Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hamilton, New Zealand and travel information

I have always been a fan of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and while recently in New Zealand I took a trip to the town where the production was born. Richard O’Brian worked in the barbershop that was in the theatre and he credits too many late night B-grade movies as the inspiration for the show. Despite protests The Embassy theatre demolished in 1994 and on the vacant lot there is now a Riff Raff statue to commemorate O’Brian's achievement. Kiwi cricketer Daniel Vittori and current New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clarke both come from Hamilton
But Hamilton is not only about “Rocky” or celebrities
Although not as busy as Auckland, it has a small city charm, even though it is the seventh largest city in New Zealand. I found reminded me of my home town of Port Elizabeth,but without the sea.
Getting to Hamilton is quite easy. There is an airport caters for both domestic and international flights.
Car or camper van hire is reasonably cheap and the road from Auckland is well maintained and not a tollbooth in sight. There are several bus services that operate from downtown Auckland to the centre of Hamilton.At the Hamilton Transport Centre there is a well run information section which is stocked with current information about events in and around Hamilton.You can book accommodation from this facility. However, I used this service and was met by a really angry motel proprietor who told me that the info centre charges them a booking fee and not the client. So, if you want to say in the managers’ good books rather book directly at your venue of choice.
There are streets that are lined with motels as you enter Hamilton and most are reasonable and offer free broadband Internet connections. There are also a variety of take away outlets and supermarkets close by.
I did some homework before I got to Hamilton so I knew what to expect regarding rates and services. The average motel room will cost between NZ$ 80-100.
The Waikato River divides the business section from some of the residential areas and this slow flowing river seems to bring a calm to Hamilton.
Living in Johannesburg, we are used to traffic snarl-ups. And with the renovation road works in Auckland I found the same problem. But not in Hamilton! Both the morning and evening peak traffic seems to consist of about four cars in either direction. Perhaps it’s because the city centre has two main streets or perhaps it’s the fact that there is a really good bus service, I am not sure. What I do know is that at no time during my stay did I witness any traffic congestion. I subsequently found out from one of the locals that the majority of the traffic problems occur on the six bridges that link the residential and business district of Hamilton.So perhaps not quite the traffic paradise I thought it was…or you have to live on the right side of the river.
I had come to Hamilton by bus from Auckland which meant a lot of walking and bus rides in Hamilton.The one bus driver asked if I was from South Africa as she had recognised my accent and her best friend is from Bloemfontein!
She also told me that there were 10 South African teachers at her sons’ school. I found that the Hamiltonians I met to be as friendly as those in Auckland.
Generally I found the Kiwis to be really friendly and one of the bus drivers even offered to pose for me when he spotted my camera.
Like Auckland, Hamilton seems to be powered by coffee and the numerous coffee shops that line both main roads are testament to this. I did not notice many sushi outlets, but I did spot several Indian take away places.
And the find of my trip…a Cheesecake Shop! With more types of cheesecake than I have ever seen before, it was a really difficult choice as to what I was going to have. Given more time, I would have paid the shop a second or perhaps even a third visit.
I had the best burger and chips ever at a gourmet burger franchise in Hamilton.Who knows, if we can give New Zealand Nandos, perhaps they can give us this franchise?
A lot of the leisure activities in Hamilton centres around the Waikato River.There are walking, cycling and running paths along the banks. There is also a Mississippi type paddle steamer that cruises up and down the river.
 Included in the vegetation along the bank were loquat trees. These came as a surprise as I have not seen this fruit since I was a boy and we had a loquat tree in our garden.
Like most of New Zealand, Hamilton is geared for tourists. There is a wonderful art gallery at the lower end of the main street that contains works by established and new artists.
Next door is a museum that is well worth a visit. But be warned. If, like me you are an early riser, go and have a cup of coffee first as the museum only opens at nine. Or you can just sit outside and watch the river flowing by.
The city has several parks that are well maintained and seem to be used extensively by the locals.
Hamilton Gardens is one of the best Botanical Gardens on North Island.
There is also a Zoo and Casino should you get bored with watching the river.
If you get bored of being outdoors, and if you are a gadget geek like me, then Hamilton has the largest electronic goods store I have ever visited. Luckily for me I was on a very limited budget and it is really difficult to hide a large screen TV in a small suitcase.
If you are a rugby fan, then you have to pay a visit to the home of the Chiefs and the Waikato Rugby team. Their grounds are not too difficult to find as the floodlight towers dominate the Hamilton skyline.
In fact they are the second tallest structure in the city. Most of the buildings are less than 3 stories high.
I found Hamilton to be a haven of peace and quiet after the hustle and bustle of Auckland.A lot of the locals laughed when I told them about my pending visit, but I found it really worthwhile.
PS: If you are a surfer, then you have to visit Raglan beach. Forty minutes from Hamilton it has the longest left hand surf break in the Southern Hemisphere.

Contact details:

New Zealand High Commission
Block C, Hatfield Gardens
1110 Arcadia Street
Hatfield, 0083
Pretoria

Postal Add:
Private Bag X17
Hatfield, 0028

Tel: 012 342 8656
Fax: 012 342 8640

For visa information it is best to use http://www.immigration.govt.nz as this contains downloadable visa application forms and all costs involved.
The visa office is only open 9-noon Monday to Friday

 Once in Auckland, I recommend that you visit the tourist information centre at Sky Tower on Hobson.They offer a variety of tourist activities and car and campervan hire.

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