The Tamahere cherry blossom festival at English Cherry Tree Manor is kicking off this weekend, ready to celebrate the arrival of spring.
Although it is now in its fourth year and has proven to be popular with people all over the North Island, organisers Anne Cao and Paul Oulton never intended to start a public festival.
When Paul, originally from Liverpool, England, moved to the property in 1996, the cherry trees and garden didn't exist.
"There was nothing but grass. There were [other trees] where the cherry trees are now, but when it got windy, branches came off easily, blocking the driveway, so I wanted something else. A friend suggested cherry trees and I thought why not.
"The Waikato is great to grow cherry blossoms, they grow quickly. We don't get a lot of wind, but we still have cool winters with a bit of frost."
Having a job in IT, Paul took up gardening as a hobby and created the English Cherry Tree Manor garden visitors can see today. His wife Anne says he doesn't only spend a lot of time in the garden.
"He spends all the money on [it]. This year alone, he planted 3000 primulas and 5000 bluebells."
And the cherry blossom festival took off by itself, Paul says.
"When the cherry trees started blossoming in spring, people started inviting themselves onto the property to take photos. One day we came home to a couple that had their wedding photos taken on our driveway. Sometimes we see people running away, as soon as they see us. It is quite amusing."
The numerous trespassers made the couple realise the demand, so Anne and Paul decided to open up their home.
"We didn't even advertise it properly, we just put up a Facebook post and it sort of went viral. We expected about 300 people, but 2000 ended up coming," says Paul.
The following year, they sold 5000 tickets. "But on the day, another 5000 turned up without tickets and we had to turn them away. The demand is bigger than what we are allowed."
In the first year, Anne and Paul didn't have specific themes for the festival. "But lots of people just turned up dressed in traditional costumes," Anne says.
This year, they decided on the themes United Nations of New Zealand for the first official festival day on September 26, Ring of Life on October 2 and Bridgerton Spring Ball on October 3.
They hope lots of people will dress up according to the theme of the day.
"United Nations of New Zealand celebrates all the different cultures living in New Zealand in harmony," Anne says.
For the The Ring of Life Anne and Paul encourage couples to put on their wedding outfits to relive their special day.
Anne and Paul have added September 25 as a viewing day without any themes and just a few food options. People can walk around the garden and take photos with cherry blossoms and other flowers.
"The English Cherry Tree Manor is a romantic place. Anne and I got married here, so we thought the theme was quite suitable. Our event manager had the idea to put on a wedding fashion show, but lots of designers were coming from Auckland, so we had to cancel that," Paul says.
For the wedding themed day, Anne and Paul will have celebrants on site, to give visitors the chance to get married again.
"If we have time, we will get married again on the day too. We also already had a call from someone wanting to propose."
The festival's last day is inspired by the Netflix series Bridgerton.
"We watched [it] and loved it! Last year some people came dressed up in old-fashioned costumes, so we thought it would be cool as a theme," Paul says.
Each festival day features numerous acts and activities including entertainers and performers, food stalls, pony rides, and photo competitions. Visitors also have the chance to get professional photos taken and to book tickets to a high tea.
New this year are clear geodesic tents where people can enjoy a high tea and the performances in their own personal bubble.
Because of the latest Covid-19 outbreak, people have to book tickets for a two-hour timeslot if they want to attend the festival.
Says Paul: "It is not great running [the festival] during level 2, people are hesitant about going to big events. But less people on the property means more visitors have the chance to take their photo with the cherry blossoms without people in the background."
Anne says: "The festival encourages the community to come together and celebrate spring. Especially after lockdown people will enjoy that. Some of our visitors do it as a ritual and come back every year."
What: Cherry Blossom Festival
When: September 25 and 26, October 2 and 3 from 10am until 4pm
Where: English Cherry Tree Manor, 125 Matangi Rd, Tamahere
Tickets: www.blossfest.com, Adult $39, child $20, high tea $39, no gate sales