Taking the train from Britomart, Auckland to Hamilton city – I didn’t really know what to expect. Friends who had visited a decade prior advised me to avoid what was arguably the most boring city in the world. But, since it was on the main trunk line south and coincided with one of my favourite indie bands being in town I decided to risk a night… how bad could it be?
Unlike expensive and logistically nightmarish transfers I’ve had in other cities – the fact that you walk out of Hamilton central’s underground station and on to Victoria street where most of the accommodation choices are meant it was off to a good start. My hotel was literally across the road; in the centre of town with a river view. Win.
After offloading my pack, I asked the reception where I should go to begin to explore the city. She sent me to the Waikato Museum, to catch the free walking tour bus which runs Friday – Sunday. I’ve got to admit – walking from hotel to the Museum, wasn’t particularly spectacular. Apart from some obviously new developments – it looked like any other city I’ve been to, though there were some nice heritage buildings – freshly painted and flower baskets hanging from awnings above trendy cafes and bars. (I was also pretty excited to see the Riff Raff statue, but since I was running late I decided to come back later).
The walking tour – was surprisingly good. It was free so I couldn’t complain, but the friendly host – an Hambassador, I think she was – took a group of us, along the river – pointing out where a new pedestrian bridge was being constructed next year to reach Memorial Park in the East. We wandered through the new Ferrybank arts precinct, which ran along the river and up to Victoria street – I was mesmerised by street performers and thought how lucky Hamiltonians were to have two theatres in one area. A larger one called “the Founders” being finished soon and the Meteor theatre, which had been refurbished and was thriving for community performances. She pointed out the Waikato Brewery building which had been converted into trendy eateries, St Pauls cathedral and parks of interest like the Band Rotunda – which thousands flock to for free jazz sessions every Sunday afternoon!
At this point I opted to hire a bicycle from the Ferrybank info centre and joined the daily cycle tour from the city to the Hamilton gardens through Hamilton East. Our guide was busy telling stories of the cities past on our way along the river – with a few loops to capture buildings of interest like Euphrasie house – which apparently came really close to being demolished. It was also really interesting to check out Beale Cottage – the oldest house in Hamilton, and Greenslade. Apparently the council decided to focus on restoration and preservation of houses of note in the city. The Hamilton gardens is world famous and did not disappoint. I was blown away – and could easily have spent a lot more time there had it not been for being distracted by the food trucks that set up at the gardens from Friday to Sunday nights. I was grateful for the free wi-fi because I wasn’t sure if my memory card was going to hold all of the photos I was taking.
Dropping the bike off back in the city, I wandered along the path back up to the hotel to change for the gig. I’ve travelled enough by myself to not care about being by myself at something like this but found the people so friendly and unpretentious that I made a heap of new friends. As soon as people hear you are from out of town they become animated in the “things you need to check out” including beer recommendations – they’re proud of locally crafted brews here. Apparently the underground music scene is really big here too – and they tell me they have a couple of central city festivals a year – so I’ll be back.
I took breakfast at a little cafe at Victoria on the River – just down from the hotel. Something I noticed was that the really cool things in this city are hidden. You really have to ask someone, or pick up a map – but it lends itself to being part of the charm. This city is so underrated that it’s cool.
After breakfast I wandered around the city to check out some of the Boon street and public art from a map and guide I was given at the gig last night. I was stoked to hear acoustic music coming from the stage when I got to Embassy Park. With kids, families and older people sitting around enjoying the sun I could imagine it being a great place to live. The coffee I had while I was people watching was one of the best I’ve had too.
With an hour left, I browsed the vintage and artisan craft shops tucked away in their laneways – I also managed to catch a weekly market in Garden Place – with even more entertainment happening on a stage.
By now – I’m starting to feel guttered that I didn’t plan longer here – I’ll have to hit up my friends who said it was dull. With sadness, I walked back down to Hamilton central to get back on the train to head south. Vowing to return one day soon.
(These things may or may not be happening at the moment, but will be soon…)