Hamilton Lake. It’s inexcusable. I’ve lived in Hamilton since January! (Well, okay, I did visit the lake once, but that was before I lived here and before the awesome playground was built. Anyway.)

Hamilton Lake

The Hamilton Lake Domain is a five or ten-minute walk from the Hamilton city centre. The lake isn’t massive, but it still takes nearly an hour to walk around. It’s not staggeringly pretty or anything, but it’s great to have such a nice walk in the middle of a city. The paths are well-maintained and there are plenty of places to sit down as you go.

New Zealand Pukeko

There’s a lot of birdlife around the lake. I’ve never seen so many pukekos at once! They were really friendly too. People obviously feed them, because one came practically running up to me as soon as I arrived. There were quite a few coots as well, along with the expected pigeons and ducks.

Hamilton Lake TrainI didn’t go to the lakeside café, but it looked decent. It was in an interesting building, at least. Tucked away behind it, rather surprisingly, was an old train. I didn’t spot any signs explaining its presence, but then again I wasn’t particularly looking.

The best thing about the Hamilton Lake Domain is it’s got a very impressive playground. I would have loved it as a kid. It was only built this year and it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s huge, overlooking the lake, and it’s got a few fascinating water-sculpture-type-things. I recognised one as an Archimedes screw.

Hamilton Lake Playground

There’s also a rose garden, which, unfortunately, looks a bit lame at the moment. Wrong time of year, I suppose. I quite liked the sculpture next to it, though.

Koru Sculpture Hamilton Lake

I don’t know how anyone can say Hamilton is an awful place to live when it’s got places like this. Even the nearby water tower is the prettiest water tower I’ve ever encountered, adorned with columns to give it the suggestion of classical architecture. (Well, okay, it’s not pretty, but at least it’s ugly in an interesting way. Anyway.)

Water Tower Hamilton Lake

For more about life in the New Zealand city of Hamilton, see:

Exploring Hamilton’s Parks

The Best Place to Go in Hamilton

Hamilton Lake