Neil Porten checks into the Paloma Gardens Red House in Whanganui
Location: Paloma Gardens is a nationally recognised garden in Fordell, in the Whanganui district, and the Red House is the only place in the extensive grounds that you can stay. It's a 20km drive, about 20 minutes, east of Whanganui. You really are out in the country here.
Style: Rustic, charming. It's an old wooden cottage, with a narrow porch overlooking the gardens.
Price: $120 for the first night, $100 subsequent nights.
First impressions: This property is a working farm as well as a destination for gardening aficionados. You park below the ramp where livestock are loaded on to a truck and walk through a farm gate down a track to the cottage. The bulk of the gardens is in a natural amphitheatre and the house sits on the rim in the Mediterranean area, surrounded by palms, cycads, cacti and succulents. In the late afternoon, in the sunshine, you are alone with the sound of the wind in the trees, and the birdsong.
Rooms: The cottage is one large living and sleeping space, with a large bathroom. The windowsills and door frames are painted a sunny yellow and the wooden floors are dark. There's plenty of natural light. At one end is a couch and coffee table, with the kitchen and dining at the other end. Right in the middle is the carved queen four-poster bed, which is firm and comfortable, and from where you can glimpse the trees in the garden through the front door.
Bathroom: Very basic, like an old family bach, but spotlessly clean, the pressure in the shower was strong and there was plenty of hot water.
Food & drink: You could self-cater here, provided you can prepare everything with just a fridge and a microwave oven, but it's best to choose from the many lunch and dinner options in Whanganui. There's teabags and a coffee plunger and ground coffee. The breakfast provided is standard packet cereals, some fresh fruit and a loaf of bread for toast - use as much as you need to devour the entire pot of Paloma honey provided, which is part of the bounty of the gardens.
Facilities: The garden is the star of the show. Established in 1982, there are distinct areas: the Palm Garden (there are more than 130 species of palm in the gardens); the Wedding Lawn which sweeps down to the pond; the Bamboo Forest, the Desert House glasshouse; the Garden of Death - showcasing poisonous plants; and the countless sculptures, artworks and terracotta pots. You don't get Wi-Fi, but we got cellphone and data coverage. There's a TV with Freeview, and a DVD player with a selection of old-school movies. There's a single foldaway bed which would suit a child. Built-in bookshelves cover one wall, filled with National Geographic and gardening magazines from the 1970s and beyond, perfect browsing material while sitting out on the porch.
In the neighbourhood: A few cows. The gardens are open to the public every day so you may have the odd person wandering past. Head to Whanganui for some action.
Perfect for: Garden lovers, obviously. And those seeking an oasis far from anywhere.