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Day trips

Auckland → North Island day trip: autumn leafy highlights

  • 3 minutes

North Island, New Zealand

Sheer joy as gold and bronze leaves shower the paths with a blaze of colour.

Hamilton Gardens entrance, Waikato, New Zealand
Hamilton Gardens entrance, Waikato

Autumn is winter’s postcard delivers a chilly snap in the air. North Island, NZ’s deciduous trees are not framed by snow dusted mountains rather by rivers, lakes and ponds. Gardens are a great place for kids as there is plenty of space to burn energy and tips where the nearby playground is gets family and friends on the road exploring autumn gardens in New Zealand.

Autumn glory, where to go and what to see from either Auckland or Hamilton with kids in tow.

For other trips and holiday inspiration check out Auckland Road Trips.


Cambridge’s tree planting legacy

Cambridge Farmers Market is situated in a leafy part of town. Held every Saturday between 8.00 to noon browse for goodies / deli treats for an impromptu picnic. Since 2010, the weekly outdoor market has taken place in the picturesque Victoria Square in the centre of Cambridge. Mature exotic trees add to the ambience. There is usually live entertainment with visitors collapsed under the trees enjoying the bounty of a classic market. Cambridge’s main street is framed by mature oak trees creating a spectacular autumn show. Your quick trip from either Auckland or Hamilton just might become a weekly affair. For dedicated autumn foliage buffs check out the 2003 (established) The Oak Arboretum in Cambridge.

There are stainless steel nameplates on each post, detailing the botanical name, the common name, the countries where they are native, and the date of planting (2003). For map details check travel pack information, Cambridge, Cambridge Tree Trust.

Cambridge weekend farmers market, Waikato, New Zealand
Cambridge weekend farmers market, Waikato

Rainy weather, don’t be put off, foliage glimmers in the wet light. Cambridge’s main street has cafes with plenty of shade or shelter from the weather.

Picturesque autumn panorama, Karapiro lake landscape, Waikato, New Zealand
Picturesque autumn panorama, Karapiro lake

What to do with kids in Cambridge

  • Saturday market treats savoured under the autumn tree foliage
  • Walks along Lake Karapiro

Hamilton gardens

Hamilton public gardens are an ideal kids destination with cafes, a variety of landscapes, wide open spaces encouraging picnics and frisbee games.

For autumn fans Japanese and Chinese deciduous beauties and other mature exotic trees are glorious. Hamilton Gardens online resource describes autumn leaf delights as fiery orange, soft fading reds and yellows throughout the garden.

The Italian Renaissance Garden treat is the autumn hues of the Virginia Creeper and grape vines. The Japanese Garden of Contemplation has a classic favourite with maples reflecting reds and gols in the still waters. The floating leaves make for a moment where you relax and watch nature at work weaving fallen leaves into water patterns. The Waikato River pathway adjacent to the Gardens has the changing colours of the Swamp Cypress trees.

  • Tudor Garden’s autumn highlight is the bright reds of quince trees and the fruit heavy and waiting for harvest. The ornamental knot gardens illustrate the continuity of hedging contrasting with dying summer blooms against the quinces.
  • Entry is free everyday between 7.30am to 7.00pm.
    A detailed map is $2 from the Gardens Information Centre. Bring a reusable water bottle and top up at the free drinking water stations available in the gardens.
Take a seat, Hamilton Gardens, Waikato, New Zealand
Take a seat, Hamilton Gardens, Waikato
Hamilton Gardens, Waikato, New Zealand
Hamilton Gardens, Waikato

What to do with kids in Hamilton Gardens

  • Hare Puke playground. Nearby is Hare Puke playground, an award winning playground opened in 2019.  The playground is the result of a collaboration between the Parks team at Hamilton City Council (led by Hannah Helleur) and designers Bespoke Landscape Architects. Definitely worth a detour with kids in mind. It could be difficult to persuade your kids to go home. Promises to return are likely to be part of the departure protocols.
  • Hamilton Gardens, Gate 2 is home to a playground while not large in size the playground features treehouses, earthworm slide, swinging and rocking equipment. The garden themed playground is close by the garden’s cafe and toilet facilities.

Travel pack information

  • Some of the trees along Victoria Street were planted in 1880 and around the Town square in 1886
  • Dawn Redwood. This species, on the Dick Street side of the square, was believed to be extinct until rediscovered in China in 1948.
  • Box Elder behind the Masonic Hotel
  • On the Corner of Empire and Queen Streets were 12 English Oaks planted by Thomas Wells in 1881. The remaining 10 of these now grace Countdown’s carpark.
  • Railway reserve entrance Ginkgo Bilboa. Removed in 2017 by the developers of Lakewood.
  • Camellia Grove planted in 1962 and added to several times since
  • Te Koutu Entrance. Eucalyptus planted in 1885 and Kauri planted in 1958. The eucalypts were removed for safety in 2013-2016.
  • Japanese Maple. The sole remainder of several donated by early missionaries. Seedlings from this tree have been planted throughout town.
  • The Evergreen Oak by the Large Rhododendron has been raised from the seed of a missionary tree
  • Pollard Holme Oak by the bowling club steps was planted in the early 1950’s
  • Fan Palm near the band rotunda was planted in the early 1900’s
  • Cedar of Lebanon by the Memorial gates
  • Italian Cypress in Saint Andrews Grounds grown from seeds bought from the garden of Gesthemane by Cynthia and Basil Hewett in 1956
  • Camellia ‘Pillida’ planted soon after the founding of Cambridge in 1864. Featured in Colonel Tom Durrant’s ‘Book of Camellias‘

Above tree facts from online resource Notable Trees of Cambridge, Cambridge Tree Trust. Donations are welcome to support Trust tree planting activities.

For more holiday inspiration check out

Read more about places to visit in Auckland in our Auckland travel guide.



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