When it comes to immersing yourself in beautiful green spaces, we're extraordinarily lucky to have some of the very best botanic and curated gardens right here in our back yard. From lush, subtropical – and rather kooky – gardens in the Far North to formal, picturesque grounds in the deep south, there are myriad choices to be awestruck by, no matter the season. Here are eight of those, just a small selection of what's on offer when you're looking to get out in nature in New Zealand.
Wharepuke Subtropical Garden and Sculpture Park, Kerikeri
Although we can't escape to the tropics, this could very well be the next best thing. Set on more than 2ha in the Far North, this lush, five-star Garden of National Significance is filled with rare and unusual plants you won't find anywhere else in New Zealand. Besides the kooky plantings, you'll find agaves, bromeliads, a stunning variety of orchids, and about 30 species of birds swooping in to visit. In addition a sculpture trail winds around 35 ever-changing works, plus an art gallery, nontoxic printmaking studio and restaurant. There's really no bad time of year to visit, thanks to the winterless north, so it's perfect for a pick-me-up during those dreary months.
Open: Seven days (Closed Christmas Day)
Entry: By koha/donation
Auckland Botanic Gardens
A whole other word awaits 25km south of the city. With more than 10,000 plants to discover across 25ha, it's hard to know where to start, so pick up a map from the visitor's centre or pre-plan online. During the summer months, put the Rose Garden on the top of your list, with colourful, fragrant arches bursting into life. The Spring Blossom Valley will lift your spirits as we exit winter, but any time of year is great to visit the palm garden, native forest (its sheer size makes it perfect for a spot of forest bathing) or the African Plants Garden (you'll forget you're still in Auckland if you make it on a clear day).
Open: During alert level 3 lockdown, the visitor centre, car park and cafe are closed, but gates remain open for local walkers. Stick to social distancing guidelines.
There's a reason why tourists from around the world have flocked to these gardens. No matter the season, there's something around every corner to delight and awe. Just ask Kiwi gardening expert Leigh Bramwell, who puts these at the very top of her list (a hard call after 30 years as a regular at the delightful Dunedin Botanic gardens). She describes a visit as "taking a trip around the world" – the perfect premise for our restricted Covid-19 world.
Indeed, the Paradise Collection transports you from the Italian Renaissance Gardens (a popular spot for weddings come summer), through China and India, to the Japanese Contemplation Garden. Plus, they currently have four new gardens underway – Ancient Egyptian, Pasifika, Medieval and Baroque gardens with a linking courtyard.
Until then, there's plenty to visit, including having your mind blown in the Fantasy collection of gardens. The stand-out is the Surrealist Garden, which sees Freud meet Lewis Carroll meet Dr Seuss. Ivy-covered trons, with skyward reaching tendrils literally come to life thanks to carefully designed hydraulics, and as you step out of the vines you'll feel you've fallen down the rabbit hole as you're met by a looming white door, huge gardening tools and a wheelbarrow fit for giants.
Open: Seven days
Eastwoodhill Arboretum, Gisborne
Thirty minutes out of Gisborne you'll find a full 131ha of exotic and native trees, shrubs and climber plantings – around 4000 different species in total. Pay a visit during spring to take in the sunny daffodils, prunus, malus and magnolias, which come to life in a cheery display over a hectare. But for the most dramatic vista, visit in autumn to see NZ's largest collection of woody plants at its best – it's when the rich oaks, maples and ash trees spectacularly turn to deep crimson, fiery orange and vibrant yellow. No visit is complete without a stop in at the Homestead Garden, the Herbarium and the Fibonacci Spiral – just make sure you allow enough time to see it all.
Open: Seven days (Closed Christmas Day)
Entry: Adults $15, Seniors & Students $12, Children (5 to 16) $2.
Pukekura Park, New Plymouth
Said to be the jewel of Taranaki, Pukekura has welcomed several royal visits, featured as a backdrop in The Last Samurai (starring Tom Cruise) and hosts tens of thousands of tourists each year – most of whom come away with a photograph posed on the distinctive bright red bridge. But this Garden of National Significance is perhaps best known for the TSB Festival of Lights, when the park turns into an illuminated fantasyland each night in summer.
With formal gardens, open spaces to spread out a picnic blanket and a fernery that's home to around 50,000 plants, there's plenty to take in. For a different perspective, hire a rowboat to take out on the lake, or a Park Buggy Tour to get the inside knowledge of the park.
Open: Seven days (closed Christmas Day)
Christchurch Botanic Gardens
The Garden City certainly lives up to its title with its extensive and impressive public gardens that are a delight to behold. Regardless of the season, you'll find an array of fascinating plants in Cunningham House conservatory. From August to October, the Magnolia Garden bursts to life, around the time the daffodil woodlands herald spring along the Avon River. If you're visiting mid-October to November, you'll arrive in time to see the beds of Azaleas bloom or, come summer it's the perfect time to see the Rose Gardens in their full glory. For something truly unique, take in the herbaceous border – believed to be the longest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
Open: Seven days
Trotts Garden, Ashburton
These meticulously planned gardens have been home to the Trott family for four decades and three years ago were moved into a charitable trust to ensure the public can continue to enjoy them.
In summer, the woodland area provides the perfect spot for a picnic with 70 different types of maples, 40 varieties of dogwood and 50 species of magnolia to seek shade under. There's simply no better spot, particularly when the hundreds of rhododendrons and azaleas are in bloom.
Year round, the knot garden is one of the most impressive creations in NZ (some have argued, the world), so be sure to climb the blue tower stairs for the perfect vantage point to appreciate the painstaking work of the patterns. Unlike parterres – hedges that form geometric shapes – these hedges form true knots and are well worth a marvel at.
If you're a fan of the formal gardens of Britain and middle Europe, you'll find Trotts Garden enchanting – from the clipped topiary, large brick and iron gates, to the roses planted in set squares.
Open: Reopening September, seven days.
Entry fee: Free – but donations are welcomed.
Larnach Castle Gardens, Dunedin
Although no trip to Dunedin would be complete without a stop at Larnach Castle, there's so much more to the grounds than the castle itself – the spectacular 3ha of gardens in its surrounds deserve a leisurely look.
The plantings have been uniquely designed not only to complement the building but provide something to capture your interest no matter the season – no small feat given the unforgiving climate of the deep south.
The views are stunning during autumn, when a cascade of fiery leaves and the bloom of the Heather garden gives it a distinct Scottish mood – but it's hard to beat the Laburnum Arch in November when the bright golden blooms create a stunning draped tunnel, framing a perfect view of the castle. If you're lucky you might even be kept company by the odd kererū. The Alice in Wonderland gardens also mustn't be missed – if you're joined by little ones, use the map to form a treasure hunt, ticking off the different characters. They'll be spellbound.
Open: Seven days
Entry Fee: Adults $17 (Garden and grounds only), Children $5, Under-5s are free.
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