Stepping off the boat at Walter Peak High Country Farm feels like a journey back in time. Birdsong and blooms welcome you into the Garden of Significance that surrounds the Colonel’s Homestead.
Thanks to the unique microclimate at Walter Peak, certain plant species not normally found in Central Otago happily flourish here. The gardens are admired year-round and feature non-natives like tulips, roses, East Asian cherry trees, and native flora, including the southernmost Kauri tree, the critically endangered kaka beak shrub, and podocarps.
It’s here that you’ll be greeted by resident horticulturist, Paul and his team, on RealNZ’s new Walter Peak Eco Experience which launches on 20 December.
The eco tour gives guests the chance to explore beyond the main homestead, become part of a reforestation project and learn about native wildlife and conservation in New Zealand.
Planting native trees at Walter Peak
With 32 years of conservation experience, Paul is overseeing a major reforestation project at Walter Peak that involves planting native hardwood trees to create habitats for the region's native wildlife. He’s also working to redesign the gardens to ensure a steady supply of produce at the on-site restaurant which will dramatically reduce carbon emissions.
Firstly, the eco tour will visit Paul’s newly planted restaurant garden which boasts 12 vegetable beds and six tunnel houses, eventually able to feed up to 800 visitors per week. The restaurant garden will not only supply fresh greens and organic produce to the restaurant but also allow visitors to see the farm-to-table process first-hand.
Here, visitors will learn about the importance of healthy soils to our ecosystem. Paul explains, “Just one handful of good soil can have more micro-organisms than humans on earth. If we don’t protect it, we will lose it. A third of the world’s soil has already been lost to intensive farming, so our future depends on regenerative agriculture.”
Paul and his team are focusing on regenerating the soil at Walter Peak by minimising pesticide use, producing their own compost and mulch and companion planting. “Planting the right flowers encourages nature to work with nature, which in turn helps to eliminate some of the bad things in nature, like aphids,” says Paul.
From here, guests will get the opportunity to lend a hand and take part in the Walter Peak reforestation project by planting a native tree or shrub.
Restoring the native forest at Walter Peak
Since 2014, there has been an intensive effort to plant native trees at Beach Point, Walter Peak after invasive wilding pines were removed. The project aims to create a biodiverse haven that provides habitats for native bird species and helps to offset carbon emissions.
Paul notes, “Conservation takes many years. We hope guests will return in years to come to show the next generation the progress made.”
The final stop on the eco tour is back at the homestead where a delicious morning or afternoon tea awaits, featuring produce straight from the garden, of course.
RealNZ’s Walter Peak Eco Tour will run daily through summer from 20 December. Find out more about the tour here or learn about Walter Peak’s mission to become Queenstown’s sustainable tourism destination.