Tree calm – Eastwoodhill Arboretum


Standing or walking amongst trees is well-known to alleviate stress. Maybe that’s why Gisborne’s Eastwoodhill Arboretum always seems a place of serenity. 

Nestled in the Ngatapa Valley about 35km inland from Gisborne, Eastwoodhill is the National Arboretum of New Zealand, with 131 hectares of exotic and native trees, shrubs and climbers.

The rolling and restful expanse is home to 20,000-plus trees, with more than 3500 northern hemisphere tree species — the largest collection in the southern hemisphere. There are around 85 Pinus species alone. 

From about April (depending on the year) the deciduous trees turn areas of the arboretum into a blaze of ochre, orange and yellow.

The 100-year vision is that Eastwoodhill is an ‘arboreal ark’. New Zealand is, to a degree, buffered from tree diseases and other global environmental challenges so there’s a good opportunity to help preserve species at risk.

Eastwoodhill has a large reserve of genetic material. One of their goals is to propagate rare and unusual trees. 

Another more artistic initiative is a tree cathedral, 158m long, with the same footprint as London’s Westminster Cathedral.

This was only planted a few years ago so the young Redwoods and Linden trees are still small. In another few years, though, they’ll become a soaring cathedral of living wood. 

The Arboretum was born out of the inspiration and effort of Douglas Cook, who first settled in the Ngatapa Valley in 1910.

After acquiring a large area of land by ballot, he set about planting the largely-bare land with trees and shrubs from around New Zealand and England. 

Cook’s focus soon broadened to include Asia and the Americas. As the Cold War years brought the threat of widespread nuclear devastation, he looked to the preservation of species by planting more northern hemisphere trees. 

The threats may have shifted but the ultimate vision is the same. 

In 1965, Bill Williams purchased the property and, in 1975, established the land as a trust, effectively gifting Eastwoodhill to all New Zealanders.

Today, it is recognized as one of the most significant arboretums in the world. 

As well as calm, it’s a place of fun. On Sunday 4 March, the arboretum will host the Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

Hundreds of loved teddies are expected to the woods, says Eastwoodhill’s Marion Nicholas. 

“It will be a fantastic family day out. The idea is that you bring a favorite bear and a picnic and enjoy a fun day in beautiful surroundings.” 

There will be live music, a bouncy castle, story-telling, bear competitions, walks, and more. Entry to the Teddy Bears’ Picnic will be $5, with funds used to upgrade the arboretum’s ‘Rest an’ Be Thankful’ area with new fencing and seating. 

If you’re a cyclist, Eastwoodhill Arboretum sits by the Rere Falls Trail, part of the Motu Trails ( ) and, more broadly, part of The New Zealand Cycle Trail (

Rere Falls Trail is an on-road cycle route stretching from Gisborne to Matawai, with shorter biking options also available, with Cycle Gisborne ( 

  •   •  Jim Robinson has been a freelance journalist since the late-1980s. His magazine writing has gained a Canon Media Award and a Qantas Media Award. He is now involved in management and promotion of Motu Trails, one of 22 Great Rides on Nga Haerenga, The New Zealand Cycle Trail.

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