Hamilton Gardens is a fabulous day trip from Auckland, that will surprise, inspire and delight you.
If you were to mention to an Aucklander that you were heading to Hamilton as a tourist, they’d probably give you a bit of a sideways glance followed by a little giggle under their breath.
It’s not that Hamilton isn’t a nice enough city, but let’s just say its charms are not as well known as other cities. For me it’s just been a city you drive through to get to your next destination. It’s certainly not somewhere I would have considered visiting as a ‘tourist’. The Hamilton Gardens have proven me wrong. They are a great reason to visit Hamilton. And if nature’s your thing, you could combine the Gardens with a visit to Raglan, including viewing the Bridal Veil falls.
I know, I know, the name ‘Hamilton Gardens’ hardly inspires one to explore further. But explore further you must. This is a destination that will delight any tourist, young or old, local or international.
Let’s explore why you need to add this to your ‘to do’ itinerary …
What are the Hamilton Gardens?
The Hamilton Gardens are a 54-hectare park based on the banks of the Waikato River. Within the park area are open lawns, a nursery, lake, convention centre and cemetery. But for me, the jewel in the crown of the park, is an enclosed garden area.
The Enclosed Gardens feature a series of gardens. When I visited I counted 16, but as the gardens are always growing and evolving, you may count more! The garden series’ are grouped into 3 collections – Paradise, Fantasy and Productive.
“For more than 4000 years garden design has been a serious art form reflecting different: lifestyles, religious beliefs, contemporary arts, social structures, philosophies and the changing attitudes to nature. The Hamilton Garden’s collection of gardens don’t just address the context, meaning and history of gardens, they also reflect the evolution of civilisation.”
If that all sounds a bit academic, let me just say, the gardens will allow you the opportunity to ‘visit the world’ without a passport or any jet lag. They’ll educate, they’ll inspire, and they’ll delight you.
Let’s explore a little together ….
The Paradise Garden Collection
You can only be drawn in to explore with a name like that. This collection represents some of the most significant small enclosed garden design traditions. You really will wander the world here. Let’s have a quick glimpse at the gardens that make up this collection.
We started in the Chinese Scholar’s Garden – how’s this photo for a little teaser?!
From here we wandered into the English Flower Garden – I imagine in spring that this would be quite spectacular.
From England we moved to the quiet contemplation of the Japanese Garden.
In stark contrast, we moved on to the Modernist Garden.
Next to delight was the Indian Char Bagh Garden. This sits over the river, so not only is the garden itself spectacular, but you get the addition of beautiful river views.
The best of all is saved for last. The Italian Renaissance garden is nothing short of spectacular every which way you turn.
From the Paradise collection, you’ll move on to discover gardens in both the Fantasy and Productive garden collections.
The Fantasy Garden Collection
The Fantasy collection of gardens represents the different genres of garden fantasy each with a direct relationship to one of the arts.
Amongst the fantasy collection, are a Tudor, Chinoiserie, Picturesque and Concept gardens.
I fell in love with the Mansfield Garden, which is part of the Fantasy collection. It depicts the setting of Kathern Mansfield’s famous short story The Garden Party. (Katherine was a prominent NZ short story writer.) A beautiful cottage garden grows around the frontage of a 19th century villa. From here you can sit and see the party in progress. Long tables set with white tablecloths sit under the ubiquitous striped tent. This is of course, set on the tennis court – where else would a garden party be held?! And what would a garden party be, without music? The piano and cello are set to serenade. The scene transports you back in time, dressed in your finery, enjoying a kiwi soiree.
The Productive Gardens
As you might imagine from their name, the productive gardens are all about food! But they are so much more than that. They open your mind to how gardens have traditionally been grown (the Kitchen & Te Parapara Gardens). They also inspire how you could grow your own food, in ‘today’s world’ in your own backyard (the Sustainable Backyard Garden).
But what I love most about the productive gardens, is what they do with their produce. The crops are used three ways. Fresh produce is turned into ‘fresh products’. Think Lemon Herb Aioli, Seville Orange Marmalade, Gardner’s Chutney, Chili Sauce …. hungry yet?? These delicious sauces and preserves are manufactured locally from the gardens’ crops. You can purchase them in the onsite Gift Shop. If you decide to eat at the Hamilton Garden’s Cafe while you’re visiting, there’s every chance you’ll be eating produce straight from the edible gardens. Now that’s fresh! Any surplus crop is given to Kaivolution – which ensures it reaches people in need.
I hope by now you’re convinced that this is a destination for you.
Hamilton Gardens are a destination for everyone
They really are for everyone. Wandering the gardens is an easy walk for young and old. They’ve been very cleverly laid out, so the walking is not extensive, and it’s pretty much flat. I couldn’t have been more impressed with how well the gardens flow from one to the next.
But wait … there’s more.
Have I mentioned yet that the gardens are FREE to visit??!!
I know – it’s incredible. That you could visit gardens of this beauty, and not have to pay is amazing. The gardens are owned/managed by the Hamilton City Council, and are supported by a team of volunteers. Of course, once you have visited, you’ll realise that you should be paying, and are only more than happy to do so. There are donation boxes set up as you enter/exit the gardens, so do take some cash so you can make a donation. (Or pop into the Info Centre and donate there).
The Hamilton Gardens run a range of fabulous sounding events – for the full and current schedule click HERE.
One of the most popular and engaging events is the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival, which will run from the 19th February – 1st March in 2020. This promises ‘two weeks of arts and frivolity in a magical setting’.
Visiting with kids?
If you’re wanting to get your kids off devices, this is the place for it. There’ll be no whinging about walking – they’ll be running from place to place, wanting to know what’s around the next corner. To really get them involved, download the Discover Trail garden map before you go. It’s a great way to really engage your youngsters in the gardens, and to get them to look a little deeper as they go from spot to spot. If you’ve got kids that are a little older, download the Tudor Trail sheet.
The gardens cater well for those needing extra accessibility. If you do think the walking will be too much for you, there are wheelchairs, mobility scooters, and pushchairs available to hire from the Information Centre.
The Hamilton Gardens are at Hungerford Crescent, Cobham Drive, SH1, Hamilton.
From Auckland, it’s around 130km away, which depending on traffic, and which route you take, will take around 1 hour 40 mins – 2 hours. The drive is State Highway most of the way, so it’s easy driving.
When’s the best time to visit the Hamilton Gardens?
As with any gardens, what you’ll see at any time is largely dependent on the season.
We visited in Summer. The flower displays in the Indian Char Bagh Garden were in full bloom. You can see just how the inspiration for them comes from Persian carpets. And if you’re a rose lover, you’ll be able to sniff to your hearts content the beautiful aromas in Rogers Rose Garden.
Autumn is always a beautiful time in gardens, and in the Japanese Garden you’ll be treated to the maple trees in vibrant colours.
In Winter the Concept Garden is apparently the place to visit, alongside the Victorian Flower Garden display houses. When other plants are not blooming, the ornamental planting in the Tudor Garden comes into its own.
Spring is always a beautiful time in gardens, and here is no different. The English Flower Garden will delight you, and the kitchen garden will inspire your own planting.
Don’t forget to check out what Events are happening around when you’re planning on visiting.
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I would love to hear from you. Are you going to add this to your ‘to do’ list? And if you go, let me know which gardens are your favourites.
If you do like visiting gardens, and art, check out Sculptureum. This is another day trip option from Auckland, that will really impress.