Dunedin Chinese Garden a ‘priceless’ treasure

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At present continuing to celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Dunedin Chinese Garden can truly claim to be “unique”.

The garden is based on 970 tonnes of Taihu (Great Lake) rock – given to the city during the garden’s $7.2million construction in 2008. The rock is no longer being exported by China.

This aspect of the garden, along with the fact it was built for Dunedin by the city of Shanghai using authentic materials transported here in 102 containers and assembled by Chinese artisans, makes it “priceless”, Dunedin Chinese Garden Trust chairman Malcolm Wong says.

“The Taihu rock is recognised as the foundation of a Chinese scholar’s garden, and that is no longer available outside China,” Mr Wong said.

“So we were very fortunate in the timing of our garden being established – you wouldn’t get the materials now.”

Also going by the Chinese name Lan Yuan – A Garden of Distant Longing – the garden continues to be supported by its sister garden, the prestigious Yu Garden in Shanghai.

“They have been very generous to us throughout the garden’s history – and continue to provide valuable assistance from across the seas.”

Recognised as a Garden of National Significance in New Zealand, the Dunedin Chinese Garden is working towards the stringent requirements for becoming a Garden of International Significance.

“It is all part of our plan to become an iconic cultural attraction for New Zealand,” Mr Wong said.

During the original feasibility studies for the garden, it was estimated it would attract about 40,000 people each year – and it has mostly exceeded those numbers.

In its first two years, the garden attracted more than 80,000 visitors, before dropping back to under 40,000 for a few years, and then beginning a steady climb.

In the past two years, visitor numbers have topped 51,000.

Visitors include cruise ship passengers, tour groups and independent travellers, as well as Dunedin people attending festivals and events, such as the recent Moon Festival and Chinese New Year.

‘We are very happy with how visitor numbers are going – having over 50,000 people in the past two years is fantastic.”.

The continued development of the city’s “historic precinct”, which also includes the Dunedin Railway Station, Toitu Otago Settlers Museum and the warehouse precinct, has been a bonus for the garden.

The prospect of a new architecturally designed bridge linking the city to the harbourside from next to the Dunedin Chinese Garden was also exciting, Mr Wong said.

“We are quite excited about the prospect of a bridge and what that might bring – it could possibly give us an all-weather capability for functions and exhibitions.”

The Dunedin Chinese Garden celebrated its 10th anniversary in September with a series of events, including an exhibition of photographs of the Yu Garden.

To mark the occasion, Shanghai gave Dunedin 500 Chinese lanterns, street banners celebrating the anniversary and 25 teapot sets.

The Dunedin Chinese Garden also exchanged gifts with Puketeraki marae in Karitane, and received a specially composed waiata for the Chinese community.

In addition, a rare and valuable ceramic pagoda was given to the garden by Courtney Archer (1918-2002) and long-time friend Tan Chen.

A return exhibition of photographs of the Dunedin Chinese Garden will open at the Yu Garden in early November.

Mr Wong will be part of a delegation, led by Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, attending the opening.

Mr Wong will fund 50% of his own travel costs, the remainder to be funded by organisations he will represent in Shanghai.

Looking back across the Dunedin Chinese Garden’s 10 years, Mr Wong is happy to see the garden continuing to grow, in every sense.

“As the philosopher Li Gefei said, you can always tell the health of a city by the state of its gardens.

“In that case, Dunedin is doing pretty well.”