A couple of weeks ago I received a fantastic email, via my blog, from the great people at Tourism Dunedin, New Zealand. In essence, the email was an invitation, extended my way, to attend a “Go Natural, Go Dunedin Garden Tour” in and around the beautiful Dunedin area in Otago, New Zealand.
Over 4 days, I would have the opportunity to visit some of the city’s most beautiful gardens, wander through incredible eco-sanctuaries, marvel at stunning examples of Victorian and Edwardian heritage architecture, and make friends with 35 or so passionate gardeners from around Australia.
To top it all off, our host for the weekend tour was going to be none other than Jamie Durie – one of Australia’s best known and successful outdoor and gardening specialists and one of Oprah’s go-to people when it comes to all things horticulture and landscape design!
Quite the unexpected and exciting surprise I have to say! For those of you who are wondering if this is what I was eluding to when I tweeted about some awesome news received a little while ago, then yes, this is what it was all about!
Obviously, I accepted without hesitation, despite being well aware that my thumbs are about as “green” as a Queensland Reds rugby jersey. For me this opportunity was going to be all about exploring a picturesque city in a part of New Zealand that I haven’t visited before.
Flying Virgin’s Pacific Blue to NZ
A mid-morning start out of Brisbane International Airport had our merry band of 35+ garden and outdoor enthusiasts, the majority of whom I was yet to meet, in the air aboard our smooth, comfy “Pacific Blue” flight bound for Dunedin – a short 3 and a half hours away.
Wheels down on NZ’s south island, next thing to do was scoot through customs and immigration and meet up with Hamish Saxton, CEO of Tourism Dunedin who was on hand to welcome me and let me know that, if there was anything I required, he would be but a phone call away. Talk about feeling like royalty! I remember thinking, “I could get used to this!” Haha!
Next meet and greet was with our own personal pocket rocket (all 4 foot 11 of her) – Midge Ruka, our tour guide for the weekend. What a dynamo this little lady is! Can’t wait to see how she interacts with our talkative, informative bus driver, Brad, over the next few days. I have a funny feeling it’s going to be quite entertaining!
Dunedin Chinese Garden
Corner of Rattray & Cumberland Streets, Dunedin, New Zealand.
First stop of the evening, and indeed the tour, was Dunedin’s stunning Chinese Garden. As New Zealand’s only authentic Chinese Garden, one of only three in the world outside of China and the only one of its kind to be built in the Southern Hemisphere, this seemed like the ideal place to commence our garden tour and Jamie’s excitement over what we were about to see seemed to rub off on everyone on board the coach.
As Brad pulled up at the gardens, situated just around the corner from Dunedin’s famous Railway Station, it became quickly apparent that we weren’t going to just waltz into the complex without a little resistance. Guarding the impressive Pai Lou archway that led to the grounds were three Maori Warriors.
Once we were all positioned under the large Chinese gate in the garden entrance forecourt as instructed by Midge, the three men began proceeding towards us in an ever-so-intimidating manner, utilising moves and sounds not unlike what you hear when New Zealand’s “All Blacks” burst into the Haka on a rugby field. On this particular occasion however, we were on the pointy end of a Haka like traditional welcome that involved spears and lots of tongue poking! Like I said, somewhat intimidating, but awesome to watch!
Opened in September 2008, the roughly 2,500 square metre garden was constructed to commemorate the contribution of Dunedin’s Chinese Community to the city’s history and culture, which dates back to 1858-1860 when a significant Cantonese community settled in and around the city during the Central Otago Gold Rush.
Once inside the 4-metre high stone walls of the garden, our tour group delighted in a twilight exploration of the garden which features a large central lake, a number of impressive perimeter pavilions, a zigzag bridge and a climbing mountain featuring a cascading waterfall – all punctuated by glimpses of striking Fall/Autumn foliage.
With guided tours of the gardens out of the way, the group retired to a stunning courtyard where wine and appetisers made the rounds while speeches from both Jamie Durie and Tourism Dunedin’s Hamish Saxton were offered as an official welcome to all those in attendance.
The time spent sipping on wine afforded everyone time to mingle and get to know one another. I was able to have my first chat to Geoffrey, a journalist for Australia’s “Your Garden Magazine” and someone whom I will be taking a selection of shots for as we tour the gardens over the next few days, a quick chat with Jamie, and also the opportunity to meet Eliza, the Marketing Manager of “Proteaflora” and the only other “youngie” on the tour bus.
Piling back onto the bus, it was off to Dunedin’s super comfy and central “Scenic Hotel” to check-in. I grabbed a couple of beers from the bottle shop across the road and got stuck into some photo editing while the rest of the group headed out for dinner.
Already I’m struck by how friendly, warm and welcoming everyone down in this little pocket of New Zealand are. If tonight has been any indication, we’re all in for a real treat over the next few days.