Hamilton Gardens

December 29, 2017 at 09_21PM

I went to Hamilton Gardens today with a friend. Met her for coffee then we had a wander round the gardens. My son took visitors from the UK there on Christmas Eve. We also took two lots of visitors, one from overseas, the other from Te Wai Pounamu there in the last month.

I run through the gardens regularly as part of my training route early morning or evenings.

I believe that Hamilton Gardens are the jewel in the crown of Kirikiriroa Hamilton and they are what draws people to Hamilton. For the visitor, there doesn’t appear, on the surface, to be much else. And, let’s face it, it hasn’t had a good press over the years and so is struggling to get over that.

I love Kirikiriroa, don’t get me wrong. Whilst we didn’t choose Kirikiriroa specifically when we moved here from the UK 10 years ago, (it was where the job was that my husband secured) we have made it our home and we are happy here. We love how the centre has developed to become a more cosmopolitan, modern place which is buzzing with people. We have enjoyed, though we certainly haven’t been as often as we wanted to, the exhibitions at the museum. When our children were younger, the libraries were a haven. We have explored the outskirts; places such as Pukemokemoke, Taitua Arboretum, the Sculpture Park at Tauwhare have been and still are, regular haunts. The river footpath is another treasure and one that we are lucky enough to be able to use often as we live in Hamilton East. We can walk into town in 25 minutes and enjoy the changing mood of the river depending on the season, the weather, the time of day.

December 29, 2017 at 01_41PM

So, back to the Gardens. As my friend and I walked through today we watched the children running their hands through the fountains, splashing in the pool at the American Modernist Garden. We watched people bending to savour the scents of the flowers, marvelling at the bees and butterflies as they flitted from flower to flower, listening to the cicadas. We witnessed families feeding the ducks, picnicking in the different open spaces and enjoying time together as a family. We saw people working out the time from the sundial, finding where their birthdays were and where the shadow would be. We saw people sitting on the benches, sheltering from the sun, enjoying the space, meeting friends and family.

We wondered how many of these people were visitors to the Gardens and how many were locals making the most of their space during the holidays. When we first arrived in Kirikiriroa 10 years ago, it was a sweltering hot January. We had no transport, so we had to walk everywhere. (We did start to use the bus service after a couple of weeks but we actually arrived on Auckland Anniversary weekend and there was no bus service that weekend!) We discovered Hamilton Gardens in full bloom and fell in love at first sight. Shall I tell you why? First of all, (not the most important factor, but significant) for a family that arrived with very little cash until we could set up bank accounts etc, it was free. There were open spaces for our boys (8 and 12yrs old) to run around. The themed gardens were fascinating (still are), and the afore-mentioned pool in the American Modernist Garden provided a perfect place to cool off. There was so much to explore, we could get to the river, we could find shade, we could picnic. It became our special place.

Since then we have taken every person who has visited us to Hamilton Gardens. They have all been amazed at how beautiful it is and how different it is to other gardens around the world. We have loved how it has developed and not stood still.

Would we have taken them there if we had had to pay $10 per adult to go? I know that the Council proposal is only to charge for the special gardens and not the open spaces or the river sections. But how many visitors wander into the themed gardens as part of their visit, just because they can? In doing so they expose their kids to different cultures, different experiences that have an impact on their learning and their understanding. I have heard kids asking their parents why there are some plants in some gardens and not in others, or why they are laid out differently.

So, rather than moan about the proposal to charge, and enter into the discussion about how much the Gardens are worth, or whether there should be a ‘locals’ rate, or how much setting up the payment system might cost, we have a suggestion. If we believe that the Gardens ARE a ‘pull card’ for Hamilton, rather than charge for them, (which may stop people visiting, anyway) why don’t we capitalise on the attraction by enhancing the experience? What if there is a way of making extra cash to support the Gardens without charging an entry fee which is more likely to deter people from coming than encourage them. If we had had to pay $10 per person over the last 10 years for the people we have brought to the gardens, we would not have come.

One thing that we have always considered to be a weakness of the Gardens is the paucity of refreshments available. Until recently, the cafe was not great. It has improved massively over the last couple of years but is still often under pressure especially in busy times. We heard kids today saying they were thirsty, hot, hungry. What if, we could build on the themes in the gardens to offer refreshments that matched? Afternoon tea and scones in the English Country Garden, fresh cool Lassi or Kulfi in the Indian Char Bagh Garden, Chai in the Chinese Scholars Garden, home made lemonade or iced tea in the American Modernist Garden, Gelato in the Italian Renaissance Garden…… Once people are in the gardens, they get thirsty, they would buy an ice-cream or a drink if there was one on hand. I am aware that many people don’t bother going to the cafe once they have come out of the gardens because of the wait time, so they go home or to another place in the area instead.

Yes, we considered the rubbish that may be strewn, and the space that a permanent structure would take up, that might detract from the attraction of the gardens. But how about committing to recycling and sustainability and not using plastic packaging and providing sufficient receptacles for recycling paper packaging? Handbarrows could be wheeled into the spaces as needed in busy times so a permanent structure is not necessary. They could be designed so that they matched the culture of the gardens, after all, all the countries associated with the themed gardens have street food and drink.

We know that there is far more to a plan like this than meets the eye, lots of factors that we are not even aware of. But surely it is worth considering more creative options….?

We had another idea about involving the local schools to support the Gardens too, so that kids who grow up here have some ownership and pride in a space which is theirs… I’ll save that for another day!

December 29, 2017 at 09_17PM

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Spring is in the air

Well, we are officially in to Daylight saving – the clocks sprang forward this morning and last weekend was the first day of Spring.  We went along to Hamilton Gardens where there was a Hispanic theme as the Latin-American contingent of Hamilton celebrated the beginning of Spring. It was very pleasant as the drummers and strummers made their music accompanied by girating, scantily clad, nubile, young ladies!  When  the boys had had enough we ventured outside for ice creams and a refreshing beer in the sun.

The last few weeks at work have been pretty hectic – Nigel is busy writing a major report which has to be submitted this week so he is hard at it every evening collating and interpreting data, and I have been up to my ears preparing students for Practice exams, marking them and now preparing follow up work to make sure they are ready for their main exams in November.  But the boys and I now have a two week break so I can perhaps manage to catch the tail I have been chasing!

Lachlan gets his pot off tomorrow so he is looking forward to being able to scratch!  We have tried to prepare him for the likelihood of him not being able to immediately use his arm but not sure that he has really taken that on board!  Hopefully he will be able to get some physio pretty quickly – not sure how it all pans out here but I am sure we will find out soon enough!  We might even manage to fit in a day’s skiing at Mt Ruapehu if the doc says Lachlan’s wrist is up to it!

I am still buzzing from my first caving trip in NZ!  I went away with the Outdoor Ed group for a two day trip based in Waitomo (Maori name meaning Water (wai) Cave (tomo)) at the Hamilton Tomo Club base.  They had a session doing some rescue techniques at the Black Water Rafting centre, a session learning SRT, an abseiling session and then a caving trip.  It was great to get all my kit out again – that familiar feeling as I donned my gear and had a play on the SRT rig at the centre.  Walking into the cave (Gardeners Gut) just felt like coming home – what a wonderful sensation sloshing my way down a stream passage with beautiful banded limestone and a fair bit of flowstone.  We climbed up into some dry fossil passage beautifully decorated with straws, helictites, stals and columns (compulsory photograph of the tallest column in North Island but unfortunately not available as we go to press – I’ll add it as soon as I get it from the photographer!) before dropping back down to the stream and heading out.  All in good sized walking passage apart from one short section – a large lump of flowstone blocks the way on but for a low, narrow, sloping section called the “Organ Grinder”.  It is a similar sort of size to the Cheese Press in Long Churn but probably a bit more technical as it is a dog leg on a slope, so you have to keep your legs and hips up high or you slip nto the narrowest part and get stuck!  Most of us slipped through easily with encouragement and instruction from our guide John, but waiting at the end of the line and watching as everyone else goes through is quite unsettling and our last two students were pretty nervous by the time it was their turn.  Both were physically a bit bigger than the rest who were thin, skinny things but they maintained their composure and showed strength of character to get through without too much difficulty.  Alan, (aka “Brown Bear”) our second guide. had the most difficulty – whereas John holds the unofficial record of 23 seconds for sliding through, Alan took 15 minutes the last (and only) time he did it!  However with John to direct him he beat his previous attempt by 10 minutres and was a happy Bear as he rejoined the group! About a 5 hour trip altogether with a group of 8 novice cavers and a good varied introduction to NZ caves. Bring on the next cave!

Hamilton Tomo Club Hut, Waitomo
Hamilton Tomo Club Hut, Waitomo

As I already said we were staying at the Hamilton Tomo Club hut – oh, aren’t caving club huts the same the world over!!?  That same earthy smell of damp caving gear, sweaty bodies and stale food and beer! The cliquey photos of the current in-crowd and historic photos of legendary club cavers, the ubiquitous “squeeze machines” and old caving equipment festooning the walls.  Difficult though to find out where any of the caves are – there were plenty of surveys and the NZ book of surveys for both North and South Island but no grid references for the entrances and no mention of any locations in the trip logs either, even for newly discovered caves as you would find in UK hut logs (except for top secret digs!!) I sense a challenge coming on!  We WILL find some NZ caves!

On Friday afternoon we headed back to Hamilton but stopped on the way in Cambridge for a spot of Paintballing!  It was the first time I have had the pleasure of this activity and I was a little apprehensive.  However I soon got pulled into the excitement of it all and had a great time, despite taking a nasty hit to the unprotected soft part of my neck which two days later is still sore, and looks like I have been eaten by a voracious blood sucking bat!  However being on the victorious team makes up for the pain and dsicomfort! (Blacks (my team)  beat Greens (Uivel’s team) 3 games to nil – Go the Blacks! (Who said I was competitive!?)

This weekend has been fine and sunny and we have been forced into spending some money on a lawn mower to tame the rapidly sprouting lawn.  We also bit the bullet and bought some outdoor furniture – it was still just about warm enough to christen it this evening and eat outside!  Let’s hope it will be the first of many meals al fresco!

We are now busy planning for Christmas – presents need to be sent soon to arrive home in time and we are starting to plan what to do for the holidays – it does seem strange trying to plan summer activities for Christmas! Looks like we will be down in Wellington and Greytown as soon as school breaks up for NZ family Christmas and we will probably make our way back up the East coast beach hopping after that.  Will keep you posted!  A bientot!

life starts to settle down…

Lachlan, Romulus and Remus

Well, we have been here nearly a month now and life is starting to settle into a sort of routine. Lachlan has got involved at school – he has gone to represent his house at swimming today at the Municipal pool in Hamilton. Went on the bus on his own this morning and he’ll roll up home whenever! Paperwork seems to be just about non-existent here as far as school trips are concerned – he came home the other day saying he needed $3 for the bus to go to the swimming pool, no forms to fill in, medical details etc, he then forgot to take the money with him so couldn’t go on the school bus so just went on the service bus (which was cheaper anyway!)

Aonghas is still a bit wobbly but has made a friend called Hong who is coming to play tomorrow evening after school, so he is feeling a bit more confident. He is going to play cricket in the school cricket league on Friday and yours truly volunteered to be the team manager as there was nobody else! Well. it’s a good way to get to know people and I was assured that I really wouldn’t have to do much! Both boys went to athletics training at Hamilton Hawks last Thursday, Lachlan is going to go to the senior session next Wednesday as the junior one was a bit tame for him but they had some fun anyway. We ended up walking home as there was a 20 minute wait for the bus into town and then we would have had to wait another half an hour for the bus out again to our house. I looked at the map and persuaded the boys that we could walk the 5km quicker! We did – just! The bus went past our house as we walked in the door!

one for Dad!
Walking gave us a chance to get our bearings a bit and one section took us through Hamilton Gardens which are beautiful. We had a day out there last Sunday as it is within walking distance of the house and there are no buses on Sundays. The grounds are beautifully laid out with different styles of garden going off from a central courtyard.
The Chinese Scholar’s Garden
The Japanese Garden of Contemplation Each garden leads round labyrinth-wise back to the courtyard and then you can go into the next. Each has its own particular atmosphere and despite there being a lot of folk around there was a sense of serenity and calm in the Japanese and Chinese gardens.
colours in the Indian Char Bagh Garden

A chance to sit and thinkThe Indian Char Bagh garden reminded me of the Alhambra in Granada – the colours were just amazing and a host of butterflies flitted their way through the flowers, there were little corners to sit and just drink in the fragrances and you could almost believe you were in another world.
Italian Rennaissance Garden

Walking through to the Italian Renaissance garden with its fountains and columns the brilliant blue of the sky contrasted with the white and terracotta of the walls and the smell of the herbs in the carefully laid out flowerbeds was lovely.
Cooling off in the American Modernist Garden

Nigel and Marilyn

Contrast that with the modernity of the American contemporary garden with a welcome paddling pool for the children and the clean cut shapes of the sculptures and a huge mural depicting Marilyn Monroe. Deckchairs to recline on and we spent a good half hour there as the children cooled off in the pool.
Nigel and Aonghas enjoy the flowers in the English Flower Garden The Englsih Flower GardenA celebration of garden styles wouldn’t be complete without an English country garden and sure enough there it was, lawns immaculate with sight lines through to a fountain and the summerhouse. Holly hocks and roses filled the borders and shady bowers to shelter from the sun. We used to love going to the Botanics in Edinburgh, there is plenty more to see at the Hamilton Gardens and I am sure we will go back soon.

This weekend saw us trailing round car showrooms looking for some wheels, we test drove a couple but just like in GB buying a car is fraught with complications and worries. It is one of our least favourite things to do but we really do need a car! Which dealer to go to? What sort of car? A small one to tide us over until we have a bit more money but which may not big enough to get the camping stuff in or a bigger, more expensive one that we may not be able to afford to run?! We then spent the rest of the weekend on the internet checking out the makes of car we had seen to compare performance, cost etc. We still don’t know! Perhaps we should just go for the first one we see at the right price and a nice colour!

To make us feel better and as a treat for the boys as they had (quite) patiently put up with trailing round car places, we found a lovely little Italian restaurant in a tucked away alley and ate Italian. It turned out to be a real gem and we will definitely go back there sometime! It was rather an indulgence as Nigel still hasn’t been paid (some cock up in the finance department) and the bank have given us a short term overdraft to see us through this week!

fun in the pool
Well the weather has changed a bit – still quite warm but there has been a bit of welcome rain and the wind has picked up which means the pool keeps filling with leaves – more work for me! What a shame! The boys continue to enjoy jumping in the pool and having great fun though Lachlan has taken to putting his wetsuit on now as he gets cold easily! (Aw, Bless!) The Uni pool is really good – 50 metres so it feels like an age to get from one end to the other! It is unheated so it is a bit of a shock diving in but once you get going it is fine. It’s the pool that Lachlan goes to with school for lessons – he came home after his first lesson to say that they had to run up there in bare feet (about a mile) with their togs under their PE kit, they then had a swimming lesson and ran back to school. No towel, no shoes, no forms to fill in, simple! Just about to head up there now as I plan to try to get fit! It will only be open until the end of March so need to put my time in now. There is a swim in the river called the 5 Bridges swim which I fancy doing – it is about 5km long but downstream – we’ll see what happens!

No more news for now, keep you posted!

PS. Lachlan won his heat in the Breaststroke and then came 5th in the final, he thinks his relay team came 2nd but isn’t sure! He is quite amazed by the fact that he is still in the “Green” team – he started in St Mary’s in Green, then into QES and now in NZ! His house is called Kikoriki.

PPS. Started my training regime with a run up to the pool and then 1000 metre swim. Think I might ache tonight!