Hamilton NZ

The glowworm caves in Waitomo are on everyone’s “must see” list, but the town of Waitomo is not a destination where you would choose to stay.  See our post on the Glowworm Caves if you have not already.  The usual practice is to stay in Hamilton, a small city about an hour drive away.

Hamilton has fine hotels and restaurants, but then we heard about their Gardens.  Wow!

Hamilton Gardens

Hamilton Garden Medallion
Hamilton 2014 International Garden of the Year

These gardens would be enough to make Hamilton a destination city.  In 2014 they were the International Garden of the Year for Tourists. We planned a quick stop on Thursday morning February 9, then delayed our departure from Hamilton to allow more time for the gardens.  I suggest planning on spending at least a half day.

The Hamilton Gardens consist of 130 acres based on garden design, rather than being a botanical garden (defined as being organized for scientific study).  Admission and parking are free, but the docents apologetically ask for a dollar (US$0.70) for a map, to help support the gardens.

The 30 gardens are organized in 5 groups – if you are interested in details see Wikipedia for a wonderful description, especially starting 40% of the way down the Wiki page.

    • Paradise collection of 6 gardens, based on building a special enclosed space
Indian 4 part garden description
This sign says it all – perhaps better than I could copy it
Indian garden
This is the Indian 4 part garden described above.
Hamilton Meditation Garden
Part of the Japanese Meditation Garden
Hamilton Garden Oriental Bridge
One of the oriental gardens included the traditional bridge
Hamilton Oriental Garden bridge
Another Oriental Bridge, with sitting area, in the gardens
Hamilton oriental garden entrance
The enclosed space is often an entrance to the garden
Hamilton Japanese garden
The Japanese garden included the simple, soothing, raked gravel with other features
renaissance garden entrance
The Italian renaissance garden entrance was protected by Anubis statues – or by creatures half Anubis and half human
Italian garden
The 15th – 16th century style Italian gardens were quite impressive
Romulus and Remus statue in Hamilton Garden
Romulus and Remus, twin brothers traditionally nursed by a wolf that led to the founding of Rome, have to be part of the Italian garden
          • Cultivar garden collection of 6 gardens of plants that were specially bred and cultivated for gardens, such as the rose garden and the camellia garden

            Hamiltton Flowers
            Everywhere we went there were beautiful flowers.
          • Productive garden group of 4 gardens – including an herb garden, a kitchen garden, and a sustainable backyard garden (lots of recycling), and a Māori garden with native farming techniques.
            Hamilton Herb garden
            The productive gardens were not always utilitarian, such as this herb garden
            Bronze scarecrow in Hamilton Productive gardens
            Of course, some of the productive gardens are simpler, but we were surprised by this bronze scarecrow
            Maori garden in Hamilton
            Entrance to the Māori garden, showing how they adapted the tropical Polynesian plants to the temperate New Zealand climate
            Maori carvings protecting the gardens
            The Māori gardens are, of course, protected by their traditional carvings
            Maori tongue
            Traditional defense is for a Māori to stick out his tongue to scare people off.
            Maori storage shed
            The crops that required dry soil were planted in sandy mounds, and clippings used to propagate the plants. Those were stored between growing seasons in sheds on raised posts

            Maori storage front
            Of course, the front was protected by the same spiritual carvings. The actual storage was through the small white door at the back.
          • Landscape garden collection of 6 spaces – such as a woodland walk and the large Hillside lawn that is, in fact, the reclaimed city garbage dump.
            woodland walk in Hamilton Gargen
            The woodland walk started with this path and continued through a very pleasant … woodland walk.
            Waikato River
            The gardens are along the Waikato river that flows through Hamilton


          • Fantasy gardens – there are 9 current or proposed gardens such as tropical and medieval gardens.
            Hamilton Fancy Garden
            This is a traditional Tudor garden .  Note the sculptures at the top of each post – there are a total of 8 different sculptures.


            Beyond the gardens there is a conference center on the facility, with a turtle lake outside the restaurant.

Turtle lake in Hamilton
The turtle lake has ducks and young people who like to feed ducks; presumably there are also turtles
Hamilton Garden Birdhouse
Doves and other birds were welcomed

This is the temporary end of the travelogue, but eventually there will be more!

Glowworm Caves NZ

Glowworms are a bug that likes living in caves. So what’s the big deal?


An adult glowworm is like a large mosquito.  It lays about 120 eggs that start the cycle, but since it does not have a mouth, it cannot eat and only lives a couple days.

In about 20 days the eggs hatch, and the larva crawl away and build a nest.

A cobweb like strand hangs down from the larva, and catches food in it’s sticky strand.  The glowworm tail glows, lighting the hanging strand, a continuous bioluminescent light similar to the flashing light of a firefly.  Over it’s 9 month life, the strand grows from about 1/16 inch to the size of a matchstick or longer.

It then forms a pupa, like a cocoon, hanging from the ceiling for about 13 days before hatching into the adult, which mates, lays eggs and dies, and the cycle starts over.

glowworm caves
Picture provided as the boat was leaving the cave, at the end of the tour.  The blue lights are thousands (or millions) of the glow worms.

The glowworm can control the brightness of it’s light.  It likes dark moist caves where it’s light attracts food (bugs), but it can dim it’s light when the surrounding light gets brighter, or when it is stressed.  Moist caves keep the critical cobweb-like food trap from drying out.  The river in the cave attracts the insects the glowworms eat. Therefore the tours are often in silent boats, no pictures allowed. Ugh. I had to use one of their pictures!

National Geographic has this 3D video on YouTube.  Be sure to use the arrows in the upper corner to scroll up and down, left and right, as they go through a glowworm cave.

The Caves

There are numerous caves in the Waitomo area (and in New Zealand in general).  The locals recommended Waitomo Glowworm Caves as the longest operating and most highly regarded.  They have multiple caves, but one that is especially glowworm oriented.  (Admission to the glowworm cave is about US$37 each, for a 45 minute tour and movie, with optional add-on for their other caves).  You need to reserve a specific tour time in advance (our hotel in Hamilton helped us, and was able to get a same-day reservation, but you can book it on-line using the link above).  There is another Glowworm cave a mile or so away, basically a newcomer trying to copy this cave, which has been in operation over a century.

Visiting the glowworm cave is definitely worthwhile, but the cave part was not very impressive, especially compared to other caves I have visited in Vietnam and Southwestern United States.  (Perhaps this is why they don’t allow visitors to take pictures in this cave).  When I went on their web site to find some pictures to share, there was practically nothing.

They do have additional caves, and do allow pictures in those caves.  For example Ruakuri Caves tour, which is wheelchair accessible (wow) and allows cameras.  It is a few miles (5 km) away from the visitor center, and offers a 2 hour tour. We did not tour this cave, but I recommend it if you are looking for a cave experience in addition to glowworms.

Their third cave, Aranui cave, has no river, and includes a guided bush walk to bring the time to an hour.  Cameras are allowed. Consider a joint admission to two or three of the caves, but be sure to include the glowworm cave!

Glowworm cave exit
As we left the glowworm cave, we were allowed to take a picture of the cave exit.

Occasionally (a few days per year) the caves have to close because of a high CO2 level, caused by too many tourists.  The problem is that with high CO2 in the air, the dripping water becomes acidic, and starts to dissolve the formations, rather than growing mineral stalactites and stalagmites.

The hotels and restaurants in Waitomo are very limited, so the usual procedure is to stay in Hamilton, a lovely little town about an hour drive from Waitomo.


road to hamilton
We had many dire warnings about the condition of the roads, and how much time we had to allow between cities. This road back to Hamilton is fairly typical, well paved, little traffic, 100 km/hr speed limit in most areas (62 mph) but you drive on the left.

We got back to Hamilton late afternoon.  There was a village festival with countless food booths in the main street area.  Jenny didn’t find anything exciting enough to overcome her fear of street food (even though she enjoyed watching the preparation), but she found a tiny pizza restaurant right there with a five star rating on Trip Advisor.  We went in, admired the wood fired brick oven, and ordered.  The staff was oriental, not an Italian in sight, but the pizza and service were great!

To continue the travelogue, click here.

Devonport NZ

Jenny loves to take a local ferry to a nearby island.  So on Tuesday morning February 7th we set out for Devonport.  We later found it was not an island, but a suburb of Auckland on the other side of the harbor, a 12 minute ferry ride away.  Still this historic seaside village was a nice place to visit and a pleasant morning.  Back in Auckland that afternoon we visited the Maritime museum.


Devonport harbor
As the ferry arrived in Devonport Harbor, you could not only see the town but also the volcanic hill where the fort is located… yes we walked to the fort
Devonport harbor
A local container ship passed as we landed. Why local? It is tiny compared to the big ocean-going ships, and has it’s own on-board cranes to load and unload in less developed ports.  Not only do the lack of containers suggest that it is lightly loaded, but the red portion of the hull, normally below the surface, is above the waterline.
Devonport naval ship
There is also a nearby naval base, with this warship being towed into port.
Devonport war memorial
This is a small town, but on the front of the memorial is a list of local residents who died in World War I. That is a lot of names for a community this small. Other wars are listed on other sides.  Note the WW-I outfit and the youthful soldier.
Devonport Visitor Center
The visitor center was fine, but the Māori carvings over the door were noteworthy
Devonport downtown
Past the harbor and visitor center we found a charming town.
Devonport Street restaurants
The main street was tourist-cute. We later had lunch at the apparent bank building, and the adjacent “Post Office” is another restaurant.
Devonport sky tower
Of course, as we started up the hill to the fort, we were reminded how close we really were to Auckland and the Sky Tower
Devonport tree
As we walked up the hill Jenny found another one of the trees that spread huge distances sideways.
Fort Victoria Devonport
Fort Victoria has had many functions over its long life, from harbor defense to anti-aircraft installations, to … whatever required by the current situation. What are the little red “mushrooms?” Over a dozen ventilation ports for the underground command center.

At the top of the hill was an 8 inch disappearing gun.  The 13 ton barrel was mounded on a 26 ton carriage, which could be hydraulically retracted into the hilltop, “hiding it.”  It used a charge of 110 pounds of gunpowder to fire a 210 pound shell up to 5 miles.  It was only fired once, since local residents complained that it cracked too many windows.  I don’t have a good picture since it was retracted when we were there.

Maritime Museum

Back in Auckland we spend the rest of the afternoon at the Maritime Museum.  Admission is free to Auckland residents, and NZ$17-20 for us outsiders.  If you like ships and  models, you will spend much more than the average two hours.

Yacht Black Magic
Sometimes it is hard to take a picture of a sailboat. The is Black Magic, NZL32, the ocean-going Americas Cup racing sailboat that won in 1995 and 2000 . The 13 foot keel is the thing that descends at the left, with torpedo shaped underwater ballast, supplemented by wing attachments descending on each side of the hull.  From the upper stories of the museum you could see other parts of the yacht.
Olympic Shell
Another winning boat was this Olympic rowing shell.
log sailboat
I enjoyed this model of a logging sailing ship, that carried the logs on its open deck.
Outrigger sailing canoe
A real (not model) outrigger dugout sailing canoe
sail of reed mats
If you don’t have looms to weave conventional fabric for sails, what do you do? Weave flat reed mats.
Historical sailboat
Another historical sailboat being reconstructed by the museum
recreational sailboats
A whole range of modern recreational sailboats were on display
As contrasted with this model of a classic gaff rigged schooner. My father supervised construction of the So Fong, a sailboat similar to this, in Hong Kong, in 1936-37.

To continue the travelogue, click here

Auckland NZ Museum

We went to the Auckland War Memorial Museum on our first full day, Monday February 9. The classic building is atop an extinct volcano, with a cenotaph in front as a remembrance of 20th century war victims.

Auckland War Memorial and Museum
Auckland War Memorial and Museum

Despite their small population and remote location New Zealand has been involved in both World Wars and many other conflicts.  This museum is both a war memorial (names of those lost and displays of the conflicts are on the upper floor), and a lovely history of New Zealand.

Museum entrance
From the entry to the museum you can see the war memorial cenotaph, the port, and a cruise ship in the harbor.
museum entry gun
This gun, mounted at the entrance, reminds us that the museum is a war memorial as well as natural history.

New Zealand is noted for it’s extinct and endangered birds that … don’t fly like birds – they don’t even have wings or any bones related to wings.

Female Moa bird reconstructed at the museum
This Moa bird has been extinct for over 100 years, but was reconstructed from skeletons. This is a female – the males were smaller.  Their back is often 6 feet tall, and they can eat vegetation over 10 feet off the ground.

A Kiwi is a New Zealand resident.  The brown skin green fruit is a kiwi fruit, not just a Kiwi.  The kiwi birds are not extinct, but rare and endangered.  They have vestigial wings but cannot fly – no  place for the wing muscles to connect to the skeleton.  We did not take a side trip to a kiwi bird park to see the real things in life.

kiwi birds in the museum
We satisfied ourselves with the stuffed kiwi birds in the museum.  It is the national symbol of New Zealand
museum had a large historic boat
This was an 1830 war canoe, an example of the large sea-going boats

The natives are of Polynesian descent, which implies long ocean voyages.

carving in the bow of the large museum boad
The bow of the boat had some intricate carving. There may be a story why European boats had a lady facing forward and the Polynesians had a man facing backwards, into the boat.
museum boat carving
The side of the boat had multiple sets of carved waves representing the multiple seas in the voyage.
museum also has a smaller boat on display
They also showed the smaller boats – basically outrigger canoes – used locally
The museum has a live Maori performance.
To announce the start of the native Māori demonstration, the performers appeared in front of a traditional native storage structure, and sounded their horn, which could be heard throughout the museum. There was an extra charge for the performance, demonstration, and explanation, but it appeared authentic and was quite interesting.
Maori Haka dance at the museum
The demonstration included dance and music with native instruments (see the things the lady is swinging). The Haka is a “war dance” to show the tribe’s pride, strength, and unity, even in peaceful gatherings.
Maori dance at the museum
Some parts of the dance are just looking fierce, and sometimes involves sticking out the tongue.
Maori performer after the museum show
The performers came out of the auditorium after the show for pictures and conversation. This young lady was extremely proud of her dual nationality – both Māori and New Zealander. Most are fluently bilingual, but consider it a privilege when they can choose to learn math and other basics in their choice of languages.
Native hut in the museum with tribal walls.
A large native meeting hut had been reconstructed in the museum. Different Māori tribes had their traditional designs in the woven walls, which were being restored.
Museum had numerous totem poles
The Māori are excellent wood carvers, including various totem poles.
museum had war aircraft on display
As part of the war memorial there were several World War II fighter aircraft on display.

One section of the museum deals with volcanoes.  One exhibit allows you to sit in a house looking out a picture window as the TV announces a coming eruption.  As you look out the window you see the simulated eruption, including feeling the shaking of the house.  Well worth it, even if you have to wait your turn.

wood box in the museum
I love wood craftsmanship, such as this
Arts and Crafts style sidebard
This sideboard is the New Zealand variant of the Arts and Crafts ideas. This piece was built about 1925. Native New Zealand rimu wood had replaced the traditional white oak used in the Northern Hemisphere.
Domestic Wardrobe from 1889
This “ready made furniture” wardrobe was built from various domestic woods, including traditional carving, as early as 1889.
carved wood desk at the museum
This desk shows their love of wood craftsmanship and carving.
large tree outside museum
As we went to our car parked outside the museum, Jenny noticed the size of the tree … at least as wide as 3 or 4 or more cars.
park overlooking water
We then went to another park, overlooking the water
view of city from park
But following a different path in the park, it was overlooking the city
skytower from the museum park
Of course, the Auckland Skytower can be seen from almost everywhere around Auckland.
Auckland beach
As usual, Jenny has to walk anywhere there is sand
beach with swimmers
They even swim here. It was February, their Fall, and the start of the school year so no crowds.
layered pine trees
The apparent pine trees in New Zealand seem to grow in layers – spaces between the sets of branches. Rather unique in my experience.

To continue the travelogue, click here.

New Zealand – Auckland

Jenny and Charlie spent 11 days driving around the North Island of New Zealand February 3-15, 2017, starting in Auckland.  Great trip with beautiful scenery and lots of special stops.

We left home on Friday afternoon, and arrived on Sunday morning.  The trip was good enough that a brief (hour) nap and we were off to the city.

Auckland RC Cathedral
St. Patrick Cathedral, on a hill near the center of Auckland

Most churches seem to have very early services (typically 7 and 9 am on Sunday, and we didn’t land until 930) but when we found the cathedral, near the SkyTower, shortly after 4 pm with a scheduled 4:30 mass, we considered it a divine hint that we should go.

As Jenny stepped outside the church to find the restroom before mass, she heard a blood-curdling scream.

Auskland Skytower Sky Jump
The Auckland Skytower is near the Cathedral. Among the things you can do at the Skytower is a 192 meter jump (630 feet, or roughly 63 stories) The fee is only NZ$ 225. It is not a bungee jump – you do not bounce on springy cords, but are rapidly lowered to a target on the ground.
Auckland New Zealand tower Sky Walk
If you would rather just walk around the edge of the building 192 meters above the ground, you can do it for a mere NZ$ 145

Click for more information on the SkyWalk and SkyJump   We did neither.

Back down by the waterfront we explored options for dinner and later ferry trips… along the waterfront near the classic ferry building.

Auckland Ferry Building
The classic Auckland Ferry Building was on the waterfront among the many ferry docks.

Everything is bigger in New Zealand (even coming from Texas).  For dinner Jenny ordered Mussels.  You know, those little black shellfish that you need to fight through dozens to get enough.  How about these green monsters?

Nuw Zealand Green Mussels
No little black shell fish here. These green mussels were huge. Jenny really enjoyed them

Near our bus stop to the hotel was this statue of a Kiwi bird, nearly extinct.  Bird?  Sorry, no wings.  For scale, there is a sheep behind the Kiwi.

Auckland Kiwi statue
Statue of a nearly extinct Kiwi bird (note, no wings)

To continue with the traditional-type of travelogue, click here.