Hamilton Gardens’ entrance fee will put Aotearoa’s culinary history behind a paywall

by | Jun 23, 2023 | Opinion

Hamilton City Council has announced that, as of next year, Hamilton Gardens will charge a fee of $20 for out-of-towners to enter the enclosed gardens. For readers not familiar with the world renowned destination, the enclosed gardens are where you’ll find superstar attractions like the Surrealist Garden, The Kitchen Garden, the Modernist Garden, and the Ancient Egyptian Garden.

As someone who lives just outside of Hamilton, and who visits the Gardens regularly with his young family, this is disappointing. The Gardens are magical, and the site is big enough so that no two visits need be the same. To bring my partner and two boys to the enclosed gardens under the proposed new system will cost north of $50.

Thanks Hamilton Gardens, it’s been fun, but I’m afraid it’s over between us.

But aside from depriving my family of a cheap, fun, and educational day out in an area not exactly brimming with cheap, fun, and educational destinations, the new charges will deny most New Zealanders free access to one of the most important and profound locations in Aotearoa’s culinary and horticultural history.

Te Parapara is New Zealand’s only tradition Māori productive garden. It may not have the glitz and glamour of some of the showier attractions about to disappear behind the paywall, but as a piece of living history it is vital.

Te Parapara is divided into two realms. Te Ara Whakatauki (the path of proverbs) is the realm of the uncultivated food from the forest and grassland. Te Taupa (the garden) is the realm of cultivated food, ruled by Rongomatane, deity of the kūmara and all cultivated food plants.

Within Te Taupa is the kūmara garden. There are seven historic varieties of kūmara cultivated here, some of which have been DNA traced backed to the original waka bringing the first Polynesians to these islands, such as the parsnip-white taputini. The soil composition is an exact recreation of that used by the original inhabitants of the land as they learned to grow their tropical crops in a temperate climate. Sand, schist and ash are used to retain warmth and maximise drainage.

The ancient kūmara variety Taputini

The land Te Parapara occupies, along with the rest of Hamilton Gardens, was reclaimed in the 1960s from what was once a municipal rubbish dump on the banks of the Waikato. Before that, and before the government’s invasion of Waikato in 1863 and subsequent confiscation of 480,000 hectares of Māori land, the gardens were part of a large and powerful economic and horticultural economy that stretched through the region from Hamilton, into Cambridge, Kihikihi, and Te Awamutu. The land Te Parapara sits on is the rightful property of Ngati Wairere, but ownership of the legacy, technology, and culture that Te Parapara nurtures, lies with a much larger pool of people, not all of whom live within Hamilton’s city limits.

In response to an enquiry by The Feed, a spokesperson for the council provided this statement:

“We are committing to sharing the rich cultural history of the Enclosed Gardens with all visitors. We recognise the value they offer for researchers, educators and students across multiple disciplines as well as visitors seeking relaxation and enjoyment. Hamilton Gardens staff are working through a range of admission concessions to make the Enclosed Gardens financially accessible to non-Hamiltonian visitors.”

Time will tell what those concessions will look like, but regardless, there is a strong argument that a site Te Parapara’s importance to Aotearoa’s culture and history should be free to all New Zealanders

As Wiremu Puke (Ngāti Wairere, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) one of the early driving forces behind the creation of Te Parapara points out: “food is an integral part of humankind, and all cultures celebrate and honour the food they grow and prepare.”

In order to celebrate and honour, we must first have access.

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