Time had ravaged the old timber door and only a rash of red indicated its original colour. Feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland, I gave it a tentative push and it swung open to reveal a track unravelling between an avenue of adolescent trees. There was no white rabbit but, like Alice down the rabbit hole, I was lured down the path by curiosity.
The expansive Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens, 4km north of Kaukapakapa is a great place for a curious mind. It took me nearly two hours to wander its hedgerows and avenues, not because of the distance but because at every twist and turn I discovered another fascinating sculpture or work of art worthy of close examination.
The first was aptly named An Introduction, in which distorted doorway shapes were coloured by LED lighting. Around a corner, past a tall urn made of rusted sawblades, the life-size derriere of an orange elephant was disappearing into the bushes.
A family of corrugated iron goats looked set to raid the vegetable patch that supplies the cafe’s greens, and a little further on was In Paradise, a bright-red blow-up palm tree, surrounded by blow-up pigs. Curiouser and Curiouser!
The works are serious art, but there are also many humorous aspects. Nurseryman David Bayly and his wife Geraldine, who is a landscape architect, opened the gardens in 2008.
“The 25 hectares that comprise the nursery, the garden and and our home was once part of David’s father’s farm,” said Geraldine. “David first developed the four-hectare nursery and, given our professions, developing a public garden seemed like a natural progression. Then along came art curator Sally Lush. She helped us with the idea of introducing sculptures and became our curator for the next 10 years.”
The whole enterprise – nursery, sales area and gardens – is a family affair. The couple’s children help, David’s father carved the 800-metre conservation track that winds down through regenerating bush to a stream and waterfall, and Geraldine’s father maintains the paths that criss-cross the gardens.
The latter are easy grades but it was hot and I was thankful for the sheltered seating in five Baby Barn ‘bus stops’ along the way. I was also grateful for the numerous plaques identifying trees and providing interesting information. In particular two cork oak trees caught my attention.
Their bark was deeply etched and knobby like the skin of an ancient elephant. If a line were drawn from these trees through the centre of Earth it would end precisely in a cork oak tree grove in southern Spain. This is no fantasy. It has been accurately measured by GPS calculation.
I loved the interactive elements of the sculpture garden: the giant Connect Four board; a petanque court; a large draughts board and chess set with pieces larger than garden gnomes. As I walked across a wooden bridge near the ponds my footfalls instigated resonant musical notes.
Then there was Jugalbandi in the Park, a see-saw in a frame with brass bells strung across its beams. At the see-saw’s height riders can reach up and strike the bells to set up a ringing chorus.
Hidden throughout the gardens were 10 large steel sculptures of weta, and visitors are invited to see how many they can find. This is a popular game but I was too busy absorbing everything else to take up the hunt.
Soon, however, another hunt will be on in the gardens and this one, involving several white rabbits, will be hard to resist. Every Easter Sunday two-legged bunnies hop about the bushes hiding chocolate eggs for the 500 or so people who come to join in the Great Easter Egg Hunt.
Curiosity means I’ll probably be there. Like the door, I too am ravaged by time but inside me there is still a little Alice waiting to get out.
Win 1 of 4 family passes to Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens
Be in to win one of four family passes, kindly provided to us by David and Geraldine Bayly.
To be in to win, enter here before 5 April, 2019.