Ecology of a Garden City

A botanical garden tour. Restoration projects eg, New Brighton sand dunes, Wetland projects, Port Hills restoration planting.

About the Botanic Gardens

Christchurch was officially settled by the British in 1850. These pioneering settlers brought with them the gardening traditions of their homeland. It was just thirteen years after their arrival that the initial plans were made to form the present Botanic Gardens.

On 09 July 1863, an English oak tree was planted in the Gardens to commemorate the marriage of the English monarch, Queen Victoria’s eldest son Prince Albert Edward to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. This is regarded as the foundation date of the Botanic Gardens.

Control of the Botanic Gardens was until 1946 vested in the Christchurch Domains Board. Due to financial difficulties the government dissolved the Board and placed control and funding under the jurisdiction of the Christchurch City Council. Today responsibility for the management of the Gardens is with the Botanical Services Team of the Greenspace Unit, Christchurch City Council.

The grounds of the Botanic Gardens encompass an area of 30 hectares (74 acres), the majority of this being within a loop of the Avon River. Until 1863, the Gardens were largely natural wetlands and sand dunes. Since this time, they have been transformed into a place of beauty with undoubtedly one of the finest collections of exotic and indigenous plants to be found anywhere in New Zealand. There are numerous large majestic trees, many of which are in excess of 120 years, and form a majestic background to the numerous plant collections and sweeping lawns.

Bexley Wetland

Bexley Wetland offers expansive views and abundant bird life, incorporating salt marsh, salt meadow, coastal bush and freshwater wetland areas.

Extensive wetlands once clothed Christchurch and were a source of mahinga kai (food and other resources) for Maori. The area retains its cultural importance. Community groups have lobbied the Christchurch City Council to protect the wetland since 1984. In 1992, 12.5 hectares of the site were designated as an Ecological Heritage Site and protected from future development.

Horseshoe Lake Reserve

As surrounding wetlands gradually disappear, Horseshoe Lake Reserve stands as a reminder of a once common land type. The stretch of water now called Horseshoe Lake was probably once a meandering arm of the Otakaro (Avon) River, cut off when the main current found a more direct route to the sea.


The Maoris called it Waikakariki, or Green Water, and they built an unfortified pa (or kainga) called Te Oranga (meaning health) on its banks. Te Oranga was the base for seasonal food gathering for the Maori people who harvested eels, fish and birds from the lake and surrounding wetlands.

The first recorded Crown title to the land, issued to one Charles Peagram, dairyman of Heathcote, occurred in 1866 and in 1879 possession of the area became vested in the ownership of William Lucas. Lucas was a well-known civic benefactor who bequeathed over 400 acres in various localities to the city, including 17.3 hectares south of the lake during the 1880’s.

Planting of the dominant willow canopy commenced in 1904, at which time a wild fowl sanctuary was also declared. The Council took responsibility for the area in 1954.


The walkway is the major recreational facility within the reserve and offers a close glimpse of a preserved wilderness wetland habitat. Access is from the east via Liggins, Parish or Reaby Streets (all off Queensbury Street) or off New Brighton Road next to the Council’s pumping station and to the west, off Broomfield Terrace and Lake Terrace Road.


Traditional wetland species predominate at Horseshoe Lake. Eels, perch and trout inhabit the water whilst pukeko, ducks of all descriptions, kingfishers and numerous woodland birds can all be seen at various times.

Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park

Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park is a lowland freshwater wetland, located in the midst of an urban environment. It offers a number of easy walkways and viewing areas, with opportunities to see many bird species and plant communities. There is an information kiosk and the nearby education centre provides a laboratory, educational facility and meeting space for groups. Travis Wetland is a site where education programmes are available for schools though the Learning Through Action programme to promote ecological values.


The Travis Wetland covers 116 hectares of recently retired land surrounded by urban subdivision, and was was purchased by the Christchurch City Council in 1996 in response to public demand. Previously farmed and drained, the area is now being managed as a Nature Heritage Park.