The Butterfly Garden in Thames was the first in New Zealand, started in 2000 by a Swiss couple, Roger and Sabina Gass. Now owned by Colin Anderson, it is a ‘must-see’ for visitors, who can wander amongst a stunning variety of winged colour darting, fluttering, exploring and landing in a humid exotic-planted garden house. Colin, originally from Norfolk where he was involved in a captive-breeding programme for the endangered British Swallowtail butterfly and locally known as an expert on New Zealand native plants, is enthusiastic and knowledgeable on all matters related to butterflies.

Entrance foyer to Thames Butterfly Garden
“No artist could duplicate their colours or patterns, no aeronautical engineer could programme their various flight patterns,” Colin told me as we watched a group of brilliant purple-and-gold Imperial Owl butterflies swooping down to feed on ripe bananas. To sustain the Thames butterfly population, regular imports arrive from the Philippines and South America, with shipments from Australia recently added, including the famous Cairns Birdwing. An import permit is needed from the Ministry of Primary Industries, as well as a containment-quarantine facility to safeguard New Zealand’s native flora and fauna. Most of the food plants required are grown in the Butterfly Garden itself so that a captive-breeding programme can be maintained. There is a separate chrysalid room where visitors can peer through a big window and see some amazing shapes and sizes of chrysalids hanging from their food plants, including those of the Owl Butterfly – that, on hatching, will have a wingspan of around 18 centimetres.

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