The making of Pukeiti

One man's dream has literally flowered at Pukeiti on the slopes of Mt Taranaki.

The garden has won worldwide renown for its stunning collection of rhododendrons and other plants, and developed into an institution that's as much a part of the region as the mountain itself.

Clearing bush at Pukeiti

Clearing bush at Pukeiti circa 1920s

Founder William Douglas Cook's vision was a vast natural garden of rhododendrons. Enlisting the help of industrialist Russell Matthews, original owner and developer of Tūpare in New Plymouth, to help him find a site. The pair were given a lead in March 1950, when they came across a bush block for sale on Upper Carrington Road. 

The 153½-acre (65ha) block of bush was on a hill called Pukeiti. As Douglas walked through the bush, he was entranced by its lushness and the filmy ferns. The magnificent view, which encompassed 100km to 150km up the surfbound coast, all over north Tarnaki and away to Mt Ruapehu, also took his breath away. Rhododendrons planted nearby looked clean and healthy, even though grown in a neglected old garden. "One walk through was enough," he said. "I knew I'd found the right spot. That night I located the owner and bought it."

Opening the gates.

Opening the gates.

Cook donated the block to the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust. Work started on developing the property and the official opening took place on Thursday, 1 November, 1951. The gates were opened to visitors, who walked from the shack right through to the summit, along the partly formed road and through the bush track.

The physical gut-busting hardships endured by all in Pukeiti's early days were tempered by a 'bush' camaraderie, topped up with gallons of tea. All shared in the understanding that each task completed was a further step towards the realisation of a collective dream. 

Today Cook's vision is a reality, thanks to these efforts through the decades. The work in the early years set a strong foundation for efforts through the decades that have resulted in a unique property known all over the world as a unique temperate rainforest garden. 

The Taranaki Regional Council assumed ownership of and responsibility for Pukeiti on 1 July 2010, as a result of an approach from the Trust. The move secures the future for Pukeiti and its unique collection of plants.

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