The popular Waikato Cherry Tree Festival - a multicultural celebration of spring featuring flowers, food entertainment and activities - is back again this year for at least three days after fighting red tape, Covid-19 rules and financial hurdles.

The festival is planned for September 19, 20, and 26; possibly longer if an online petition calling for it to be allowed to run 10 days is successful.

Last year's 10-day festival was cancelled at the 11th hour when Waikato District Council issued an abatement.

The annual festival at the 2 hectare country property of Paul Oulton and Anne Cao, English Cherry Tree Manor at Tamahere south of Hamilton, has grown in popularity with the first two in 2017 and 2018 attracting thousands of visitors to the Waikato.
The property, which includes a driveway through a canopy of cherry trees, is a superb setting for a festival, says Anne.

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Visitors can stroll down the manor's avenues, through enchanted bluebell woods and along tranquil walks. Photo / Supplied
Visitors can stroll down the manor's avenues, through enchanted bluebell woods and along tranquil walks. Photo / Supplied

Visitors are immersed in a vast pink flowering canvas with rhododendrons, camellias, candelabra primulas, tulips, dianthus and lavender setting off the cherry blossoms.

"You can stroll down the manor's avenues, through enchanted bluebell woods and along tranquil walks past its drystone walls, ponds, stream and waterfalls.

"The green and flower-laden world acts as a backdrop to an array of live performance artists, traditional national costumes and cultural performances."

This year, each day has a different theme featuring music, dance and culture of each nation:

• Saturday, September 19: Japanese Sakura
• Sunday, September 20: Chinese Dragon
• Saturday, September 26: Kiwi Retro.

The public are encouraged to dress up for the occasion if they wish. There will be children's activities and food vendors and high tea in the garden may be booked.

"We have been creating this beautiful place for 24 years and love sharing it with others," Paul says.

The 2019 festival had sought resource consent for an average of 2000 visitors a day, although there would have been many fewer than that number at any one time during the day.

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When the abatement notice was issued the couple - acting on legal advice - put the festival organising company NZ Pure Tour into liquidation and immediately stopped selling tickets.

Despite this, the couple were accused and heavily criticised on social media for allegedly continuing to sell tickets.

"They said the festival was cancelled because we failed to get resource consent, but the reason was the abatement notice received just hours before the festival was due to start. We stopped selling tickets that day," says Anne.

Paul and Anne say they made a commitment right then to fix the pain the cancellation caused and to reimburse everyone left out of pocket.

"Friends and family came forward and offered to loan us money to repay everyone," says Anne.

She says they have now repaid all suppliers to the event and all ticketholders.

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The one exception is a $2800 amount billed by the Waikato District Council.

"There is another invoice that council have switched to us personally but we dispute the validity of the switch," says Paul.

This year they have council consent to run the festival over only three days, Saturday and Sunday, September 19 and 20, plus Saturday, September 26, with a limit of 1000 attendees each day.

They had unsuccessfully sought consent for a 10-day festival with an average of 1200 visitors per day.

This has sparked an online petition supported by many previous Cherry Tree Festival-goers calling on the council to grant permission for the 10-day event. The petition is online here.

There is also a question about what Covid-19 restrictions may still be in place on the festival days. For Covid level 2, people will have two-hour timeslots. A group of 100 visits one area for an hour while another 100 visits another area for a while and then they switch without intermingling.

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This year, each day has a different theme featuring music, dance and culture. Photo / Supplied
This year, each day has a different theme featuring music, dance and culture. Photo / Supplied

To further allay any concerns after last year's cancellations, Anne says: "All money is held by the ticketing company TryBooking New Zealand until the event has run and in the event of a cancellation, you will be refunded in full except for a 30 cents booking fee charged by the ticketing company."

As many of the festival petition supporters say, the Cherry Tree Festival may be just what is needed to drive away some of the Covid blues as we move into spring.

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"In these trying times when the future seems unpleasant and bleak, it is imperative that we keep our positivity and spirits high and I see no better way of doing so than the Cherry Tree Festival; it was an absolute shame that it got cancelled last year," says one Auckland women who is planning to be there.

"The festival is a wonderful, uplifting event. For this year of Covid-19 in particular we need wonder, uplifting and engagement in beauty and with others," says another.