Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Day Five: Hamilton to Rotorua

In the morning we asked our host at the backpackers what there was to see in Hamilton. The only sight I knew of was the Riff Raff statue, but our host was clearly unimpressed by both the statue and the movie it represents, and stated that the botanic gardens were the best attraction Hamilton had to offer. Having already seen the Riff Raff statue in all its splendour the night before, I was dubious of this claim, but we decided to check it out on the way out of town.

It did not disappoint. I have never before experienced a garden that appeared not just planned and tended, but actually curated. We entered a central courtyard, and picked one of many doorways labelled as various garden collections. We chose the "Paradise Collection" which took us to a hedge-walled courtyard with a plaque explaining what the collection was about. There were archways in the hedge walls, labelled with the names of six different gardens, each representative of the style of a particular place and time. Following the one to the far right, we started with the Japanese Garden of Contemplation, and found that by simply following the paths, one garden lead eventually on to the next. Walking through a gate or archway to each new garden felt like entering a separate place, complete with architectural features representative of the culture and era. And each garden had a plaque, putting the garden in both cultural and philosophical context. It's hard to explain the effect of this. I'll have to rely on a few of the many pictures I took:

Indian Garden Hamilton Gardens

Indian Char Bagh Garden

Italian Renaissance Garden

Italian Renaissance Garden

Chinese Scholars Garden Hamilton Gardens

Chinese Scholars Garden

As you can see, this is no mere display of plants; it is an exhibition of the art of gardens themselves. The Waikato River runs right behind much of these gardens, and river outlooks are incorporated into many of them, so that you can alternately imagine the Waikato is any one of a number of famous rivers around the world.

From here we pushed on all the way to Rotorua. We stayed at a holiday park right on the lake, which we were pleased to discover made good use of the geothermal activity in the area. The bathrooms, and all common rooms were heated by geothermal steam directed through radiators, and the same treatment was given to the cabin Loren and I stayed in. They also had several thermal hot pools available, and a thermal hangi. A hangi is a Maori tern for an oven made constructed by heating stones in a pit in the ground, similar to the Hawaiian imu. But a thermal hangi uses thermal steam for heat. And in this case the structures the steam diverted into were built above ground level:

steam hangi at dawn 2

Steam rising from the hangi catches the morning sunlight

We were fortunate enough to find an excellent South American restaurant that evening called Sabroso, which featured dishes from various countries of that continent. And of course we had a lovely soak in the thermal hot pools before heading to bed in our delightfully thermal-heated cabin.

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