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  • Writer's pictureKimberly OLeary

Back in the Shire - the Waikato region of New Zealand, because we all need someone to lean on

Updated: May 27, 2023

“All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Riddle of Strider, The Fellowship of the Ring

Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It’ll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields, and eating the first of the strawberries with cream.

– Samwise Gamgee, The Return of the King (movie)

A person would be lucky to visit the Waikato region of New Zealand once in a lifetime. We have been there four times. The first three times were when I was on-site director of the WMU-Cooley Law School foreign study program, located at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, NZ and Monash law school in Melbourne, Australia. We were in the Waikato from January to mid-February in 2016, 2017, & 2018. The fourth time we visited was this month, and we were there for a little over two weeks.

The land is beautiful - all of the photos in this blog post are from my own camera, not from the movie stills of Lord of the Rings, even though the Hobbiton area was filmed in the Waikato.

The people are heartfelt - sincere, fun, enthusiastic, and smart. It had been five years since we had seen our friends and acquaintances in the Waikato, but in characteristic style, they made room for us in their lives and in their homes.

We stayed with our friends Cheryl & Brendan - both (mostly) retired, and with whom we share a love of travel, our families, good food, art, music, a well-made BBQ (cooking on the "Webby"), and a well-made cocktail. Speaking of which, Cheryl is working on mixing the perfect cocktails in her retirement, so we had to oblige and try them out. We can testify that she does, indeed, have a future along these lines should she desire. Her trademark, "Chezzarita"™ (mix between a margarita and a mojito) was quite the splendid drink, as was her original invention, "Chezza's Tokyo Mule™", served when Paul made sukiyaki. I whipped up some ginger syrup and we also had some Dark & Stormy's.

Cheryl & Brendan opened their beautiful home to us, loaned us a car and took us around. We visited Brendan's mum who now lives in Hamilton in a retirement village and had a wonderful conversation with her. Her mind keen, she recounted stories of our visit to Dunedin and her visits to Brenden's aunt in Lake Santee, Indiana back in the day.

We met our friend Joan for dinner in the Hamilton CBD, at a new Indian restaurant. Good food, good company. The following week, she had us over to her home, with another friend, Joel. Joan has spent a lot of time in Vietnam and Thailand (teaching English), and she teaches ESL in Hamilton. Between the four of us, we were born in four different countries: UK (Joan), Fiji (Joel), Japan (Paul) and the US (Kim). The conversations had such interesting perspectives and rich background. We ate a delicious Thai meal in Hamilton East.

We visited with friends we worked with at the University of Waikato. Marie & I wrote an article together on elder law, organized a panel on elder law for mediators in 2017 and organized an amazing event at a local marae in 2018. Marie & BIll had us out to their home in Te Awamutu where we laughed and caught up on all our life events, large and small. Our good friend, Gay, joined us there. I remember Marie telling me back in 2018 that I was part of her and Bill's whanau now - a high compliment. In NZ, a whanau is a family group. We later went to see Avatar, Way of the Water with Marie and Gay in the old Regent Theatre in Te Awamutu. It is impossible to describe the joy of being together again.

The former dean of the law school, Wayne, had us out to his home in the country for a home-cooked curry. It was nice catching up with Wayne & and his family, Leo & and his family, Joel, Gay, Cheryl & Brendan at this lovely spot.

Cheryl & Brendan hosted 2 dinner parties and a tea with friends. Some were friends we'd met before (Roger & Penny, with whom we'd shared a Christmas at their home in 2018) and others were new friends we were just meeting (Karen, Gene, Wendy, Phil, & Kate). We had a marvelous BBQ (hat's off to Brendan and the Webby), a sukiyaki dinner made by Paul, and full NZ high tea with asparagus rolls made by Cheryl.

Did I mention that Cheryl, Brendan, and I are all lawyers? (Also Karen, Kate, Roger, Wendy, Phil, Gay, Marie, Wayne, Joel, & Leo). Well, I was thrilled to meet another lawyer, Kylee Katipo, who works at Brendan's former law firm McCaw, Lewis. Kylee, along with Brendan and Cheryl, authored an essay in the book I wrote with Mable Martin-Scott, Multicultural Lawyering. Although she has spoken to my class remotely, I had never had the pleasure of meeting her. She is awesome! We also toured McCaw Lewis' new offices (as of 2019) & looked out at Hamilton City from the balconies.

Hamilton is home to two outstanding sights: the award-winning Hamilton Gardens, which is worth a visit for anyone remotely nearby, and the Waikato Museum with the nearby Arts Post.

The gardens have numerous specialty areas by theme: Japanese, Chinese, Italian Renaissance, Modern, Tropical, Tudor, Kitchen, Indian, Maori, English, Katherine Mansfield Garden Party, Steampunk, rose garden and others we have seen before and enjoyed again. In addition, this time we saw gardens that have opened since 2018 including the surrealist, picaresque, concept, and Egyptian gardens.