New Zealand isn’t just a place of fantastic natural beauty, it is also home to legions of passionate gardeners who turn their own pieces of dirt into wondrous pockets of nature. Not only do you find these creations in private backyards, there are many beautiful civic gardens around the country.
Spring is the season when gardens look their best, and is the time of the year when many towns run events to showcase them. If you are a gardening fanatic, a hire car is the perfect way to get to these great towns and enjoy their botanical occasions. The first main event of the season is the Tulip Fest in the North Island’s tourist hub of Rotorua from October the 1st to the 9th. In addition to viewing over 100,000 blooming tulips in the beautiful setting of Government Gardens, festival goers can join a Maori cultural walking tour of the city, take a photography workshop or send the kids to decorate cupcakes. The festival is timed to fit in with the October school holidays, so tries to cater for all the family.
New Plymouth is home to New Zealand’s longest running garden festival, The Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular, on from the 28th October to the 6th November. The Taranaki landscape is dominated by its mountain, providing the region with rich volcanic soil. The area’s warm temperatures, high sunshine hours and good rainfall creates fantastic growing conditions. A feature of this festival is the selection of private gardens available to visit.
The festival has its hub in the courtyard of the White Hart Hotel in the main street of New Plymouth for tickets and advice. New Plymouth is famous for its civic garden, Pukekura Park, and the festival offers guided walks of its outdoor plantings and fernery houses. From there, private gardens in the wider Taranaki area open their gates to visitors with entry fees of as little as $5. Whether you like formal or cottage gardens, wild flowers or topiary, there will be something to take your fancy.
Taranaki is so popular for gardeners that it can support a second festival running over the same period, The Taranaki Fringe Garden Festival. A point of difference in this event is the vintage trail, which offers visits to the Taranaki Aviation, Transport and Technology Museum; Honnor’s Farm Museum, and the Taranaki Pioneer Museum. All these feature the chance to look at vintage agriculture and farming equipment. Something for the blokes on tour, I think!
It’s hard to be in two places at once, but if you are taking your garden tourism seriously, it’s worth getting down to Blenheim for the Nelmac Garden Marlborough event, from the 3rd to 6th of November. This festival is run over just one weekend, and showcases not just the beauty of gardens, but some of the natural wonders of the region. One of the tours put together for the weekend is the Queen Charlotte Sound Experience. Here you can explore the native forest of Ship Cove, move on to afternoon tea at the eco-village of Mistletoe Bay and finish at the Kaipupu Point Wildlife Sanctuary. Another, the ‘Across the Plains’ tour includes the gardens of Hans Herzog wine estate in its itinerary. There’s the Urban Garden Party on the Saturday night, and the Garden Fete on Sunday afternoon.
Of course, if you can’t schedule any of these events, you can see amazing gardens anytime at the Auckland or Christchurch botanical gardens on your way in or out of our two largest cities, or call into Hamilton Gardens as part of a North Island road trip.