You don't have to go far from Auckland's CBD for a treat from Mother Nature.
Wintergardens, Auckland Domain The Wintergardens comprise of two impressive barrel-vaulted Victorian glasshouses, opened in 1913, showing a plethora of lush tropical flora in one house and temperate plants in the other. The courtyard features a reflection pool, marble statues and shaded trellises with impressive climbers. For cool, quiet contemplation experience the New Zealand fernery in a sunken scoria quarry just off the courtyard. Elsewhere in the Domain you'll find duck ponds, formal gardens, a band rotunda, a kiosk, bush walks and large open green fields, all surrounding the majestic Auckland Museum on the hilltop. It's the city's oldest park, only 2.5km from the CBD. There are concerts at the Wintergardens and band rotunda during summer and the four-day Lantern Festival is held at the Domain for Chinese New Year. Where: 20 Park Rd, Grafton When: 1 Apr-31 Oct, Mon-Sun 9am-4.30pm; 1 Nov-31 Mar, Mon-Sat 9am-4.30pm, Sun 9am-7.30pm By bus: From 44 Symonds St, CBD, catch any bus heading towards Auckland Hospital and get off there, 20m from Domain Dr entrance, which is 800m from the Wintergardens or catch the Outer Link from 10 Wellesley St E and get off at 470 Parnell Rd, 900m from the Wintergardens. Both trips take around 25 minutes.
The prettiest perfumed park in Auckland must be the Parnell Rose Gardens, home to 5000 rose bushes. There are new and heritage varieties bred by internationally renowned rose breeders, best viewed between October and April. It's an intoxicating place so there's no excuse - you must stop and smell the roses. Parnells is a large venue in the park so you may come across a wedding party or fancy event while you're there. And in November the Parnell Festival of Roses brings the community together to celebrate spring with flowers, food, music and dance. On the edge of the park the Fred Ambler Lookout is a top spot to view the port and Rangitoto Island and would probably be my 6th favourite panorama, in addition to my Top 5 Views of Auckland City. The park leads down to Judges Bay, a secluded little swimming beach with pontoons and a jetty. On the way look out for the oldest native pohutukawa and manuka trees in Auckland. After you've walked up an appetite you can dine across the road from the Rose Gardens at the Auckland Rose Park Hotel or the revamped Rosie Café, the infamous setting for "ponytail-gate", where John Key, the prime minister of New Zealand, pulled a waitress's ponytail and made national headlines. Rosie is Key's local, a stone's throw from his posh residence at 105 St Stephens Ave. Where: 85 Gladstone Rd, Parnell By bus: From Commerce St by Customs St catch the 703 and get off at the bottom of Gladstone Rd, 140m from the Rose Gardens or catch any bus starting with 7 from Commerce St that goes along Quay St and get off at 8 Quay St, 500m from the Rose Gardens. The journey takes less than 10 minutes.
Western Springs, Grey Lynn There's an abundance of flora AND fauna less than 5km from the city – 64 acres, in fact, of flat parkland with a lake, wildlife sanctuary and easy pathways. The lake is fed by natural spring water, mainly running from nearby Mt Albert and Mt Eden volcanic cones. There are plenty of native plants flourishing here, such as cabbage tree, but also introduced willows, eucalyptus and water lilies. Native eels are specially fed but it is actually not a good idea to entice the ducks, geese and swans with your hybridised bread crumbs as it's not good for their diet. They aren't shy though so you can get up close for a gander, so to speak. It's a leisurely half-hour loop around the lake with well-positioned seats, picnic tables, drinking fountains and barbecues. And your kids will love the large playground, one of my Best City Fringe Playgrounds in Auckland. Make a day of it in this area by also visiting Auckland Zoo or MOTAT (the Museum of Transport and Technology). Western Springs Stadium is used for concerts and speedway (the wildlife are probably not fans, though). In March the whole park bustles with colour, music and dance during the weekend Pasifika Festival, where each island nation in the Pacific stages performances and showcases their food and culture. Where: Great North Rd, Western Springs By bus: Catch any bus heading west from 134 Hobson St, CBD, to Great North Rd and get off right outside the park. The journey takes around 20 minutes.
Western Springs, Grey Lynn: picturesque lake in the city
Oakley Creek Waterfall, Waterview Who knew there was a waterfall only 7km from downtown Auckland? Not even all the locals know about this hidden gem. The Oakley Creek walkway meanders through the large reserve behind the Unitec campus, straddling the westerly suburbs of Mt Albert and Waterview. It takes about 20 minutes to do the walkway loop but the actual waterfall is only a few minutes' walk from the road. OK, it's only 6 metres high, but it is a natural waterfall nonetheless, and traffic noise quickly succumbs to the therapeutic ambience of rushing water and birdsong. There's a viewing platform above the waterfall and a picnic-perfect grass area below. The Friends of Oakley Creek help protect and restore this urban oasis with working bees and other volunteer events. There's a self-guided tour map of the creek walkway on their website. Where: Great North Rd, Waterview By car: Park at Alford St, off Great North Rd, Waterview, near the shops. Then cross the road at the traffic lights and follow the Oakley Creek signs, it's only a 5-minute walk. By bus: From 99 Albert St, CBD, catch any bus starting with a 1 heading to Henderson and get off at 1552 Great North Rd, 80m from the waterfall. The journey takes around 25 minutes.
Oakley Creek Waterfall, Waterview: a waterfall in the city - crazy but true
Auckland Botanic Gardens, Manurewa Opened in 1982, the Auckland Botanic Gardens may be young by world standards but there are more than 10,000 plants to discover covering 64 hectares of landscaped gardens in South Auckland. There are more than 20 specially themed areas to explore – including the Camelia Garden, African Plants Garden, Rock Garden, Herb Garden, Children's Garden, Palm Garden, Magnolia Garden, orchard and 10 hectares of native forest – so you can happily spend a few hours strolling through this nature lover's Eden. Start at the Huakaiwaka visitor centre, with its panoramic views, and finish up at Café Miko (open daily 8am-4pm), which uses fresh produce from the Edible Garden. Jogging and dog walking is also encouraged and if your timing's right you can marvel at Sculpture in the Gardens, a biennial event during the summer months. Most Wednesdays there's a free guided tour from 1-2pm. The Gardens are 25km south of the city, about 30 minutes' drive but you can also take a bus or train. Where: 102 Hill Rd, The Gardens, Manurewa When: Oct-Mar 8am-8pm; Apr-Sep 8am-6pm By bus or train: Take a bus or train from Britomart Transport Centre, CBD, to Manurewa (about 45 minutes). Bus no. 466 runs between Manurewa bus interchange and the Botanic Gardens or it's a 20-minute walk.