MoaTours guide Andre and Garden tour group on Banks Peninsula

Canterbury Springtime Gardens – Kiwi Guide Stories

In our latest instalment from the MoaTours Kiwi Guides, we’re talking to Andre about our Canterbury Springtime Gardens & Hanmer Springs Fete tour. Andre is just the man to travel with on one of our Garden Tours, after his degree in Botany from Canterbury University he spent three and a half years working as an aborist at the Christchurch Botanical Gardens. Botany and ecology are Andre’s passions and you can really get a sense of this from his words below, imagine what it must be like to be out on a trip with him!

MoaTours Kiwi Guide Andre’s perspective on Canterbury Springtime Gardens

Hi Everyone, my name is Andre Booth and I am a Kiwi Guide with MoaTours and this is my take on the Canterbury Springtime Gardens & Hanmer Springs Fete Tour. When I left school, I spent three years studying Botany and Plant Ecology and have since gone on to work in several different roles in this field, so I was excited when I was asked to lead this tour in my home province. Let’s hope I can recall a lot of the plant names!

The Canterbury Springtime Gardens & Hanmer Fete tour is timed to highlight a generous handful of established, varied and impressive Canterbury gardens. As you’re aware, New Zealand has weather systems dictated to us by the two very large oceans we sit in the middle of, so we don’t get long periods of settled weather patterns like you would on a larger land mass. Down here in the South Island the mighty Southern Alps also influence our weather. The advantage of our island weather is that it creates lots of microclimates and this is really highlighted throughout this tour. The Canterbury region is low on humidity and has high rainfall, but areas can experience hard frosts, snow and droughts. So along with the challenges of gardening in these conditions, which our hosts share with us, this climate also brings spectacular rewards especially in the flowering springtime. If you’re a North Island gardener or just have an appreciation of flowering plants then this, I believe, is the tour for you.

Day 1 – Auckland – Flaxmere Farm – Hanmer Springs

Today is an easy start for me as I live in Lyttelton and most guests generally fly down from the North Island. In saying that, there were a couple of ladies already in Christchurch and a couple had flown over from Australia for the tour which I thought was a great effort. 

So, once we had everyone together and luggage loaded in our trusty wee trailer, we were off to our first garden which is Flaxmere Garden hosted by Penny Zino. Now talk about starting off the tour with a bang. Flaxmere Garden is in Hawarden North Canterbury so even from our shortish drive out of Christchurch we head into a different climactic area, noticeably dryer, warmer and this time of year breezy (windy!) Penny is a great host which, in my opinion, ends up being a common theme throughout the tour and a highlight for me as we get to meet and chat with awesome, down-to-earth hosts at each garden we visit.

The standout for me here would have to be the amazing sculptures being offset by the distinct shape and form of the formal native plantings of Penny’s garden. After Flaxmere we have a shortish drive to Hanmer Springs where we spend the next two nights.

Day 2 – Hanmer Springs – Hurunui Gardens

The team in MoaTours HQ have done a superb job in sourcing the various gardens we visit on our tour. (Editor’s note: We have to give Ena credit for that!) 

For example, the three gardens today are Loch Leven, a working nursery, and two amazing farmhouse gardens, Saddlewood and Coldstream. At Coldstream there’s an enjoyable lunch with a humble All Black link which was shared during one of the many conversations with our great hosts.

Wow, I thought to myself, you couldn’t get more Canterbury than that. Back to Hanmer Springs mid-afternoon with time to spare for those who wanted to enjoy the famous hot springs which were great with the cooler weather that day.

Day 3 – Hanmer Springs – Hanmer Springs Fete – Methven

The Hanmer Springs Fete in the historic grounds of the Queen Mary Hospital is always a great event and there’s a remarkable history attached. The Fete we attended in earlier years was at Waipara and before that at Culverden. Regardless of where it is held, a Canterbury Country fete is a great place to get handmade, local products especially with Christmas looming. Not to mention very good quality cuisine options for lunch with various entertainment going on. 

After lunch we head to Methven, a village right at the base of the foothills of the Southern Alps.. But before leaving Hanmer Springs we just need to check that no one is still in the hot pools! No, okay we’re good. 

Our accommodation for two nights is at Ski Time Lodge where our dinner is also served.

Day 4 – Mid Canterbury Gardens – Akaunui Homestead

Today is filled with a fine selection of “mid-Canterbury” gardens. We call into Surrey Hills Station this morning and the one word that springs to mind here is Grand. A grand homestead and established gardens with the flowering rhododendrons stealing the show.

“Rangiatea”, a nearly 1,800-acre hill country, sheep and cattle property, is our first visit with its very own Rangiatea gemstone gallery and jewellery range found on the property. I couldn’t believe it; how unique could you get? The garden, not by any fault of its own, or the vistas for that matter, ended up playing second fiddle to the gallery this morning. Then it was back to my old problem of gently trying to keep us on track for the next garden.

Then we head to the property Akaunui south of Ashburton for lunch and a garden visit hosted by Ian and Di Mackenzie. This 1,200-acre property and 118-year old homestead and garden is a real favourite of mine and it would be fair to say, a MoaTours special. We stop here on our 21-day nationwide tours with our international guests and, more often than not, Akaunui is one of their highlights out of the whole country. Our meal is completely sourced from the property and Di talks us through the garden and what Ian doesn’t know about farming probably isn’t worth knowing. The only problem I always have is getting everyone to leave!

We stop at Coniston garden on the outskirts of Ashburton which has a couple of impressive feature ponds let alone an amazing vintage farming and car collection. I love how a water feature creates that cooling effect which was evident and appreciated on that day as it was heating up.

Back to Ski Time Lodge for dinner and it always works well, I believe, when you get to stay two nights in one place as it just never seems to feel tiring.

Day 5 – Methven – Blythcliffe House – Giant’s House – Akaroa

Today we make our way to the beautiful, French infused village of Akaroa where we spend our last two nights of the tour. On our way across the Canterbury Plains which also happen to be the largest bit of flat land in the whole country, we have a strategically placed morning tea stop at the old Store in Tai Tapu.

Today we are treated to the very historic Blythcliffe House which is also where we have lunch, and it goes without saying that our hosts Lesley and John treat us to their hospitality as well.

The afternoon is filled with a visit to the iconic Giant’s House. The Giant’s House is a house, garden and gallery and really is something else. Josie Martin, the owner, gives us an introduction and the back story before we wander around in the sunshine. Our accommodation for our last two nights is the Akaroa Village Inn right in the heart of the village.

Day 6 – Explore Banks Peninsula

We start today with a visit Potter’s Croft, a local garden, in the morning then we head out to Fishermans Bay for lunch and a garden visit with Richard and Jill Simpson. The drive out there is a mini adventure in itself as we head up out of the Akaroa harbour, a dormant volcanic cone, and make our way to Fishermans Bay.

The views along the drive are stunning so we decide to stop for a quick photo up the top before heading along and down to Fishermans Bay. The location of the garden is hard to beat, and the views certainly do have that wow factor. The lunch was pretty good too.

This leaves the last half of the afternoon for our group to explore the village and shops at their leisure before our last dinner at a local restaurant along the waterfront.

Day 7 – Akaroa – Coombe Farm – Little River – Ohinetahi – Flight Home

Our morning starts with a great breakfast before we head to Katherine Fraser’s Coombe Farm garden in Takamatua Valley. The historic homestead was built by an early French settler. Another wonderful local attraction is the Barry’s Bay Cheese factory. This is also where I can’t help myself, so I share a cheese factory joke which seems to get a few laughs anyway. 

Lunch is at the Little River Cafe and Store. To finish off this fantastic tour we conclude with a visit to Ohinetahi. Now I can’t take credit for the itinerary, that has to go to MoaTours, but it sure does make my job easier. What a brilliant garden visit to finish with. An award-winning garden to say the least, impressive sculptures and a home with a rich history that speaks to the late Sir Miles Warren’s vision and his influence on Christchurch and the impact of the earthquakes. It really is fascinating.  One of the full-time gardeners who was quite a hard case took us around and we finished with tea and jam scones.

Then we made our way to the airport to say our goodbyes, but the best part out of all of this is that I have already put my name down to “work” our Canterbury Springtime Gardens tour again next year, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.

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