Birds, ponds, art and thousands of plants: The Waitakaruru Arboretum and Sculpture Park near Tauwhare in rural Waikato is a secret gem that has all the features for a relaxing weekend expedition.
Over Easter, from April 2 until 5, it celebrates its 30th anniversary with a special programme. Under the theme 'Seeds of Renewal', the arboretum hosts lots of fun workshops and informative talks around trees, seeds, plants and gardening - including fun activities for the little ones.
Visitors have the opportunity to learn how to make compost, learn about organic vegetable gardening, pruning and soils - you can even bring a sample of your own soil to get it tested. Or you can make seed bombs of New Zealand natives or make rafts from natural materials together with your children. For a more detailed event schedule click here.
Dorothy and John Wakeling created the arboretum at what was a disused greywacke quarry. They bought the 17.5 hectare property in 1991 with a big mission: To rehabilitate the land through planting of all kinds of native, foreign and rare plants, and to absorb carbon out of the atmosphere in order to slow down climate change.
Dorothy says: "It was important to us that we don't take up fertile agricultural land with our project, so we thought the old quarry was ideal. We are one of the few accessible permanent forest (carbon) sinks registered under the Emissions Trading Scheme."
Since the start of their mission, the couple planted more than 20,000 trees - 5200 of them were planted last winter - categorised after their country of origin. The Waitakaruru arboretum includes a New Zealand native, Australian, Latin American, American and Asian area.
The 2km loop walk around the arboretum guides visitors past more than 270 trees that are labelled so they are able to identify the species, common name, and location with the arboretum's own tree guide.
"Over the years, we also got to know a couple of artists who came to visit the arboretum. When we inherited about 30 sculptures we thought of a way to include them in the park," Dorothy says.
In 2003, Waitakaruru held its first sculpture exhibition. Now, Dorothy and John have more than 100 sculptures on their grounds. "It can be a bit of an exploration off the beaten track to see all the sculptures, as not all areas have walkways yet."
Currently, about 15 Wintec landscape construction students are working at the arboretum as part of their course, building a path to make another sculpture accessible for visitors - in time for the anniversary. The sculpture is a large cross by New Zealand artist Nico Thomsen.
The couple also gets help from 25 Wintec horticulture students, three part-time volunteers and one full-time gardener, Colin Watson.
Dorothy - a Kiwi - met Englishman John in the early 1970s in London. "I was working as an environmental planner and John was an arborist. I have always been an outdoor person, meeting John just reinforced that," Dorothy says.
A couple of years ago, almost 10,000 people visited the Waitakaruru arboretum in a year, but due to Covid and the international travel restrictions, visitor numbers have declined. "We need more than 6000 visitors a year to help cover the costs of maintenance."
The special 30th anniversary programme is a great opportunity to explore your own backyard and meanwhile learn about plants. "We have noticed an increased interest in gardening since lockdown. That's why we have included workshops around home-gardening in our Seeds of Renewal anniversary programme."
At the end of each special programme day, Waitakaruru Arboretum gifts you a seed package for you to plant at home.
• For the Seeds of Renewal, Easter Weekend, standard entry fees include workshops and demonstrations.