Richly blessed with world-beating nature trails, my first dose of outdoorsy soft adventure was on New Plymouth’s universally feted Coastal Walkway, the envy of many a New Zealand town. It was the perfect balmy autumn’s evening, and the shoreline trail was a hot ticket, with hundreds of folk lustily embracing a twilight stroll, as the slanting light of day’s end gilds the shoreline.
The award-winning path which skims the Tasman Sea for 13km, not only offers celestial coastal vistas and world-class surf breaks, but is crowned with some compellingly large works of art. Keep walking north of the city to encounter the dramatic wave-like Te Rewa Rewa Bridge (freshly repainted), while Len Lye’s iconic breeze-bending kinetic sculpture, the Wind Wand, remains a much-adored city landmark.
A botanical oasis at any time of year is the time-honoured sanctuary of Pukekura Park. Previously, I’ve savoured the city’s annual illuminated extravaganza, the TSB Festival of Lights, which transforms the park into a spangled wonderland. Transcending the summer holidays, Pukekura Park comes alive after dark with theatrical lighting installations and ingenious artworks.
But regardless of the time of year, this inner-city paradise boasts exquisitely landscaped gardens, the lustrous Fountain Lake and a staggering variety of native and exotic plant collections. Change it up with an anecdote-rich guided tour to ensure you don’t miss the park’s star specimens and hidden gems, like the 2000 year old Puriri tree, the oldest hospital still standing in New Zealand, and a major film location for Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai.
Ever since our pioneering days, Taranaki has been nicknamed the Garden of New Zealand and I revelled in some of the region’s botanical stars, including Tūpare. Nearly 80 years old, the restored Chapman-Taylor Arts & Crafts homestead and garden is a stately sight to behold. Sculpted from a hillside overlooking the Waiwhakaiho River, walk the winding paths cut into the hillside for sigh-inducing vistas and intimate garden rooms.
Grand coniferous trees such as dawn redwoods, kauri, rimu and giant redwoods set the framework for the garden. They are supported by beautiful deciduous specimens such as the dove trees, tulip trees and liquidambars – the autumn show at Tūpare is very special. Smaller trees, typically maples and magnolias, are favoured alongside rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and hydrangeas, all carefully planted by Sir Russell Matthews in 1932.
Further afield, in the shadow of Taranaki Maunga, Hollard Gardens is a botanical bucket-lister, a Garden of National Significance that was established in 1927 by Bernie and Rose Hollard, now in public ownership. Bernie believed that the best plants were the ones worth waiting for. The plant that he bred and was well known for was the Rhododendron Kaponga which took 12 years to flower.
The gardens remain an abiding legacy of almost a lifetime of tireless work by a private individual. It is a quintessential woodland garden, a joy to leisurely free-roam. Head gardener, Shannon, led me around its finest features, from the mature and intimate Old Garden to the buzzing diversity of the New Gardens. Hollard has recently been accentuated by the wonderfully popular family corner, complete with playground, free barbeques and kitchenette.
Just east of Eltham, I ventured to the barnstorming conservation success story at Lake Rotokare. Home to the Lake Rotokare Scenic Reserve, this sublime 230 hectare predator-free environment is a cradle of native and endangered flora and fauna. It is the largest lake and wetland protected by a ring fence, which was constructed in 2008. (Rotokare translates as “rippling water.”) Alongside the
8km long fence, their pest-trapping programme has eradicated 12 million mammals, allowing 9 threatened species to be reintroduced to the sanctuary.
They include the North Island brown kiwi, North Island saddleback, North Island robin and the Hihi/Stitchbird. The kiwi r...