Solitude and sanctuary in the glorious gardens of Aotearoa NZ

Ten New Zealand gardens connect with nature’s healing powers in spaces as solitary and spiritual as ancient churches. 

These 10 New Zealand gardens will help you connect with nature’s healing powers in spaces as solitary and spiritual as ancient churches. 

The islands of New Zealand form a long thin exclamation mark in the vast gyre of the southern ocean relentlessly churning around the Antarctic continent. In the north, there are exuberantly colourful gardens of subtropical plants including New Zealand’s brilliant crimson-flowered Christmas tree - the pohutukawa. Further south is the very different palette of a true temperate climate. Plants wear their sensible seasonal livery under snow in winter, in the warm spring winds, through baking summers and during gilded autumn days. 

NOTE: Garden star* ratings by NZ Gardens Trust

Five North Island Gardens

Butler Point Garden, Far North - Where history came ashore (5*)

This Far North garden is among the first planted by 19th century European settlers who arrived in New Zealand seeking resources to export or souls to win. Captain William Butler was a whaler who came ashore, married and planted trees. Today, Butler Point Garden encompasses an ancient Māori hilltop pa site, a whaling museum and magnificent 170-year-old trees planted by WIlliam and his wife Eliza, including a magnolia grandiflora, a fig and olives. This is a place in which to meaningfully connect with early colonial history and admire the care bestowed upon the property over the past five decades by the current owners.

Travel Tips

Butler Point Garden: 31 Marchant Rd, Hihi
Ph: 0800 687 386
Open by appointment; Hihi is a 4-hour drive north of Auckland, located just south of the Karikari Peninsula. 

Omaio, Matakana - Nurturing nature (6*)

Statuesque giants, remnants of the temperate rainforest which once clothed the North Island, still rule tranquilly along some stretches of the seaboard north of Auckland. Under the calming influence of the ancient puriri, totara, rimu and kauri trees, this gardener has the upper hand on nature - only just. Clipped balls of native plants such as hebe, Carpodetus serratus and pittosporum stand formally alongside introduced plants which run in vast swathes beneath the towering trees. These plants may look as though they’ve made up their own minds to be here but oh no, they’ve been carefully planted 4 - 500 at a time. 

Travel Tips

Omaio: 194 Whitmore Road, Matakana
Ph: +64 9 4227443
Open by appointment; Matakana is a 1.5-hour drive north of Auckland, via State Highway 1.

Ayrlies Garden, Auckland - An artist in the garden (6*)

In Ayrlies Garden - just southeast of Auckland - streams rush between fern fronds to cascade over rocky falls, white-trunked lemon-scented gum trees tower above rockery gardens of fiery-faced flowers, and lily ponds are still and deep alongside the knobbly knees of swamp cypress. Roses and delicately hued annuals, a meadow of wildflowers and a grove of citrus each have their moment of glory while white swans and waterfowl drift about their daily business on wetlands fringing the ocean. This expansive garden feeds the soul of the artist whose five decades of daily devotion have seen it emerge from bare paddock into a garden celebrated internationally. Its many paths and seats, vistas and secret spots uplift the soggiest of spirits and are revered, by many, as a healing place. 

Travel Tips

Ayrlies: 125 Potts Rd, Whitford
Ph: +64 9 530 8706    
Open by appointment; Ayrlies is located in Whitford, a 45-minute drive south east from Auckland. 

Gwavas Garden, Hawke's Bay - Turning back time (5*)

The historic Gwavas Garden Homestead, built in 1890 and brought back to life by Phyllida and Stuart Gibson after 45 years of emptiness, is surrounded by a 9ha woodland garden. The oldest trees were planted by Phyllida’s great-great grandfather Cornishman Major George Gwavas Carlyon in the 1860s. His son, A.S.G. Carlyon, initiated the planting of the garden proper 20 years later and modelled the grounds on his family home, Tregrehan in Cornwall - home to the Carlyon family since the mid-1500s and today owned by Phyllida’s brother Tom Hudson. Gwavas Garden is a Registered Group of Historic Trees with the Royal NZ Institute of Horticulture and is recognised by the International Dendrology Society with a Distinguished for Merit award. 

Travel Tips

Gwavas Garden: 5740 Hwy 50, Tikokino, Central Hawke's Bay
Ph: +64 6 856 5810
Open by appointment; Tikokino is a 1.5-hour drive from Hastings.

Te Kainga Marire - A haven of great tranquillity (6*)

This small but perfectly-formed garden reflects a natural New Zealand environment skillfully developed in a 2000sqm inner city backyard. It was inspired by the natural landscapes where the owner - a passionate alpine climber and hiker - has spent much time. She’s incorporated a fern-fringed waterfall and included several pre-colonisation features such as a tiny traditional Māori whare (house) and palisade fences of split-totara battens. There is a wetland area and an alpine area, both created, in this coastal environment, with a lot of artistic flair. In addition to the microcosm of native bush are food gardens and an orchard. And, the sum of its parts is a haven of great tranquility.

Travel Tips

Te Kainga Marire: 15 Spencer Pl, Merrilands, New Plymouth 
Ph: +64 6 758 8693
Open daily; 15-minute drive from inner city New Plymouth.

Five South Island Gardens

Barewood Garden, Marlborough - Leafy lanes and dreamy vistas (6*)

The excitement of the journey continues even after travellers leave the rolling roads of inland Marlborough to wander the grounds of misleadingly named Barewood Garden. In truth, it is a garden of earthly temptations beckoning visitors beneath a walkway of sweet-smelling hawthorn to a summer house beside a placid pond. Another allee of columnar crab apples with branches touching high overhead like stone knaves of an ancient cathedral, leads to a seat from which to listen to the bossy native tui birds. A row of pleached hornbeams leads to a fecund potager where the polite painter's palette is thrown aside for bee-friendly plants calling with cerise, blue, purple, orange and yellow flowerheads. 

Travel Tips

Barewood Garden: 40 Barewood Road, Seddon
Ph: +64 3 575 7432
Open by appointment October to April; 45-minute drive south of Blenheim.  

A Giant’s Garden, Akaroa - A garden of art (5*)

Ragtime tinkles forth from a sculpted mosaic piano in a beautifully maintained flower border in this garden on a hill in the small French-flavoured town of Akaroa. You can bet your sweet patootie this isn’t the only surprise awaiting in this arty garden. A pair of orange and red sculpted legs, of giant proportions, poke up from flower beds alongside purple mosaiced steps. The feet, meeting two metres above the path, support a giant blue … is it a bird? Well maybe. Not everything is quite anatomically accurate in this joyous place where the plants are healthy and the mosaic sculptures colourful. Try not to smile at the sculptured acrobats doing their ball exercises along a wall with bright stalks of bright swiss chard fringing their feet. And give thanks for artists who see the world in a “Why not” way.

Travel Tips

The Giant’s House Garden: 68 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa
Ph: +64 3 304-7501
Open daily (check times); The French-souled village of Akaroa is a 1½ hour drive from Christchurch.

Blair Garden, Arrowtown - Striking an original chord (5*)

Harsh winters and baking summers do not deter the creator of this garden from continuing a composition that has already occupied her for more than three decades. “Creating a garden is like composing music, we all have access to the same notes but it is how we arrange them that makes the garden our own,” says Janet Blair of her garden near historic Arrowtown, near Queenstown. Her clipped evergreens (lonicera nitida) are complemented by rivers of flowing white stachys, lavender and snow-in-summer. “My surroundings are my inspiration and I’ve taken my cues for colour from the blue of the sky and the expanse of the mountains has inclined me to plant en masse.” This carefully curated garden, encompassing 100+-year-old stone buildings and walls, sits peacefully against a dramatic mountainous backdrop.

Travel Tips

Blair Garden: 338 Lake Hayes Road, Queenstown
Ph: +64 3 442 1800
Open by appointment; Blair Garden is a 30-minute drive from Queenstown.  

Clachanburn Country Garden, Central Otago - A stony creek in the middle of nowhere (5*)

Should one of New Zealand’s famously fast native raptors (the karearea) pause for thought whilst flying above the barren foothills of Rough Ridge in the vast Maniototo Plains, it might wonder “What the heck?” as it circles over the surprising splash of beauty that is Clachanburn. This is tough country; snow-covered in winter, wind-blown in spring, sun-baked in summer and mostly clay soil between the rocks. Yet here are magnificent trees, a pair of peaceful ponds, a burbling, stony creek, an orchard, a prolific nuttery of hazelnuts and Russian olives, roses blooming, bulbs bursting and tranquil walks in every direction. One indomitable woman has hewn all this out of rock-strewn hills and cattle paddocks. She’s well worth meeting and makes a fine Devonshire tea.

Travel Tips

Clachanburn Country Garden: 316 Puketoi Runs Road, Patearoa, Ranfurly
Ph: +64 3 444 7501
Open by appointment September to April; Clachanburn is a 2-hour drive from either Dunedin or Queenstown.

Hereweka Garden, Dunedin - And, in the beginning there was ...  (4*)

Whatever you make of its human inhabitants, it’s a fact that the flora and fauna of New Zealand are weird. Until approximately 80 million years ago, New Zealand was part of Gondwana - the supercontinent of Africa, South America, Australia and Antarctica. Since it drifted away to develop in splendid isolation, its inhabitants took on some very strange habits including birds that don't fly - case rested. Peter and Anna Cooke, whose super-productive “Good Life” garden is a triumph of labour over the odds, have also created a Gondwana-themed dell. Looking down into it from an upper ridge is a breathtaking experience due to the dense, silent and primeval feeling of the forest. Enormous tree ferns stand like umbrellas over cold hardy palms, cabbage trees and kauri-monkey puzzles. It’s a taste of early Gondwana and all that is missing is the cacophony of a mighty bird population. Ah, if only they’d learned to fly...

Travel Tips

Hereweka Garden: 10 Hoopers Inlet Road, Otago Peninsula
Ph: +64 3 478 0880
Open by appointment; The Otago Peninsula is not only home to Hereweka, but to some of Otago’s most interesting wildlife. It is a 30-minute drive from Dunedin city.