Bulls: A Town Like No Udder

bulls sign

Yes, that was really what was written on the sign: A Town Like No Udder. We were unable to suppress our groans as we drove past it. We knew Bulls was famous for bad puns – that was why we were stopping here on our way back from Wellington – but the small town had already exceeded our expectations.

We parked on the road outside a café with the following sign in the window:

Sighing, we proceeded to explore.

New Zealand is teeming with small, boring towns that have chosen a single quirk to double down on, thus turning themselves into tourist destinations. Or, at least, towns you’d get out and look around in, as opposed to just driving through. Katikati, for example, is full of murals, whereas Tirau is full of giant, corrugated iron things.

tirau sheep

Bulls, of course, is full of… well, actually, quite nice boutique shops. We were pleasantly surprised by that. The antiques shops were especially cool, although I failed to spot a sign that said COLLECT-A-BULL, which – come on – surely, I must have missed, because if there isn’t one, that’s a serious oversight.

First, though, I needed to relive myself. Thankfully, I found some public toilets labelled RELIEVE-A-BULL at the information centre, which was labelled…

bulls sign

INFORM-A-BULL. Nearby stood an outlet of the fast-food chain Subway that had declared itself SUBMERGE-A-BULL, and the local police station: CONST-A-BULL. It had a cute – if PREDICT-A-BULL – mural on its side.

bulls police

But that wasn’t the only mural in Bulls. This one looked oddly familiar:

bulls american gothic

I found it opposite the local Plunket building. (Plunket is a New Zealand charity that provides free health services to children under five.) Incidentally, the sign on the side of that building said NON RETURN-A-BULL.

As I made my way towards the centre of town, I appreciated the milk churn-shaped rubbish bins encouraging people to be RESPONSE-A-BULL.

bulls bin

The hub of the town, opposite some FASHION-A-BULL shops, is the old town hall:

bulls town hall

Very SOCI-A-BULL. Though one mustn’t forget the MEMOR-A-BULL museum or the CURE-A-BULL medical centre, which, for some reason, has a Trojan bull outside of it.

trojan bull

We had a late lunch at a posh café – DELECT-A-BULL – and squeed at a collection of BLING-A-BULL wedding tiaras. (Though I think I’ll keep it simple with a flower garland for my wedding at Hobbiton.) I liked that the library was READ-A-BULL, and guessed that the church would be BELIEVE-A-BULL, but I was wrong. As we drove out of Bulls, I leaned into the window to check. It was FORGIVE-A-BULL.

bulls

The National Harry Potter Quiz Championship

Harry Potter quiz

It was amazing, really: New Zealand’s hundred nerdiest Harry Potter fans gathered in one room. We were in a pub in Wellington, magically decorated with Hogwarts flags and fairy lights. Each table had been given a pack of Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans. Most people were in costume. We were there because we were the best, the winning teams of our respective regional Harry Potter quizzes. Tonight’s quiz would crown the best of the best. Tonight, one team would claim the coveted title of New Zealand’s Biggest Insufferable Know-It-Alls.

My team, the DA, was representing Hamilton. (It’s quite a journey from Hamilton to Wellington, so kudos to the teams who came all the way from Dunedin!) We were dressed as the Hogwarts Founders – Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin – with the Sorting Hat and some cuddly animal mascots. We ended up getting second prize for costumes, actually! None of us expected to do that well with the actual questions, but we were in for a nice surprise. In the meantime, we ordered some Harry Potter-themed bar snacks and cocktails.

Hogwarts HousesThe pub was called Leroy’s Bar in the centre of Wellington. The quiz was being run by Gee Quiz. The quizmaster was wearing an impeccable Mad-Eye Moody costume. Other great costumes included a fantastically detailed Luna wearing her lion headdress and carrying a light-up balloon that had been fashioned into a hare, (her Patronus,) and a whole team dressed as wizards trying to dress like muggles. I’ll be tempted to go back to Leroy’s Bar when I’m in Wellington again, as it seemed like it would have a decent atmosphere even without all the Harry Potter accoutrements.

The questions were surprising. We’d done some revising in the weeks leading up to the quiz, making mental notes of things that were likely to be in it, but there were many things we’d never have thought of. I must say, it was fun digging around in my brain, excavating things I didn’t realise were there. I suppose I read (and listened to Stephen Fry reading) Harry Potter so many times as a child that those things are there to stay. It was the same for the others in my team. The same for the whole room, no doubt.

Hogwarts Founders costumes

Being in a room filled with people united by a singular passion was a special experience. The excitement was contagious. I thought I wouldn’t care too much about the final scores, but by the time they were being read out, I was on tenterhooks. Sixteen teams. We were in the top fifty percent… then the top twenty-five percent… and we came third, only two points behind the winners! We got a bar tab and some keyrings and posters, but, most importantly, bragging rights. I am now officially one of the biggest Harry Potter nerds in New Zealand!

Harry Potter in New Zealand

The Legend of Charlotte Badger, New Zealand’s First White Woman

charlotte badger

Worcestershire, 1796. A teenage girl is convicted of housebreaking and sentenced to hang. Torn from her poverty-stricken family, she is thrown in gaol to await her fate. Her sentence is commuted, however, to seven years’ transportation. Her name is Charlotte Badger. Within a decade, she will become “Australia’s first female pirate” and – more intriguingly – the first white woman to live amongst the Māori of New Zealand.

convict ship

A convict ship

We don’t know much about Charlotte’s life. Tales of her piratical exploits have almost certainly been exaggerated. The story goes that she was transported to Australia and ended up in the Parramatta Female Factory, a notorious prison/workhouse in New South Wales. There, she gave birth to a daughter. Charlotte’s adventure began when she was made a servant and sent to Hobart. She never turned up in Hobart.

The ship upon which she was being transported suffered a mutiny. The degree to which Charlotte was involved in said mutiny cannot be ascertained, but let’s go with the legendary version. Charlotte and her fellow Parramatta inmate-turned-servant, Catherine, were the only female convicts onboard. They seduced a couple of the male convicts and convinced them to start a mutiny. Then, dressed in male clothing for the ultimate swashbuckling effect, Charlotte flogged the captain in revenge for him flogging her.

female pirate

Not actually Charlotte, but Anne Bonny, a legit pirate from the 18th century

Charlotte’s child was with her throughout this escapade. Free, the convicts sailed east to New Zealand. The women were dropped off in the Bay of Islands, whilst the men went off pirating down the New Zealand coast… not very successfully. (Legend has it they were captured and eaten.) Catherine soon died of an illness. Left to fend for herself, Charlotte befriended the local Māori, members of the Ngāpuhi tribe. She may even have struck up a romantic relationship with their chief.

Maori Chief with Facial Tattoo from the 18th Century

A late eighteenth century Māori chief

Charlotte seems to have enjoyed her life amongst the Māori. She refused to leave when offered in any case. Or did she? Was she ever in New Zealand at all? The scant records we have are contradictory. For our purposes, we’ll believe she was. One story has her “escaping” the Māori aboard a whaling ship to America, via Tonga. This comes from a ship that turned up in Sydney in the 1820s. It’d just been in Tonga, where locals had mentioned seeing a white woman and her daughter some years earlier. Their description of the woman fit Charlotte, (fat, pretty much,) and she’d have been able to communicate with the Tongans, given their language’s similarity to Te Reo Māori.

And that’s it, really. I’d never heard of Charlotte Badger until her story showed up on Rejected Princesses. I researched this blog post by reading her entries in Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand and on New Zealand History, as well as an article about her from Radio New Zealand. I was immediately drawn to her story. (Might have something to do with the whole British-immigrant-to-New Zealand thing.) Stories like this – about “the little people”, as opposed to kings and captains and chiefs – make history human.

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!