This afternoon I spent some time exploring Hamilton Gardens and it turned out to be a very intriguing place! I knew it was a popular visitor destination – the most popular attraction in the region, in fact, with about 600,000 visitors each year – but I’d never actually been there myself. Now I’m recommending it to anyone visiting the Waikato area!
Taking the concept of public gardens a step beyond the ordinary, Hamilton Gardens features five collections of gardens, each designed to explore in some way the history and context of gardens. There’s a Productive Garden Collection, with kitchen and herb gardens, and a Cultivar Garden Collection, where you’ll find a myriad of roses, rhododendrons and camellias, but it was the Paradise Garden Collection that caught my imagination.
Wander through the brick archway and down a shaded pathway and suddenly you come upon a weathered plaster façade facing a small fountain. A doorway in the wall invites exploration – step through and find yourself transported to an Italian Renaissance Garden with geometric shapes, neatly clipped hedges, fountains and statuary. Climb the staircase to the left for a high-angle perspective and you’ll see that there’s another brick walkway unfolding ahead. Follow the path through silvery olive trees to a quiet blue pool with a statue cast from the famous 5th Century original featuring the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus.
Now another walkway comes into sight; this one leading to a Japanese Garden of Contemplation. Here you can stand in the wood-floored pavilion and gaze across a tranquil pond surrounded by conifers and maples on one side and, on the other, a Zen garden of rocks and mosses on white sand. Its pared-back design requires the viewer to use his or her imagination – so viewing the garden becomes a Zen exercise.
Continuing onward, visitors will encounter an English Flower Garden, a Chinese Scholar’s Garden, an American Modernist Garden and an Indian Char Bagh Garden, each unfolding in unexpected ways. You don’t have to be a gardening guru to enjoy the experience – on the afternoon I visited there were tourists, families, young couples and retirees strolling the walkways. It’s a thoroughly charming place to visit and entry is free. Definitely recommended whether you’re visiting Hamilton for a few days or just passing through.
Hamilton Gardens is located on State Highway One, just south of Hamilton City and alongside the Waikato River. If you’re heading south, it’s on the right-hand side of Cobham Drive, just after the Cobham Bridge.