My Hometown: Hamilton

Aerial view of Hamilton and the Waikato river.
From My Hometown, 8:00 am on 17 January 2024

I used to live in the city of the future. The Tron, Kirikiriroa, H-Town - whatever you want to call it. Often met with ‘I’m sorry to hear that’, or “Good thing you escaped”.

A town that gets a lot of slack. A place to bypass on your way to somewhere else, because well “The only good thing about it is that it’s close to somewhere else”. Any Hamiltonian can tell you, we’ve heard it all - and then some.

Yes, we have a duck poo-brown lake. Yes, everything shuts early, and ‘scungy’ would not be considered an incorrect term to describe more than one part of the inner city.

Hamilton CBD at dusk

A view of central Hamilton from across the Waikato River. Photo: 123rf

But every weekend the waters of that poo-brown lake are graced by hand-built model boats racing laps around pissed-off pūkeko for curious children to admire. And many parents will one day regale their children with their meet-cute on the wooden dance floor of The Hood on $3 shot night.

Yes, we have no beach, and mountains are distant. But nothing compares to the misty mornings. You know Mr Darcy's out there somewhere striding across the farmland in an unbuttoned button-up.

And I guarantee you our gardens put yours to shame. Sorry Wellington Botanical Gardens, but you call that a garden? You look like a field with some trees in it.

The Ancient Egyptian Garden at Hamilton Gardens.

The Ancient Egyptian Garden at Hamilton Gardens. Photo: Hamilton & Waikato Tourism

Have you seen a proper Christmas tree in the central city? One you actually want to stop and look at and say “Wow, now that’s a tree” to the stranger standing next to you?

Have you caught sight of the Buddha tucked in its secret spot, that you can only see when you stand in the exact right place and tilt your head at the exact right angle?

Have you smelt award-winning sausage rolls straight from the oven?

Have you been brave enough to walk up the minimally signposted, red-carpeted, sex shop-vibe giving staircase of Auteur House, to be rewarded with a collection that will expand your whole world at one of the last standing DVD shops in the country? No?

Have you felt as small as a Mentos dropped on the ground, watching hundreds of hot air balloons drift over your house for one week every year?

Balloons take to the skies in Hamilton's annual Balloons Festival.

Balloons rise over Hamilton during the annual autumn festival. Photo: Hamilton & Waikato Tourism

Have you almost died of hay fever because there's just so much goddamn beautiful greenery everywhere?

Have you realised your favourite ice cream is named after a humble island in our mighty river where the ducks huddle together and tuck in for the night? Lick your lips and hold your tongue.

My family still lives there and I travel back every Christmas. Past the place where the giant metal slide used to be. The one that burnt every five-year-old's thighs right through their shorts. The one you couldn’t wait to get on and as soon as you were on, you couldn’t wait to get off. Now long gone.

Duck Island Ice cream, Hamilton

The OG Duck Island Ice Cream. Photo: Hamilton & Waikato Tourism

Past the place where the OG River Kitchen used to be. The breakfast spot that ruined all other breakfast spots for my entire family. I tell people who have never been and will never get to go, all about it - but it’s too late, they will never know what they missed.

The thing about my hometown is while it grows closer and closer to Auckland, and cooler, more aesthetically pleasing cafes open year after year - I can’t help but think that, at the risk of sounding like a Taylor Swift song, it’s a city of would’ve, could’ve, should’ve beens.

Sure, you could follow the Mighty Waikato and pass H-Town right on by, but I think you’re missing out. I like Hamilton. When the setting sun hits the lake just right, the water almost looks blue.

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