Otari-Wilton's Bush, Picton, New Zealand | CruiseBe
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Otari-Wilton's Bush

Natural sights
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Otari Native Botanic Garden and Wilton's Bush Reserve (Otari-Wilton's Bush) is the only public botanic garden in New Zealand dedicated solely to New Zealand native plants. It is located in Wellington's suburb of Wilton.


Otari Native Botanic Garden and Wilton's Bush Reserve (Otari-Wilton's Bush) is the only public botanic garden in New Zealand dedicated solely to New Zealand native plants.

This unique plant sanctuary and forest reserve consists of 100 hectares of native forest, and five hectares of plant collections. Some of Wellington's oldest trees are here, including an 800-year-old rimu.

Otari–Wilton's Bush is classified as a Garden of National Significance by the New Zealand Gardens Trust. It is also one of the Founding Gardens of the Trust.

Otari-Wilton's Bush is owned and managed by Wellington City Council.

Entry is free, and is open daily between sunrise and sunset. The Te Marae o Tane Information Centre is open 8.00am - 4.00pm daily.

Located only 5 km from the city centre, at 160 Wilton Road (between Gloucester and Warwick streets). You can either drive from the city and park at the main public car park is at the Wilton Road entrance, or take the No 14 Wilton bus from Lambton Quay to Otari-Wilton's Bush. Public parking is also available off Churchill Drive.

Wheelchair-friendly paths run from the main carpark to the Information Centre, over the Canopy Walkway, and to Cockayne Lookout. A step-free path runs from the Churchill Drive carpark along the Kaiwharawhara streamside to the Troup Picnic Lawn.


Otari-Wilton's Bush was originally covered with podocarp broadleaf forest. The name “Otari” is Māori for “Place of Snares”. The forest was a good place for bird hunting. When the region was colonized by Europeans, trees were removed for timber, and to create farmland.

The first part of the reserve to be protected was a 7 hectare area of forest that was fenced off from stock by a far-sighted local farmer, Job Wilton, in 1860. Many parts of the current Otari-Wilton's Bush reserve have been designated as reserve by the New Zealand government and Wellington City Council. This includes most of the remnants of the mature podocarpaceae forest that once cloaked all of Wellington and the surrounding hills.

The forest area holds native trees that are hundreds of years old, like matai Prumnopitys taxifolia and rimu Dacrydium cupressinum, as well as tawa Beilschmiedia tawa, rewarewa Knightia excelsa and kohekohe Dysoxylum spectabile.

The plant collections that now form the native botanic gardens, were the brainchild of eminent botanist Dr Leonard Cockayne, who started developing this collections in 1926.

Native Botanic Gardens

The Otari-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:

  • Conservation: Seedlings of threatened species are raised and either kept in the gardens as a conservation measure, or returned to the wild in plant conservation recovery programmes.
  • Research: Scientists use the plant collections for studying plant ecology, economic potential, and classification.
  • Education: Plants are labelled to help visitors learn about their names and characteristics.
  • Recreation: Otari-Wilton's Bush is a great place for locals and tourists to escape urban life and appreciate New Zealand's unique flora.

The plant collections were started in 1926 by eminent New Zealand botanist Dr Leonard Cockayne. He aimed to establish a collection of solely New Zealand native plants, displayed in family groups or as re-created ecosystems representing different areas of New Zealand.

The plants are arranged in distinct collections, including an alpine garden, a fernery, hebe and flax cultivars, a large rock garden, grass and sedge species, and a coastal garden.


The Information Centre, “Te Marae o Tane” provides information about New Zealand's flora (and fauna), and provides further information on Otari – Wilton's Bush as well. The Information Centre – Te Marae O Tane – is open 8am–4pm daily and contains displays, information and seating for visiting groups. The small lecture room can be booked for horticultural and educational purposes.

Canopy Walkway

A 75-metre-long canopy walkway, beginning at the Information Centre Te Marae o Tane. 18 metres above the forest floor, it links the two main garden areas. Wheelchair friendly. 5 minutes.

The reserve holds three picnic areas. Two push-button, electric BBQs are available at the Troup Picnic Lawn. These are free to use. Availability is on a first-in, first-served basis. Be aware that the barbecues get very hot and may still be hot from previous users.


In the Native Botanic Gardens are many New Zealand plants that are threatened in the wild. Some of these are raised and either kept in the gardens as a conservation measure, or returned to the wild in plant conservation recovery programmes.

Human settlement has caused many plants to disappear from New Zealand's forests, wetlands and coasts. Major losses are blamed on industries such as agriculture and forestry, and the introduction of animal pests and invasive weeds.

Several New Zealand plants are already extinct and over 180 plants are classified as severely threatened.

Forest Reserve and Restoration

There are 100 hectares of forest made up of original and regenerating podocarp broadleaf forest. It includes a stand of original bush, 17 acres set aside by Job Wilton in 1860, and a much larger area of regenerating bush.

The original bush has some very large trees such as rimu and rata, which are estimated to be between 400 and 800 years old. Large conifers (podocarps) such as rimu, totara, miro and matai can be viewed from the Canopy Walkway or the Nature Trail.

About 150 species of flowering plants, conifers and ferns can be found in the forest. Epiphytes or perching plants sit high in the branches of mature trees. Climbing plants, including the New Zealand passionfruit, supplejack, and rata occur throughout the forest. Kohekohe, rewarewa, tawa and mahoe trees dominate the upper slopes and merge with forest remnants of old rimu and matai. In the wetter areas, tall pukatea can be seen with their buttressed roots.

On the high south-facing slopes, scrub is dominated by introduced gorse and Darwin’s barberry with colonising native plants such as mahoe and rangiora.

Native birds include tui, kereru, fantail, silver eye, kingfisher, grey warbler and morepork.

Staff and volunteers have been planting thousands of trees since 2001, in an effort to accelerate the process of forest restoration in and around the scenic reserve. Targets are – among others – to improve the biodiversity and to encourage native birds and insects. Much of the work is done by volunteers associated with the Otari-Wilton's Bush Trust.

The regenerating bush started in the gullies and now covers most of the reserve, working its way up to the tops of the hills on the far side of the valley.

Forest trails and walking tracks

There are walks and trails within the forest and gardens to suit a range of ages and abilities.

Good walking footwear and appropriate clothing for the weather conditions is recommended. Walking tracks can be slippery after wet weather. The walking times provided are a guide only.

  • Circular Walk - a walk through gardens and forest. Some steps, and steep in places. 30 minutes return from the Information Centre.
  • Nature Trail - a self-guiding walk with a pamphlet through gardens and forest. Pamphlets are available at the Information Centre at the start of the Canopy Walkway. Some steps and steep in places. 30–40 minutes return from the Information Centre.
  • Blue Trail - forest trail through dense kohekohe forest. Features an 800-year-old rimu. The track is steep in places with some steps. Good walking footwear required. One hour and thirty minutes return from the Information Centre.
  • Red Trail - forest trail through tawa-dominated forest. Challenging with some steps and steep in places. Good walking footwear required. 1 hour return from the Information Centre.
  • Yellow Trail - a forest trail through the steep-sided Bledisloe Gorge. Challenging with some steps and steep in places. Good walking footwear required. 1 hour return from the Information Centre.
  • Kaiwharawhara Trail - a gentle walk through regenerating forest along the Kaiwharawhara Stream from the Troup Picnic area to Ian Galloway Park. 30 minutes return from the Troup Picnic area.
  • Skyline Loop Track - access to the western hills Skyline Walkway; from the Flax Clearing via the Red or Yellow Trails, or via the Blue Trail. Challenging with some steps and steep in places. Good walking footwear required. Two and a half hours return, from the Information Centre.


Birds seen (and/or heard) at Otari – Wilton's Bush include kererū, tui, kotare, the kingfisher, New Zealand fantail (piwakawaka), riroriro, the grey warbler, tauhou, the silvereye and ruru, the morepork. The reserve holds interesting species of fishes and amphibians. Weta are also present.

Otari-Wilton's Bush Trust

Although owned and managed by the Wellington City Council, the Otari-Wilton's Bush Trust has been contributing significantly to the organisation via education programmes, marketing initiatives and hands on volunteering. For more information about the Otari-Wilton's Bush Trust ring the Curator/Manager on 04 475 3245.

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