The 'Next Phase' has been reached at the Waitakaruru Arboretum and Sculpture Park, with regular Sunday openings launched this month.

Located in an old quarry on the scenic Scotsman Valley Rd near Tauwhare the park is one of the Waikato's best kept secrets and a testament to the tenacity, foresight and general hard yakka of owners John and Dorothy Wakeling.

Half a lifetime's work has transformed 17.5ha of craggy greywacke pit filled with weeds, blackberry and gorse into an attractive ecological restoration project and adventure in arboriculture sporting features including sculptural installations, lakes and ponds, and architecturally-designed gazebo.

Over the years, with the help of many nurserymen, plant collectors, friends, relations and neighbours, the couple have planted more than 20,000 trees and shrubs.

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The development plan included sections featuring the trees of different continents, a rock-garden collection of succulents and cacti, fernery, orchard and natives.

Waitakaruru Arboretum and Sculpture Park owners John and Dorothy Wakeling. Photo / Geoff Lewis
Waitakaruru Arboretum and Sculpture Park owners John and Dorothy Wakeling. Photo / Geoff Lewis

The Wakelings open the park as a venue for sculptors to work and display their creations and established the Waitakaruru Sculpture Trust which now totals 100 pieces of work following a recent donation of 30 creations.

The Sculpture Park and Arboretum was open to the public every day from 2004 to 2013.

Each year it hosted a schedule of exhibitions in support of charities including St John, Oxfam, Save the Children and Parentline.

Its quarry cliffs and pond have provided an attractive setting for musical performances.

By 2013 the park attracted nearly 10,000 visitors a year.

But in June of that year the trust closed the park because it could not attract enough funding to pay for maintenance.

Since then entry has been by appointment and visitors are asked to pay a fee. Visitor numbers have dropped to around 300.

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Time has also marched on and the Wakelings, now in their 70s, realise that maintaining the park is beyond their physical abilities.

Developed concurrently with the highly successful Hamilton Gardens, the Waitakaruru Arboretum and Sculpture Park was reliant on Wwoofers (willing workers on organic farms) and a one-day-a-week gardener.

They had approached the nearby district councils to get them to take the park on as a regional asset and cover the costs of maintenance, but with no takers.

As of September this year the Wakelings have stopped using Wwoofers and employed a full-time gardener.

The park is one of the few accessible permanent forest (carbon) sinks registered under the ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme). Photo / Geoff Lewis
The park is one of the few accessible permanent forest (carbon) sinks registered under the ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme). Photo / Geoff Lewis

"Up until now we've relied on Wwoofers but John is 75 this year and we've made the call to employ a full-time staff member," Dorothy said.

For some time the public could make an appointment to tour the park or pay a subscription fee and become a pass-holder through a link on its website which provided access to the park during park hours.

However, the park needs to attract about 6000 paying visitors a year to help cover the costs of maintenance so a decision was made to open on Sundays.

The park is one of the few accessible permanent forest (carbon) sinks registered under the ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme) and plans are for a family-oriented Creative Play weekend October 26-28.

"One of our aims is to come up with more ideas of ways in which people can enjoy the outdoors in the park," Dorothy says.

What you need to know
The Waitakaruru Arboretum and Sculpture Park, 207 Scotsman Valley Rd, Further information www.sculpturepark.co.nz
Subscribe to the Park: Annual passes enable 364 day access, email for a form: sculpturepark1@gmail.com. The Sculpture Park is open every Sunday starting this Sunday from 10am to 5pm. The park is available to visit most other days by appointment, phone or email Office: 07 824 0733, sculpturepark1@gmail.com. 15yrs plus: $15, five to 14yrs: $5.