Driving New Zealand's North Island

On a trip to New Zealand’s North Island, horticulturist John Mason toured many gardens.
His observations on how to plan for a garden visitation trip are suggested below.

New Zealand’s gardens really are something special and there are plenty of them open to the public most of the year. If you want to be inspired, or just nosy, and have a peek inside other people’s backyards, consider a driving tour of New Zealand’s gardens.

Your first stop should be the New Zealand AA (Automobile Association) or local tourist authority. In most large towns, these places will have brochures and good advice on the best gardens to visit; and the AA actually has books on New Zealand Gardens to visit.

New Zealand Gardens — North Island by Jillian and Denis Friar, was an indispensable guide for myself over a one week tour in 1996. This book is generally available through the AA, or contact the publishers: Moa Beckett Publishers, P.O. Box 100-749, North Shore Mail Centre, Auckland, 1330. It contains colour photos, descriptions and information on opening times for almost 150 gardens across the north island. Most are opened spring into summer or by appointment, and some all year round. There is a small entry fee for most, but not all.

How Many Gardens Each Day?

To enjoy a driving tour of gardens, you should pace yourself. The number of gardens visited will depend on the size and complexity of each garden, and the driving distance between them. If you try to do too much, you will find yourself moving faster, starting earlier, finishing later; and after a few days, you may be so weary that you will not enjoy what you are doing. On average, three gardens a day is a comfortable target, or maybe four if they are close together and your holiday period is short. If you have time on your hands there is no need to speed through gardens — plan for a one or two gardens per day. Remember that you are there to enjoy yourself. Some larger gardens like the Auckland Botanic Gardens, can take half a day.

You will need to plan for unexpected events such as weather conditions that may either cancel your plans to attend a particular garden or due to road closures. Consider your own personal health. Are you fit to walk through gardens swiftly or do you prefer the pace of leisure strolling to absorb the features, colours, scents and detail of the garden?

Be Prepared

The weather in New Zealand can be cold and wet at times. Carry a coat, umbrella and spare shoes and socks in the car with you, and something to protect your camera if it starts raining. Driving in New Zealand is not always what you might expect. Many places are mountainous, roads can be narrow and winding, and as such distances sometimes take longer to cover than you might first anticipate.

Choosing What to Visit

Everyone’s taste is different, in gardens as much as anything else. The books and brochures are of course the starting point, but in my experience, the reality of a visit rarely matches the photographs and the written description. Sometimes your surprise will be one of delight, and at other times disappointment, but as with all things, you will never find the delights unless you are prepared to experience some disappointments as well.

In addition to books, ask friends and relatives who have visited New Zealand or even lived there. Their wealth of knowledge may introduce you to new experiences that book would not mention.

Gardens to Visit

The following are some of the New Zealand gardens which I took delight in:

Auckland Botanic Gardens
South of the city, this relatively new garden is well worth a half days visit. The garden is great, and attracts visitors from all over the world.

The gardens incorporate many specialist garden areas including: a rock garden, rose garden, perennial garden, conifer garden, orchard, African plants garden, palm garden and lots more. There's a Goodwana plant collection and a collection of threatened plant species, and a rainforest. Special collections include Salvias, Magnolias and Camellias.

If you visit New Zealand, this is a must see destination.

Location:  Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens, at Manuka, in the southern suburbs of Auckland
Open: varies from year to year

The Ploughman Garden
A 3 acre garden featuring lavender. While the garden does contain a range of other plants (mostly herbs), it is dominated by a wide range of lavender cultivars, which provide a unique and spectacular visual feast. Additionally there is a collection of 43 rosemary varieties.

Location: Duff Rd, Waiuku, an hour south of Auckland
Open: All year Wed–Sun
Facilities: Nursery and Art for sale

Hamilton Botanic Gardens
Much of these gardens are areas of open parkland along side Waika Rover. The garden incorporates paths and large beds of shrubs. However, unlike many public gardens, these contain a series of smaller, enclosed theme gardens: an oriental garden, a herb garden and an English walled garden (which includes a sunken lawn terrace). The hedging and architectural features to be found in these gardens, added to a series of unexpected but delightful surprises we experienced when visiting Hamilton.

Location: Cobham Drive, Hamilton
Open: All year
Facilities: Kiosk
Email: [email protected]

Established in 1951, this 900 acre property in the foothills of Mt Taranaki, is located near New Plymouth on the west coast of New Zealand. Pukeiti contains the largest collection of both hybrid and species rhododendrons and azaleas in New Zealand, with some thing in flower every month of the year. Covered areas provide protected growing conditions for vireyas (tropical rhodos) and orchids, as well as other rare plants. A wide range of complementary plants are also grown including magnolias, viburnums, camellias, cornus, prunus, acers and kalmias.

Location: 20km from New Plymouth on the Upper Carrington Rd
Open: Every day except Christmas day
Facilities: Shop, Nursery and Restaurant

A site of some historic significance, containing pre-European stone walls, this garden somehow seems larger than its 3 acres. The areas contains a wide variety of features, from the rock garden and formal rose garden to the water garden and structures built from the abundantly occurring tree fern trunks. This is also very much a plantsman's garden, where you will find many plant cultivars not commonly seen elsewhere.

Location: 781 Main South Rd, Oakura (near New Plymouth)
Open: August to March, Tuesday to Thursday afternoons, weekends and public holidays
Facilities: Homestay accommodation by prior arrangement (Ph: + 06-752 7873)

Windrest Cottage
A 3 acre garden developed in the 1980’s from an old apple orchard, this garden actually impressed us more than most we visited in New Zealand. The property is dominated by the residence that sits atop a hill, with garden spreading into valleys on two sides. This garden is a great lesson in how to combine your plants to create a great visual affect. Areas close to the house are a cottage style with massed perennials, wild flowers, roses and complementary shrubs. Beyond that area, paths and areas of lawn meander between beds filled with a diverse and well planned variety of trees and shrubs.

Location: 15 Moehau St, Te Puke (near Tauranga)
Open: September to May, Tuesday to Sunday, 10am–4pm
Facilities: Tearoom, Nursery and Cottage Shop (the Devonshire teas are great!)



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