Cook's garden huka lodge

Huka Lodge com­pletely cap­ti­vates Bill Adams

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There’s a gar­den­ing anal­ogy out there some­where that refers loosely to see­ing the big pic­ture and miss­ing the de­tails but maybe I am get­ting that con­fused with stop­ping to smell the roses — my head a mud­dle of such thoughts af­ter a guided walk through the 6.9ha of es­tab­lished gar­dens at Huka Lodge.

I am in sen­sory over­load and far from the place of my ar­rival, face pressed against the car win­dow, child-like, in awe of the park-like sur­rounds. My first thought was one of plea­sure that I didn’t have to mow the ex­pan­sive lawns, my sec­ond thought one of won­der at how many peo­ple it must take to keep the grounds so pris­tine.

“A team of five” says head gar­dener Elaine Tocker. “Three full­time on the garden and two on lawns and hedges.” Softly spo­ken and ob­vi­ously at ease in her sur­round­ings, Elaine’s gen­tle na­ture sets the pace and tone of our stroll through the gar­dens.

The newly es­tab­lished re­flec­tion walk — a labour of love and ac­cred­i­ta­tion for her two young ap­pren­tices — was the start­ing point and the first of many sur­prises. A mulched track with ponga edges through na­tive bush leads onto and around a grassed clear­ing com­plete with a Ja­panese torii gate — gifted from the garden of lo­cal guest Jac­que­line Holt, pro­vid­ing a serene space for yoga prac­ti­tion­ers seek­ing their way to­ward zen. This area of con­tem­pla­tion came about af­ter storms in 2010 and 2011 felled many large, old trees re­quir­ing the de­stroyed gar­dens around them to be cleared.

“We took out trail­er­loads” says Elaine, “it was an ab­so­lute mess.”

Some of these shock­ingly large tree stumps re­main as ev­i­dence as we wan­der the man­i­cured paths of this garden that was cre­ated with lit­tle bud­get. Elaine proudly ex­plains, “We moved plants that were ail­ing or not do­ing so well in other spots, the rocks and sleep­ers were also found on site and one of the team who was sep­a­rat­ing Huka Alan Pye flax at home brought a whole lot in.” Cot­tage, huka ter­race.

The path leads us back to freshly trimmed three­me­tre-high Leighton green cy­press hedges, di­vid­ing

ad­ja­cent ar­eas into pri­vate spa­ces for ten­nis, swim­ming, cro­quet, pe­tanque and car park­ing.

With a 94-year-old his­tory this garden comes with its own legacy but one that has evolved through the more re­cent de­signs of land­scape de­signer Suzanne Tur­ley. Ma­ture trees tow­er­ing above us dis­play this his­tory but the bal­ance of op­po­sites — old and new, in­for­mal na­tive bush and for­mal man­i­cured lawns — il­lus­trate her con­sid­ered in­flu­ence. The garden does not com­pete with it­self nor with the crys­tal-clear Waikato river that runs be­side it. There is a sub­tle tran­si­tion from wa­ter to lawn to bush, with the lodges set­tled on the edges of the lat­ter. They do not an­nounce them­selves, al­though the views from in­side back out to­ward the river scream in re­turn.

While pre­dom­i­nantly dec­o­ra­tive, there is a work­ing el­e­ment to the garden, with a large grape-cov­ered framed herb garden used by the restau­rant. The storms also de­mol­ished an ex­ten­sive or­chard but a scat­ter­ing of sur­viv­ing ap­ples, plums, med­lars and quinces have been trans­planted to suit­able spa­ces. I learn that chives planted around fruit trees help with blight and Elaine has planted a lot of thyme around the base of trees, “be­cause the chefs use a lot of it, par­tic­u­larly lemon thyme”.

Im­pres­sively, for a garden that ex­pe­ri­ences mi­nus6C frosts in win­ter, there are citrus — one big lemon, man­darins, kaf­fir lime and yuzu.

As the garden has been de­vel­oped by Suzanne, many of the flow­er­ing plants have been re­placed with na­tives and Elaine ap­proves. “It has been a big help, they were very labour-in­ten­sive.”

Two main gar­dens still have flow­ers, in­clud­ing 1000 tulips that flower in spring, mak­ing the Alan Pye Cot­tage hot property in Septem­ber. There are pock­ets of daf­fodils along the river and mag­no­lia fo­liage and flow­ers are well used by the house­keep­ing team.

Cherry trees also pro­vide plenty of blos­som in spring and the vibur­num lin­ing the drive and pond area put on a chang­ing dis­play from white in spring to deep red in au­tumn.

It truly is a garden of quiet sur­prises and an as­ton­ish­ingly beau­ti­ful rea­son to stay at Huka Lodge. Elaine is al­ways happy to give guests a guided tour and there are sched­uled, tick­eted tours for the wider com­mu­nity that pro­vide funds for bait­ing.

The De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion has a scheme on both sides of the river to erad­i­cate rats, stoats and weasels. The trap­ping has brought all the birdlife back and we were joined by sev­eral fan­tails, chat­ter­ing and play­ing around us on our fre­quent stops. All part of what makes this garden ex­tra­or­di­nary.

Huka Lodge have a se­ries of spe­cial events tar­geted to food lovers in­clud­ing a Week­end of Pure Ex­trav­a­gance (May 18-19), Four Hands Col­lab­o­ra­tion din­ner with Paul Frog­gatt and Nic Watt (July 28) and the Big Red Din­ner with guest chef Analiese Gre­gory (Au­gust 18). Find out more at

Alan Pye Cot­tage



A grand English lin­den on the lawn of the main lodge

Head gar­dener Elaine Tocker

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