Hamilton's highlights

By: Nina Mercer, Photography by: Nina Mercer and Getty


Twenty-five years after leaving Hamilton, NZMCD writer Nina Mercer returns to the city to discover its thriving flora and fauna

Hamilton East was my old stomping ground as a student. I thought I knew the place pretty well, but turns out, there was a lot more to do there than meets a student’s eye, and some of it was just around the corner.

Hamilton Gardens

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Back in the 1960s, the site of these magnificent gardens was a city rubbish dump. Now, through community passion, it ranks as one of the best international garden destinations, and it is easy to see why.

Stretching between the river and SH1 on the edge of Hamilton East, the green estates offer large areas of themed landscapes for strolling around and intricately designed enclosed gardens as well.

The glory of the Enclosed Gardens

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These astounded me! Made up of five different collections, comprising several themed gardens, each one was remarkable and beautifully thought out. They range from iconic styles of yesteryear and different cultures to kitchen and sustainable backyard-themed ones.

The Paradise Collection

Perfect for a quiet wander around and time to sit and contemplate, these are based on traditional small garden designs. Well researched and meticulously created, this was, by far, my favourite collection.

The art of tulips

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The Indian Char Bagh Garden is characterised by an open pavilion looking out over a carpet of beautiful blooms. The ‘enclosed four-part garden’ was a traditional type of garden for many cultures for more than thousand years and became an art form in India in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Water and wilderness

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Water was a significant feature of the Japanese Contemplative Garden—and also of the wonderful Chinese Scholar Garden— the style dating back to the 1300s. Carefully planned, it is designed to be ‘visions of natural landscapes’. Indeed, the green trees, mossy rocks, and still waters provide for a relaxing ambience that transports you to a wild valley.

Italian Renaissance experience

With its beautiful fountain and asymmetrical layout, this one attracts with its orderly beauty. So orderly that, in fact, the Renaissance artists of the 15th and 16th century designed the gardens based on mathematical principles.

For the rich and powerful who could afford the luxury, these became a symbol of status and a place for impressing and entertaining visitors.

Culture and cultivation

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The Productive Collection was home to chicken and peacocks, with its sustainable backyard and herb and kitchen gardens. But most impressive was the Te Parapara Garden. Based on traditional practices and ceremonies related to food cultivation, it is New Zealand’s only such garden and a project that partners with the local iwi Nga Mana Toopu. Crops such as kumara are harvested annually.

Other notable mentions are the Fantasy Collection with its maze-like Tudor Gardens. The young ones in the family were equally fascinated with the tour. The anticipation of rounding the next corner or walking through the next archway into a new wonderland kept them excited and interested.

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Hamilton Gardens Information

  • Entry is free
  • Guided tours are available at $15 per adult
  • The Enclosed Gardens are open daily from 7.30am
  • The Hamilton Gardens Café is on-site

 

Hamilton Zoo

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Hamilton Zoo sits on the outskirts of the city heading north, covering more than 25 hectares. It’s the second largest in New Zealand, with beautifully themed areas covering the savannahs of Africa, tropical rainforests, a fantastic walkthrough aviary for our native birds, and more.

A sample of New Zealand bush

Keen to see the special birds of New Zealand, we headed towards the walkthrough bird aviary. Other aviaries along the way were home to kaka and kea. We were concerned by what appeared to be a dead kea lying on a rock.

After further inquiry, we found out that Charlie, a hand-reared kea, liked to ‘play dead’ when he was too hot or simply wanted attention. He certainly managed to fool us.

Impressive aviary

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After inspecting the native lizards, we entered the aviary to be greeted by a flock of kakariki—red-crowned parakeet—who chattered away unperturbed by our presence.

Following the path, we watched kaka pull apart a tree branch, glimpsed a whio in the stream below the bridge, and had a serene moment with a large kereru.

Savannah surprises

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On exiting the aviary, we found ourselves side by side with a whanau of spider monkeys—always a favourite with the kids. With so much to see, we headed down to the savannah area, where to our delight, there was a zebra foal sticking close to its mother among the towering giraffes.

The African hunting dogs were interesting, if a bit pungent, following us up and down the fence line, and we kept our distance from the ever weary ostriches after a run in with an emu at another wildlife park.

The pull of the giant cats

Backtracking, we spent a good 10 minutes watching a cheetah stroll languidly around its enclosure until it found just the right spot in the sun. Then it was on to the tigers, having bypassed the wetlands for the moment.

Tigers never cease to impress me, even when they simply lounge in the sun. This pair appeared unfazed by anything and lolled about occasionally grooming each other, with not a care in the world.

Chilling with the chimpanzees

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After spotting the shy fishing cats, we moved on to the large and impressive chimpanzee. The chimps have a large indoor facility for days when it’s pouring and night-time, but, on the beautiful sunny day we visited, they were out enjoying the sunshine.

Meeting the meerkats

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With closing time near, we still had the meerkats and red panda and the lemurs, tamarins, and monkeys of the rainforest to discover.

We made our way through the beautifully laid out boardwalks and were greeted by the fluffy white and black ruffled lemur and then the exotic birds in colours of bright blues, yellows, greens, and reds. But before we checked out, we made a quick dash back to the white rhino enclosures.

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Then it was time to head back to the car. Having walked a fair distance, we definitely felt we deserved an ice cream on the way out. Another zoo ticked off the list!

Hamilton Zoo Information

  • Opening hours are from 9.30am to 4.30pm daily
  • Entry: Adults $23, Children $11, Family $66
  • Free zookeeper talks happen throughout the day
  • Animal encounters are available, prices vary

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