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While we all refer to it the ‘Taranaki Rhododendron Festival’ (or the ‘Rhodie Festival’), it appears that the ‘Official’ name has changed and it is now called the ‘Taranaki Powerco Garden Spectacular’. Why? Because there is so much more to see than just Rhododendrons, and that is very true – we did!  If you have not been to this Festival, you are really missing a treat. It was the first time on this trip for me, and I want to go back again next year as there is so much more to see.

We set off from Auckland on the Friday morning, popped into Pukekohe to pick up a passenger (because Supreme are nice like that!) and then over the Bombay’s and on our way south. A short stop at Huntley for a ‘nice cuppa tea’ and off down to the King Country and Te Kuiti for our lunch stop. (Te Kuiti is of course famous for Colin Meads). We arrived into New Plymouth around 4:00pm and into our hotel, the Copthorne Grand which was very centrally located in town.  If dinner that night was anything to go by, we were going to be well fed on this trip!


Red RhodieThe next morning we were up bright, early and eager and off we went to start visiting our Gardens. How appropriate that we started with one of NZ’s greatest gardens ‘Te Kainga Marire’ – which means ‘peaceful encampment’. It is the only private native garden in NZ to be rated as a ‘Garden of INTERNATIONAL significance’. You could see why it was featured on the BBC series ‘Around the world in 80 Gardens’!


Hirst CottageNext on our list was Hirst Cottage, a smaller garden all done in Green and white, with a few splashes of red. The owner showed us around and was saying that only two days earlier all had been bedlam as they had the builders in building the new cottage. This property is in the NZ Historic Places trust having become a heritage building in 1980 and the ‘new’ cottage fitted perfectly in with the main building.


On to Tupare, a Garden of National significance and one of our favourites as it turned out. With one of the very knowledgeable gardeners to guide us, we heard all the stories about Sir Matthews and his good lady and there was also time for a tour through the house, which made the visit even better. I had never seen a ‘Hanky Tree’ before either!  Time for lunch at the Raised Eyebrow nearby, (served by a very frazzled café owner) before we went off to sniff the roses at La RosaledaLa Rosaleda. The purchasing of plants started here, but who could resist the gorgeous double bearded Iris’s. Plus this garden is where the FROCKS ON BIKES ends. All part of the festival, the theme this year was Pearls and Roses. How appropriate!


Onto our last garden of the day – Pukeiti, an internationally renown Rhododendron garden and another garden of National   Significance. Rhodies everywhere of every colour you could imagine, and again….we could buy some of the unique hybrids.


Once back in New Plymouth, some people opted to go and have a look at Pukekura Park near the hotel, and some of us opted for a wee stroll over to the waterfront of New Plymouth to have a look at the view and also to see the elephants

The elephant familyAgain, part of the festival, the family of elephants, all made from Willow and gifted to the city of New Plymouth from an artist in Suffolk, England  were attracting a lot of attention. What is it about elephants – when you see them you just can’t help but smile!



Another lovely dinner with lots of chatter re the lovely day we had enjoyed and looking forward to our next day.


Sunday we were off further south to Inglewood and Cairnhill, Merleswood and Te Popo Gardens. More Rhodies, Peonies, hostas, Roses, woodland, native Forest and birdsong, along with stories of romance, kittens and 80 year old Elm trees all over a nice coffee.


Lunch in Stratford and onto Stanleigh Gardens which was fabulous with ducks Pink Clematison the pond and local arts and crafts for sale. Kings garden was our last stop for the day.  After we had time to explore the garden we were invited back to a lovely sheltered spot on the lawn for a lovely surprise….bubbles and cheese and crackers, all kindly supplied by Supreme Tours! What a wonderful end to another glorious day, sitting in the sun, with a lovely glass of bubbles or juice, a snack, and chatting with the owners Sharyn and Jim and Ferris the dog. We really didn’t want to leave!


Sadly on Monday we bade farewell to New Plymouth and headed towards Waitara and the lovely Tikorangi Gardens. A plant breeder’s garden, it was our last chance to get some of those lovely bargain plants that you would not easily find in the nurseries. Onward towards Rotorua where we arrived around 3:30pm to enjoy a lovely ‘afternoon tea’ at our hotel – The Princes Gate. Time then to head off to either visit the famous Government Gardens just opposite our hotel, or explore a little of  Rotorua.


Last day and what day is it? Melbourne Cup day, so of course we had to have a little sweepstake on the coach!  Names were drawn, money was handed over (dollar a horse) and the ‘form’ was passed around the coach for all to read up on their donkey horse! Yes, big stakes here with $12 for the winner and $6 second and $4 third!  (You have to have fun!).

hamilton GdnsHamilton Gardens was a real eye-opener for many, including me. I have been past them so many times, but this is the first time I have been in. It was really well worth the visit and I was most impressed with the guided tour around the Paradise Gardens.  On towards Auckland  and we unloaded all the bags and plants from the coach. Well, Bob our fabbie driver did!


Fond farewells to new friends before everyone headed off on their shuttles back to their respective homes, looking forward to planting all their ‘treasures’.

We commented that every time one of our treasures bloomed, we would remember this lovely trip.  I love gardens, but I am not the best gardener I fear. However, I so enjoyed this trip that I would jump on the coach in a flash to do it again as I know I would see and experience different things the next time. The weather was very kind to us, which does help, but we always enjoyed fabulous food, had great company, saw amazing and beautiful gardens and plants, relaxed with wonderful scenery, had lots of fun and laughs.  The Festival in 2014 will offer the same great floral experience with some of the same gardens and some new ones for us to view. The Itinerary will be featured on the website in early February so pencil in 5 days in late October and join me on the delightful tour.



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