A Subtropical Paradise at Whangarei’s Quarry Gardens

© Watching the butterflies and the bees of colourful plants

340 Days on the Road

We need somewhere in Whangarei that’s not going to be too full-on. Somewhere easy-going, somewhere that doesn’t demand too much from its visitors. That’s not our usual ethos in finding activities during this 365 Days: 365 Activities but with Robin having a freshly broken arm, we think that would be the smartest way for now.

A highly recommended free and easy-going activity in Whangarei is the Whangarei Quarry Gardens. To be honest, we have our doubts… The words “quarry” and “gardens” don’t really go together – how can people make an industrial scar on the earth look beautiful? Nevertheless, we are intrigued!

Surpassing all expectations!

We hit the road once again from our accommodation at the Bunkdown Lodge, this time heading only a few minutes down State Highway 1 to the Quarry Gardens – the signs are easy to spot on the roadside. We park up and so far, so normal. Then we found ourselves walking though a small but bustling cafe with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a stream below to a set of doors leading to the “official entrance” of the gardens. The entrance is complete with an artistic rusty metal sign backed with all sorts of colourful plants. Wow, already, this place is surpassing expectations.

Lose yourself in the gardens

Maps that you can pick up at the entrance indicate all the different trails around the garden you can take. Although the main route leading to a large lake in the centre of the quarry takes only about 10 minutes, you can easily lose yourself in these gardens for about an hour, as we are about to find out.

A subtropical oasis

We barely get 10m down the main track to the lake when we are already distracted by a little side garden with tiny waterfalls and a display of trees holding large unfamiliar yet beautiful flowers. We guess this is why they call these gardens a “subtropical oasis”. The stream from the waterfalls are lined with more bright-coloured flowers. Already, Laura is going nuts taking photos of every full-bloom flower she can find. Yes, even on the edge of winter, this garden has heaps of flowers in bloom!

the birds, the bees and the butterflies…

Flowers are not the only thing drawing our attention in the Quarry Gardens. We also see a wealth of large monarch butterflies riding the wind through the sky and landing on the many flower-filled trees. The odd bee holds their ground in the lower plants, giving us a close-up show of collecting pollen. Fantails catch the bugs that we have upturned with our steps… When we hear a bizarre bird call coming from the bushes, we can’t figure out what it is until we continue walking and a quail – a grey flightless bird with a single black tall-standing feather sticking out of its head – runs out in front of us!

As we start following a cascading stream up the quarry made up of numerous waterfalls, of course, we see a few ducks – what’s a garden without ducks, really?

A wild and wonderful start to the quarry gardens

The fierce plants

While most exotic trees and shrubs have lived up this quarry with colour, there are also some fierce-looking trees with trunks completely covered in large thorns, as well as some smaller spiky plants.

Soon enough, we reach the large lake and the first time the gardens resemble a quarry. We can see the terraces of the quarry on the other side of the lake split in the middle by a beautiful thin waterfall. If it hadn’t been apparent on the walk up here, this site surely proves that you can turn an industrial wasteland into lush garden paradise.

A greeting from winter in Northland

From here, there are tracks to various lookouts, but out of nowhere, rain starts showering over us! Here’s the Northland winter finally making its presence known! Although the northernmost region of New Zealand is often called the “Winterless North” because the temperature generally stays mild, the weather is just a lot more unpredictable and can change on a dime.

The banana tree route

The heavy rain switches on and off during our walk back through the gardens, but this time we take an alternative route under the cover of the banana trees, palm trees and ferns. We emerge at a section with more remnants of the quarry’s life, such as tunnels to go through and small garden displays decorated with rusted machinery. There are even interactive displays inviting people to use their five senses for various plants (this is how you end up munching too many mint leaves).

Still figuring this broken arm thing out

Although we could have spent much longer in these gardens, the rain chases us with Robin’s fragile cast away. It was a rookie mistake to not bring a plastic bag. We need to get used to this broken arm thing.

Final night in Whangarei

Getting groceries and heading back to the Bunkdown Lodge marks the end of our stay here in Whangarei. We have had a blast here in between scuba diving in one of the world’s top dive sites, having close encounters with kiwi birds on numerous occasions, and not to mention all the free activities we have done! Tomorrow, we head to Kerikeri to check out some of the most stunning falls in the country. Join us then!

An industrial wasteland transformed!

Want more?

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Until tomorrow’s blog post, get yourself on HerePin and follow our local recommendations. We also like to hang out on Facebook and post pretty pictures on Instagram.

See you tomorrow!

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