Wild and wonderful Wellington Botanic Garden ki Paekākā
Whether it’s your first visit or your hundredth. there's always something new to surprise and enchant you at one of Aotearoa's oldest botanic gardens
There’s something to be said for flat, orderly gardens, with rows of trees and manicured flower beds stretching out in all directions – but that’s not Wellington’s style. Wellington Botanic Garden ki Paekākā, like the city itself, is a bit wilder, a bit more unpredictable, able to surprise and enchant you whether it’s your first visit or your hundredth.
The central-city garden – all 25 hectares of it – is a wonderland of winding paths and breathtaking views, thrumming with bird and insect life. Around every corner, you’ll find something to make you gasp: a tumbling waterfall, an exquisite orchid, a spiky succulent straight out of Dr Seuss.
There are several ways to access the garden from Thorndon, Kelburn or the CBD. The grand Founders’ Entrance on Glenmore Street launches you straight into the main garden, which is as old as Wellington itself. The New Zealand Company set this land aside in the 1840s, when it was planning the city, and the Botanic Garden was officially opened in 1868; where some of the Botanic Garden’s oldest trees are still standing on Druid Hill and Magpie Spur.
The main garden is where you’ll find the Treehouse visitor centre and gift shop, the duck pond, the much-loved Joy Fountain, and the Soundshell, where Gardens Magic – a series of wildly popular outdoor concerts – is staged every January. There are magnolia trees with crazy zig-zag branches, a fragrant garden designed to awaken your senses, and the old stables, which look like something out of a fairy tale.
The seasonal flower beds are redesigned and replanted twice a year; Spring Festival events kick off here in September, when the tulips are at their prime. The main garden also houses one of Wellington Botanic Garden ki Paekākā’s best-kept secrets: glow worms, which you can spot after dark, especially after a spring rainfall.
The Centennial Entrance, also on Glenmore Street, is accessible by car. It leads to several of the garden’s main attractions: Begonia House conservatory, the picturesque Lady Norwood Rose Garden, and Picnic Cafe, where you can picnic amidst the roses. Right behind the cafe is The Dell and the entrance to the Bolton Street Cemetery – Wellington’s oldest European cemetery – is nearby.
None of the above will tax your leg muscles. But if you’re game, you can set off from here for the sculpture walk, which loops around the garden, taking in works by Henry Moore, Chris Booth and more. Or you can follow one of the walkways through dense native bush, where traffic noise dies away and there’s nothing but green everywhere and the sound of birdsong. Here, you can forget that the CBD is 10 minutes away and cast your mind back hundreds of years, before European settlement, when this area was a crucial source of food and medicine for early Māori. (In 2019, Mana Whenua gifted the Māori name Paekākā to the Wellington Botanic Garden precinct in acknowledgment of this history.)
The entrance to the uppermost section of the garden is on Upland Road, a short stroll from Kelburn Village. The best way to get there from downtown is via the iconic Wellington Cable Car, departing from Lambton Quay; hop off and you’re immediately hit with an unbeatable view of the city and harbour.
The Cable Car Museum and Space Place are wonderful places to while away a couple of hours. From there, it’s a short ramble to the hillside playground that has delighted generations of Wellingtonians and visitors. Venture a bit deeper and you’ll find the Discovery Garden, where kids can wander among the plants and learn about their many miraculous features.
We sought views and shade on a hot summer day. We got both with abundance and for no charge. This should be in the top three Wellington attractions in my opinion.
Tripadvisor review 2018