Category: garden

Hamilton and Waitomo

Upon leaving Auckland, we decided to follow up our trip to the Winter Gardens with…you guessed it, a trip to another garden. ¬†One of the most incredible gardens in the world – at least, so says the International Garden Tourism Network, who rated the Hamilton Gardens as the international garden of the year in 2014…and who am I to disagree with that? ūüôā

In all seriousness, though, Hamilton Gardens is truly a unique experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to go. ¬†What started out in the 1960’s as a desolate city dump has been transformed into a several acres-wide series of gardens that celebrates the history, concept, and meaning of gardens over the ages. ¬†It consists of several¬†separate gardens, each one honoring the uniqueness of the traditional gardens of that specific place and era. ¬†There is an¬†English Flower Garden, Tudor Garden, Japanese Garden of Contemplation, Chinese Scholar’s Garden (one of our favorites!), American Modernist Garden, Italian Renaissance Garden, Indian Char Bagh Garden, Herb Garden, Tropical Garden, Te Parapara Maori Garden, and several others, as well, plus numerous other enclaves and walkways, all meticulously maintained.

Even in the middle of a rainstorm, with light sneakers that quickly got soaked through all the way to my poor little toes, it was a stop well worth making. ¬†The umbrellas that we borrowed from the visitor’s center certainly helped, so I was grateful for those. ¬†Bonnie and Nancy, the ladies who were working at the desk when we arrived, were lovely old ladies who were absolutely delighted to find some young tourists willing to stop and listen to them for a while. ¬†That was a trend I noticed throughout our trip – it’s amazing how often you can find people who are willing to talk and listen to you, if you are willing to slow down long enough to engage them in conversation. ¬†I resolved yet again, as I often do when I travel and have the chance to slow down, to make the effort to slow down in my normal life back in the States, as well. ¬†It’s always worth the effort.

But Hamilton was just a side trip on our way to Otorohanga. ¬†Once we decided we had gotten wet enough by traipsing through the gardens, we got back into the car and finished our journey to our next Air BnB’s house, Liz. ¬†Liz was certainly not the same level of host that Vee was, but she wasn’t a bad host…my biggest complaint with Liz was that she kept the windows open in her house, even though New Zealand is pretty close to winter by the end of May. ¬†It was always so frigid in her house, that Michael and I mostly kept to our room while we were there, trying to huddle by our little space¬†heater and conserve body heat.

The next day, we made our way to the Waitomo Caves, about¬†15 minutes from Liz’s house. ¬†We wanted to go to Waitomo to see the famous glowworm caves, which house a unique glowworm that does not live anywhere else in the world. ¬†These insects live on the cave ceilings and emit a bright blue light, which in some places makes it look like the ceiling is covered with brilliant twinkling little stars. ¬†It was truly breathtaking.

Of course, you always get bonus points if you get to mix a little action and adventure with your beautiful sightseeing, so we elected to see the glowworms by going tubing through the one of the caves, the Ruakari Cave.  Just getting into the wetsuits was a harbinger of what was to come Рthe water still in the suits was bitingly cold.  By the time we finished our tubing adventure, my feet were painfully numb to the point where I almost could not walk on them.  But the wetsuits did their job Рthe rest of me was relatively warm, so I was definitely grateful to have them.

Although tubing certainly isn’t¬†on the top tier of activities as far as adventure activities go, it was still tons of fun. ¬†On several occasions we did have to jump backwards down a waterfall in pitch black, and just trust our guides (Vaungh and Rachel) that we’d land properly on the bottom, so that was pretty scary. ¬†Awesome, though, as scary things often are :).

We finished our tour of Ruakari Cave in early afternoon, so once we had warmed up a bit we decided to do some more exploring. ¬†We had a couple of duds at first – went to see a museum that had been recommended to us by Liz, but wasn’t open; then we went to a Kiwi House around the corner, but decided we didn’t want to pay $24 a person to try to see nocturnal birds in the middle of the day. ¬†In the end, we went for a drive to try to find Mangapohue, a natural bridge that one of our guidebooks recommended. ¬†The long, twisty mountain road we found ourselves on almost gave us pause for concern, and we probably would have turned around had we not finally seen a sign that reassured us that we were on the right track. ¬†We didn’t spend long there, but it was a fun little side trip. ¬†Definitely an amazing sight to see this huge natural bridge in the middle of seemingly nowhere.

A host who offers a haven, not a house

Although the Great Barrier Reef was incredible, after 4 days in Australia I was ready to move on to the next adventure. ¬†We had a nice lazy late morning flight out, which went fairly uneventfully. ¬†Except apparently I look like a major security risk to airline security officers in multiple nations. ¬†At 7 of the 8 flights that we had over the course of our trip, I was asked to step aside by the security agents for a “random” bomb screening. ¬†Random, my foot. ¬†It became a running joke between Michael and I, to see if I would make it through security without getting screened. ¬†But I never did. ¬†Countries of the world, watch out – a diminutive little American girl is coming!

But thankfully, I always was allowed to leave those bomb screenings, so other than having a fun new inside joke to laugh about together, we arrived in Auckland without incident.  We continued our experiment with AirBnB in New Zealand, and I must say, I am glad we did.  Our host in Auckland, Vee, was absolutely the most amazing host we could ever have asked for.  She offered to pick us up from the airport (mind you, we landed around midnight), which was definitely a lovely start to this leg of the trip.  The next day was even better.  She was supposed to volunteer somewhere, but decided to cancel and spend the day with us instead.  She took us to a strawberry farm that made homemade ice cream and fruit pies from their fresh grown strawberries.  I particularly enjoyed that, because it took me on a nostalgic trip down memory lane Рmy family used to go pick strawberries and buy homemade ice cream from a mennonite farm when I was a kid.

After that, we went to the Winter Gardens in Auckland Park. ¬†I enjoyed it, but Michael loved it – he’s such a sucker for flowers. ¬†To be fair, there were definitely some lovely flowers represented there, especially considering how¬†close it was to winter ¬†(I found it very disorienting having to reverse the seasons in my brain, being on the opposite side of the world and all…). ¬†I wish I had known more of the names of the flowers that we saw, but that’s ok. ¬†Getting to spend some time with Vee, and reveling in the glorious colors all around us was wonderful, regardless.

On Vee’s recommendation, we had fish and chips for lunch. ¬†New Zealand doesn’t have a lot of culturally significant food, so I guess the next best thing would be to try culturally significant foods from their colonizer, England. ¬†I must say….I’ve never had English fish and chips, but the ones from New Zealand were absolutely delicious. ¬†Apparently the seagulls on the boardwalk where we ate thought so, too. ¬†We were completely surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds of birds. ¬†At first it was kind of cute and novel. ¬†But then they started getting closer and closer, and I started to become worried that we were about to reenact a scene from Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” ¬†Eventually I left our boardwalk perch to finish my meal in peace and let Michael and Vee deal with the horde¬†of human-food-obsessed seagulls.

As I’m sitting here writing, I’m thinking about how different our time in Auckland could have been. ¬†We had no plans that first day there, and Vee could easily have stuck with her original plans and left us to ourselves that day…if she had, we would probably have just hung around the house. ¬†I’m so grateful that she chose to spend her time¬†with us instead. ¬†Memories were made, friendships were strengthened, and I was inspired to be the same type of host when I have people in my home – the kind who offers not just a house to stay in, but a haven of peace and happiness.