The colourful and quirky gardens at The Giant's House, Akaroa. © Jo Percival

The Giant's House: a whimsical wonderland


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The signs start on the steep driveway: A quirky series of sketches, arrows, and messages painted onto the concrete, encouraging the curious to detour off a pretty suburban street in Akaroa. 

Near the top, the surprises really begin to unfold. 

What was once known as Linton, the first bank manager’s house in Akaroa is now painted in vibrant candy colours, sitting atop a sprawling hilltop site that has been transformed, almost completely, into art. 

This is the Giant’s House. A testament to whimsy and years of labour and love from local artist Josie Martin. 

With her cobalt blue hair, work-hardened artist’s hands and multi-coloured Chinese robe, Josie greets the stream of visitors at the gate – “welcome to the Giant’s House! There are a lot of surprises.” 

To call this place a sculpture garden is an understatement. It is more a slice of Gaudí-esque architecture, transplanted from Barcelona to the South Island.

Terraces are formed with millions of pieces broken crockery into surreal mosaic sculptures – people, animals, plants – many towering several metres high, bursting with colour and a flamboyant sense of joy. On the front lawn, clipped to green velvet, sits a full-size grand piano covered in mosaic tiles, its insides filled with dense succulents. 

Visitors can perch regally on enormous mosaic thrones or multicoloured tile benches that wend their way between trees. Ceramic staircases twist gently past a life-size mosaic giraffe head, a trumpeting elephant, and a giant doe-eyed, anthropomorphic cat and dog, to the enormous writhing octopus emerging from a sea of parsley in the vegetable garden.

Abundant flowers, shrubs and laden fruit trees create secret corners where even more artworks lurk. 

“The house was so depressing when I moved here 18 years ago,’ says Josie. “It was dilapidated and the garden was completely overgrown.” Her 15 years of hard work have paid off, and the Giant’s House is now recognised as a ‘garden of national significance,’ attracting visitors from around the world. “There really is nothing else quite like it,” she says.

Inside, the artwork spills through all areas of the house, including the visitor bathrooms – even the toilet is encrusted with colourful crockery fragments. And rather than frowning on graffiti as vandalism, here people are provided with markers to scribble their own names on the toilet walls. Years of signatures stretch from floor to ceiling in colourful layers that become artistic expression in their own right.

An adjacent gallery space houses Josie’s more fragile, less weatherproof works. The house also operates three completely unique B&B rooms, including one with the bed snuggled inside the frame of a sleek timber boat, for visitors loathe to leave this whimsical wonderland.

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