Akaora is known for dolphins and French culture, second on the list is usually the thought of botanical gardens, but this sentiment has surely changed, well in my eyes anyway. Move aside dolphins of French Bay and fish n' chips from Akaroa Fish & Chips, there is a new kid on the block that is causing a stir and that is The Giant's House. A mosaic masterpiece playground created by the talented sculpture artist and horticulturist Josie Martin. Her vision and talents bring tourists and locals from across the world to her fantastical house known as The Giant's House and her artistic gardens.
The Giant's House is located centrally in Akaroa, an historic French and British settlement town, nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano. The house was originally built in 1880 and was the first ever bank manager of the province's residence. Grand in size and features, the house has since been transformed into a masterpiece blending contemporary and historic elements into a unique balanced creation.
The house got its name from Akaora folklore, as it is believed when a small child gazed up at the imposing home from the valley below, they declared that it must ."..belong to a giant", because it was so big.
The house has many extraordinary features - a grand entrance hall with mahogany staircase imported from France, original open fireplaces, beautifully proportioned rooms, a conservatory with mosaic floor, a large sunny sheltered veranda, quirky bathrooms, bright yellow farmhouse kitchen, comfortable large bedrooms with unique artistic features and artwork throughout.
A complete sensory and visual delight is an understatement, as The Giant's House is a labour of love from its creator. The highlight of the venue is of course the extraordinary gardens known as 'The Artist's Gardens'.
Entering this wonderland is such an uplifting experience. The impact of colour and light reflection onto the art pieces (especially on a sunny day) is captivating. It is hard to believe when you are in the midst of the majestic garden, that it was spurred from Josie simply finding a few pieces of broken china when she dug up her garden one day. Flash forward twenty-three years later and what was a humble garden-find has turned into an award winning passion.
Bed and Breakfast @ The Giant's House (photo by Praneel Lal)
I had the pleasure of learning about this venue, having researched online about some of Akaroa's attractions. What the internet failed to mention was the initial trek up a hill on Rue Balguerie, but the first taste of what you are about to experience is evident in the adorable teapot letterbox.
Letterbox @ The Giant's House (photo by Praneel Lal)
With the tiny-teaser behind us, my friend and I walked up a steep driveway and then further up a few flights of stairs to the entrance of the venue. After parting with our $20 and wiping away the sweat from our brows, we had made it.
Before us stood the most incredible house you can imagine, straight out of a fairy tale. The home (unless you are a guest) was off limits, but with palatial windows and a gigantic front door open, it wasn't hard to see the visual treats inside.
As the venue doubles as a bed and breakfast, guests have the opportunity to choose one of three themed rooms. The Rose Room: a double room with its own conservatory and ensuite, the Double Boat Room: (my personal favourite) with wash basin in room and separate bathroom (next door) and lastly the Twin Room with wash basin and separate bathroom. I highly recommend staying at this establishment. Just to experience waking up in The Giant's House would be a treat for adults and children alike.
A testament to the extent of creativeness is the sheer size of many of the mosaic sculptures. As you walk through the gardens a majority of the pieces work their way up different levels to overall create a spectacular view, whether you are looking from the base up or the top down.
The house is surrounded by art reminiscent of Gaudi with much inspiration around small Rodinesque figurines, to Adam and Eve created in almost an Aztec looking design. Alongside Gaudi are whiffs of Matisse, all whilst the great Edith Piaf sings...what makes this outstanding is its uniqueness.
The position of the home, high on the hill, allows for visitors to capture stunning views of Akaroa, French Bay, Glen Bay and Childrens Bay.
Stunning Gardens @ The Giant's House (photo by Praneel Lal)
A standout feature of the mesmerising garden, is the piano. Formed with a combination of mosaic and housing a tree in the centre does make for an interesting stand point and perfect photo opportunity. So many photographic spots are available over the large yard, not to mention even the porch that goes around the physical house.
There is also a cafe that operates during opening hours in the summer period, which allows for visitors to enjoy a nice tea or coffee along with freshly baked cakes whilst enjoying the view.
Giving yourself two hours is the perfect amount of time to explore the varied sized artistic pieces, along with viewing a video in Josie's gallery. A must for all tourists and locals in New Zealand.
Mosaic Gardens @ The Giant's House (photo by Praneel Lal)