Every two years a dedicated team with an ‘eye’ for an appealing home is out scouting the Havelock North terrain for beautiful houses and gardens. Places guaranteed to entice, not only those living nearby but from all over the country, to abandon our own four walls for a three-day tour peeping into other people’s properties. Properties that are part of the renowned Hospice Holly Trail.

Supported by the Hospice Holly Trail Charitable Trust which raises funds for Cranford Hospice, the trail is held biennially in November when gardens are at their flowering best. And this year will see its full re-emergence after being thwarted somewhat in 2021 by Covid uncertainties. It will also be the swansong of its current chairperson KK Márffy, along with most of her committee. KK will have held the baton for over ten years when she departs after handing over yet another vast pool of dollars to the chair of Cranford and the baton to a brand-new team to be led by Penny Manahi as chair and Leigh Kilsby as deputy. Last tour it was $330,000 which broke the record and hopes are high for another record-breaking event that will bring the Holly Trail’s contribution to Cranford to well over the $2.3 million.

For the past decade or so, KK’s tenure has been her life. And she acknowledges that the days to come when the Holly Trail is no longer hers will be filled with a sense of loss and sadness. “There will be a huge void, but it is time for some fresh thinking and new blood. The team that is coming in is all a good ten years younger so l am sure there will be a different approach which will be very appealing to those who are already dedicated followers and visit every second year as well as newbies. 

Visitors arrive from all over New Zealand and even beyond to make the three days of their tour a very well planned visit – restaurants, wineries, walks AND shopping are all highlights. Most coming for the tour have an itinerary which may make a less intrepid soul quite limp.

Conversely the eyes of the retailers in Joll Rd and Havelock Village sparkle with anticipation of a guaranteed influx from out-of-town – and now with the developments in Hastings of charming new precincts including the Municipal and the Opera House, there is even more that will appeal to the purse. 

2000 saw the birth of the Hospice Holly Trail. Its name was the brainchild of the original chair Mary Stewart along with Debbie Nott and Sandra O’Sullivan. At that time, the Hastings City Council was initiating fundraisers specifically aimed at all the forthcoming work envisioned for the Municipal area. “Dinah Williams, who was a councillor, approached me to come up with an event which would be part of a village festival,” says Mary.

“I discussed it with Debbie Nott – recognised in these parts for her effervescent personality and design talent, plus her ability to successfully shoulder tap! My brother-in-law suggested a kitchen tour which was my kick-start. Then I heard about other area events and the importance the beneficiary played. We chose Cranford as a guaranteed lure for the philanthropically minded, and it needed funds desperately at that time – they still do but we have helped. It was of instant appeal. Our aim right from the beginning was to ensure that all the money raised went straight to the Hospice; any expenses had to be from sponsors – and no-one said ‘no’. 

“We got a committee together – again no-one said no,” laughs Mary. Sally Hansen, Sandra O’Sullivan and her sister Sue Fagan who were both floral artists and of course Debbie, who knows everyone and is a renowned floral designer. The committee was small but very well connected. Christmas was an easy decision as a theme because, again, it had instant appeal. 

“A designer was allocated to each house and he or she would collaborate with the owner to create the Christmas theme with flowers and objets d’art. And there was a convenor, assigned to monitor the visitors when they came in and who would find a group of volunteers to help.

“Later I was given a ‘heads-up’ that parking was of premium concern, so Neil Tucker from Karamu Rotary stepped up for handling that job. It was a real community effort, and no-one wanted to be paid. For instance, our artwork for the shop windows, the signage, brochures were done by Willie Ransfield and Natalie who volunteered straight away. All the florists wanted to be a part of it – Diana Hough, Nicki Plowman who had Flowers by Tania and, of course, Debbie, Sandra and Sue. Marie Donaldson did the ticketing and I put in all the signage myself. No-one knew,” she chuckles. 

“We did have some seed money from the Gwen Malden Trust which has been a consistently supportive sponsor from the very beginning, but obviously everything had to be either given ‘in kind’ or sponsored.” Or done by one of the committee members. 

“That first year we raised $45 thousand, and everyone was happy,” Mary says. After ten years during which time the Hospice Holly Trail gained a reputation for its excellence and became a ‘must’ in many a diary, Mary finally handed her baton on. “I felt it needed someone new. Debbie is still involved but I went on to work for the Dingle Foundation where I also spent ten years.” 

KK picked up that baton in 2012 from Jo Smith. “It was really by default,” she explains. “Debbie Nott just said, KK you should do it.” So, she did. 

“In that first year when I became chair, we did a lot of extra things such as cooking and floral demonstrations and had a school choirs’ night singing special performances plus an opening night. We have refined the tour content substantially since then – if it does not make good money, it just is not worth all the effort.” 

Today the trail involves two years of planning, 350 volunteers, sixty organisations who sponsor the event, over twenty floral designers, 11 homeowners who generously volunteer their homes to be part of the Trail and seven committee members who manage the event. One could be justified in saying it has really blossomed. 

And despite the odds they have never missed a trail. “Last one we were at level one, and that meant a lot of peeling back,” explains KK. “So, we didn’t have a fête and in fact that was a good move. We have decided not to have it again. It was a great attraction in the earlier days but a big task for Mel Harper the original fête co-ordinator and Robyn Bryant who took over her reins in 2014. The fête was always well supported and a great meeting point, but it didn’t make any funds. 

Over the years we have been quite stringent in assessing what works and what doesn’t in the way of making money,” KK explains. “That is our raison d’être and the rule is now that everything must be cost effective. We have wonderful sponsors; most particularly BioRich our very generous principal sponsor and Creative Marketing our digital sponsor and the two generous Trusts. 

But working with a charity was a whole new learning curve for KK. “For instance, discovering that we had to pay GST on our ticket sales despite the fact that all the funds raised go to charity, was a bitter pill to swallow and still seems incredibly unfair.” 

KK has tried to transition from the ultra-expansive, smart architecturally designed homes that used to be a tour given, to those that are more ‘real’ “as we got such a great response to the smaller more creative homes. By that I mean homes that are not overwhelming or unobtainable. I want homes that reflect the character of the owners – that period of monochrome we went through recently you couldn’t tell anything about the owners – now I look for homes that are attainable. 

We have quite a few small houses this year – a cluster in Te Awanga which is an area filled with treasures and another cluster in Matangi which makes it easier for parking. We try and have groups of homes together so that the Trail works more effectively. And this year we have our lunch venue where we will have delicious food from Piku,  Paella A Go Go and Fork and Noise with Hawthorne coffee at a centrally placed marquee in the Matangi Road group. It will also function as our meeting point.

Getting the balance between traditional and contemporary; grand and eclectic is so important. Security and parking also play a huge part but somewhat silently. If a house that is perfect is not in an accessible position which makes it difficult for parking or takes time to walk to it, then the committee just has to say ‘No.’ 

Kim Cuming and Jenny Higgy take care of Security and parking – a massive job. And the team of supporters who are under the jurisdiction of the convenor are on shifts which means there is always someone at the door to greet – “an essential”. Jo Newbiggin takes care of the ticketing which is another enormous and strategic task. In the meantime, KK has found her own role has also evolved to a great extent. 

Her favourite part of the tour? “Selecting houses … it’s all about the way we live. I love homes and design myself, so I really enjoy that.”

Creative Marketing host their website. And Pippa, KK’S daughter – who is a photographer and graphic designer – is responsible for Instagram and all the design work and photography. A hard-back book is also produced for each house filled with the photographs Pippa has taken. “We do that as a gift for the owners,” says KK. “It’s just a wonderful way of thanking them for the mammoth contribution they have made in being a part of the trail.”

Sponsorship in all forms is vital to the Holly Trail coffers. “For instance, Speedy Signs in Hastings sponsor all our signage which is a considerable contribution,” explains KK. And Kaye McGarva from Muse Gallery is donating a stunning painting by John Lancashire whose art walks out of her gallery even before it is on the walls of an exhibition. No doubt this auction then will have many bidders. “At the heart of it people are so willing to buy tickets for a cause that is so dear and to many so near to them,” says KK. 

As she rolls off what seems to be a never-ending list of responsibilities for the Chair it is easy to understand how big this role has become. “It is a huge responsibility – particularly when you consider Health and Safety rules today. And that is just the start.” And probably explains why the new incoming team have Penny Manahi as Chair and Leigh Kilsby as Deputy Chair– a new position that indicates just how much the Holly Hospice Trail has grown since its origins two decades ago. 

And one fact is quite clear. There is no doubt that the Hospice Holly Trail has become a ‘Must’  for those who love the camaraderie that pervades the Trail. Special friends from all over the country and sometimes beyond make it their regular get together and then there is that particular bonding that comes with the mother and daughter trips. And “we’ve noticed that increasingly more men are interested ,” KK comments.

The Christmas bells will be ringing merrily for the trail in Havelock North this November in no small part due to Mary Stewart and K K Marffy’s vision.


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  1. Just so much amazing mahi here. Only comment would be to include Hastings, Napier and CHB areas. As the Hospice is for Hawke’s Bay. Amazing properties this year in Havelock North and Te Awanga.

  2. Such an amazing organisation and such an amazing job they do for Cranford!
    I completely agree with KK’s comments about the GST on charitable events such as this – criminal.
    The Keirunga Creative Arts Venue has just experienced the same gut wrenching experience. After the very recent Fundraising Art Auction (organised by volunteers) it was so disappointing to know that so much money was going to literally the government who of course should be funding organisations such as the hospice.

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