02 January 2018 | Otorohanga Holiday Park, Otorohanga, North Island, New Zealand
After two weeks of glorious summer weather in Whangarei, as soon as we planned to take a road-trip, the forecast started calling for rain for most of the week. Oh, well, at least conditions had been good while most Kiwis were taking their summer/Christmas vacations. We were taking to the road in Baxter, the car that Vandy and Eric (SV Scoots) had kindly loaned to us while they were back in the US. Our intention was to see the parts of the North Island that were south of Auckland, only some of which we had seen previously when riding through on the bus to Wellington.
It is unusual for me to use the blog's map when not traveling in Tregoning but our gazetteer gave GPS points for campgrounds and this will make it easier to follow our overland route in the North Island. Do not be fooled into thinking that we sailed around the North Island...we would like to have done it and visited Wellington, Nelson, and the Marlborough Sounds in Tregoning but time does not allow us to do this.
The statue of Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show in central Hamilton
Following Highway 1 through Auckland to Hamilton, we were planning to detour around the city center until Randall heard (from me reading aloud our Lonely Planet Guide) that in a small plaza there was a statue of Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Richard O'Brien, who both wrote the screenplay and performed as Riff Raff, worked as a hairdresser at the Embassy Theatre which had been near the statue's site. There were various other Rocky Horror Picture Show features in the plaza and we were not the only late-middle-aged couple taking photographs.
Randall doing the Time Warp in central Hamilton
Our real goal, on the south side of town, was the Hamilton Gardens which line one side of a bend in the Waikato River. Until 40 years ago, the site had been a sand quarry, rifle range, and rubbish dump. The park and gardens were gradually developed by Hamilton City Council and they are still expanding. Extraordinarily, other than $2 for an optional map, admission to the gardens is free and, being New Year's Day, the place was busy with families of delightfully diverse nationalities.
We especially liked the group of small enclosed gardens called the Paradise Garden Collection. These demonstrated some of the most significant design traditions that emphasized the garden as a refuge from the outside world. These gardens illustrated the: Chinese Scholars' - 10th to 12th century; Japanese Garden of Contemplation - 14th to 16th century; Italian Renaissance - 15th to 16th century; Indian Char Bagh - 16th to 17th century; English flower - 19th century; and Modernist West coast North America - late 20th century.
Mounds for growing kumara (sweet potato) in the Maori garden
Other garden styles were the Productive Gardens (Te Parapara Maori crops - which needed a little more interpretation); Traditional European kitchen; herb; sustainable backyard and the Fantasy Gardens which included a fine example of Tudor 16th century knot gardens. Rain cut our stay in these gardens a bit short and hastened our quick loop through the rose-garden.
Small hedges pruned into knot designs in the 16th century Tudor garden
Given the large number rose gardens we visited in the US in 2016, we have a bit of a soft spot for them, so as we continued south down Highway 3 we also made a brief stop at the Te Awamutu Rose Garden. We resisted the temptation to dawdle further at the town's museum with its shrine to local rock heroes, Tim and Neil Finn of Split Enz. That was one of my favorite bands when I was an undergraduate. Instead, we hurried on to Otorohanga where we were staying for the night in a campground cabin. The Lonely Planet described the town's main street as being "festooned with images of cherished Kiwiana icons: sheep, gumboots, jandals, No. 8 wire, All Blacks, Pavlova..." These turned out to be cartoonish decorations attached to lampposts rather than the actual items but various displays in the Ed Hillary (the Kiwi who was the first man to reach the top of Mount Everest) Walkway explained their significance to New Zealanders. By the way, jandals = flip flops and No. 8 wire is a particular thickness of fencing wire that is commonly used in New Zealand for other purposes...a bit like duct-tape in the US.
Hanging baskets of flowers along the main street of Otorohanga
Otorohanga is in the King Country which is part of the rural heartland of New Zealand. It was also a stronghold of Maori independence, remaining effectively off-limits to Europeans until 1883, decades after the signing of the Waitangi treaty between the British Crown and Maori chiefs (eventually numbering more than 500) in 1840. Maori tribes acted independently until 1856 when the influx of Britons was overwhelming. The Kingitanga (King Movement) with an elected king was formed to unite various tribes, with the hope of better resisting the further loss of land and culture. Governor Grey responded in 1863 by sending a huge force to invade the region around the Waikato River. The Kingites retreated south into King Country but eventually after facing huge losses of warriors and land confiscation, the British Crown prevailed. Despite this, the Maori monarchy, elected by leaders of various tribes, continues and the movement has many supporters although it has no formal constitutional role.
Randall and the 7-m tall sheep shearer statue in Te Kuiti
The following morning we continued south through King Country passing the popular Waitomo Caves where it is possible to float through glowworm caves or abseil down a cliff into other caves, wet or dry. In Te Kuiti, the self-proclaimed sheep shearing capital of the world, we paused to admire the 7-m tall (23-feet), 7.5 tonne statue of the Big Shearer. Adding this statue to the list for our "Voyage of Superlatives", we were a little sorry that we were missing the Great New Zealand Muster that occurs in Te Kuiti in late March. In addition to fiercely fought sheep-shearing competitions, the festival includes the Running of the Sheep, when 2000 of the animals stampede down the main street. While not providing quite as intimidating an image as the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, a street full of galloping sheep must be quite a woolly spectacle.