Kia ora! Nau mai, haere mai ki te Tai Tokerau!
Whangarei Quarry Gardens is a community garden project created by volunteers in the forested western hills of Whangarei City. With the ongoing support of Whangarei District Council, Community Employment Groups and many loyal sponsors and friends, the once dilapidated quarry site has become a subtropical oasis for all to enjoy.
With an annual rainfall of 1500-2000 mm per year and New Zealand's highest average temperatures, Northland possesses a truly subtropical climate. At Whangarei Quarry Gardens these climatic conditions, coupled with the sheltered and heat-radiating properties of a stone quarry, create an ideal microclimate for growing a plethora of native and exotic subtropical plants.
Perfect growing conditions aside, it has taken 20 years of sheer hard work and community dedication to grow Whangarei Quarry Gardens into their current form. The project has been a labour of love for the Northland community, created through the blood, sweat, and laughter of volunteers, supporting companies and other interest groups. The project also relies on the generosity of sponsors and visitors, so please give what you can.
Whangarei Quarry Gardens is a wonderful work in progress - historically fascinating, botanically captivating, and a beautiful reflection of the power of community. Please visit and enjoy the Gardens, new volunteers are always welcome! A location map and more information can be found here.
History of the Gardens
In 1944 Hardie Brothers established a stone quarry at 37a Russell Road, producing aggregate for local roading projects, etc. Severe flooding in 1974 curtailed the operation and the then owners, Winstone Aggregates Ltd, donated the 25-hectare site to the Whangarei District Council to become part of the city’s parks and reserves network. The land lay fallow for 20 years, used mainly as a rubbish dump, full of abandoned vehicles, concrete slabs, gorse, pampas grass, and other weeds.
In 1990, Laughton King approached the Whangarei District Council to negotiate the formation of a public garden on the site. In 1997, the Council purchased 2.5 hectares of adjoining land to form a link to the top northwest border. A group of enthusiasts - 'Friends of the Quarry Garden' - then began clearing the overgrown site.
A building was installed in 1998 to provide facilities for hard-working volunteers and this remains on the site today. In the same year, work began on a trust deed to form a Charitable Trust to develop the project.
The establishment of the Whangarei Quarry Garden Trust in 2000 allowed the council to pass responsibility for the development of the Gardens to the members of the Trust. The challenge of clearing the site of rusting car bodies, hunks of concrete, noxious weeds, and the like was met with determination, fortitude, and good humour. Most significant in this was the inspirational effort contributed by many local contractors who donated machinery and hundreds of hours of skilled labour to the project.
The man-made lake is fed by two waterfalls (one 40 metres high) and the outlet has been sculptured to spill into a rocky stream crossed by two footbridges and stepping stones. A road bridge opened up that eastern side for a long-planned Visitors’ Centre to be built. Donated seating and picnic tables provide opportunities to sit and enjoy nature quietly with many superb views to choose from. Many weddings occur each year in the Gardens, the first being in 2001.
The gardens are in a sheltered East-West aligned, almost frost-free valley which with its microclimate and well-drained shingle soil is an ideal site for all types of subtropical plants to thrive in. Nurserymen throughout Northland have made generous donations of plants over the years.
In 2005 an arsonist set the first of what was to be four fires on the hillsides surrounding the gardens, with the loss of native trees which had become established. In May 2006, to re-vegetate the scorched hillsides, 250 volunteers planted 10,000 native trees in one day.
From 2009 to 2011, with the help of a Work & Income scheme called Community Max, 12 school leavers were employed over two 6-month periods. Under the supervising stonemason, James Mackenzie (known as Dr Rock), gabion basket walls were built (filled with rock similar to that which was once quarried there) to enhance and beautify the landscape.
In November 2015 the Visitors’ Centre was completed. The building, designed by Grant Harris of HB Architecture, encapsulates the industrial heritage of the original quarry, while at the same time sitting comfortably in the existing environment. The inclusion of the Quail Cafe in the Visitors’ Centre has proven to be a wonderful asset to the Gardens and the perfect place to relax after a long stroll.
In 2017 our Patron, Wally Yovich, and his wife Jeanette, donated a six-seater golf cart. This cart can be hired to take visitors around the gardens and up to the lake.
In 2018 Chris Booth, a world-renowned sculptor from Keri Keri, finished our first living fungi sculpture. In the Cascade Dell you will see “Te Wai U O Te Atakura – Vader V”. This is the 5th sculpture in a series of worldwide sculptures - two in the Netherlands, two in Denmark, and, the first in New Zealand.
Also, in 2018 a sculpture by Peter Brammer was unveiled. This sculpture commemorated Russell Fransham, an expert plantsman and in appreciation of his friendship to the gardens. The sculpture depicts one of Russell's favourite sub-tropical species, the Heliconia.
On July 17th 2020 a massive flood once again ripped through the Gardens, leaving a trail of debris and destruction. Tonnes of gravel from the existing paths was swept downriver. A deluge of mud and rocks piled high along the walking tracks, making it impossible to pass. A mammoth effort was required by the volunteers to clean the mess, and once again the outpouring of help from the community was outstanding. Digger-drivers volunteered their time to the effort, clearing paths and re-instating banks that suffered slips. Giant concrete blocks were donated to stabilise a large slip area. Topsoil was also donated to fill the void that was created in this slip. Money was donated towards our flood-relief fund. The work done by the volunteers was outstanding and a credit to everyone involved. Within 5 weeks the gardens were fully open to the public once again.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature brought destruction upon the Gardens again, in the form of Cyclone Gabrielle in February 2023. The worst cyclone to hit Aotearoa since Cyclone Bowler, Gabrielle caused huge landslips in the Gardens, reshaping parts of the Western side of the site. Trees, mud, and debris destroyed the picturesque Rotary bridge that connected the eastern and western sides. The beloved Dell is unrecognisable, with the pretty stream rerouted, hundreds of plants ruined, and Chris Booth's sculpture a skeleton of its former self. The Arid Garden, with its many rare and unique species of plants, has largely been buried in mud. Work has begun to remove the hundreds of truckloads of debris, but it will be a long road to recovery, with the time to completion estimated to be at least a year. The Whangarei District Council are project managing the removal of debris, and we're grateful to them for their swift action. We're also extremely grateful to our generous community for their donations. Access to the Gardens is no longer possible via the Visitors Centre, but we ask that visitors come and see our desk volunteers and give a donation before heading on to the temporary entry point through the gate in the car park. Nature is always changing and shifting, and our volunteers, though devastated by the damage to their hard work, are pragmatic and optimistic about the restoration of this special place.
The Gardens are a unique example of community energy and investment. The Gardens’ future progress is dependent on donations, sponsorship, grants, and membership. The Gardens are ‘not for profit’, meaning all money it receives goes back into the gardens. All gardens are maintained by volunteers, individuals, and groups. Tasks are varied and include skilled gardening work, track maintenance, watering, weeding. Monday and Wednesday are “volunteer days”; so pop along at 8.00am and join the team. Whatever time or skills you may have, you will be very welcome.
The transformation of the site over the years has been truly amazing. Lush gardens now dominate the valley, with more areas of the former quarry being prepared for planting every year. As is the nature of gardens (especially those built by volunteers) the project is, and will always be, a work in progress.
There is something new to see at Whangarei Quarry Gardens on every visit, and we welcome new volunteers with open arms.