This is a rare sight in New Zealand: a beautiful English-style mansion surrounded by perfect gardens – complete with gardeners’ cottage – on a hill overlooking a river. It really is wonderfully twee. It’s called Tupare and it’s located just outside the city of New Plymouth. Built in the 1930s by a rich business man and his wife following an architecturally inspiring honeymoon in England, it’s now owned by the Taranaki Regional Council and is free to enter for everyone.
I came across a leaflet for Tupare at the Tawhiti Museum, whilst holidaying in Taranaki this summer with my parents and grandfather. My whole family loves nice gardens, so it wasn’t too difficult to convince them to go. My dad, at least, wasn’t expecting much, though. After all, how could somewhere in New Zealand live up all those National Trust houses and gardens we used to visit in England when I was a child?
Well, I don’t know whether we’ve been too long deprived of English historical sites, but Tupare more than surpassed our expectations. We were quite enchanted.
The gardens were gorgeous. Seeing the Tudor-style gatehouse made me feel quite emotional, like I was a kid again, visiting an old country manor. Many paths snaked down to the house and on to the river. I had visions of Mary Lennox in a white dress and straw boater running between the manicured flowerbeds and quaint archways. I think if I lived in Taranaki I’d go there all the time, just to sit and read.
Tours of the house are free too. They don’t run every day, but, quite by accident, our visit coincided with one. Seeing the antique furniture was delightful, but the best part of the house was the playroom: tucked away at the end of the upstairs corridor, all but concealed behind a narrow gap between two walls, only a slim adult would be able to squeeze into it. The children of the house must have found it magical, a hidden world all to themselves.
The only downside of Tupare is part of what makes it special: it’s on a steep hill. The walk back up to the car park was torture! But without the steep hill, there would be no views down to the river. There were a couple of teenage boys swimming in the river when we got there. Just imagine what it must have been like growing up there. It’s like a little bubble of old England. Only the tree ferns at the edge of the garden give away that it’s in New Zealand.
Upon leaving Tupare, we drove to the nearby Pukeiti, an enormous garden that’s been in development since the 1950s. It’s apparently renowned for its rhododendrons, but it was the wrong time of year for us to see them in all their glory. If you want to explore the whole garden, it will take you a few hours, but there are walks of different lengths to choose from. We had lunch at the café, which turned out to be quite nice, and set off on the one-hour Valley of the Giants Walk.
For us, Pukeiti suffered in comparison to Tupare, but it’s a different kind of garden, surrounded by native rainforest. During our walk, we came across a magnificent, dizzyingly tall hollow tree and some strikingly beautiful flowers. Like Tupare, Pukeiti is owned by the Taranaki Regional Council and is free to enter, as is Hollard Gardens, which we didn’t have time to visit, but which looks rather nice too.
So if any British immigrants to New Zealand find themselves feeling homesick, a road trip to Taranaki may be in order. The old English house and gardens of Tupare filled me with warm feelings, but it’s a great place to visit for anyone. (Unless you have walking difficulties, of course. The hill really is steep.)
I’d suggest taking a picnic with you, along with a blanket to put it in. Oh, and swimming gear might be a good idea too.