All the Colours of the Waikato Show

waikato show

One of the most important events of the Hamiltonian year is the Waikato Show. It’s been held every year since 1908, which means this year’s show was the 111th in a row! I’d never been before, but one of my jobs involves wandering around events in outrageous costumes, so…

waikato show

Yup, that’s me. I was asked if I was feeling blue by no less than nine people.

Now, I’d expected the Waikato Show to be boring, which is why I’d never been before. I thought it would be all tractors and livestock and lame fairground rides. I was wrong. I’d have been happy wandering around the place even I wasn’t being paid to.

waikato show

There was so much to see. Yes, there was the expected sheep shearing and competitive wood chopping, but there were also local products to sample like cheese and honey, jewellery stalls, animal rescue shelters and a guide dog organisation that’d brought friendly dogs along for people to pat, a good variety of food stalls, electric cars and, amongst many other things, the Imperial Fifth Waikato Dragoons Regiment led by Major Blunder.

waikato show

The Waikato Show began as a way to connect the townsfolk of Hamilton to the agricultural workers of the surrounding region. It still is, but now it’s less livestock and more lifestyle expo. There were rather a lot of alpacas, though. They didn’t like my costume.

Being on duty, I couldn’t give into my urge to collect a free sample from every single stall that offered one, but I did get some locally made goat cheese. I will never not get goat cheese. At some point, someone gave me a blue lollipop because it matched my costume. It was fun telling children not to eat too many blue lollipops, because look what happens!

waikato show

I wasn’t the only performer from the Free Lunch Street Theatre Company wandering around the show. I was the Blue Lady; we also had the Silver Lady, the Golden Girl, the Red Queen and a pair of Red Footmen. Against the backdrop of the sun-brightened fairground rides, we all looked wonderfully garish! So many people asked for photos. Humans like us even if alpacas don’t.

waikato show

So, that was the Waikato Show. In other news, guess who’ll be representing Hamilton at the National Harry Potter Quiz Championship in Wellington – this nerd!

Abigail Simpson

My team, the DA, came second in the Hamilton Harry Potter Quiz, and I got the prize for third-best costume: the Golden Snitch. (A very short and very fabulous dress covered entirely in gold sequins, plus a pair of angel wings!) It seems, then, that a campervan trip to Wellington is in order…

waikato show

Solscape: A Relaxing Campsite in Raglan

solscape raglan

You know when your tent starts glowing with the light of dawn? And the sounds of nature gradually permeate your dreams? Cockerels cock-a-doodle-dooing. Cicadas building to their perpetual crescendo. Distant waves rushing into the bay. Other couples thinking they’re bonking quietly. You know that moment, when you feel totally in another world? Work doesn’t exist here. You’re free to do nothing but stare at the view.

solscape ragland

And what a view Solscape has. It’s not a place I’d have chosen to come myself. It’s a friend’s birthday and he chose the place. It’s one of those eco campsites that oozes kombucha-flavoured self-righteousness. It advertises itself as a ‘harmonious diversion from conventional forms and patterns’ and uses phrases such as ‘holistic wellness’ and ‘to nurture our connection with each other and the natural world’. The café is called the Conscious Kitchen. You get the idea.

railway carriage caboose solscape raglan

And though we’ve all made a few too many chakras jokes since arriving, even I have to admit that I like it here. The Conscious Kitchen overlooks a gorgeous bay. The composting toilets and solar showers are actually quite nice. The cabooses made from old railway carriages look awesome, as do the earth domes and the tipi forest. The permaculture gardens and glorious sunflowers add to the relaxed atmosphere, and even though I can’t eat much of the food here due to an intolerance to veganism – note that I’m not trying to be a dick; I am genuinely intolerant to most fruits, many vegetables, some nuts and all beans (including, of course, soy) – I would definitely come here again.

solscape raglan mud huts

If you’re on a New Zealand campervan trip, I’d recommend booking one of the powered van sites here. It’s a little on the expensive side, but it’s a place worth seeing. As we’re in Raglan, one of the most famous surfing spots in the world, Solscape offers surfing lessons as well as the expected yoga. There’s a beach within easy walking distance, and the town of Raglan is a short drive away. I’ve written about the town before, in Raglan on a Winter’s Day – you should definitely check it out.

solscape raglan mud huts

Raglan’s a bit of a hippy (as well as a surfers’) paradise. It’s full of quirky craft shops and cafés, often down intriguing, little alleyways. If you’re a fan of household art, vintage clothing and macramé necklaces, it’s got your name crocheted all over it. There’s even a tiny secondhand bookshop. You can walk straight from the town centre to the sea and – not far away – you can find one of the most beautiful waterfalls in New Zealand, Bridal Veil Falls.

sunflowers solcape raglan

It’s time for us to leave now; to return to our respective unconscious kitchens. I’m really going to miss this view.

solscape raglan

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

An Intriguing Find

I found it in a secondhand bookshop in Scotland. It was called Old New Zealand: A Tale of the Good Old Days, by A Pākehā Māori. I immediately looked for the publication date. It was a 1948 edition of a book first published in 1863.

There was also a bookseller’s stamp. This copy had been purchased in a stationer’s in Pukekohe, close to where I lived when I moved to New Zealand! Here was a book that had travelled the world, from a small town in New Zealand to a small town in Scotland. Just like me.

It was quite a ragged tome. I wondered what adventures it had been on. I was intrigued by its anonymous author: A Pākehā Māori. Was this a Māori who had adopted the European settlers’ way of life, or vice versa? Or were they half-European and half-Māori by blood? Whatever the case was, it seemed they were a bridge between the two cultures, and not at all in favour of the British mission to “civilise” New Zealand.

Later, I indulged in a bit of research. The Pākehā Māori in question was an Irishman by the name of Frederick Edward Maning. He arrived in New Zealand as a young man in 1833 and lived among the Ngāpuhi, a Northland tribe. He married a Māori woman and warned people not to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, (though how much he was motivated by a desire to preserve the native culture, and how much by more selfish trading interests, I can’t say. No doubt people who’ve actually studied the subject can.)

In another connection to me, Frederick Maning was buried in Symmonds Street Cemetery, right by where I lived when I attended the University of Auckland. I’ve walked past his grave and not known it!

From Land’s End to John O’Groats to… Bluff?

New Zealand keeps cropping up in the most unexpected of places. A few weeks ago, I embarked upon a road trip around Scotland with my Kiwi fiancé and our Kiwi friend. We drove from Edinburgh, up through the Cairngorms National Park (not without incident,) and on through Inverness. I wanted to visit Orkney, having been desperate to see Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar since I was a kid, but to do that we needed to catch the ferry from the northernmost tip of mainland Britain, John O’Groats.

Ring of Brodgar Abigail Simpson

The Ring of Brodgar

You may have heard the phrase “from Land’s End to John O’Groats”, Land’s End being the southernmost tip of mainland Britain, in Cornwall. In New Zealand, we have an equivalent phrase: “from Cape Reinga from Bluff”. Cape Reinga is famous for its lighthouse and Bluff is famous for its oysters. Many New Zealand motorhome holidays are based around the idea of seeing the country from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

So we arrived at John O’Groats and made our way down to the pier. It was a fine summer day, so we “only” needed jumpers, scarves and anoraks. It was colder than a fine winter day in the North Island of New Zealand, a fact that we found quite amusing. We passed the expected Land’s End/John O’Groats sign, but then I noticed something unexpected. The sign had a picture of New Zealand on it, along with a downwards arrow pointing towards Bluff.

The sign

Of course, we all got unduly excited at this random international mention of New Zealand, and asked a confused fellow tourist to take a picture of us next to it. (Getting unduly excited when New Zealand is noticed by the world at large is a very Kiwi thing, and perhaps shows that I’ve become more of a Kiwi than I thought.) There weren’t any other mentions of New Zealand around, and a Google search didn’t give any clues as to a special connection between John O’Groats and Bluff, so…

We shrugged and got on the ferry.

In some respects, driving around Scotland did feel a lot like driving around New Zealand – especially the South Island. A lot of New Zealand’s nineteenth century colonists came from Scotland. Alice, the Kiwi friend we were travelling with, remarked that it was no wonder they’d felt so at home in New Zealand – all that dramatic, mountainous scenery! There was also the fact that Scotland has rather a lot of fields of sheep, which, if you’ve ever done a New Zealand road trip, you’ll know is kind of New Zealand’s thing.

Sheep with Stone Circle Abigail Simpson

Except there are fewer stone circles in the fields of New Zealand…

In fact, seeing all the Scottish sheep souvenirs reminded me fondly of my adopted home – not to mention the New Zealand wines on every restaurant menu!

10 Cool Places to Get Married in New Zealand

Cathedral Cove

I’ve been thinking about this non-stop since Tim proposed.

Oh yeah, Tim asked me to marry him last week! He got down on one knee during a zeppelin flight over Lake Constance, between Switzerland and Germany. I genuinely had no idea it was coming. (We’re in Europe for a few months visiting various family members, mine in England; his in Germany. That’s why I haven’t been posting as consistently as usual, but there should be at least one new article every few weeks.)

So, anyway, I think I’ve mentioned before that I’d quite like to get married in Hobbiton, but that’s not the only option. Here’s a list of ten places in New Zealand that I think would make pretty cool wedding venues:

1) Hobbiton

The Hobbiton Movie Set near Matamata is truly gorgeous. It captures all the beauty of Tolkien’s medieval fantasy world without being tacky. The gardens around the hobbit holes are perfectly tended and the views are wonderful. There are two possible reception areas: The Party Marquee – reminiscent of the setup of Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday party at beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring – and The Green Dragon Inn, which is like all the very best historical pubs in Europe combined. I think I’d prefer the inn; I remember it being very cosy.

Read my blog about visiting Hobbiton

The Tree Church

2) The Tree Church

The Tree Church is exactly what it sounds like: a church made out of trees. Some guy in Ohaupo, just south of Hamilton, did it as a hobby project, and was later convinced to open it up to the public. It’s not just a church, it’s a whole beautiful garden with a labyrinth and a pond. There’s also a ginger cat that’s always demanding attention from visitors. The atmosphere inside the church is tangibly magical. I imagine it would be perfect for any wedding, Christian or pagan.

Read my blog about visiting the Tree Church

3) Hamilton Gardens

What makes Hamilton Gardens so exciting as a venue for your wedding ceremony is all its differently themed gardens. I’d probably pick the Italian Renaissance Garden, but what about the English Flower Garden, the Japanese Garden with its tranquil pond, the Tudor Garden, or the gloriously colourful Indian Garden? Not to mention all the others. It’s pretty cheap to get married there, too. And Tim’s just reminded me of the new fantasy garden with the model steampunk zeppelin in it – that would be appropriate for us, considering his proposal!

Read my blog about the Hamilton Gardens

4) Larnach Castle

Larnach Castle is the closest thing New Zealand has to an actual castle. It was built in 1871 by a guy called William Larnach. It has a ballroom, lavish furnishings and award-winning gardens. You can have high tea there and, of course, weddings. Perhaps the best thing about it is the location: it sits halfwayup the incredible Otago Peninsula, surrounded by natural beauty and wildlife such as penguins, seals and albatrosses. Tim and I loved exploring the Otago Peninsula; it was very romantic.

Read my blog about the Otago Peninsula

5) Howick Historical Village

Howick Historical Village is in Auckland. It’s a complex of buildings from the nineteenth century arranged into an ersatz colonial village, including a church, a grand villa and an old school hall. If you’re after a Victorian-flavoured wedding, this place is as charming as any.

Read my blog about Howick Historical Village

Cathedral Cove

6) Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove is possibly the most beautiful beach in New Zealand. Featuring golden sand, crystal-blue water and epic rock formations, a wedding here would be breathtaking even without the natural cathedral. You can say your “I do’s” in a large cave on the sand that looks for all the world like it has a vaulted ceiling. Cathdral Cove isn’t easy to get to by foot, so wedding parties arrive by boat. It’s on the Coronomandel Peninsula, which produces lovely wine and seafood, so no doubt the catering at the reception would be excellent.

Read my blog about Cathedral Cove

Chateau Tongariro

7) The Chateau Tongariro

The Chateau Tongariro is a grand, old hotel in Tongariro National Park, nestled in the midst of three stunning volcanoes. It was built in the 1920s and retains something of the era’s oppulence – all chandeliers and red velvet furnishings; even a billiards table. It does a scrumptious high tea and has a very posh restaurant, and outside there’s a ski field and an abundance of fantastic hiking trails. If you want snow-capped mountains in the background of your wedding photos, or a Great Gatsby-themed day, this is the venue for you.

Read my blog about the Chateau Tongariro

8) Waiheke Island

Waiheke is a pretty island off the coast of Auckland. It’s absolutely teeming with wineries, so there are plenty of wedding venues to choose from. The ferry journey to Waiheke is enjoyable, taking in all the different islands of the Hauraki Gulf – sometimes you even see dolphins. The island itself is home to quite a few artists, so there are galleries and sculpture parks to explore. It has become a very popular wedding destination, with spectacular sea views, but I don’t think it’s quite right for me and Tim.

9) Lake Tekapo

On the shore the South Island’s Lake Tekapo sits the most picturesque church in the whole of New Zealand. They only allow Christian weddings to be conducted there, but I reckon pretending to be Christian for the day would be worth it for this sight!

10) The Blue Baths

You can have your wedding reception in a gorgeous Art Deco bathhouse in Rotorua’s Government Gardens. There are still pools, but this Spanish Mission-style building has been hosting wedding parties since it was built in the 1930s. I’ve relaxed in the wonderfully-situated geothermal pools a few times over the years, and I’ve always thought it would be cool to get married there. There are old-fashioned rooms and romantic balconies for photographs, as well, of course, as the lovely gardens around it.

Out of the Frying Pan…

People are always saying how warm and sunny New Zealand is.

In 2014, my Kiwi partner and I were in Britain visiting relatives, and he was baffled to find that the British summer was warmer and sunnier than the New Zealand summer! Surely this wasn’t the norm?

Well here we are in 2018 and we’re about to visit Europe again.

Yeah.

Summer temperatures in Auckland usually waft around 25˚C. At the moment, in the dead of winter, it’s 15˚C. In three days, we’ll be landing in Zürich, where it’s currently over 30˚C. Britain’s facing record temperatures, and everyone here in New Zealand is wishing us comically pessimistic good lucks.

Care to join?