History of the Tree Church in Ohaupo
Situated on the plains of New Zealand’s Waipa District just south of Hamilton on Hwy 3, Ōhaupō was once a military post during the Waikato War. Many current inhabitants can trace their family lineage back to the earliest settlers.
Ōhaupō translates into ‘a place with a breeze at night’ and once served as a railway depot for fertilizer on the North Island.
However, Ōhaupō is famous for the magical Tree Church Gardens and events venue. Kiwis frequently visit this sanctuary for wedding venues, spiritual rebirth, and awakening among the stunning greenery.
TreeChurch on the Map
Taking Great S Road (turns into Hwy 3) from Ōhaupō until it meets West Rd, TreeChurch is a short 5-minute drive or 30-minute walk alongside a pastoral landscape.
There isn’t a villager who can’t direct visitors to the local landmark and destination. Internationally famous, TreeChurch is featured in European, US, and British publications and countless wedding albums.
History Behind the Garden
TreeChurch began as a local and successful tree nursery in the 1980s -1990s, managed by the Jensen Family.
The nursery produced an extensive Camelia collection, a stunning evergreen that blooms in profusion all winter and spring. Many of the early Camelias still reflect the design of the current layout. These 30-40-year-old trees continue to thrive.
Barry Cox bought the property in 2005 as a base for his tree spade business—moving trees for local gardeners in the Waikato area is highly specialized. Shortly after, Barry fostered his passion for landscape design and trees and began designing a private garden space on his property.
During a moment of divine inspiration, Barry conceptualized his vision for TreeChurch. In 2011 Barry constructed the iron framework on-site, planted the trees that engulfed the steel frame, and eventually became a living church.
Waiting on his church project to take shape, Barry began work on the labyrinth in 2012, and the foundation for the garden project took hold.
As the garden flourished, family and friends soon entertained the idea of being married at TreeChurch; others simply wanted to stroll on the breathtaking parcel of land.
As demand grew, Barry opened TreeChurch Gardens and rented the grounds out to the public for wedding venues.
New owners bought the property in 2020 and continue with Barry’s legacy. Recent expansion plans include further development of the garden and facilities to appease demand.
Tree Church: A Place of Contemplation and Celebration
Barry’s dedication to church and God directly link to his Italian heritage. As a child, he even aspired to one day be the Pope, he abandoned his ambition for other goals.
Barry travelled extensively in Europe, New Zealand, and America and developed his eye for design and structure.
He had a clear vision of what he wanted his chapel to look like and used his expert knowledge of trees and how they behave to guide him. Before beginning work on TreeChurch, Barry planted and transplanted as many as 4000 trees on his dairy farm.
Operating one of only three tree spades (video included for the curious) in New Zealand, Barry established a reputation as a true tree savior.
Always planning, Barry chose to use cut leaf alders for the roof. This flexible tree is easily trained to conform to shapes and has light foliage to allow light penetration, which Barry knew would be necessary in winter.
For the walls shaping his tree church, Barry for the walls shaping his tree church looked to Copper Sheen, an Australian tea tree variety with textured leaves and stone color. This tree requires regular pruning.
A Dublin Bay rose lends a romantic ambiance to the scene and blooms from October to June.
The altar is very special to Barry, as it came from his hometown church in Shannon, and its marble hails from the Lake Como region in Italy, where Barry’s ancestors live.
Surrounding the tree church is a dense border hedge from the Camelia family and requires little care except for regular pruning and shaping.
A set of iron wrought gates lend a flair of formality and remind visitors that they are entering a sanctuary that deserves respect and quietude, making it an ideal shelter for mediation, contemplation, and resolution.
Wedding Venue and Formal Events
TreeChurch is a popular venue for weddings and private functions like naming ceremonies, anniversary celebrations, and memorial services.
The church seats 100 guests, and there is additional seating for 60 outside. All venues require advanced reservations.
Garden Tours and Photo Sessions
TreeChurch is also a beloved destination for people seeking solitude, peace, and spirituality. Advanced appointment booking is required to visit; or book a guided tour of the garden.
Amateur and seasoned photographers flock to the gardens to capture that elusive shot for their portfolio and experiment with light, shade, and color in this pastoral haven. The venue is not available for photoshoots on Sundays; please make the necessary arrangements with your host.
TreeChurch invites guests to bring a picnic; there are no food amenities at this time.
Located a few miles southwest of Ōhaupō, Lake Ngaroto is a favorite destination for walkers and bikers who enjoy the 6-kilometer long track circling the lake. Rowing and sailing vessels dot the peat lake’s murky surface.
Te Awamutu Museum offers visitors a unique glimpse into Māori history and culture. The museum proudly utilizes its renovated galleries and educational stations to interpret the facts and history by teaching visitors the story of the European settlers, the Waikato wars, and the evolution of time and its effect on the area.
A Day Trip
TreeChurch is worth a trip from nearby Hamilton, Cambridge, or north or south of the island to your final destination.
Ōhaupō, Treechurch is a pilgrimage for those seeking the beauty of nature or finding solace in their intimate connection with God. It’s simply a breathtaking garden to visit.