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The Ōtari-Wilton's Bush plant collections contain about 1,200 species, hybrids, and cultivars. The collections include plants from New Zealand's mainland and off-shore islands.
Almost all the plants have been grown from cuttings or seeds collected from their original habitats. The collection has the following roles:
The plant collections were started in 1926 by eminent New Zealand botanist Dr Leonard Cockayne. He aimed to set up a collection of solely New Zealand native plants, displayed in family groups or as re-created ecosystems representing different areas of New Zealand.
The Lions Ōtari Plant Conservation Laboratory provides our team with facilities to conduct essential research into the propagation and long-term storage of New Zealand’s threatened plants. Options for long-term storage include conventional seed banking (storage at -18°C), cryopreservation (storage at -196°C in liquid nitrogen) and tissue culture (plant tissue in sterile conditions).
Plant conservation work at Ōtari is done in collaboration with partners including mana whenua, the Department of Conservation, Victoria University of Wellington, The New Zealand Institute of Plant & Food Research Limited and The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
The plant collections were started in 1926 by noted New Zealand botanist Dr. Leonard Cockayne. He aimed to set up a collection of solely New Zealand native plants, displayed in family groups or as re-created ecosystems representing different areas of New Zealand. Almost all the plants have been grown from cuttings or seeds collected from their original habitats.
Ōtari-Wilton's Bush is about 5km from the city centre, at 160 Wilton Road (between Gloucester and Warwick streets).
Year-round | Dawn to dusk
Year-round | 7.30am - 4pm
Wheelchair-friendly paths run from the main car park to the Information Centre, over the Canopy Walkway, and to Cockayne Lookout. A step-free path runs from the Churchill Drive car park along the Kaiwharawhara streamside to the Troup Picnic Lawn. The Wilton Walkway from the car park through the Fernery and leading into mature podocarp forest, is also suitable.
Tāne Whakapiripiri - Visitor CentreŌtari-Wilton's Bush
160 Wilton RoadWellington, 6012
04 499 1400
Plan your 'must sees' before you visit by making use of our informative brochure and map. These are available at the Ōtari Visitor Centre, or download them onto your phone.
Bruce Manu, of Te Atiawa, carved the two waharoa to Ōtari-Wilton's Bush from totara. The waharoa at the main entrance depicts unity and partnership and welcomes visitors to the reserve. The waharoa at the southern end of the Canopy Walkway depicts Tane Mahuta and the forest's guardians. Stop to admire these beautiful works of art when you begin your walk.
Dogs are welcome as long as they are kept on a lead and you clean up after them. Dogs off a lead are a threat to native wildlife. Owners also need to be aware of the risk of secondary poisoning from possum bait.
The Friends of Wellington Botanic Garden, Ōtari-Wilton's Bush Trust and the Friends of Bolton Street Cemetery offer guided walks on a variety of interesting topics. Experienced guides lead tours tailored to each group and are available for groups of all sizes. The Ōtari-Wilton's Bush Trust runs monthly walks for members and visitors.
The forest paths are just the beginning at Ōtari-Wilton's Bush. As a Kiwi Guardian you can explore a forest reserve that is the only public botanic garden in New Zealand dedicated solely to native plants.
You can discover Wellington city’s oldest tree - an 800-year-old rimu tree on the Blue Trail or walk across the treetops on the 19m high Canopy Walkway. Explore the forest and see what there is to learn about our native bush.
Pack some snacks – Feed your hungry explorers at the Troup Picnic Lawn – the two barbecues are free to use but you’ll have to bring your own sausages.
The Leonard Cockayne Centre is a medium size room that can be hired for meetings, seminars or workshops. From the deck you can look into the working nursery where plants are propagated before they are planted out in the wider garden.
Scientists and volunteers counted 1,367 different living species - animals, plants, fungi, protists, bacteria - in the bush and reserve areas during a 24-hour bioblitz in 2007. Their finds included a new species of cave weta and an Amanita fungus.
Ōtari-Wilton's Bush is one of Wellington's best picnic spots. There are two main picnic areas - the North picnic area off Wilton's Bush Road, and the idyllic Troup Picnic Area on the Circular Walk.The Troup Picnic Area is an open space ideal for groups and school visits. It has toilet facilities, a water fountain, and two single plate push-button electric barbecues (these run for 20 minutes - for longer cooking push the button again). Availability is on a first-in, first-served basis. Please note the barbecues may still be hot from previous usage and these are free to use.Although bookings are not required, groups should advise the Treehouse Visitor Centre of intended visits.
Tāne Whakapiripiri Visitor Centre displays information on Ōtari-Wilton's Bush history and botanic diversity. The centre is located just inside the main entrance on Wilton Road. There is seating for visiting groups, toilet facilities and visitor information.
Ōtari-Wilton's Bush features about 11km of walking tracks through native bush and garden collections.
A self-guided Nature Trail starts at the Information Centre. Pick up a brochure at the start of the Canopy Walkway.Tracks are signposted. Forest trails are slippery when wet. Sturdy footwear is recommended.Learn more about the tracks and walking paths at Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush using our interactive StoryMap.
Our gardens are home to a dazzling array of plants and animals! They are fantastic habitats for a diverse array of endemic, native and introduced birds - Wellington is one of the few cities in the world where native biodiversity is increasing.
Pick up a copy of our Bird Watchers Guide at the gardens or download below – it is available in both English and Te Reo Māori. Can you spot them all?
At the moment we are not accepting new volunteers at the Gardens. You can however volunteer to help at the Wellington Gardens by joining some of our partner groups. There are several active groups of volunteers who make an essential contribution to the Wellington Gardens. While some donate a few hours each month, other volunteers are in the Garden weekly.
Volunteers help in many different ways. Their time and effort range from hosting, representing Wellington as city ambassadors and even leading guided tours.
Please get in touch with them directly to offer your time.
This garden contains lush, large leaved plants from the northern North Island that are more tropical looking than many New Zealand natives. Many of the large leaved trees are from Manawatawhi (Three Kings Islands) which is in the rohe of Ngati Kuri.
These plants are on a warm, north facing slope sheltered from the blustery nor’wester by the local rimu/tawa forest. Massive northern rātā emerge above the canopy.
The Adaptation Garden hosts plants that have evolved to thrive in extreme environments, to specific animals, and unusual situations. This garden includes a diverse array of mistletoes, divaricating shrubs, and parasitic vines.
Our Alpine Rock Garden with its tarns, trickling water and rocks features native alpine plants and their diversity. These plants are found in exposed mountain environments of Aotearoa which may be inaccessible to some.
The paths are surfaced with finely crushed gravel with local Greywacke boulders framing the edges. The paths beckon you to make your way around unseen bends using design devices that allude to those found in nature.
Joseph Banks was the first European botanist to document the New Zealand flora. Including a range of distinctive native species, this garden comprises one of the main entrances. It was designed to be attractive and draw people in.
Large well established kauri from northern New Zealand tower above the collection of Leptinella, Veronica, Celmisa, and a mix of divaricates.
Leonard Cockayne’s original vision for Ōtari was to create vegetation associations from all over Aotearoa where people could learn about our native plants. Vegetation associations are what we call ecosystems today.
Our Black Beech Forest beech forest is possibly the most successful realisation of this vision and the recreation of the beech forest (tawhairauriki) ecosystem here truly creates a ‘sense of place’ which contrasts to the local old growth rimu/tawa forest of Wellington. Cast your gaze skyward to admire the tree canopy and scan the sun dappled ferns below.
Past the Leonard Cockayne on the left is the Brockie Rock Garden, named for Walter Boa Brockie, a noted botanist and former curator. He became curator of the Ōtari garden in 1947 and expanded on Cockayne's vision through this Zen garden style collection.
The Brockie Rock Garden was designed to grow a wide range of low growing shrubs and herbaceous plants; many skinks and geckos call it their home. This collection is also used for research and conservation of low growing and wetland plants.
Our gymnosperms collection includes the “Big 5” conifers found throughout Aotearoa: rimu, kahikatea, miro, mataī and tōtara.
As well as kauri and these forest giants, there are several other conifers that live in the subalpine and alpine areas.
Can you find the Halocarpus biformus? Its species name means “two forms” and you can see why when you look at its lower branches.
The Cultivar Garden showcases a variety of native plants that have been developed by horticulturalists for their unusual features. These plants are more variegated, miniaturised, with brighter or more pronounced colours than would be found in the wild.
This collection showcases plants that compliment manmade structures, integrating built form with the natural landscape. This serves as native plant inspiration to landscape architects and home gardeners alike. This is one of two areas within the Botanic gardens where you will find cultivars and hybrids planted which are often available at garden centres.
These gardens surround the Leonard Cockayne Centre which was formerly the Curator's house for many years.
To the untrained eye, many of Aotearoa’s twiggy shrubs can look very similar. Take a moment to look closely at the diversity of our divaricate plants.
Divaricate is a botanical term meaning "spreading at a wide angle". Plants are said to be divaricating when their growth form is such that each branch diverges widely from the previous branch producing an often tightly interlaced shrub or small tree.
New Zealand is the only country in the world where divaricates make up 10% of our woody flora. One theory is that it was to avoid browsing by moa. The other theory is that it is an adaptation to a dry, windy or frosty prehistoric climate.
Epiphytes are plants that perch on other plants but are not parasites.
Hang out and enjoy these hanging plants such as native bush lilies and orchids, or hang some in your house: epiphytes can be used indoors as a kokodama.
This garden is in development and also has a growing number of lianes (plants which are rooted in the ground but are supported by other plants).
Possibly the most peaceful atmospheric garden that Ōtari has to offer. Contemplative, lush, primeval, and timeless, from the enormous king ferns from the north all the way down to the itsy bitsy epiphytic ferns clinging to the trunks.
Interesting grasses and sedges which are commonly found under the forest canopy, but also species that live on the coast and the alpine meadows of Aotearoa. This garden also features scoria rocks from Tongariro.
Grasses, rushes and sedges can often be hard to tell apart. Try to remember this little ditty: Rushes are round, sedges have edges, and grasses have arses. But don't be too strict as there are always exceptions to these rules!
Whimsical and fun for all ages.
Native shrubs— Corokia cotoneaster (korokio) and Coprosma rigida in the main with delicate maidenhair ferns underneath—come together to form an intricate maze.
Will you now consider growing a divaricate hedge at home inspired by this beauty?
This garden is comprised of several large, well established kōwhai much loved by kererū. Watch out in spring when the kōwhai is flowering; you don’t want to get dive bombed by a tui!
The kōwhai also shelter a collection of unusual groundcover plants.
Our unusual tree brooms are native to New Zealand and part of the legume family.
The garden is surrounded by a lovely sheltered lawn accentuated with a woven supplejack tunnel for tamariki. Large cabbage trees/ti kouka are also a feature of this garden.
Crazy about daisies? New Zealand has a vast array of plants in the daisy family (Asteraceae). This is one of the world's largest flowering plant families and our native daisies range from the tiny Leptinella nana to the huge Olearia trees - the tallest daises in the world.
Evolution moves pretty fast on offshore islands. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Plants here are all sourced from beyond the three main islands that make up New Zealand.
This warm and sheltered area has a space dedicated to The Chatham Islands where you can find some unique and unusual native flora.
Keep an eye out for the native hibiscus.
A formal geometric garden.
This collection is best viewed from the lookout to appreciate the geometric shape and natural patterns comprised of native sea holly and piripiri.
Adjacent to Churchill Drive, our Pa Harakeke contains a large selection of native flax varieties used for raranga (weaving).
It is based on the Rene Orchiston Collection and was established to assist local weavers in obtaining specialist materials.
Please contact the Treehouse if you want to collect harakeke.
New Zealand has some of the world's largest tree ferns, and on the other frond, the smallest.
This collection of ponga includes perhaps New Zealand’s most famous and iconic plant—the silver tree fern.
At the top of the nature trail, a short walk to the canopy forest lookout, the ferns create a stunning canopy and a magical experience unique to Aotearoa.
Plants from the eastern drylands of the South Island which have evolved in the lee of the Southern Alps. The great divide separates the wet west coast from the drylands of the east where these plants can be found in the wild.
This garden was inspired by the braided rivers of Canterbury and includes a diverse range of shrubs, grasses, and groundcovers.
A lovely sheltered spot on a sunny day.
This border provides a visual barrier to define the garden and screen the busy school next door. Sweeping up from the path, the established vegetation leads your eye to the Skyline beyond.
This garden also contains many species of large shrubs and small trees which are threatened by myrtle rust.
Aotearoa has around 2500 native vascular plants, 80% of which are found nowhere else. Around 30% (797) of our native plants are threatened or uncommon. These plants face many threats such as habitat loss, diseases, pest animals, and competition from introduced plants. At Ōtari we have around half of NZ’s vascular plant taxa.
The Threatened Species Garden is a growing collection displaying some of our threatened species that represent stories about what people are doing all around Aotearoa to help protect these special plants, including at Ōtari in our collection, nursery, and Lab.
Otherwise known as Hebe, our shrubby Veronica species are found throughout Ōtari and take many different forms from trees and shrubs to groundcovers and whipcord. They are a favourite of native insects and have co-evolved flowers to suit.
How many different Veronica species can you spot on your visit?
Many Wellington locals struggle to grow native plants in their garden due to the local weather (hello windy, wet, Welly!)
Many plants unique to the Wellington Coast are presented here to demonstrate their tenacity and utility in your home garden.
Our local taramea (Aciphylla), also known as giant speargrass, is a great plant for your home security needs and the tree daisy (Olearia solandri) has a beautiful caramel scent.
This Horoeka stand (Lancewoods) contains a small forest of Pseudopanax ferox and P. crassifolius (Horoeka) these iconic native trees have different juvenile and adult growth forms (which is known as heteroblasty). Here you can see juvenile, semi-mature or mature trees and their growth forms. One theory is that this adaptation allows the plant to avoid browsing by moa.
This garden was established as part of our offshore island collection and is dedicated to showcasing plants from te Rēkohu (Chatham Islands). Rēkohu is 800 kilometres, east of New Zealand and has been isolated for more than 80 million years. This has resulted in an interesting plant community with 47 species endemic to Rēkohu. Some of these can be seen here including Aciphylla dieffenbachii (soft speargrass) and the mega herb Myosotidium hortensia (kopakopa).
Wetlands are increasingly rare in Aotearoa, less than 10% now remain. They play a critical role in the landscape soaking up water and filtering out sediment and nutrients. Our Wetland Plants garden sits on heavy clay soils with a natural spring beneath that keeps the area wet throughout the year. Harakeke (flax or Phormium spp.) and purei (Carex secta) are the main plants, which are complemented with our forest giant kahikatea and toioi which naturally occurs in estuaries (where rivers and streams meet the sea).