Mention B&Bs and the horrors of chintz, doilies and boutique British home stays where the en suite’s in a cupboard and pillows are like house bricks swirl around my head. All such imaginings are banished at The Giant’s House, a luxe B&B in Akaroa on New Zealand’s South Island where giant strides have been made to create something big and bold. Being banished here isn’t straight out of some Gothic horror fairytale but a wonderland filled with artistic whimsy.
Artist in Residence
The unmistakable strains of Edith Piaf ooze out of an indigo mosaic grand piano set in a circlet of lawn in front of The Giant’s House. Reflected in the piano’s glass lid is a cacti forest and proprietor, artist Josie Martin. Painter, sculptor, horticulturist and multi-media artist, The Giant’s House is a three-dimensional theatrical canvas for her artistic flights of fancy.
“There was no garden when I bought the property but digging the garden, I uncovered shards of lovely old china which obviously were part of the history of the original house,” said Martin. Seizing the opportunity to fuse the disciplines of horticulture and art, she began a mosaic on the front step with china fragments augmented with tiles she had bought on her travels. Mosaic art combined with inspired plant selections, particularly boldly formed cacti, became the garden’s leitmotif leading to the creation of large installations and voila! The Giant’s House was born.
Forget garden gnomes and fairies at the bottom of the garden. This is where larger-than-life ceramic figures inhabit a fantasy world of kings and queens, animals and a giant Marcel Marceau. Meandering steps descend to the Place des Amis where large figures sit in a semi-circle, much as they would in any French provincial town square, enjoying the late afternoon sun.
Immense ceramic eggs are positioned throughout the terraced garden representing Martin’s Humpty Dumpty-inspired nursery rhyme desire to put the world back together again. Three athletic figures freestyle around the perimeter of the Isola Bella pond where beautifully crafted frogs balance on a ceramic lily pad and you can take a good hard look at yourself at Martin’s latest installation, a 5m high mirror of polished stainless steel.
Dubbed the French Riviera of New Zealand, Akaroa has strong French connections. In 1838, French whaling captain Jean Langlois negotiated to purchase the Banks Peninsula from a local Maori chief with a view to setting-up a French colony around Akaroa’s sheltered harbour. Imagine his chagrin sailing into Akaroa with a boat-load of settlers on August 17, 1840 only to see the British flag fluttering from the shore. Under the Treaty of Waitangi signed by the British government and Maori chiefs in 1840, the British had claimed sovereignty over Banks Peninsula just six days earlier!
However, the French settlers were allowed to remain and the charming seafront village retains a distinctive French accent with street names, cafes, restaurants and small hotels imprinted with the character of a French seaside village.
From her European sojourns, Josie Martin’s paintings fill ‘Linton’ aka The Giant’s House with vibrancy andeach decorative item comes with a fascinating story. Through the front doors adorned with vials of pink geraniums, the hallway dazzles with two over-sized red seats upholstered with family pictures and script. The graciously appointed living room is decorated in subtly restrained tones of cream, chocolate and black while the country-style kitchen is a tableau for Martin’s quirky pottery collection. Beyond the kitchen window, voluptuous ceramic figures recline on garden benches amidst a profusion of flowers. The flower-filled conservatory beyond the Rose bedroom invites guests to while away a few hours curled up with a book while upstairs, a bed shaped as a boat is ‘moored’ on a wave-shaped carpet in a light-filled bedroom, a blue dove insignia hoisted above.
“Over summer we have parties and performances and people from Christchurch love our soirees,” said Josie. Who needs a better excuse to dress-up and share her exuberant wonderland?
Akaroa is an 85 km, 90 minute drive from Christchurch
Between October and May, Josie Martin opens the house as a luxury B&B with four unique bedrooms available.
The sculpture mosaic garden is open daily between 2 and 4pm
‘The Giants House’ – Linton
68 rue Balguerie, Akaroa. Phone 304 7501 www.thegiantshouse.co.nz