“ Sightseeing Type: Parks / Gardens „
If you only can spare time to seek out one plant in New Zealand, it would have to be the most famous of all its plants - the silver fern. If, on the other hand, you are a nature lover and you find yourself with a free afternoon to spend in Wellington (New Zealand's capital city), then I strongly recommend the Botanic Garden for its plants, scenic views and pleasant strolls.
For everyone else, I'd still recommend it, but only after you have taken your fill of the Te Papa museum (which is my number one "must-see" recommendation for Wellington). The gardens span some 25 hectares and if you are anything like me, they will fill as much time as you have to spare and then some.
People with bad knees or small children be warned though - it's pretty steep and you may struggle a bit! There are some mobility scooters available though. I came here a few years ago on my first New Zealand trip and am hoping to visit again when I go back to New Zealand (for the third time!) next year.
The gardens are located on the side of a hill and are extremely close to Wellington's central business district. You can get directly between the two using a cable car that runs every ten minutes between the gardens and Lambton Quay. The Wellington Cable Car is the subject of another planned review, so for now I'll just recommend it strongly for its scenery and quaintness as being a good way of getting there! Plus at NZD$5 for a return trip (about £2-£2.50), it won't break the bank.
There are many additional entrances and exits to the gardens, so if you have driven there, take good care that you remember exactly where you have left the car so you don't get too lost! I did find it a bit of a maze as I was going round and I had a map with me! In the end, I figured that since the cable car stop was at the top of the gardens, then in order to get back to it, all I had to do was keep going uphill. As a strategy, it worked quite well, and I got to see quite a lot of the gardens using this method. You also have the option of just walking back down into the city centre if you have enough time and aren't in a rush like I was - that way you will be able to see much more of the gardens close up.
The gardens are over a century old, which explains how they have such a central location in a thriving city. Now, they are managed by the city council and are considered a Garden of National Significance by the country's Institute of Horticulture and is a Historic Places Trust Heritage Area.
The gardens themselves are open from dawn until dusk and are free to enter. For the shops and cafes, check the time when you are there, but currently it's 8.30am-4pm for the cafe and 9am-5pm for the shop (or until 4pm in their winter).
===Visitor centres and other buildings===
At the heart of the gardens is the Treehouse visitor centre, which can be rented as an seminar room and the Begonia House shop and cafe, which proved an excellent place for getting some unusual Kiwi gifts for hard to buy for people.
My favourite building in the gardens was the Planetarium (associated with the Carter observatory which is also in the garden), where they had a range of displays and shows as well as some telescopes. I managed to go on a day when there weren't too many schoolchildren around, which meant I got a very personalised trip. They were amazingly friendly and chatty there, and it turned out the guide originally came from only about 10 miles away from where I live.
The Meteorological service of New Zealand also has offices and buildings in the park itself - must be a fantastic place to work! As well as this, for the members of the family who like machines and have only come up to the gardens under sufferance, there is a cable car museum to visit - sadly, I did not have time to go here myself.
The gardens are laid out into themed zones connected by very wiggling paths, some of which have a lot of steps in. If you look at a map of the paths, they look like someone has scribbled all over it or dropped a bowl of spaghetti, they are that wiggly. But since the paths wiggle so much, it does mean that you get to see a lot more variety than you would if you just ploughed straight through the gardens or flew over them. I particularly liked the herb garden and the succulent garden. Dotted throughout the garden are many unusual sculptures, which I found visually interesting to look at though they weren't really my sort of art.
Some of the sections of the gardens feel very dark and enclosed due to the towering trees that provide shade for the ground level shrubs. I find that many of the most interesting plants are to be found in those areas.
Also dotted throughout the gardens are a selection of viewpoints - do make a point of visiting some of these, because they offer a mixture of views out over lower parts of the gardens and over the city itself. Though none of them are quite as dramatic as the views out from Mount Victoria over on the other side of the city (which I have covered in a separate review).
Large sections of the plants within the gardens are of flora that is native to New Zealand. The Kiwis take their native flora and fauna extremely seriously, and "intruder" species are often viewed as a real pest; plus it can be a serious offence to damage native plants or animals (of course, not that any of us would, but pets might!). Most hated of all the invading species is the possum - which is apparently much better loved in Australia. I was told by my Kiwi host that they have a local saying that you can tell when driving who is a Kiwi and who isn't by what the driver does when they see a possum - most people would swerve to avoid running it over, but for a Kiwi, it's their national duty to swerve in order to hit it. I still haven't worked out how much she was joking and winding up the gullible tourist.
I am fond of botanical gardens in general and have visited them in many cities throughout the world. I find that they are an excellent way of seeing a wide variety of flowers, shrubs, trees and other plants, and the focus of each garden is always very different, and generally has strong local influences of whichever country it is in, which makes it a great way of learning about plants of the region. Personally, I'm a terrible gardener and an even worse botanist, so I have very little knowledge of how all the plants relate to one another, I just go along because I enjoy the sights and the smells and the gentle stroll through the relaxing scenery!
Judging by the steepness of the location, I think that the designer of the Wellington Botanic gardens must have been strongly influenced by one of the first botanic gardens, which was one of the ancient wonders of the world - the Hanging Gardens of Babylon!
This 25 acre garden is well worth a visit if you have some spare time in Wellington. It shows off a lot of native plants.
Review may be cross-posted elsewhere.
The Wellington Botanic Garden features 25 hectares of unique landscape, protected native forest, conifers, specialised plant collections, colourful floral displays, and views over Wellington city. 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. Entry is free.