Hamilton Gardens is home to Te Parapara - New Zealand's only traditional Maori productive garden. The garden showcases traditional practices, materials and ceremonies relating to food production and storage, drawn from the knowledge of local Maori which has been passed down the generations.
Te Parapara displays plants that can be used as resources as well as plants of cultural significance. The plant displays are set within a design that refers to traditional built structures as well as to the cultural aspects of gardening. The garden tells the story of the establishment of cultivated food crops in the Waikato, from the landing of the Tainui waka to the era of the expansive plantations that were described in the 1840s by European visitors. It shows how the first Polynesian arrivals to Aotearoa used the plants they found growing wild and it demonstrates the new techniques they developed for growing tropical crops in a sub-tropical climate. The garden also shows the cultural context that integrated and regulated the agronomic life of pre-European Waikato/Ngati Wairere society.
Te Parapara is divided into two realms. Te Ara Whakatauki (the path of proverbs), which lies between the Piazza and the waharoa (gateway) is the realm of the uncultivated food from the forest and grassland. The ruler of this realm is Haumia- tiketike, deity of wild food plants. Te Taupa (the garden), beyond the Waharoa, is the realm of cultivated food, ruled by Rongomatane, deity of the kumara and all cultivated food plants.
Te Parapara was originally the name of the pre-European Maori settlement in what is now the centre of Hamilton Gardens. Before Europeans arrived the riverbanks throughout central Waikato were lined with many Maori gardens, so the Waikato /Tainui horticultural heritage in this area is of national significance. The Te Parapara /Hamilton Gardens site was at one time home to Haanui, a famous Ngati Wairere chief, and was particularly renowned as a site of sacred rituals associated with the harvesting of food crops. There was a Tuahu (sacred alter or shrine) called Te Ikamauroa associated with the rituals in this locality.
The Te Parapara Garden project is a joint project between Nga Mana Toopu and Hamilton City Council. It extends beyond a physical development to include records of traditional knowledge, interpretive material and ceremonies all focused on the heritage and tikanga associated with the local area.