World famous in New Zealand: The Giant's House, Akaroa
WHERE/WHAT IS IT?
An easy walk from the Akaroa waterfront up Rue Balguerie, this is a grand and elegant two-storey villa, lovingly restored and converted into a B&B by owner and artist Josie Martin. It was built of native timbers in 1880 for the local bank manager, intended to be impressive, and it certainly awed the toddler who unwittingly named it.
The garden is sensational. Not just because it's beautifully designed and maintained, and full of flowers and topiary, though it is, but because of the ornamentation. Josie started 20 years ago by using pretty bits of broken china she'd dug up while gardening to make a mosaic doorstep – and just kept going. Now there's a full-size grand piano outside the main entrance, along with an accompanying band, a sailing ship across the lawn, a pool and fountain.
Along the winding paths up through the terracing beside the house are various life-sized and bigger people, cats, dogs, birds and other animals real and imaginary, all painstakingly shaped and decorated with broken china, tile, mirror and glass. It's all mosaic: paths, steps and walls, benches, arches and seats, surreal sculptures and realistic figures like mime artist Marcel Marceau, all of them colourful, witty and literally fantastic. There's something new to enjoy around every bend in the path, from ankle-height marvels of delicate artistry to impressive steel-structured engineering looming overhead. French music tinkles, so does the fountain, and time evaporates.
Allow plenty of time to explore and just to sit and enjoy the garden. There's even a cafe serving drinks and light lunches, so there's every excuse to linger. If you've been before, there will always be something different to see: Josie has a whole new section of garden currently being developed. There will be butterflies…
ON THE WAY/NEAR BY
Akaroa is rich in delights: harbour-side restaurants, walks short and long, penguins, Hector's dolphin-viewing (or swimming with), kayaking, sailing, harbour cruises, tours on V8 trikes, vintage cars, in a side-car or with the local postie on his 120-kilometre route around the peninsula. Investigate the French heritage in the little museums; or celebrate it by taking a cooking class. There's Barry's Bay Cheese, where you can watch it being made to traditional recipes and then taste the result. Learn about alpacas and take one for a walk. And then there's the shopping: arts, crafts, souvenirs, food, three colours of pearls, jewellery, possum fur and woollen clothing, wine. Or just buy fresh local fish and chips and eat it on the bench at the end of the jetty, watching the sun set behind the hills.
Garden entry is $20 per adult, $10 per child, plus family concessions. It's open 12-5pm in summer, 2-4pm in winter.
BEST TIME TO GO
Choose a sunny day when the garden will be looking pretty and the views back over that beautiful harbour will make climbing the hill worthwhile.