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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.

The Waikato Museum was hosting an exhibit showing the National Geographic wildlife photo contest winners.

There was also an exhibit of a NZ artist, Elizabeth Thompson called "Cellular Memory" Her work was beautiful.

The Arts Post next door had an exhibit of ceramics, including this one that looks to me like a Rocinante carrying adventure on its back.

The Arts Post also sells arts items such as jewelry, scarves, notecards, posters and the like.

The bonds are strong between us and the people of the Waikato region. This was yet another homecoming for us. In 2018, my students and I visited the Kirikiriroa Marae (Kirikiriroa is the Maori name for Hamilton, which sit on the banks of the mighty Waikato River). Part of the welcoming ceremony involves sharing songs. The song selected by the students that year was "Lean on Me" by Bill Withers. I sang it with my students, with Marie and Gay and her sister, with McCaw Lewis staff in full voice to the Maori elders of that marae. The song is a heartfelt invitation to connect - "Lean on me, when you're not strong, and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on. For, it won't be long, 'til I'm gonna need, somebody, to lean on." At the end of that day, we sang the song again with the Maori elders. Here are some photos from that day, one I'll never forget.

Last week, we learned that one of Cheryl's friends, Kate, played the ukelele. So with lots of good will and enthusiasm, we organized an impromptu rendition of "Lean on Me." Singing it with friends old and new, re-forging bonds to this region and to these people, felt uplifting.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the Waikato and other parts of New Zealand have suffered recent devastation from two cyclones that swept over this island country in January & February. The first came in a few days before we arrived. The second happened while we were here. We were extremely lucky - the winds, rains, flooding and slides seemed to coast around, but not in, the Hamilton region. Other than a swollen river and a bit of a storm, there was little evidence of cyclones in Hamilton. Other nearby places were not so lucky - there has been major destruction in Auckland, the Northland region, the Coromandel Peninsula and in a surprising turn, terrible devastation in the Bay of Plenty. Lives have been lost, businesses and homes have been ruined. Our hearts go out to this resilient people. Climate change has everyone wondering if this is the new normal?

And so under these conditions we, once again, leave the Shire. We'll be back - of that I'm pretty confident. Perhaps we always tell ourselves that of places we hold dear. But, until then,

I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.”J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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