While it’s true there was a time when I would have followed Billy Connolly anywhere, I can safely say that in this instance I was way ahead of him; for a large part of the journey, at least.

You see, when Billy Connolly did his epic televised road trip of New Zealand in 2004, he said of Connells Bay Sculpture Park, “This is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I have been to on the whole tour.”

I moved to Waiheke Island in 1992, more than a decade before the comic genius visited our shores. At that time, Connells Bay and the rest of the eastern end of the island was considered so remote that few people cared to go there. For me, a recent resident of even-more-remote Great Barrier Island, it felt like home.

Jo Gow stands beside Michael Parekowhai’s Mangu

The majority of visitors to Waiheke stick to the well-worn tourist spots clustered at the island’s western end, where the passenger and vehicular ferries dock. It’s a relatively small patch of densely populated land that comprises roughly a third of the island. This means most miss out on the spectacular scenery and cherished places of the less-populated parts. Places like Connells Bay Sculpture Park, nestled as it is into a steep hillside tumbling down to a turquoise sea dotted with picturesque islands.

I’ve lived on Waiheke for 25 years and it still takes my breath away every time I crest the last hill above Orapiu and stop to take it all in. And, if the view doesn’t do it for you, the road down to Connells Bay will. It is vertiginous – potentially unnavigable in a conventional vehicle – and is the main reason the owners, John and Jo Gow, offer to meet you at the gate and drive you down in their fit-for-purpose four-wheel-drive vehicle for the start of your guided tour.

John and Jo are well known on the island and within the wider art community for their support of the arts, their philanthropy and active involvement with a number of charitable trusts. Many years ago, while working as a community news journalist, I was despatched to interview John, and I asked him how I should refer to him in the story. I suggested I might introduce him to readers as John Gow, art collector; perhaps John Gow, philanthropist.

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