Discovering one of Taranaki’s premiere gardens of significance.
When heading to Pukeiti on a beautiful Taranaki day, the excitement begins as soon as you reach the outskirts of New Plymouth heading towards the mountain. Glancing upwards, you can see what the snow levels are like for the day.
Chasing the winding road, you could be mistaken for thinking you are on a journey back through time, where it wouldn’t be uncommon to see a Moa wander across the road. Venturing through narrow curves, where the trees lean in and vines drape overhead, the forest does its bests to enclose the road and reclaim its space. You can feel any worries disappear as quickly as each bar of phone reception fades away…
The Pukeiti Garden Trust and Taranaki Regional Council have done a wonderful job of maintaining this garden, which has just undergone a massive transformation. Pukeiti was established in 1951, when keen horticulturalist William Douglas Cook purchased a 63 hectare hill block with the vision of creating a vast natural garden of rhododendrons, Pukeiti is now recognised as a Garden of National Significance or a five star garden. Boasting more than 10,000 rhododendrons and azaleas amongst lush native bush, ferns, mountain streams and a lively bird life. Pukeiti features drifts of primulas, hostas, bluebells and the world renowned vireya collection, to provide year-round interest.
There is something soothing to the soul when you disconnect and spend time wandering through nature, indulging every sense. Admiring a beautiful flower, marvelling at the height of a native tree. Closing your eyes and listening to the songs of Tui, Kereru and the other myriad of birdlife. Feeling the warm breeze on your skin and the crunch of leaves beneath your feet. As you stroll the garden path prepare to be hit by the intoxicating perfume of azaleas and other divine scents.
Designed with seasonal interest in mind, there are three marked trails to explore: Rhododendron Stroll, Valley of the Giants walk and Puke Te Whiti Trail. Exploring all three, there are unique aspects to each. All walks begin from the Rainforest Centre, for those with mobility issues there is a mobility vehicle which follows the Rhododendron Stroll.
The trails are well maintained and easy to negotiate, with a comfortable pair of walking shoes you are on your way. One of my favoured strolls is taking the Valley of the Giants walk linking back in to the Puke Te Whiti trail. Heading up to the summit, the views are well worth the journey where you reach an altitude of 490m above sea level. Returning along White Walk back through the Cook Walk trail to the Rainforest Centre. At a leisurely pace this takes just 90 minutes, unless you decide to take your time and really appreciate the scenery.
When not on tour we quite often take our children to Pukeiti. They love this walk and find it enjoyable with lots of nooks and crannies to explore and discover. We talk about lots of different things… how tall the trees are, can you count the flowers, how are pests controlled in the park, identifying the birdlife and discussing the various native species of plants and how they can look after people among other things. Teaching them to appreciate the simple things in life away from technology and the fast paced world we live in.
After all this exploring, Founders Café is a delightful spot to enjoy a bite to eat overlooking the beautiful Rainforest Centre. With panoramic views of the garden that masterfully leads the eye to the coast in the distance it is a place to savour. Colourful modern décor is a feature of the new eatery, which seats 60 inside and another 40 in a covered area directly in front.
The menu has a great selection of light meals and snacks on offer while the coffee machine purrs away in the background whipping up the next round of visitors drinks.The wonderful staff welcoming you, creating a fun and happy atmosphere, allowing you to sit back and soak up the ambiance. As you sit in the outdoor covered area, there is something to be said for enjoying great food whilst a Tui whips by the table flitting between the mature trees resting either side of the cafe.
The cafe is open from September to March each year. Visitors can also wander freely around the gardens, though beyond the established area is the domain for serious trampers. Taranaki Regional Council own and manage Pukeiti.
We organise half day tours to Pukeiti from New Plymouth. Our guide stays with you, exploring the trail and chatting about the special aspects of our beautiful, big backyard. Guided tours with transfers are $120.00 per person. This includes transport from your accommodation, 3 hours at the gardens and photography of your trip. Please allow for 4 hours on this tour. There are discounts for groups available also.