1. Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens, Rodney
Just north of Kaukapakapa, turn off State Highway 16 and visit the Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens. A well-marked trail leads off through beautiful gardens, past a selection of works by local artists and those from further afield. A new selection is installed once a year, but there’s always plenty to see as the garden changes by the season, plus you can ‘go bush’ and explore the lower Conservation Track, through regenerating native forest. There’s a good garden centre and café here, too, with a play area for the kids.
2. Paloma Gardens, Whanganui
Whanganui’s Paloma Gardens, just outside of the tiny settlement of Fordell, is well worth a detour. Nicki and Clive Higgie began their epic landscaping project not long after they got married – 44 years ago. Exotic palms grown from seed now tower over their house; thick stands of bamboo provide an ideal backdrop for wedding photos or Instagram selfies. Keep an eye out for the resident peacock, or pack a picnic to enjoy on the manicured lawns next to the homemade pond.
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3. Christchurch Botanic Gardens
One thing that hasn’t changed in post-quake Christchurch is the beautiful Botanic Gardens. The garden’s 21 acres have collections from all around the world. It all started with the planting of an English oak to commemorate the marriage of Prince Albert and Princess Alexandra in 1863. Whether you’re earnestly exploring New Zealand flora or just hiding out for a few hours, the garden's an oasis of green. Neighbouring Hagley Park, established in 1855, is said to have been an inspiration for Central Park in New York City two years later.
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4. Elms Homestead, Tauranga
Even people who have lived in Tauranga for years have never been to The Elms. This is the oldest European heritage site in the Bay of Plenty, with a historic home and beautiful gardens that make you feel as if you've stepped back in time to the early nineteenth century. There is a serenity about the place that is most welcome. Visiting the nearby Mission Cemetery, the oldest European burial ground in the Bay, located on a rocky promontory overlooking the harbour, brings a similar peaceful feeling.
5. Miyazu Japanese Gardens, Nelson
Like Osthmanthus, the Miyazu Garden celebrates Nelson's relationship with its Japanese sister city. As you wander the garden paths, take the stepping stones across the tranquil ponds, admire elderly bonsai trees and listen to the soothing sound of trickling bamboo spouts you’ll feel all of your tension melt away. Which is exactly what spending time in gardens is meant to do. The Miyazu Japanese Gardens are also right next door to a refreshing beer at Founders Brewery.
6. Glenfalloch Gardens, Otago Peninsula
These spectacular woodland gardens are found close to the city and there is a very good restaurant here as well. The Gardens rent out electric bikes, which are a great option for travelling the Peninsula. A visit here provides a great chance to tap into the Peninsula’s Scottish heritage, but the birdlife has a definite indigenous accent – tūī and bellbirds flock to the peaceful groves that crowd the tracks.
7. Eastwoodhill Arboretum, Eastland
Eastwoodhill Arboretum at Ngātapa has an outstanding collection of Northern Hemisphere trees, regarded as the largest and most comprehensive south of the equator. Planted by the eccentric Douglas Cook who used to wander around the property stark naked apart from gumboots and a sunhat, the arboretum encompasses over 131ha planted in exotic and native trees, shrubs and climbers. The arboretum is 30 minutes’ drive (34.5km) from Gisborne via the Wharekōpae Rd.
8. Queens Park, Invercargill
Handily situated in the heart of the city, Queens Park is considered a New Zealand Garden of National Significance. It incorporates around 80 hectares of gardens, wildlife displays and sports fields, as well as an 18-hole golf course, a bird aviary, a castle and a stumpery. And it’s free to visit.
9. Osthmanthus Gardens, Hastings
Hastings’ Cornwall Park is not just known for its eight hectares of English village green atmosphere, cricket ground and play areas, it is also home to a traditional Chinese garden, Osmanthus. The garden was established in 1996 to commemorate the relationship of Hastings and its sister city Guilin and takes its name from the Osmanthus family of highly scented shrubs and groundcovers which have been planted throughout. Walk across the Friendship Bridge over the lake pond and back over the Crooked Bridge, and take five in one of the beautiful Chinese pavilions.
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10. Hamilton Gardens
Perhaps the city's most popular drawcard to out of towners, the Hamilton Gardens is also a well-loved spot for locals, especially on a gloriously sunny Waikato day. Note, on this kind of day you will almost certainly be able to enjoy watching bridal parties come and go in a constant stream. This place is free to visit and why wouldn’t you? It won the title of International Garden of the Year in 2014 and it is seriously magnificent. The Hamilton Gardens are also home to summer events, including a food market held every Sunday night from October through to March.
11. Pukekura Park, Taranaki
Pukekura Park is all you'd expect and more. First opened as a sports venue in 1876 it’s grown to a 52-hectare gem in the heart of New Plymouth. From the moment you pass through its massive art deco-inspired Sanders Gate you enter a world with something for everyone. There’s a famed sports ground with grassed terraces, children’s play areas, numerous glades and lakeside bush walkways as well as the internationally-acclaimed fernery and gardens.