Wellington Stories and Tips

Botanic Gardens: City Oasis

Botanic Gardens Photo, Wellington, New Zealand

Should you find yourself taking Wellington’s Cable Car up the hillside, take the time to wander down through the fabulous Botanic Gardens instead of buying a return on the Cable Car. It is classified as a Garden of National Significance by the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture and is an Historic Places Trust Heritage Area.

You can easily while away a couple of hours wandering through the paths that twist their way back down to the city. There are several different areas to the gardens in addition to the Treehouse Visitor Centre. It really isn’t until now that I look at a map of the gardens that I realize how vast it is and how much you can easily miss depending on where you start.

From the Cable Car station we first walked down through the Cactus and Succulent Gardens and then the Fern Garden where we stopped to look at all of the delicate little plants and the ferns that symbolize New Zealand. This area of the gardens is quite shady with a canopy of trees overhead. The humidity kept us feeling like it was warmer than it really was. After strolling through these specific areas, we found ourselves at the duck pond where masses of ducks floated around and looked at us waiting for a snack (which we didn’t have). There are quite a few specific gardens you can visit such as dwarf conifers, rock garden, Australian garden, herb garden, cork oak and the threatened species garden. This is just a sampling of what you will find here. We continued on through the park and made stops at the rose garden, Begonia House and Peace Garden before continuing on through the Bolton Memorial Gardens.

Main Garden: "The Main Garden contains several major plant collections and seasonal beds. It is at its best in spring and early summer with a blazing mass of 30,000 tulips. The Main Garden begins just inside the Founders gates on Glenmore Street and includes the Duck Pond. There are several walking tracks - many forming circuits - stemming from the Main Garden."

Since it was autumn and there weren’t many flowers in bloom at this time of year we didn’t spend much time through here. It sounds like spring and early summer are the times to visit here when the tulips are the star of the show. Everything here seemed to be muted in colour compared to the roses and begonias in the sunny areas of the gardens. You can find New Zealand’s famous glow worms along the paths in the main garden near the duck pond up to Glen Road alongside the stream. The best time to see them (and any glowworms) is in the dark or evening after rain.

Begonia House: The Begonia House was one of my two favourite parts of the gardens. The bright colours would brighten up anyone’s day. Brilliant red, yellow, and pink tuberous Begonias called you over as soon as you set foot in the door. Begonias are one of my most favourite flowers so I was happy to see so many beautiful flowers in bloom. The Begonia House also has tropical and temperate displays depending on what time of year it is. If you are looking for flowering displays you can find orchids and cyclamen here. A lily pond with aquatic plants is also located in this area.

The Begonia House contains tropical and temperate displays, including seasonal displays of orchids, tuberous begonias, cyclamen, ornamentals, and others. The tropical end also features a lily pond containing aquatic plants and a giant water lily.

A Botanic Garden Shop is also located in Begonia House where you can purchase New Zealand gifts, jewelery, books, cards, garden accessories, etc.

Lady Norwood Rose Garden: "This award-winning garden has 110 formal beds, each representing a different variety of rose. It includes newly released roses and traditional favourites. The design is geometric with colonnades on three sides, creating a striking contrast to the backdrop of bush and sloping lawns."

Lady Norwood Rose Garden was the second of my two favourite parts of the gardens. I loved the layout of the garden with the colonnades and the groupings of roses. I was quite surprised at the sheer number of roses in the garden and how many of them were still blooming in autumn (It was April so it would be similar to October-time for the Northern Hemisphere). A pretty fountain sits in the middle of the circular garden with ducks swimming in the water.

Peace Garden: "The Peace Garden's flame comes from fire created by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The flame was presented by the people of Japan to New Zealand in recognition of our efforts to halt the spread of atomic weapons."

We actually stumbled upon this area by accident and wondered if it was part of the gardens. A pretty little waterfall streams down the rocks into a pond where a Japanese-style lantern with a flame. It was a nice place to sit and relax for a while before we continued our journey through Bolton Memorial Park.

A little bit of history:
A 5.26 hectare tract of land was laid out way back in 1844 for a Botanic Garden Reserve. The land was covered in dense podocarp (mainly conifers of the Southern Hemisphere in the form of evergreen trees and shrubs) forest including rimu, totara and matai. Finally, a garden was established in 1868 and managed by the New Zealand Institute. Take a look at the trees on Druid Hill in the Botanic Gardens as these were planted during this time and are some of the oldest exotic trees in New Zealand. In the 1870s another 21.85 hectares of land were granted for reserve. Since 1891 Wellington City Council has managed the gardens and are there for you to enjoy for free!

If you plan on taking the cable car up I would definitely recommend taking stroll through the immense Botanic Gardens on your way back down to the city. The environment is relaxing and really is an oasis of calm and beauty in the city.

Bolton Memorial Park:
Once you reach the bottom of the Botanic Gardens you can continue your walking journey back to the city, specifically the Parliament area, by walking through the Bolton Street Memorial Park located adjacent to the Botanic Gardens. The cemetery has an interesting history and is quite interesting to visit.

The park dates back to 1840 as the city’s original cemetery and some of NZ’s early notable figures are buried here. It used to lie on the outskirts of the city and served the city’s non-Catholic residents. In 1851, the cemetery was split into three different areas: Anglican (Bolton Street Cemetery), public (Sydney Street Cemetery) and Jewish. The Roman Catholic Cemetery was—and still is—located in Mount Street, Kelburn. The cemetery was closed to burials in 1892 due to overcrowding and increasing encroachment of the city.

It was the 1960s that created problems for this cemetery. A motorway was being built and it was proposed that it would run right through a section of the memorial park. Controversy raged over the issue yet the proposition went through. The memorial park was closed between 1968 and 1971. Over 3700 burials were exhumed during this time and placed in a large vault beneath the Early Settlers Memorial Lawn.

Take some time to stroll through the park and look at the interesting headstones and many exotic plants and flowers among the gravestones. If you are interested, a burial list is located at the Bolton Street Memorial Park Chapel.

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