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

Mangapohue Natural Bridge

A natural bridge… Sounds cool, right? We thought so, which is why we went to see the Mangapohue Natural Bridge before leaving Waitomo.

The weather was lovely. Considering the especially rainy winter we’d had, we counted ourselves lucky. You might well ask why we’d decided to take a trip at that time of year. Simply, campervans are lot cheaper to hire in winter. It also makes for an easier trip, as you don’t have to worry about booking anything in advance, and a more peaceful trip, as you get beauty spots and sometimes entire campsites to yourself.

Mangapohue Natural Bridge was one such beauty spot. We began the twenty-minute walk with little idea what to expect. The path was gentle, leading us over a manmade bridge into a modest gorge. It continued as a boardwalk overhanging a stream. I remember the light being particularly pleasant: sunbeams had draped themselves amongst the branches above us like gauzy scarves.

As we made our way along the stream, a strange feeling started tingling inside me. “I’ve been here before,” I said. “With my parents.”

Then, as soon as the natural bridge came into view, I knew it. I didn’t remember being there as such, but I recognised the view from one of my own photographs! (I’d even used the photograph before on this blog!) How I managed to forget the sight of it, I’ll never know, because it was magnificent.

Straddling the stream was an enormous limestone archway, complete with scraggly stalactites.

From a certain angle, part of it seemed shaped like an old-fashioned lock, which gave me serious Alice in Wonderland vibes. Sunlight peered into the archway, jostling with a group of cabbage trees for a view.

We ascended a flight of steps curving up to a wooden platform, where we stayed for some time. It was a location straight from a fantasy novel, one of the more subdued scenes where the heroes stop to rest and the young would-be lovers sneak away for a moment, only to be interrupted by another party member as it’s too early in the narrative for them to kiss. If there had been any trolls under this bridge, they would have been friendly ones.

The rest of the walk wasn’t quite as epic, but that hardly mattered after we’d seen. As something free to do in Waitomo, the Mangapohue Natural Bridge is something you should definitely experience, along with the magical Ruakuri Walk.

When we got back to our campervan, it was time to get going to Tongariro National Park. We stopped for lunch in Taumarunui, a mostly dull town with a few quirky touches, such as this ornamental shop front…

We also popped into an antiques shop – because I can’t walk past an antiques shop – that turned out to be owned by a fellow British immigrant. We got talking, and even though she wasn’t a northerner, my accent started mimicking hers, getting stronger and stronger until we left the shop. Any other immigrants notice their accents doing that?

By the time we reached Tongariro National Park, it was almost sunset. We checked into what turned out to be an excellent campground, Plateau Lodge, in National Park Village, before driving into Whakapapa Village and up the side of Mount Ruapehu, a snow-covered volcano that’s popular with skiers. We didn’t enter the ski resort: we just wanted to catch some sweet views before bed. Which we did.

If you’re interested in hiring a campervan like this, by the way, visit www.wendekreisen.co.nz – that model’s also for sale, newly built, at Campervan Sales.

Anyway, cheers for visiting and make sure you pop by next week. I’ll be posting an article about what we got up to in Tongariro National Park, more specifically, High Tea at the Chateau!

Te Awamutu, or That Time a Chicken Burst Out of Our Laundry Basket

It’s one of those small towns you drive through on the way to somewhere else. It’s a pleasant, forgettable settlement whose only claim to fame is that Tim and Neil Finn (of Crowded House) come from there. I’m talking, of course, of Te Awamutu. (You may have driven through it.)

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

Te Awamutu lies half an hour south of Hamilton, on State Highway 3. If you find yourself on a New Zealand self-drive holiday, you’ll probably pass through it on your way to Waitomo. When you do, stop. Make your way to Te Awamutu War Memorial Park off Mutu Street. It’s well worth a look.

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park is an unexpectedly lovely place to stretch your legs. It has a beautiful colonnaded walkway entwined with roses, a tranquil pond with a fairy tale-esque stone bridge, the most interesting war memorial I’ve seen and, most importantly for me, an amphitheatre.

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

It’s only a small amphitheatre, but it’s rather pretty, being decorated with stone relief carvings and surrounded by roses. Plays are often performed there, a couple of which I’ve been in. If you were wondering about the chicken from the title of this blog, here’s where it enters.

We were staging an afternoon performance of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, the most important prop of which is a laundry basket. (The play’s antagonist, Falstaff, is tricked into hiding inside it with hilarious consequences.)

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

I should mention at this point that Te Awamutu War Memorial Park is absolutely teeming with ducks and chickens, both of which are very friendly. One particular chicken had come to see the play. It spent some time watching in fascination from the wings. Then, just before we were due to carry the laundry basket on stage, it jumped in.

Well, if it wanted to be part of the show, who were we to turf it out? We carried the laundry basket onto the stage, placing it in the centre as we were meant to… whereupon the chicken burst out, flapping and squawking, and ran away through the middle of the audience. There followed a little improvisation involving telling off the servants for letting a chicken in the house, which the audience found utterly delightful.

A Duck with Its Head in a Bucket

The abundance of amiable fowl seems to attract many locals to the park. Last time I was there, for an evening picnic with my partner, there was an old woman standing in the midst of hundreds of ducks, feeding them from a bucket. The quacking din was incredible!

We noticed one duck had outsmarted the others and was plunging its head into the old woman’s bucket whenever her back was turned. Of course, the presence of such scavengers can make for a less than relaxing picnic. It was a charming sunset, though.

Te Awamutu War Memorial

So don’t just drive through Te Awamutu – take a little time to appreciate the War Memorial Park. There’s even a free camping spot ten minutes up the road from it at Lake Ngaroto. It’s quiet with nice views and clean, flushing toilets – perfect if you hire a campervan for your New Zealand trip.

Te Awamutu Memorial Park

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!

Cute Animals and Hay Fever

Ducklings

“That’s how we know it’s spring,” Tim said as I tried not to sneeze on a duckling. “Cute animals and hay fever.”

I backed away, drawing out one of my carefully rationed tissues. Pollen filled the air like fairy dust, glistening as it swirled around the trees at the Taitua Arboretum. To be fair it wasn’t just hay fever – I was (and still am) fighting off a bad cold.

We were at the arboretum because my parents were visiting. We’d been before, but until now we’d never seen it bathed in sunlight. It was a little bit magical.

arboretum

Fluffy, yellow chicks flurried about in the undergrowth. (We couldn’t believe how many chickens there were, actually!) Fantails flitted coquettishly along the branches. Tui serenaded us from above, ducklings begged us for food, and geese drifted towards us. (Tim has a history with geese; perhaps they sensed this as they drifted away again quite quickly.)

fantail2

I felt like a mucus-laden Disney princess. We even found fairy doors on a couple of tree trunks.

doorintrunk

The most magical sight, however, was this.

sunonwater

The photograph doesn’t really capture it, of course: the golden beams of sunlight filtering through the branches; the branches bowing to kiss the surface of the pond; floating leaves forming an illuminated path to the far bank, upon which sits a bench in a sheltered clearing… All rather inviting.

stonecircle

The Taitua Arboretum is a lovely, peaceful place to go for a walk that I imagine would be great for kids. I look forward to visiting it next season. Hopefully I’ll be able to breathe properly then!

Corsets, Clockwork and a Cicada

Steampunk Market in Kihikihi, you say? I’m there!

Kihikihi is a small town half an hour south of Hamilton. I’d never been there before, but I’m very glad I went. The Steampunk Market took place in the old Town Hall, but there were other historic buildings to explore as well. These included one of the loveliest wooden churches I’ve seen in New Zealand!

kihikihi-church

The name Kihikihi means ‘cicada’ – it’s onomatopoeic, you see. There’s a sculpture of a cicada outside the church, observing every car driving in and out of the town. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy walking around the town quite as much as I did.

kihikihi-cicada

The market wasn’t very large, but there were lots of people there and lots of pretty costumes! Of course, there were corsets for sale. And an abundance of jewellery made out of watch cogs. And top hats and goggles and old bits of junk that looked vaguely cool. That’s what steampunk’s all about!

kihikihi-town-hall

Further along the street from the Town Hall, there was a colonial jail and house, which were open for viewing. It was a beautiful day. The white, wooden exteriors gleamed in the sunlight. On the veranda of the house, as there so often is, was an old woman spinning wool.

kihikihi-historic-house

Naturally I dressed up.

kihikihi-church-portrait

I seriously can’t wait until we do another South Island campervan trip, because I want to visit the steampunk capital of New Zealand, Oamaru. Oamaru has a really cool Victorian Precinct selling books, antiques, jewellery and art. In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for historic villages closer to home, such as Howick.

kihikihi-historic-house-exterior

With its heritage trail and collection of second-hand shops, including a 1920s shop was unfortunately closed when we were there, Kihikihi might just be worth visiting – on your way down to Waitomo, perhaps?

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.