Opepe Bush Historic Reserve

The Opepe Bush Historic Reserve, which is a short drive from Taupō, has scenic bush walks to explore.

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The Opepe Bush Historic Reserve bisects the Napier Taupō Highway (SH5). There are carparks on both sides of the road.

The southern walking track is a 3 km loop walk. I did the northern walking track, which is a 30 minute, 1.5 km loop bush walk. The walk leads through mature podocarp forest, which are rare in the Taupō region because these forests were destroyed by the Taupō eruption, fires and milling.

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Totara

Totara

Matai

Matai

Rimu

Rimu

Opepe is most noted as a site of an attack in the 1869 New Zealand Land Wars. On June 7th 1869 members of Te Kooti’s party attacked the Bay of Plenty Cavalry, who were camped there. 5 of the 14 members of the cavalry escaped. The nine soldiers that were killed are buried here. Later residents of Opepe and the Armed Constabulary are also buried here. It is a 10 minute return walk to the cemetery.

Opepe Bush Historic Reserve is located on the Napier Taupō Highway (SH5), 17 km from Taupō.

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Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls in a waterfall in the Waikato region.

Bridal Veil Falls

The waterfall is a 55 metre (180 feet) plunge waterfall that over time has caused a large pool to form at the bottom. The pool is five metres deep but there is a large boulder in the middle of the pool just below the surface.

The waterfall is located along the Pakoka River at the Wairēinga Scenic Reserve. Wairēinga means ‘water of the underworld’ in Māori.

Wairēinga/Bridal Veil Falls is located between the towns of Te Uku and Raglan. The waterfall is off Kawhia Road. Access is via Te Mata Road, which is off the Hamilton/Raglan Highway (SH23). The carpark is 4 km down Kawhia Road, from the Te Mata Road turn off. From the carpark it is a 10 minute bush walk to the top of the waterfalls.

There are four viewing platforms. There are two platforms at the top of the waterfall. It is 135 steps down to a midpoint platform and 261 steps to the viewing platform at the bottom.

Top viewing platform

Top viewing platform

2nd top viewing platform

2nd top viewing platform

Midway viewing platform

Midway Viewing Platform

Lower viewing platform

Lower viewing platform

Facilities wise there are public toilets (long drop) at the entrance and a picnic table in a clearing.

The track at the top of the waterfall is accessible for wheelchairs and children’s pushchairs but there is no access to the bottom of the falls other than the steep set of steps.

Swimming in the pool below the waterfall is not recommended as the water quality is not safe for swimming.

Balloons over Waikato

Balloons over Waikato is an annual hot air balloon festival that is held in Hamilton in early autumn.

Balloons Over Waikato

This free event, which is now in its 17th year is running from today Wednesday March 16th until Sunday March 20th.

This morning the festival kicked off with the Hamilton Mass Ascension, with a mass inflation of the balloons at Innes Common at Hamilton Lake. Unfortunately due to the fog the balloons did not take off.

There are four special shaped balloons in the festival this year – the Resene Ele-fantastic Pea-nut Elephant, Baby Dino, Race Car, and Princess Carriage. There are over 30 hot air balloons with pilots from USA, Belgium, Australia and New Zealand.

Baby Dino & The Resene Elefantastic Pea-nut Elephant

Baby Dino & The Resene Elefantastic Pea-nut Elephant

Race Car

Race Car

Princess Carriage

Princess Carriage

Balloons Over Waikato

Balloons Over Waikato

Balloons Over Waikato

Balloons Over Waikato

There are plenty of opportunities to see the balloons over the next four days. On Thursday there is the Wel Energy Trust Breakfast at Dawn at Innes Common at Hamilton Lake at 6:30am. A free breakfast is offered to the first 2,000 visitors as they watch the balloons inflate. The balloons will also be visiting several local schools on Thursday.

On Friday the balloons will take off again at 7:30am from Innes Common. In the evening the balloons will visit Tokoroa (Balloons Visit South Waikato, 6pm – 8pm, Tokoroa War Memorial Sports Ground) and Te Kuiti (Balloons Visit Te Kuiti, 6pm – 8pm, Te Kuiti Domain). On Friday night in Hamilton city there is the City Burn & Markets between 6pm and 8pm at Garden Place.

The Smartrak Cash Bullseye Competition, will be held on Saturday morning at Innes Common, where balloon pilots will attempt to throw a marker into a bullseye to win $1,000. Zulu Nightglow is held on Saturday evening, between 4pm and 9pm at the University of Waikato. This is the biggest event of the festival and includes food, live entertainment, carnival rides and games, and the Balloon Glow Show, which features the balloons lighting up to music. The night ends with a fireworks display.

The final morning will see the balloons take off for one last time from Innes Common at Hamilton Lake.

It is amazing sight to see these balloons, so if you miss the festival this year check out 2017, planning is already under way.

Hamilton Zoo

Hamilton Zoo is a 25 hectare zoo located on Brymer Road in the Hamilton suburb of Rotokauri.

Giraffes at Hamilton Zoo

Giraffes at Hamilton Zoo

The Zoo is open daily (except Christmas Day) from 9am to 5pm. Last admission is at 3.30pm.

Prices are adults $20, children (3-15) $9, tertiary student, beneficiary, senior citizen $14.50. There are also family pass and annual pass options available as well.

Up close with a chimp

Up close with a chimp

Hamilton Zoo was formed in 1969 as the Hilldale Game Farm by Murray and Gloria Powell. By 1987, the pheasant farm was in financial difficulty and facing closure. The Hamilton City Council brought the zoo and began developing it into what it is today.

There is plenty to see at Hamilton Zoo with over 600 animals. It also boasts the largest walk-through aviary in New Zealand. There is onsite cafe, Flavours, and several picnic and BBQ areas throughout the zoo.

The Zoo offers ‘Meet the Keeper’ talks throughout the day. I attended talks and feedings for the Southern white Rhinoceros, Sumatran Tiger and Chimpanzee.

Southern white rhinos feeding

Southern white rhinos feeding

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Sumatran tiger hunting for food

Sumatran Tiger playing in the water

Sumatran tiger playing in the water

Chimp waiting for food

Chimp waiting for food

 

 

Hamilton Gardens

Hamilton Gardens is a public garden located on State Highway 1 just south of Hamilton Central.

Hamilton Gardens

Hamilton Gardens

The gardens are open from 7.30am. They close at 7.30pm in the summer and 5.30pm in the winter. There is access from Gate 1 or 2 on Cobham Drive. The Information Centre and Shop is open from 9am to 5pm all year round.

Alternatively you can also walk along the edge of the Waikato River from the city to Hamilton Gardens, which is what I did. After crossing Victoria Bridge I turned right and followed the path along the river.

Along the way I passed Wellington Street Beach and Hayes Paddock.

Wellington Street Beach is Hamilton’s own inland beach on the edge of the Waikato River. The small sandy beach has a jetty, which local youth jump from and there is a large grassy area suitable for picnics.

The beach has significance with local Māori. It was an important waka (canoe) landing site for earlier Māori traders. Many Māori who swim in the river at this spot today perform the ritual or tohi, where they splash the water on their face. This is done five times as a blessing to each of the Tanui Māori kings – Potatau Te Wherowhero, Tawhaio, Mahuta, Te Rata, and Koroki.

Wellington Street Beach

Wellington Street Beach

Hayes Paddock was developed as a garden suburb of state housing. Between 1939 and 1945, more than 200 houses were along seven streets, which were mainly named after former Governor-Generals. Macfarlane Street, named after James MacFarlane, is the only street not named after a Governor-General. MacFarlane was partner in the company Henderson and MacFarlane.

Hayes Paddock is named after William Hayes, who farmed the area from 1903 to 1925. The area is now a protected heritage precinct under the Council’s district plan.

Path to Hamilton Gardens

Path to Hamilton Gardens

In 1960, four acres of land was put aside for the purpose of a public garden. Those original four acres make up what is the Victorian Flower Garden and the Hammond Camellia Flower Garden. Over time the gardens expanded to what it is today.

The gardens present the theme – the ‘story of gardens’. There are five themed collections, which are Paradise, Productive, Fantasy, Cultivar and Landscape. Within each of these collections are individual themed gardens.

The Paradise Collection is my favourite. It is like you are visiting another part of the world. The Paradise Collection includes an American Modernist Garden, Chinese Scholars Garden, English Flower Garden, Japanese Garden of Contemplation, Indian Char Bagh Garden and an Italian Renaissance Garden.

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American Modernist Garden – a late 20th Century garden designed for outdoor living, in the American West Coast tradition.

Chinese Scholar's Garden

Chinese Scholar’s Garden – an interpretation of the 10th – 12th Century Sung Dynasty gardens

English Flower Garden

English Flower Garden – designed in the style of an English 19th Century Arts and Crafts garden

Japanese Garden of Contemplation

Japanese Garden of Contemplation – an example of the 14th – 16th Century Muromachi Period gardens

Indian Char Bagh Garden

Indian Char Bagh Garden – an interpretation of a 16th – 17th Century garden built for the Mughal aristocracy.

Italian Renaissance Garden

Italian Renaissance Garden – an interpretation of the 15th – 16th Century Renaissance Gardens

The Productive Collection are edible gardens. The Kitchen Garden is a traditional European productive garden with a variety of vegetables and small fruits. Students from Waikato Institute of Technology maintain this garden as part of their studies. There is also a large herb garden, that is designed around four rectangular plots. The Sustainable Backyard is a garden that is designed around sustainable gardening principles.  The Te Parapara Garden is a traditional Māori horticulture garden.

Te Parapara Garden

Te Parapara Garden

The Fantasy Collection includes a Chinoiserie Garden, which has European interpretations of Oriental design that were fashionable in late 18th and 19th Century gardens. The Tropical Garden uses plants from other climatic regions. Hamilton Gardens currently has two fantasy themed gardens under development – a Tudor Garden and Surrealist Garden.

Tropical Garden

Tropical Garden

Although it was spring when I visited it was still very much winter so there was not a lot flowers blossoming in the Cultivar Collection, which includes the Hammond Camellia Garden, New Zealand Cultivar Garden, Rhododendron Lawn, Rogers Rose Garden, Victorian Flower Garden.

The last themed collection is the Landscape Collection offers nice short nature walks. This collection includes Bussaco Woodland, Hamilton East Cemetery and Valley Walk.

Another prominent feature of Hamilton Gardens is Turtle Lake, which is nice area for picnics. Located nearby is the Hamilton Gardens Cafe, which is open 9am to 6pm in the summer and 9.30pm to 5pm in the winter.

Turtle Lake

Turtle Lake

Hamilton Gardens, which recently won International Garden of the Year at the 2014 Garden Tourism Awards, receives over 1 million visitors a year. So next time you are in the Waikato region check out what is one of New Zealand’s best gardens!

PS Rangiriri

The remains of the Rangiriri, a historic paddle steamer sit back from the Waikato River between Memorial Park and Parana Park.

Waikato River

Waikato River

The PS Rangiriri was commissioned by New Zealand’s colonial Government in 1864 for use on the Waikato River during the Land Wars.

The Rangiriri was never fitted with guns, but it did have a steel pipe, that was connected with the main boilers, that was fitted around the side. If an enemy tried to board the Rangiriri, a lever could be pulled and scolding steam would be released through holes in the pipe.

The scolding steam was never needed as the Rangiriri arrived too late and was never used during the Land Wars. It was instead used as a transport and supply vessel. It brought some of Hamilton’s earliest militia settlers to the city.

P.S. Rangiriri

P.S. Rangiriri

The Rangiriri was in Government service until it was sold to a private company in 1868. In 1889, the Rangiriri ran aground and spent the next 90 years abandoned in the river suffering damage from erosion and river silt. In 1981-82 it was raised from the river floor and left on the river bank.

In 2009 a preservation projection began. In March 2010 a civic cermony was held to mark the official ceremony. It is now sheltered by a canopy and fence around it to protect it from damage.

A viewing platform has been built for visitors to view the wreck.

Viewing platform over PS Rangiriri

Viewing platform over PS Rangiriri

Basic Facts:

Length: 90 feet  6 inches (27.5 metres)

Breadth: 20 feet (6.1 metres)

Draught: 2 feet 6 inches (76.2 cm)

Wheel diameter: 9 feet (2.74 metres)

Speed: 8.5 knots maximum. Cruising speed 6 knots.

Designed by James Stewart

Parana Park

Parana Park is a children’s playground located on Memorial Drive in Hamilton East.

Parana Park

Tui chick and egg sculpture, Parana Park

Parana Park, was gifted to Hamilton City by George Parr. In his will Mr. Parr gifted the house located at 3 River Road to be used as a home for children recovering from illness. The land surrounding the house was to be used as a children’s playground. It became apparent that home was not suitable for a children’s convalescent home and the 1958 Hamilton City (Parana Park) Empowering Act was established to give the Council more control over managing the park.

The name Parana does not have anything to do with piranhas in the pond. That is a joke. The name came from a combination of Mr. Parr’s name and that of Annie McPherson who planted the trees on the property.

Parana Park

Parana Park

In April 2012, the playground reopened after an extensive upgrade, which included new paths, sculptures and a viewing platform.

The park has been designed with a kōwhai theme. There is a 300-jet fountain shaped liked a kōwhai seed, a slide shaped like kōwhai flower and viewing platform overlooking the Waikato River shaped like a kōwhai leaf.

Kōwhai tress are a small legume trees with yellow blooms native to New Zealand. Kōwhai is also the Māori word for yellow, a reference to the colour of the flower. Although not officially recognised the kōwhai flower is often seen as New Zealand’s national flower.

300 jet Kowhai seed shaped fountain

300-jet kōwhai seed shaped fountain

Kowhai shaped slide

Kōwhai flower shaped slide

There is also a small amphitheatre, playhouse and an aviary in the park.

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Aviary, Parana Park

Aviary, Parana Park

Victoria Bridge to Memorial Park

Victoria Bridge is a steel arch vehicle and pedestrian bridge that crosses the Waikato River connecting Hamilton Central with Hamilton East. The Bridge was first known as the Hamilton Road Bridge. It was later renamed Victoria Bridge but it is now more commonly known to locals as Bridge Street Bridge.

Victoria Bridge

Victoria Bridge

The bridge, which was completed in 1910, was built to replace the wooden Hamilton Union Bridge, which had become so rickety it was deemed unsafe.  The steel arch was manufactured by the Cleveland Bridge Company in the UK and shipped to New Zealand. The structure has a central span of 103.6 metres.

After crossing the bridge I turned left and took the steps down and followed the path along the Waikato River bank to Memorial Park.

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Memorial Park is the site of the landing of the Pioneers Fourth Waikato Regiment in August 1864.  There is a plaque commemorating this on a brick wall in the park.

Tablet commemorating the landing of Pioneers Fourth Waikato Regiment

Tablet commemorating the landing of Pioneers Fourth Waikato Regiment

After the First World War the park was developed into a War Memorial Park. In 1920 the park was named Memorial Park. The park was later further developed to include a memorial to World War II. Later a roll of honour was added for those who tragically lost their lives in Korea and Vietnam.

On ANZAC Day each year the Hamilton RSA dawn parade and service is held at the Hamilton Cenotaph in Memorial Park.

Cenotaph, Memorial Park

Cenotaph, Memorial Park

'We will remember them'

‘We will remember them’

There are also monuments in the park dedicated to the armed services. There is a life-size replica of Spitfire MK XVI as a memorial to the New Zealanders who served in the Air Force during both World Wars.

A BL 5.5 inch Mk3 Artillery Gun is on permanent display dedicated to the Royal New Zealand Artillery Gunners, past and present.

The anchor from the HMNZS Waikato is displayed in the park. The ship was in service from September 1966 to July 1998. The anchor was presented to the City of Hamilton by the Royal New Zealand Navy.

Life-size replica of Spitfire  Mk XVI

Life-size replica of Spitfire Mk XVI

BL 5.5 inch MK3 Artillery Gun

BL 5.5 inch MK3 Artillery Gun

Anchor from HMNZS Waikato

Anchor from HMNZS Waikato

Waikato Museum & ArtsPost Galleries

Waikato Museum and ArtsPost Galleries & Shop are located next to each other on the south end of Victoria Street and can both be visited in a couple of hours.

The former Post Office now ArtsPost

The former Hamilton Post & Telegraph Office now ArtsPost

ArtsPost is located in the old Post and Telegraph Office. The building, which opened in 1901, was built in Imperial Baroque style. In 1916, the building was extended. In 1940 the Post Office was closed and relocated to Garden Place. Over the next 50 years the building was used for social welfare purposes, Maori Land Court, local Members of Parliament and a youth resource centre.

Hamilton City Council purchased the building in 1992 and set out to restore it to its original condition. In 1998 it opened as ArtsPost.

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ArtsPost hosts three exhibition spaces – the Ida Carrey Gallery, the Margot Phillips Gallery and the Chartwell Gallery.

The galleries are updated on regular basis providing the City with fresh and vibrant art. Looking at the website all three galleries have been updated since I visited in early September.

Also upstairs (separate entrance on the far left side of the building) is the school and office for Waikato Society of Arts (WSA). They have a gallery space, which exhibits local members art work.

Waikato Museum courtyard looking towards ArtPost

Waikato Museum courtyard looking towards ArtPost

Waikato Museum opened in its current location in 1987. The building, which has five floors and 12 galleries, was designed by Ivan Mercep, who later designed Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum.

Both ArtsPost and Waikato Museum are free to visit. Although there may be some charges for special exhibitions and activities.

There is a car park behind the ArtsPost building (off Victoria Street) with 61 spaces. There is also car park buildings at Garden Place and Knox Street. On Grantham Street there is free limited 120 minute parking available.

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Waikato Museum

1 Grantham Street (south end of Victoria St)

Open daily, 10am to 4.30pm

 
ArtsPost Galleries & Shop

120 Victoria Street

Open daily, 10am to 4.30pm

Hobbiton

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Outside Bag End, Bilbo’s home

Since a young age I have always had an interest in film. When I travel I always try and make a point of visiting film museums, studios, and take film related tours. Right here in New Zealand we have the largest “green” movie set in the world – Hobbiton. It is the location for the Shire, as seen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit films, and it is only a few hours drive from Auckland.

As the story goes in September 1998, locations scouts discovered the Alexander family’s sheep and cattle farm during an aerial search. It was the perfect location as it had green rolling hills and a big tree by a lake, which was crucial for Bilbo’s ‘eleventy-first’ birthday party scene. Top secret construction began in March of the following year and filming started in December, lasting three months. The agreement was that the set would be removed and the farmland would be restored to its natural state once filming was complete. But due to storm weather the clean up was delayed. The intention was to return once the land had dried out and finish the clean up. During this time the Alexander family realised they had a potential tourist attraction on their hands.

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Looking across the lake towards The Green Dragon Inn, the double arch bridge and the watermill

It was this tourist attraction that I visited over 10 yeas ago. The lake, the party tree, and the remains of a couple of hobbit holes was all that was there to see. Nothing flash at all really. In 2009, the Shire set was rebuilt for The Hobbit films with permanent materials. There are now 44 hobbit holes, gardens, a double arch bridge, a watermill, and The Green Dragon Inn.

I choose to take a day tour to get to Hobbiton. There are several different companies offering tours from Auckland. I chose Bush and Beach’s Hobbiton Express Tour.

They offer pick up from inner city accommodation. Living in the city, I opted for the 6.55 am pick up outside 172 Quay Street, opposite the Ferry Terminal building. This morning after picking up one more passenger from the Crowne Plaza, our group of 17 made our way south.

It was pouring with rain as we left but our driver and guide Dion reassuringly joked that “Hobbiton looks more English in the rain”. Dion provided excellent commentary on the Auckland and Waikato region. His factual information and trivia was peppered with just the right amount of jokes.

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We stopped for a short refreshment break just before eighty thirty at the Firepot Café in Gordontown Village before making our way through Cambridge and onto Hobbiton.  By this time the sky was clearing and by the time we arrived at Hobbition the blue sky and sun was out – I was glad I put on that SPF 50+ this morning.

At Hobbiton we meet up with another Bush and Beach tour van with a party of 11 and met our Hobbiton tour guide Kendall. There was the potential for everything to turn to shambles first thing because three cruise groups, which were meant to visit yesterday, had to reschedule for today due to the recent nasty norovirus outbreak. Kendall and the other guides coordinated it so we were not shepherded around like sardines.

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Outside the home of Samwise Gamgee

We started at the Party Tree and Party Field and then made our way around the 44 hobbit holes and gardens, including popular stops at Bilbo’s house “Bag End” and the home of Samwise Gamgee.

Kendall was an excellent guide offering various interesting tidbits of LOTR trivia and always offering to take photos.

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Guides pour guests a choice of Amber Ale, Traditional English Ale, Apple Cider or Ginger beer

After making our way across the double arch bridge and past the Watermill the tour concluded at the Green Dragon Inn, where we were offered a complimentary ale, cider or non alcoholic ginger beer.

As a private tour group we had lunch in a themed marquee behind the Green Dragon Inn. Bush and Beach advertise lunch as being at Shire’s Rest café, which is not on Hobbiton set itself, so we were very lucky to have this opportunity. After lunch I had the opportunity to walk around and take a closer look at the interior and exterior of the Green Dragon Inn and the Watermill and Bridge.

Bush and Beach offer a $10 voucher to use in the gift shop. The Shire Store sells Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit merchandise including Tolkien books, DVDs, posters, clothing, Weta Collectives and bottles of that ale, cider and ginger beer enjoyed at the Green Dragon Inn. We did not have to spend more than the $10 voucher as there were postcards for $2, fridge magnets between $5 and $10 and shot glasses for $8 each.

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At least one of the hobbit holes is open so you can peek inside

We left Hobbiton a little before 1pm and on the way back we passed through Matamata, a small rural town that promotes itself as being the gateway to Hobbiton. We made a quick unschedule stop at the Matamata i-SITE, which is modeled after the Green Dragon Inn. Those who wished could pop inside for a quick photo with Gollum (a statue).

A little after 2:30 pm we made a stop for ice cream at Pokeno Village, which is about 35 minutes out of Auckland City. You can get a large one scoop ice cream for $1.50 or if you’re feeling really adventurous a jumbo ice cream for $12.

We got into Auckland City a little bit after 3:30pm, which is a little bit later than the advertised time of 3 pm. Word of mouth would suggest this is quite a common occurrence but hey if that is the only criticism one can make about Bush and Beach they are not doing too bad.

Essential facts:

Bush and Beach Hobbition Express Tour
7:00 am – 3:00 pm
$275 per adult, $140 per child

Hobbiton Movie Set Tours
501 Buckland Road, Hinuera, Matamata