Fishermans Bay Garden Banks Peninsula

Fishermans Bay garden is unique gem in a rugged natural environment. The east side of Banks Peninsula is known for often harsh conditions and this garden is a relatively recent development. If you ever feel beleaguered by conditions in your garden, a visit to this garden will help provide some perspective and inspiration. Fishermans Bay garden fully deserves its five star rating as garden of National Significance and is one of our favourites on our Canterbury Springtime Gardens tour.


The two hectare garden is located 150m above sea level, virtually on the Pacific Ocean cliff side. It’s on the exposed eastern side of Banks Peninsula, the eroded remains of an inactive volcano.

Etienne Lelievre, who arrived in Akaroa in 1840, settled in the area and Fishermans Bay was part of his large landholding. The garden was not developed until Jill and Richard Simpson bought the 300ha sheep farm 18 years ago. Then it was in a run-down condition and the area around the cottage was just weather-beaten macrocarpa trees, three metre high gorse bushes and a cottage garden. The property became a cattle farm and then, about ten years ago, Jill and Richard turned their attention to the garden.


At times Banks Peninsula can get hammered by wind and weather, and evidence of this action is not an uncommon sight. Despite this, Banks Peninsula has relatively mild winters, and a high annual rainfall due to the clouds lifting over the hills. Snow is not uncommon on the higher slopes during the winter months although there are few frosts nearer the sea.

Meet the gardener

Jill and Richard have dedicated significant parts of their land to conservation and have 100 hectares in two coastal valleys left to regenerate native bush as part of the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust covenant. There is also a coordinated trapping programme targeting weasels, stoats, ferret, possums and hedgehogs. These initiatives has meant the population of native birds and wildlife has increased significantly including yellow-eyed and little penguins.

Jill, the main gardener, worked in the nursery industry and designed gardens in Christchurch as her early career. The garden was enjoyed by the family and Jill toyed with ideas for it, but its development really began once the children were grown.

Jill has changed the plantings over the years from being entirely native to incorporating ideas from visits to European and American gardens and interpreting these to New Zealand and more particularly Banks Peninsula conditions.  Jill has a large collection of native hebes, and the garden boasts over 150 species and cultivars. Jill’s hebes tend to form into tidy topiaries in Fishermans Bay conditions.

More recently Jill is conscious of controlling the size of the garden and focusses instead on improving and enhancing, imagining a more beautiful version in the future. Jill lovingly maintains and develops the garden and it not averse to the odd weed. She is a true gardener.

Garden features

It is clear that a lot of hard work and planning has gone in making the garden what it is today.  Some significant structures like the Great Wall, railway sleeper pathways, an old shearing shed and sculptures  have added to the sense of endurance and durability.

Fishermans Bay Garden is wound into the rugged, dramatic landscape of the Banks Peninsula coastline, slopes, gullies and sheltered valleys, and makes the most of the spectacular views of the ocean and coastline. The hillside has a zigzag pathway down a slope with wonderfully wide perennial borders that include toetoe, flax and chionochloa. At the bottom of the garden the pathway merges into a natural wetland, enhanced with native plantings.

A series of garden areas offer differing planting themes that reflect the New Zealand and farming settings. You will find a rengarenga walk, traditional flower borders, a herb garden, a fern garden, a shaded stream valley and pond, a wild, exposed rock garden and, of course, a farm garden. There is a surprise down every garden path at Fishermans Bay garden.

The use of grass varieties is perfect in this environment, and the movement they provide really reflects the coastline. You’ll find flax, astelia, chionochloa, Miscanthus gracilis ‘Zebrina’ grasses, complemented by colourful asters, monarda, Sanguisorba officinalis, thalictrums, phlox and Verbena bonariensis. The combination of structures and textures is impressive.

Astelia thrive the dry, exposed conditions and there is a great collection here, including Astelia nivicola, ‘Alpine Ruby’ and ‘Red Devil’, Astelia banksii and the giant Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’.

Seasonal highlights

The garden is at its best in late spring and summer, when the weather settles down a bit, though the strong focus on evergreen natives, and the garden’s beautiful setting, means it has something to offer all year round.

SpringGrowth of spring flowering perennials and daffodil paddock is in full splendour.
SummerDaylilies flower, the poppy paddock blooms Rose gardens and mixed borders feature strongly in summer
AutumnLate perennials are in full bloom. A riot of autumn colour as deciduous plants and trees prepare to lose their leaves.
WinterFishermans Bay garden is closed from April and opens again in October

In summary, Fishermans Bay garden has to be experienced if you love the New Zealand coastal environment. Even your olfactory senses will be inspired with the odd whiff of seal and the rich garden fragrances.

Visiting the garden

Richard and Jill’s garden is a 20 minute drive (with the last bit on a gravel road) from the historic French settlement of Akaroa and about 1.5 hours from Christchurch.

If you are travelling from Auckland or Wellington, then the best destination airport is Christchurch. The flight times are 1 hour 20 minutes and 50 minutes respectively.  Fishermans Bay is about 95 picturesque kms from Christchurch airport.

  • Get to Akaora
  • From Akaroa turn left on to Long Bay Road.
  • Continue on to Fishermans Bay Road and follow the signs for Fishermans Bay Garden.

Fishermans Bay is a private garden, open by appointment from 10am-4pm from Labour weekend in October through to April.

  • admission fee is $10 for adults and seniors
  • entry for children is free

188 Fishermans Bay Road, Akaroa
Phone: 03 304 7367

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