Now, we all know that there isn’t really a bad time of year to travel New Zealand, but there is just something extra special that happens to our landscape during our autumn months. We can not recommend enough to get out and discover the places and experiences that come alive during March, April, and May, especially in the South Island.
Long sunny days tend to linger well into New Zealand’s autumn, and with average high temperatures of between 18°C and 25°C, you will hardly notice summer has ‘officially’ ended. Also, as it is no longer high season for tourism, you won’t encounter the busy crowds of summer.
One of the most special things about autumn in New Zealand is the spectacular colours, especially in the Central Otago region. Deciduous trees turn brilliant hues of burnt orange, red, yellow, and gold, and it’s all set against a sky that seems far too blue to be true. Particularly around Wanaka, Arrowtown and Queenstown if you want the best seasonal photos.
If this sounds like what you would like to experience, then read on as we will give our top five South Island autumn destinations to help you plan where you would like to visit.
5. Christchurch/Banks Peninsula
Number 5 on our list is the beautiful Christchurch Botanical Gardens. You can wander to your hearts content or climb aboard an electric vehicle and tour the gardens in comfort, exploring one of the world’s most historic Botanic Gardens allowing you to view some of the best examples of native and exotic flora in New Zealand.
On the other side of the Port Hills lie Lyttelton, Governors Bay and Diamond Harbour. The drive from Lyttelton to Diamond Harbour around the bays is a great experience in autumn. On one side, the green water of the sea, on the other side picturesque little towns and scenic countryside. A break at Orton Bradley Park and a short walk along the creek up to the big rock is ideal to take in the beautiful view.
4. Hanmer Springs
Nestled within mountain ranges lies Hanmer Springs, an alpine town that offers everything from ultimate relaxation to thrill seeking adventures. Hanmer Springs screams autumn! Beautiful coloured trees, a touch of early snow on the mountains and lovely mild days. Make sure to have the camera handy, as photo opportunities are waiting for you around every corner.
3. Rural Central Otago
Central Otago must be one of the only places in New Zealand that experiences a true autumn. As New Zealand’s most inland region, the collection of townships and rural communities scattered throughout amazing landscapes is one of my favorite autumn drives.
While nearby Queenstown and Arrowtown are busier, further afield in rural Central is often full of peace and quiet. It’s a region marked by vineyards, gentle barren mountains, local fruit farms with stunningly blue rivers and lakes. From historic cottages to cozy pubs, beautiful villages and of course, delicious wine and yummy food, Central is the perfect getaway for people who want to kick back, chill and just relax in a beautiful place.
Autumn is absolutely stunning in Wanaka, and although everyone will enjoy this season, it is a photographer’s delight. The town of Wanaka is generally a little quieter during these months, as opposed to the rest of the year. Depending on Mother Nature and the weather she brings, you are likely to see the full effect of Wanaka’s autumn colours towards the end of the season.
As the season brings a very settled weather cycle, and generally has warm, calm days and mild nights, it is the perfect time to explore the area. If you are lucky enough, an early snowfall can see the mountain backdrop capped crisp and white, making the perfect contrast to the autumn colours.
A stroll around the Queenstown Gardens during autumn will surround you with trees turning dramatic shades of yellow, gold and hot orange, complemented by the evergreens that remain as they always do, amongst the perennial rhododendron trees, and carefully curated garden beds that reflect the season. Give yourself plenty of time to unwind and take it all in.
On the drive between Queenstown and Arrowtown, the Shotover Canyon rises up and is covered with deciduous trees. Below the Edith Cavell Bridge is a place to stop for jet boating, or a scenic detour to capture the bridge surrounded by colour. Then head down Littles Road to take in the turning poplar trees.
Billowing willow trees and the rich colours of maples is often reflected in the waters of Lake Hayes on a still day, and the bright colours are often amplified even on a grey day. Take the turnoff to Lake Hayes Reserve and go for a walk along the meandering loop track. The background views of the Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Cecil Peak in the distance are some of the best in the country.
And finally, the hills surrounding the historic gold mining village of Arrowtown turn bright with the red and gold hues of turning cottonwoods, and all around town the deciduous trees succumb to the cold in spectacular fashion in parks and along the banks of the Arrow River. Down by the Arrow River, there are numerous positions to take in the contrasts of the trees and the turquoise glacial river. One of the best ways is to take a bike ride or walk in this stunning area which will allow you to get away from it all in one of the most beautiful regions in the country, if not the world.