Stepping across the bridge between the outside world and the tranquil beauty of the inside world, we entered the Dunedin Chinese Garden (official name Lan Yuan). It is a place of peace and reflection.
Somehow, time slows down here. We soak it all in as our guide slowly walks us through. It is one of a handful of authentic Chinese gardens located outside of China. In fact, the Dunedin Chinese Garden is the first in the Southern hemisphere and the only one in New Zealand.
It was built to recognise the efforts and sacrifices of Chinese miners in Otago goldfields, as well as the continued contribution of Chinese people to Dunedin’s history, culture, and ongoing prosperity.
The garden is custom designed for this location. Initially assembled in Shanghai (China) it was carefully deconstructed, transported, and reconstructed in New Zealand. In total, there are 380,000 roof tiles in the gardens, each handmade in Shanghai.
The Dunedin Chinese Garden transforms visitors into a different world, one in which the attention to every tiny detail comes together in a spiritual tranquillity. Every path’s bend, bridge, walkway, or step leads to a different view. By design, there is no spot where you can see it all.
In addition, using traditional Chinese construction methods, the use of any nails or other corrodible materials was avoided.
“Most cherished in this mundane world is a place without traffic, truly in the midst of a city, there can be a mountain and forest.“
~Wen Zhengming (1470-1559)
Elements of Dunedin Chinese Garden
My personal favourite view of the Dunedin Chinese Garden is from its highest viewing point named Climbing Mountain. Here, we can see many elements of a traditional Chinese garden: water, rocks, bridges, pagoda, and plants.
In fact, every detail of these tranquil gardens has significance. Just above, the mosaic pebbles represent the path across the ocean from China to New Zealand, while the bridge represents the waves.
“Borrowed scenery” is another element of a traditional Chinese garden. It incorporates elements outside the gardens into the garden scenery. Here, the hills are visible from the inside by design.
Looking back across the lake, we see the main entrance hall. Water is one of the key Chinese garden elements.
The zigzag bridge is another key element of a Chinese garden. This one divides the lake and gives the appearance of a larger space.
Sister gardens in China
For us, many of the traditional features of the Dunedin Chinese Garden struck us with an air of familiarity. We have been to Suzhou (China), home to the Masters of the Net Garden, used as a basis for the design of the Dunedin Chinese Garden. While we didn’t visit that garden, we did explore others.
We also spent several days in Dunedin’s sister city, Shanghai (China), including a visit to the sister garden just off of the Yu Yuan Bazaar.
Also at the Dunedin Chinese Garen
In addition to the main gardens, there are Penjing (like bonsai), a tea house, a seating area, and a gift shop.
The term Penjing in Chinese translates to “pot scenery” and is similar to Bonsai in Japan. It represents a miniature snapshot of nature in a container with small manicured trees and rocks.
If you want to grow your own Penjing or Bonsai, check out this starter kit from Amazon.
Tea House and courtyard
A classic tea house adds an extra spot to relax and enjoy the day while overlooking the lake and many of the other elements of the tranquil gardens. Traditionally, scholars entertain guests here.
The courtyard contains a seating area, ribbon tree, additional decor, and a gift shop (entrance seen at the back of the photo).
We enjoyed two traditional pots of tea among four people. The menu also includes some finger foods.
Practical Information on the Dunedin Chinese Garden
- Located at the corner of Rattray and Cumberland Streets, the Dunedin Chinese Garden is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm.
- The tea house and gift shop close daily at 4.30.
- Private guides are available for an additional fee, or you can enjoy an audio tour (included with entry).
- The gardens are one of many fabulous things to do in Dunedin.
- If you’re staying in Dunedin, check out our review of the Distinction Dunedin Hotel.
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Where do you find tranquil beauty in your life?
More from the South Island you might also like … or check out 18 Extraordinary Things to Do in the South Island.
Disclaimer: As guests of the Dunedin Chinese Garden, our visit included a private tour and tea. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly my own.
Chinese gardens are gorgeous, and I never would expect to find one in NZ. Suzhou was one of my favorite places in China, and I spent a lot of time in their gardens.
The attention to detail is stunning, like all of those delicate roof tiles! This actually reminds me a lot of the Chinese Garden that sits in the middle of Portland, Oregon where I’m from. It also is a lovely place of respite in the middle of the city. Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin
Beautiful photography as always, Rhonda. The gardens look so tranquil with nobody else around – hard to believe it isn’t perpetually crowded though!
I love Chinese gardens, so much intricate detail and craftsmanship in the architecture, gardens and even the elaborate walkways, I loved the tour and would have enjoyed taking some photos here.
I am a great fan of Chinese architecture. This garden looks ideal for a break from the grey urban environment. The zigzags, the lake, the rooftops seem dreamy! I will save this article for the time when I organize my trip to New Zealand!
Dunedin Garden is so beautiful and your photos of the lush gardens and amazing! I’d love to spend an afternoon daydreaming in these gardens.
This is absolutely stunning, Rhonda! Gardens are such peaceful, beautiful places and this looks like the perfect spot to restore your spirits.
Chinese and Japanese gardens are so beautiful and well maintained and I have visited n number of them in various Asian cities. But I never imagined that there would be one in NZ 🙂 It looks like acres full of Ikebana.
Beautiful pavilion, trails and bonsai in the garden – thank you for introducing this traditional garden, I appreciate it a lot because the best thing about this place should be.. tranquility without the noisy Chinese crowd. 🙂 @ knycx.jouneying
What a beautiful space. I’ve not been to Dunedin but this looks just lovely and so tranquil. It’s always lovely to find little surprises or gems you don’t expect to see!
Dunedin took me by surprise as well.
During my 4 months in Japan, I spent a lot of time visiting the various famous gardens around the country, because I’ve just always thought Japanese gardens were so beautiful. It’s interesting to read this post and see how they compare. They both seem to emphasize beauty in tranquility (instead of having the place overwhelming full with flowers or something), however, the architecture and overall design seem to be slightly different, making it unique from its Japanese counterpart. Will definitely have to visit here when I finally make it to New Zealand.
This garden is absolutely beautiful. I didn’t expect one to be opened in NZ. The look and feel is really authentic Chinese. If you love gardens, check out Suzhou in China. They have really famous gardens there.
Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit
Asian gardens always looks so zen. So tranquil.
I didn’t realize that NZ only had one Chinese Garden, or that Dunedin was the first in the Southern hemisphere. And how incredible that it was custom designed and shipped in from China. The traditional settings do look incredibly authentic – the roof tiles are incredible – especially knowing that they’re each handmade.
What a beautiful place to visit.
The Dunedin Chinese Gardens are truly spectacular – I felt the tranquil and peaceful nature of the park through your amazing photographs! Thank you so much for documenting your tour so that others can visit as well. It looks absolutely stunning!
we have been to Dunedin, but we didn’t know about the existence of this garden. It´s gorgeous! and it seems like in you were in China
I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this garden before. I love any type of garden but the more exotic the better. This looks like a wonderful authentic experience.
Wow, what a beautiful Chinese garden! And to think it’s one of only a few originals outside of China! Will definitely be adding this t my NZ bucket list!!
That is very “zen” and relaxing. I think chinese architecture and arrangements are feng shui inspired. Bonsai is beautiful. Like a mini tree!
Such serene beauty!
I always think that Chinese Gardens have such a unique beauty to them. I agree that the potted plants look a bit like bonsai gardens I’ve seen. Even though I think the beauty of the garden itself would be enough to get me to go, I have to say that drinking teas in them would just put the experience over the top for me. It’s so interesting that they built all of this without nails or corrodible materials. That’s so impressive!
New Zealand is my homeland and I had no idea this was here. I did visit a Chinese garden when I was in China a few years ago and it looks like us kiwi’s — and your photos — have captured the tranquility beautiful. Love it.
I always loved Chinese and Japanese gardens. They have a very specific allure that indeed exudes tranquility. I’ve seen some very beautiful ones, here in the USA, but I can only imagine how much better the ones in China must be. I’m hoping to get there next fall.
I do hope you get to China next year. It is one of my favourite countries I have visited.
You could easily imagine that you’re in China when visiting this lovely place. The gateway looks very impressive and I like the stone bridge. I hadn’t heard of penjing before, so it’s interesting to know that it’s popular in China
It reminded me so much of the gardens we visited in China.
Asian gardens aren’t my thing, think I’m more into the cottage garden look but I can understand why it would be tranquil.
Dunedin is nicknamed the Garden City, so I am sure there is at least one big garden you would enjoy. The botanic gardens are also lovely, as was Larnach.
First Chinese Garden in the southern hemisphere? Wow, that is such a cool designation. I have been to Dunedin Florida and I should pay a visit to the New Zealnad version.
It’s also the only one in New Zealand.
I love garden design, and this Chinese Garden is indeed stunning. How cleverly the buildings interact with the water and the plants and the surroundings… I think you explained all of this really well, as well as the symbolism of the pathways and the bridges and so on. What I loved most about this story are the pretty details in the roof tiles, absolutely gorgeous. The gardens seem to be a great family-friendly attraction in Dunedin. Definitely worth remembering for our next trip to NZ.
Having a private tour really made a difference. We went through the gardens twice, once to learn the other time to enjoy. And yes, I think it would be family friendly, but not for climbing.
Dunedin Chinese Garden looks beautiful, and how intriguing that it’s one of very few authentic ones outside of China. It looks like a beautiful mix of traditional ornate architecture, beautiful planting, and careful natural-style landscaping, all very harmoniously designed. I’d enjoy pausing in the tea house at the end of a visit.
It is exactly as you see it, and tea is the perfect way to relax at the end and really soak in the relaxation and tranquillity.
I love flowers and gardens but I wasn’t prepared to your pictures! Wow! I would’ve said it was Japan or China, definitely not New Zealand! It’s impressive that they deconstructed it and rebuilt it in New Zealand, so much work, and for such an intricate design! Thank you so much for showing us this beauty!
The traditional posts of tea look delightful Rhonda. I am astounded at the fact that they take these things apart, ship them, and then put ’em back together in a far off land. Amazing to me the attention to detail, patience and craftsmanship in creating and taking apart and creating again. Inspired stuff.
I am not sure we picked the most traditional flavours of tea, as they were fruity. But we sure enjoyed it.
Beautiful! I don’t believe I ever appreciated gardens until I owned my own house and found out the hard work in creating such a beautiful space. Now that I have I love to seek out gardens wherever I go – it always makes for a peaceful afternoon in a city.
LOL – that is so true. Having to do the work really lets you know what’s involved. I don’t really have the patience to create beauty, just veggies.
These gardens are absolutely stunning. I have been to the Hamilton Gardens in NZ that are themed and segregated into countries and found them to be extraordinary. I would like to visit Dunedin one of these days.
We live less than two hours from Hamilton there. Maybe we should make a trip to visit the gardens.
This looks so beautiful. I love the buildings and the flowers, what a great find!
We met the head gardener, who like everyone else we met, seemed very much at peace. She keeps the flowers looking that way.
I feel completely transported to China by seeing this garden. It is hard to believe it is not actually in China. In some shots, it is impossible to tell where are you. All the different elements an details work in an excellent way. On the rock, I first saw an elephant but then, I decided it was a lion.
That is exactly how I felt being there. Especially as we have been to China before, the memories all came right back.
Agreed. It is lovely at the gardens.
What a lovely garden! I’m sure it makes for a really relaxing stroll on a Sunday afternoon 🙂
It is the perfect place for a stroll, any day of the week.
Its really an amazing place.
Paul F. Pietrangelo
Just looking at each of the photos, I feel very tranquil. I did see the animal in the rock photo. It’s amazing. My friends are in China at the moment. Meilin is enjoying the time visiting her family and they also went to her cousin’s wedding. She keeps telling me to visit China. A quiet locale is great to see but the photos that she shows me are city ones and I’m not impressed. Smog, and more smog and many , many people around. To many people for me. See ya Rhonda.
I wonder what people see that don’t see the animal. It seemed really clear to me. Glad your friends are having fun.
Hi Rhonda … how delightful to see – excellent photos. They certainly paid attention to detail … I’d love to visit – cheers Hilary
Every single detail was attended to.
That is so beautiful. What a beautiful place to visit. Thanks for sharing.
It really was beautiful.
Beautiful and it appears you and Sarah teamed up nicely with all this lovely photography.
Have a fabulous day. ☺
I was glad to have Sarah by my side.
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Absolutely stunning! The roof tiles are so detailed. What a magical place.
I was pretty impressed by the sheer number of tiles. What a lot of work.