Northland is a wonderful destination at every time of year, but if you plan it right, you’ll find some incredible natural flowering treasures, says Heather Whelan.
The ‘winterless north’ is always popular in the cooler months for those seeking a bit of warmth, but it’s also the perfect environment for some natural floral delights. In true Kiwi style, many of these places are family-run, and they are a peaceful and colourful way of whiling away a day.
Darlings with Dahlias
The Dahlia Kids, Milly, Gracie-Mae and Lexi, think it’s great that people want to come and visit Green Footed Kiwi, their dahlia farm. They love that their visitors leave with smiles on their faces. And who could fail to be both charmed by the dahlia’s profusion of colour and delighted by the tours given by the girls?
The Green Footed Kiwi began three years ago as a homeschooling project, when the now ten-year-old Gracie-Mae bought ten potted cuttings. It has blossomed, in all senses of the word, into a beautiful pick-your-own business with over 800m of dahlia beds and 3000 dahlia plants. The girls aim to provide a friendly, hands-on experience and it certainly is. All three may be young but they know everything you’d want to learn about the flowers – from what length to cut them, to pollination by bees and how to grow new varieties from the seeds they collect.
Open on weekends from 10am to 4pm, the business includes high tea, made and served by the girls. Available on Saturdays and Sundays (bookings are essential for high teas) visitors can indulge in delicious delights, surrounded by beautiful flowers of every hue and variety. There’s also the option for tea, coffee and cake and, of course, jars or buckets to fill with flowers, and packets of seeds to take home.
I couldn’t resist starting with coffee and cake (beautifully presented with flowers) as I relaxed and drank in the view. The dahlia garden is nestled in a valley surrounded by native bush and a sense of peacefulness pervades, broken only by the buzzing of bees and the occasional neigh from the family’s three horses.
Seven-year-old Lexi helped me fill a jar with the prettiest flowers we could find. The girls say they don’t have favourites but they’ll appreciate the vibrant colour of one and the shape of another. I learned to differentiate pom poms from dinner plates and cactus from water lilies as I moved from row to row. The girls have hand painted the signs marking each section and it’s obvious that their input into the experience has been huge. They are justifiably proud of their achievements.
It isn’t all hard work though. Lexi loves her home environment and making new friends. Creating pictures with fallen petals is fun too. Millie has been inspired to draw the flowers (and is hoping to have some art to sell one day) while Gracie-Mae loves taking photos of the blooms, as do the visitors. Gracie’s next goal is to make a photo book of all the flowers they’ve grown from seed.
Along a country road
The Green Footed Kiwi is close to Kaikohe on State Highway 15. This road is a quiet alternative to SH1 and is quintessentially Northland, passing through farmland as well as native bush; I spotted a church tucked in against trees, and went past marae and village schools as I headed south. If you want a break there’s a café/bar at the Old Parakao Store, a gastro-pub at Poroti and a store at Titoki.
At Maungatapere there’s a café and petrol station (look out for the dragon!). Part way along the road you come to Twin Bridges, where the Awarua and Mangakahia Rivers meet. A turn at the point between the two bridges leads to a rest area with parking and green space – a good place to stretch your legs and admire the scenery. It’s also a freedom camping spot.
A sub-tropical oasis
Just before the road arrives at Maungatapere there’s a turn into another tranquil place to relax and enjoy nature. This is Land of the Lotus, an idyllic 24ha block where Hugh and Pauline Rose have established water gardens, banana and pineapple plantations and much more. Hugh is chairman of the Tropical Fruit Growers of New Zealand and is a font of knowledge that he’s happy to share with visitors.
Land of the Lotus is home to the largest collection of banana varieties in the country. It’s not hard to imagine you’re walking through a plantation on a tropical island or somewhere in Asia as Hugh leads the way past 1000 banana palms with names such as Dwarf Ladyfinger, Misi Luki, Black Beauty and Goldfinger. Bananas will grow further south, though they may have to be grown in greenhouses–the subtropical north is their natural home.
An exotic collection
As I explored further I saw sugar cane, water chestnuts, papaya, ginger, coffee and pawpaw thriving on the property. There are rows of sweet and juicy pineapples that are so soft you can eat the core too. They grow three varieties: red, cayenne and queen. These can be bought bare rooted or in pots – Hugh and Pauline can supply recipes too. Northland’s climate, together with rich volcanic soil, provides the perfect environment for growing this array of tropical plants.
Of course, the lotuses are very special. They raise their stems, blossoms and leaves clear of the water in eight ponds in the water gardens and also in the collection of tubs where the stunning pink and white flowers are grown for sale. Hugh and Pauline hold workshops on growing lotus if you are keen to try it yourself.
Walking in nature
There is a network of tracks and paths to follow at Land of the Lotus. The Roses are well aware of the benefits of being in nature and enjoying what the Japanese call ‘forest bathing’ – it’s not about getting wet, but just spending time in nature.
I wandered to the edge of the ten-acre lake and spent some time beside a boathouse, just enjoying the tranquillity. This lake is too deep for lotus but is full of water lilies. There are two tracks around the lake. Land of the Lotus isn’t advertised as a POP, but Hugh says there are spaces for people to park up by arrangement. Some have stayed and helped work on the property. If you do stay, Hugh will mow a part of the meadow beside a stream for you. What could be more idyllic?
• For members of the NZMCA there are POPs on or near SH15, including at the Poroti Tavern, which has a good reputation for its food. In Kaikohe there’s freedom camping at Lindvart Park and some POPs, including one at the Kaikohe A&P Showgrounds.