Suddenly, autumn

It seems like the trees have changed colour almost overnight – the middle of the day is  still surprisingly warm but evenings and mornings are definitely colder. One of the best places to see autumn colour in the Tauranga area is McLaren Falls Park.

A planting of liquidambers set off by the evergreens that surround them. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“We’re going to have to stop calling it a hidden jewel,” says park ranger Gary Borman. “People have woken up to how neat it is out here.”

Tree planting in the 190ha park began in 1965  and members of the Bay of Plenty Tree Society still gather there every Monday afternoon to work. The arboretum features some rare and unusual trees and Gary is trying to bring more colour into the park.

The colours of Acer rufinerve, the snake-bark maple. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“I want people to see a good dose of colour in autumn when they get to the vista at the top of the lake. The volunteers will continue with rare and unusual trees and I will aim plantings at flowers and foliage.”

The park is home to what is believed to be the only tree of its kind in New Zealand – an Emmenopterys henryi, native to southern China. “It doesn’t look much,” Gary says, “but it’s very special.”

The swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum) planted beside and in the lake are one of the few deciduous conifers, the needles turning rust-orange before falling, and the park is also home to several dawn redwoods, another deciduous conifer.

Department of Corrections workers also work at the park and over the past couple of years have been linking existing tracks so visitors can walk from Cherry Bay along the lakeside to Top Flat up to the lookout at Pine Tree Knoll back down on a new track to the Ponga Grove and Nikau tracks, across to the Waterfall track and back to Cherry Bay without having to double back.

The sorrel (Oxydendrum arboreum), native to the eastern United States, holds its white flowers even while the leaves are changing. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Although it’s hard to pick a peak moment for autumn colour – some trees turn and shed earlier than others and weather plays a part too – Gary reckons the weekends in the middle of May are some of the prime days to enjoy the show.

If you go to McLaren Falls Park on May 11 look out for environmental art, something of a Mother’s Day tradition from two local families. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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