Just outside Tauranga, off State Highway 2, lies Te Puna Quarry Park. It's a place of both tranquility and intrigue; of beauty and of fun.
In the mid-nineties, the Te Puna Quarry Park Society began work on transforming the scarred hillside into a slice of Eden. It opened to the public in 2000 and has been growing lovelier ever since.
The first thing you see when you drive into the car park is a huge, rusted piece of machinery that looks like a work of art: a digger that children can clamber into and pretend to operate. There's also a small sensory garden in the car park.
As you enter the park proper, you are confronted with an interesting sculpture of a face basking in the sunlight. Behind the face is a shaded picnic area, dotted with trees and a statue of a famous New Zealand icon: Buzzy Bee. To the face's left, paths wind off into flowers and trees.
It's like a maze ... it's difficult to choose which path to take. In fact, you’ll be lucky to explore all of Te Puna Quarry Park in one visit: there are so many offshoots to get lost in. Basically, it's like Alice's Wonderland.
Te Puna Quarry Park is full of quirky pieces of artwork. In some parts of the park, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were deep in the New Zealand bush, but next thing you know you find yourself in a bonsai garden, a tropical garden or a butterfly garden. There are ponds, stone walls, waterfalls and statues – it's utterly enchanting.
You can even go abseiling down a cliff.
As you walk, the atmosphere is enhanced by a variety of sounds: the crunch of the pathways, the shrill chorus of cicadas, the warbling of native birds and, every now and then, the deep, clear clang of a bell echoing around the quarry. If you can find it, there is an old bell that you can strike – and no one who walks past it can resist. The clanging adds a strange air of excitement to park; like you're being roused to something, but you're not sure what. A procession of fairies, perhaps?
Spending time at Te Puna Quarry Park is an experience for all the senses: the sounds, the colours, the smells of the flowers, the textures of the trails and the art that you can interact with.
Perhaps the best part of walking around the quarry is the view, which gets better and better the higher you climb. You can look out over Tauranga and Mount Maunganui, right out into the Bay of Plenty.
And then there's the dragon: in the shade of a tree is the base of a stone tower with a very medieval-looking wooden door built into it. There are steps wrapped around it, and wrapped around the steps is a large stone dragon.
Te Puna Quarry Park is free to enter, and it's really close to a holiday park.
Te Puna Quarry Park