From subtropical splendour in Northland to beautiful blossoms down south, New Zealand’s gardens are at their best once winter’s departed.
New Zealand is a land of contrasts, with a climate that ranges from hot and humid to arid and alpine. This diversity of topography makes it ideal for a wide range of garden styles. And you're never very far from a pretty garden whether that's the houses along the street or a magnificent park.
Here’s a rundown of the best gardens both north and south during spring.
Northland: Sun-soaked sensations
As one of the warmest parts of New Zealand, Northland is celebrated for its subtropical gardens. But this isn’t all the balmy region has to offer the keen plant lover. Pompallier Mission in Russell is an Edwardian/Victorian garden with curving flower borders and a mix of annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs. Bordered by scented Elaeagnus hedges, it’s a tranquil spot that references the former mission’s 19th-century provenance. The privately owned Monto Garden in Kerikeri is closer to what you’d expect of a subtropical climate. Pools fringed by palms and cycads and a wetland area are star attractions in this lovely spot.
- Pompallier Mission: The Strand, Russell (+64 9 403 9015)
- Monto Garden: 182 Puketotara Rd, Kerikeri (+64 9 407 3329)
Just a few hours north of Auckland, Northland is best explored by car. Spring sees the area’s gardens at their balmy prime, and you’ll also avoid the crowds that gather over the summer holidays. Russell is accessed by car ferry from Opua, and Kerikeri is an easy three-hour drive from Auckland.
Auckland: Diverse delights
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and boasts a wide range of picturesque gardens. The Auckland Garden DesignFest (a biennial event, 16-17 November 2019) is a great way to see the city’s best private gardens in a short time frame. Twenty gardens will be open to the public showcasing a range of gardening styles that will be revealed to ticket holders nearer the event. Accessible all year round, the 64-hectare Auckland Botanic Gardens in Manurewa includes 10 hectares of native forest. One of the highlights is the Gondwana Arboretum, with cycads, conifers and ferns unchanged from those found in the super continent of Gondwana 150 million years ago.
- Auckland Botanic Gardens: 102 Hill Rd, Manurewa (+64 9 267 1457)
Auckland is built amid volcanoes (more than 50) and many of these have beautiful trees and other notable plants on their slopes. In the city’s west, the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park offers interesting walks amid the native vegetation. Driving is the best option for getting around the area.
Waikato – Hamilton and Hobbits
Only 90 minutes south of Auckland, Hamilton Gardens is one of the country’s most celebrated public gardens, attracting 4000 visitors daily over spring and summer. It is also one of the newest, founded 30 years ago on a former refuse tip. At more than 54 hectares, it’s a large space and tells the story of different civilisations in areas including the Indian Char Bagh Garden, the Italian Renaissance Garden and the Tudor Garden. Te Parapara is New Zealand's only traditional productive Maori garden. The newest series of gardens entitled The Fantasy Collection includes the Mansfield Garden (inspired by Katherine Mansfield's The Garden Party) and the Chinoiserie garden. Future gardens under development include the Surrealist Garden with features that will be five times the normal size.
Just 50 minutes south-east of Hamilton is Matamata – better known as Hobbiton. Set in green pastureland, it’s the place where The Shire scenes were filmed for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Enjoy the Hobbit holes with their gorgeous gardens, rolling hills and a beer at the Green Dragon Inn.
- Hamilton Gardens: Hungerford Cres, SH1, Hamilton (+64 7 838 6782)
- Hobbiton: 501 Buckland Rd, Hinuera, Matamata (+64 7 888 1505)
The Waikato River runs through Hamilton and there are a number of easy walks along the river through lovely riverside vegetation. Hamilton Gardens is also on the river’s edge, so take a stroll after your visit.
Taranaki – Flowers and Forests
With both mountain and coastal climates, Taranaki is one of New Zealand’s best gardening regions. The main gardening attraction here is the Taranaki Garden Festival (1 – 10 November 2019), with more than 40 public and private gardens open. Best known for its brilliant spring-flowering rhododendrons, the district also features some outstanding native forests and elegant public parks.
Taranaki has a wealth of natural wonders, from the wild west coast beaches to the dramatic snow-capped peak of Mt Taranaki. One of the most unusual and atmospheric natural wonders is the Goblin Forest, a collection of kamahi trees with dramatically twisted and gnarled trunks and branches. Located in an area known as East Egmont, it feels like an elf might just be hiding behind each tree.
Christchurch – Garden City
Christchurch has long been called ‘the garden city’, and the central city redevelopment post the 2011 earthquake has a major focus on new gardens and green spaces on the terraces on the banks of the Avon River. Among the many long-standing attractions is the Christchurch Botanic Gardens: in September, the camellias, rhododendrons, bulbs and magnolias are blooming across its 21 hectares. Adjacent Hagley Park fills with daffodils and blossom, and close by Mona Vale is an historic homestead with 5.5 hectares of maples and conifers, rose gardens, camellias, a large lily pond and a stunning iris garden.
- Christchurch Botanic Gardens: Rolleston Ave, City (+64 3 941 7590)
- Mona Vale: 40 Mona Vale Ave, Fendalton (+64 3 941 8999)
Christchurch is the gateway to the Canterbury region – from here you can drive to places such as Hanmer Springs (where you can spend time soaking in thermal pools) or the turquoise lakes and alpine slopes of Tekapo and Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.