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Where the bodies are buried: TOP 10 bizarre & charming cemeteries in NZ

  • 3 minutes

New Zealand

Why you must visit a cemetery on your next holiday

Macabre, why would you want to go?

Cemeteries, death are subjects not ususually on the tourist radar.

Yet the history of a place, the stories of the inhabitants are written in stone. Cemeteries are quiet contemplative places where flowers, trees and wide spaces offer a chance to reflect society’s changes.

For more odd, unusual and fascinating places to visit in New Zealand check out New Zealand attractions, things to do… and get excited about what you will find around the next corner.

Cemeteries and spring flowers, New Zealand
Cemeteries and spring flowers
Ōnuku, with a historic church meeting house, Akaroa, New Zealand
  1. Akaroa’s French quarter of the cemetery, Christchurch
    Rue Pompallier drive in L`aube Hill Reserve

Let’s be vain here and chat about selfies. The historic cemetery can have birds eye views of the landscape without a high rise in sight. Take Akaroa’s cemetery with its sweeping views of the harbour.  Atmospheric immediate objects such as rusting iron lace fencing, naturalised flowers and glorious light playing against the funeral monuments and trees.

  1. Slope Point Tararua Acre Steamboat disaster cemetery, Waipapa Lighthouse Rd, South Island

The lone cemetery such as near lighthouses are a testament to heroic actions or the call to duty. The story can be humorous or heartfelt. The visible reminder of life is there in the solitary grave. It tugs the emotions and it is a moment when we think about others rather than ourselves. Think of Slope Point, The Catlins New Zealand with its heroic gravesite. It’s poignant and definitely tugs at the heartstrings.

  1. Waikumete Cemetery Auckland, 4128A Great North road Glen Eden

Cemeteries are a fashion statement, that ornate Victorian statute or the mausoleum of winemakers in Waikumete Cemetery Auckland are messages about what is important to the people who are interred. It is fascinating looking at the mausoleum building styles. How about a Greek temple theme or a soaring eagle is more to your taste as a final resting point. A solid perpendicular obelisk often denotes a trader or a religious belief that strips outward shows of wealth. Stroll among the historic cemeteries and try to figure out what was important to the people who installed the angel reaching forever upwards. It is a place for nineteenth century picnics with the Sunday Glen Eden train service (Auckland) packed with family members, their floral arrangements and picnic hampers off to visit Great Aunt Betty’s grave for the day.

Cemetery grave view, Waikumete cemetery, Auckland, New Zealand
Cemetery grave view, Waikumete cemetery, Auckland
  1. Port Chalmers cemetery, Church Street, Port Chalmers, Dunedin 9023

Historic cemeteries have captured prejudice in bricks and mortar with the graveyards sectioned according to race, religion and Christian denomination. Jews, Chinese, Protestants, Catholics all had their separate places where mowed lawn verges acting as fences between beliefs. There is definitely no mixing of beliefs in the afterlife. The cemetery is a social document that gives today’s visitors clues to taste, fashion and living conditions.

Military tombstones with autumn leaves, New Zealand
Military tombstones with autumn leaves
  1. Manukau Memorial Gardens Chapel, 361 Puhinui Road, Papatoetoe

Military cemeteries are poignant reminders of the sheer loss of young lives. The birthdays and age bounce off the uniform tombstones as a stark reminder of the human cost of war. The cemetery is not simply a list of names on a public space; rather the military graves often stretch into the horizon with each grave representing a young life gone. No wonder Gallipo is such a powerful place in visitor’s memories. Reaching to the sky and horizon are orderly rows of crosses dedicated to forever young, forever dead.

  1. Dunedin Northern cemetery, 40 Lovelock Ave, North Dunedin

The immigration Island cemeteries established for passengers whose hopes and dreams were smothered in the thrall of a contagious disease are timely reminders of pandemics, of the frailty of life when faced with virant diseases.  The Otago Station in Dunedin New Zealand and Sydney’s Quarantine cemetery narrate the story of immigration in an intensely personal way. The migrant came so far to dashed hopes on a hospital bed.

  1. Bolton street cemetery, Wellington

The historic cemetery is a crafted landscape decorated to honour lives and it is a pleasure to visit with glorious statutes, inscriptions and plants. Another photo opportunity with sunset making a contrast between the light and dark shadows. The Bolton street cemetery is a testament to the political lives of the colony. A number of important individuals have been buried in the Cemetery and their gravestones are mainly identified on the Memorial Trail map which is available at the park entrances. Such people include Edward Gibbon Wakefield, Richard Seddon, Harry Holland, Robert Hannah, Samuel Duncan Parnell, Henry Blundell, John Plimmer, Alexander Turnbull, Charles Decimus Barraud and Maori leaders Te Ropiha Moturoa and Rira Porutu. For more information consult The Friends of Bolton Street Cemetery Inc.

Wellington Bolton Street cemetery Two jewish tombs, from 1840 to 1892, New Zealand
Wellington Bolton Street cemetery Two jewish tombs, from 1840 to 1892
  1. Hallowell Cemetery, 176 Collingwood Street, Nelson

Overgrown cemeteries, places half hidden behind concrete walls are fascinating. It gives the visitor the privilege of discovery, of adventure into a secret garden. The abandoned and collapsed tombstones, the cracked and broken memorial give our holidays a contemplative moment. You have found another space that belongs to the city or place you are visiting.  You are exploring the ultimate local destination.

The Timeball station, Lyttelton, Christchurch New Zealand
The Timeball station, Lyttelton, Christchurch
  1. Lyttelton Anglican cemetery, 79 Canterbury Street, Lyttelton 8082

Cemeteries can take up very large tracts of land as every grave has its own real estate. Thousands of graves equates to plenty of space for a walk and exercise. Often the promontory the cemetery is located on provides cardiovascular effort to climb. A visit is definitely good for the soul and the body.

  1. Taradale Cemetery, 121 Puketapu Road, Taradale, Napier (Te urupa o Taradale)

Cemeteries are great places to find the awe moment, to take time to catch your breath while on holiday. It is unusual for a cemetery to be packed with tourists and visitors. There seems to be an unspoken code, among visitors of social distance and giving individuals space to contemplate. There is often a seat for visitors to simply soak up the quiet, the sense of life, nature and the circles of timelessness that permeates the cemetery. Cemeteries rich quiet enables visitors to lose the sense of self, to be anonymous in the spectacle of the dead. The silent ghosts, the funeral finery reminds us wherever we are there is a universal element to the act of dying and burial that transcends gender, ethnicity or religion.

Travel Pack Information

  • Sturdy footwear as the ground is often uneven. Take clothing layers and sunscreen
  • Leave no rubbish
  • Never remove any objects or deface any objects
  • Never lean against, push or climb headstones for graves
  • If you need to walk over a grave do so with respect.
  • For open cemeteries there will be visitors who are visiting loved ones.


The journey is worth it.

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