New Zealand's North Island is a small island filled with amazing gardening contrasts, from subtropical coastal gardens along the Northland and Coromandel peninsulas and the city gardens of Auckland, to geothermal regions around Rotorua, snow-covered volcanoes in the center and west at Taranaki, the highly productive farmland of Hamilton, the Waikato and Hawke's Bay, and the cool, windswept areas in the south from Manawatu to Wellington.

Gardens to see and visit in New Zealand's North island include the award-winning Hamilton Gardens, the renown Arylies, gardens of native plants like Te Kainga Marire, sculpture gardens, and the many residential gardens open in garden festivals throughout the spring and early summer.


Garden Travel Guide to New Zealand North Island


New Zealand’s North Island has been gardened by European settlers since the early 1800s, and before them by Māori who came to New Zealand in the 13th century, bringing with them crops such as kumara (sweet potato), taro, yam, gourd and cabbage tree which they grew in communal farms.

British settlers brought with them the exotic plants with which they were familiar and that thrived in New Zealand’s deep fertile soils, such as deciduous trees, bulbs, fruit trees and perennials.


Getting there and around

The North Island has three international airports at Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington and there are many smaller domestic airports providing a network of flights across the North island and connecting to destinations in the South Island. Rail New Zealand has intercity trains connecting Auckland to Wellington and there are bus networks offering fares between some major towns from only $1NZD. In Auckland you can buy a prepaid AT HOP card for travel on train, bus and ferry.

A self-guided driving holiday in the North island is easy and pleasurable with many rental car companies, well-signposted and maintained roads, comfortable and affordable travellers’ accommodation, and law-abiding drivers.


New Zealand’s North Island climate

The North Island’s climate ranges from a maritime and cool subtropical area in the north to temperate in the mountainous central districts. A February (summer) day in Auckland will be around 24ºC, although there will also be days above 30ºC, and a winter day (July) gets to about 15ºC. Cities in the east such as Gisborne and Napier are usually a few degrees warmer during the day and also cooler at night. Wellington in the south has summer days around 13-20ºC and winter averages of 6-11ºC although its frequent windy weather can make it feel much colder.

A rainfall average of around 1200-1300mm over most of the North Island is fairly evenly spread throughout the year although there is a slight increase in winter. The central volcanic area can have winter snow and even blizzard conditions.


New Zealand’s North Island topography and vegetation

The centre of the North Island is dominated by the active volcanoes of Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe and deep lakes, with Lake Taupo the largest freshwater lake in Australasia. In the west, the near-perfect volcanic cone of Taranaki (Mt Egmont) forms a distinctive outline. Beyond the volcanic region are many rolling hills which provide high quality farmland. To the north of Auckland stretches a long peninsula of low hills, productive dairy country and coastal beaches.

The North Island is home to many species of podocarp conifers – conifers that have an adapted cone that looks more like a berry – such as rimu, miro, matai, totara and kahikatea. In the Northland peninsula there are some remnant forests with scattered giant kauri trees (Agathis australis) as many were logged for timber and resin during the early days of European settlement.


New Zealand’s North Island garden styles

The North Island enjoys a mild and high rainfall climate that encourages gardening. As the North Island’s first gardeners, the Māori built communal gardens which they fertilised with bird manures and protected with low stone walls, which doubled as heat traps in cold weather.

Throughout New Zealand North Island’s 200 year history of European settlement many fine English-style garden have been developed, filled with roses, deciduous trees, perennials and flowering shrubs. Many take advantage of spectacular borrowed scenery for views and vistas.

In the last few decades there has been a growing interest in gardening with New Zealand native plants and there are several fine gardens in the North Island such Taranaki’s Te Kainga Marire, featuring native ferns, sedges and grasses, coprosma, kōwhai tree, metrosideros, kakabeak (Clianthis), flax and native clematis.

In the areas north of Auckland and on the Coromandel Peninsula there are many gardens growing subtropical plants that thrive in the coastal warm and humid climate. Here you will find towering native pōhutukawa trees covered in bright red blossom throughout the summer, blended with exotic subtropical palms, gingers, cannas and colourful climbers.


New Zealand North Island best open gardens to visit:

There are many significant gardens throughout New Zealand’s North Island that should be on any visitor’s must-see list. Apart from the excellent botanic gardens in most cities and major towns, there is also Hamilton Gardens (just a one-hour drive south of Auckland), Pukekura Park in New Plymouth, and the world-renown private gardens of Ayrlies and Te Kainga Mare.

Open gardens to visit up north – Northland, Coromandel and Auckland:

Open gardens with FREE entry:
•  Botanica Whangarei
•  Whangarei Quarry Gardens
•  Palmco Gardens Nursery in Kerikeri
•  Auckland Botanic Gardens
•  Auckland Domain Wintergardens
•  Cornwall Park, Highwic.
•  Waipoua Forest – don’t forget to pay your respects to the ancient kauri tree Tāne Mahuta and marvel at its majestic girth.

Open gardens to visit with PAID entry:
•  Kemp House gardens at the Kerikeri Mission station
•  Landsendt Gardens, Oratia (Auckland) – subtropical gardens, booked group tours only
•  Totara Waters Subtropical Gardens, Whenuapai – open first Friday and Saturday each month (or for groups by appointment)
•  Pompalier Mission in Russell
•  Waitangi Treaty House gardens; Rockhoppers Garden
•  Rapaura Watergardens
•  Ayrlies – the internationally-famous garden of Bev McConnell
•  Totara Waters
•  Mincher
•  Omaio
•  Woodbridge
•  Eden Garden
•  Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens
•  Wrights Water Gardens
•  Garden on the Ridge, Huntingwood
•  In Auckland take a walk around the streets of Waitemata to see lovely ‘berm’ (verge) gardens; many of the 19th century historic houses in Ponsonby and Parnell have pretty gardens; cruise the upmarket areas of Remuera.

Best open gardens to visit in Hamilton and Waikato

Open gardens with FREE entry:
•  Hamilton Gardens – at 54 hectares and with 21 themed gardens (and more being built) this is one of the world’s most remarkable gardens. And it’s free! In 2014 Hamilton Gardens was awarded ‘Garden of the Year’ by the International Garden tourism Council.

Open gardens with PAID entry:
•  Moondance Manor Gardens
•  Dalton’s Plantation (designed by Xanthe White – free entry with a cafe meal)
•  Sutton’s
•  Parkwood
•  Sarnia Park
•  Chiddingfold
•  Pepper Tree
•  Woodlands Historic Homestead

Best open garden in the west of the North Island – New Plymouth/Taranaki

Open gardens with FREE entry:
•  Pukekura Park and Brooklands Park
•  Holland Gardens
•  Pukeiti (Rhododendron garden)
•  Tupare.

Open gardens with PAID entry:
•  Te Kainga Marire
•  Oakley
•  Te Rata
•  Cairnhill
•  Kingbrook

Best open gardens in the east of the North Island – Eastland and Hawke’s Bay

Open gardens FREE entry:
•  Napier Botanical Gardens, Centennial Gardens and Sunken Garden
•  Glanavon Iris Patch (Oct-early Dec)

Open gardens with PAID entry:
•  Eastwoodhill National Arboretum
•  Gwavas Garden
•  Trelinnoe

Best open gardens to visit in Central North Island – Bay of Plenty, Tauranga, Rotorua and Lake Taupo

Open gardens FREE entry:
•  Government Gardens, Rotorua
•  South Domain, Taupo
•  Te Puna Quarry Park
•  The Elms Mission Station in Tauranga

Open gardens PAID entry:
•  Huka Lodge (groups and guests)
•  Ora Garden of Wellbeing
•  Tullamore
•  Mayward Homestead

Best open gardens to visit down South – Manawatu-Wanganui and Wellington

Open gardens with FREE entry:
•  Wellington Botanic Garden
•  Katherine Mansfield’s Birthplace garden
•  Otari Wiltons Bush Native Botanic Gardens
•  Bason Botanic Gardens in Whanganui; Victoria Esplanade Gardens in Palmerston North
•  The Square in Palmerston North
•  Wharerata Gardens at Massey University
•  Truby King House and Garden in Melrose (near Wellington – Sir Truby and Lady Isabella King founded the Plunket Society)

Open gardens with PAID entry:
•  Pepped Warbeck
•  Paloma
•  Greenhaugh
•  Country Lane Homestay
•  Cross Hills
•  Aston Norwood


New Zealand North Island garden festivals

•  Heroic Gardens Festival, Auckland, mid February
•  North Shore Home and Garden Show, Auckland, late March
•  Waitakere Home and Garden Show, Auckland late May
•  Eden Garden Tulip Festival, Auckland, August
•  Highwic Christmas Garden Festival, Auckland, late November
•  New Zealand Flower and Garden Show, Auckland, first show in November 2017
•  Auckland Garden DesignFest – biennial event, next in November 2017
•  Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular, late October-early November
•  Bostock New Zealand Edible Garden Show, Hawke’s Bay, mid September
•  Hawke’s Bay Home and Garden Show, late September
•  New Zealand Garden and Art Festival, Tauranga (Bay of Plenty), November
•  Rotorua Home and Garden Show, late February
•  TulipFest Rotorua, early October
•  Rotorua Festival of Gardens, November
•  Taupo Home and Garden Show, early April
•  Fringe Garden Festival, Taranaki, October- November
•  Gisborne Garden and Arts Festival, possibly November 2017
•  Manawatu Garden Festival, May
•  Wellington Home and Garden Show, late September


Stunning designer gardens at Auckland Garden DesignFest 2015

Rose Thodey

If you have been thinking of visiting New Zealand, don’t miss this one-off opportunity to see the work of some of our top designers in private gardens that bring out the best of Auckland’s iconic landscape

Which gardens make your heart sing?

Janna Schreier

When I first took an interest in garden design, it was all about the look. Some combination of colours, textures and forms would jump out at me from a page […]

Auckland to Ayrlies – with cocktails

Helen Young

Having been lucky enough to lead more than a dozen garden tours to various parts of Europe, Japan and Australasia over the last 10 years, I’ve recently returned from a […]

Garden tour of Great Barrier Island, NZ

Rose Thodey

Last year I overdid it, positively gorged myself, on garden travel. But just after enjoying a wonderful weekend at the Melbourne Garden DesignFest in the middle of November, there was […]

New Zealand’s geothermal vegetation

Helen McKerral

During our recent holiday on New Zealand’s North Island, we saw ecosystems that were so different to South Australia’s landscapes that they seemed positively alien. The apparent darkness of a […]

New Zealand native garden – Te Kainga Marire

Helen McKerral

One inner-city garden in New Plymouth, near Mt Taranaki on the west coast of New Zealand’s north isle, defies this English style. Te Kainga Marire is a native garden open to the public by appointment for a modest fee from September to April.

Pukeiti Gardens, New Zealand

Helen McKerral

The wonderful thing about being a gardener on vacation is that, no matter where you are in the world, you meet people who love plants. The climate may be different, […]

Garden Stay

Havelock House, Hawke's Bay

When: Available on demand/by appointment

Countries: New Zealand - North Island

Highlights: Havelock House is a charming and stylish 4 star Bed and Breakfast, just 3 minutes from the attractive village of...

Garden Stay

Kamahi Cottage, Otorohanga

Kamahi Cottage

When: Available on demand/by appointment

Countries: New Zealand - North Island

Highlights: Kamahi Cottage as a stress-free getaway for visitors and friends. If you're planning a honeymoon, special celebration or peaceful weekend...