If you’re looking to engage all five senses while on holiday, New Zealand in autumn has it all.
The appeal of New Zealand in summer and winter is obvious (think deserted beaches and dramatic snow-covered mountains) – but autumn is a real feast for the senses, offering plenty of great reasons to plan an indulgent getaway Down Under.
Whether you fly into Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, you’ll find curious, sensual, only-in-New Zealand, autumn experiences in all four corners of the two main islands.
Touch: Let your fingers do the walking
Get in touch with nature as you cross the sands on a deserted beach. Southeast of Auckland on the languid Bay of Plenty coast, Moutohora Island is a world away. The cool autumn air is a perfect match for the warm thermal beach pools and the squelch of sand between your toes.
Head south to Wellington, and the Museum of New Zealand where you can run your fingers over the glossy, soothing surface of a pounamu boulder – the deep green New Zealand jade – and learn how important it is to Māori culture.
Just across the waters of Cook Strait in sunny Marlborough, EcoWorld Aquarium in Picton, is the place to get a feel for one of the world’s oldest reptilian species, the tuatara. Touch the wizened, gnarled skin of this ancient living fossil at the ‘Meet the Locals’ events.
Bay of Plenty: Moutohora Island has rare and endangered bird, reptile and plant life as well as hot pools. Take a boat from Whakatane – this little coastal town is just less than four hours’ drive on SH2 from Auckland. (Nearest airports: Whakatane and Tauranga.)
Wellington: After getting some history at the National Museum, head to one of Wellington’s small bars or restaurants, or hop on a Weta Workshop Tour to see where the Hobbit movies came to life. (Wellington International Airport is a busy international and domestic hub.)
Marlborough: Picton is the main port of the Marlborough region, famous for its wineries and walking tracks (Nearest airports: Blenheim and Wellington, or take the ferry.)
Taste: Flavoursome autumn fun
Each year in May, seafood fans set off for Southland – in southern New Zealand – for the Bluff Oyster Festival, where music, entertainment, wild foods, seafood, oysters and local beverages take centre stage.
However, if you’d prefer something from the land, make you way from Auckland to the Waiheke Wine & Food Festival in early April to sample some of New Zealand’s best reds along with some local cuisine.
And then there’s the feijoa — the humble ‘pineapple guava’ fruit that makes New Zealanders living abroad feel homesick. All around the more temperate parts of Aotearoa, you’ll find roadside stalls stacked with fruit from late March to June. If you miss the short season sample golden feijoa wine at Lothlorien Winery near Matakana, north of Auckland.
Southland: While in southern New Zealand, you can visit the wildly beautiful Stewart Island, one of the last great untouched places on earth. (Nearest airport: Invercargill.)
Waiheke: Along with fine wines, Waiheke Island has kilometres of walking and cycling trails, and a vibrant community of artists. (Take the ferry - 35-minutes from Auckland.)
Matakana: Visit the Matakana Farmers Market for local produce and artisan foods. (Nearest airport: Auckland; an hour’s drive north of downtown Auckland.)
Listen: Sounds like paradise
The sound of kiwis calling to each other at night is one of the most evocative sounds in New Zealand. Pitch your tent on Aroha Island, a beautiful 12-hectare sanctuary on the shores of the Kerikeri Inlet – in the Bay of islands, north of Auckland – and listen out for the kiwi’s distinctive, high-pitched call.
The burping and belching of the fascinating mud pools in the North Island’s Rotorua region are an aural reminder of the earth’s geothermal wonder. Hells Gate has mud you can bathe in; elsewhere in the region you’ll find hissing geysers erupting up to 20 times a day (Te Puia) and rumbling geothermal caverns (Wai-o-Tapu).
Less of a natural sound but just as stirring, The Bay of Islands Country Rock Festival each May is based around Paihia and features great music in a spectacular setting with more than 50 local and international acts.
Kerikeri: On Aroha Island, go bushwalking or hire a kayak to explore the coastline. While in the Bay of Islands, swim with playful, inquisitive dolphins, charter a yacht to explore the area’s 144 islands or see where the foundational Treaty of Waitangi was signed. (Nearest airport: Kerikeri Bay of Islands, or a little over three hours’ by road on SH1 north from Auckland.)
Rotorua: Apart from lounging in the famous mud bath spas, go mountain biking on 90 kilometres of track or visit Te Puia for a Māori cultural experience. (Nearest airport: Rotorua, or three hours by road from Auckland.)
Paihia / Russell: The Bay of Islands Country Rock Festival runs from 13 – 15 May. Shuttle buses operate from Paihia to seven venues, and ferries from Russell. (Nearest airport: Kerikeri Bay of Islands, or three hours by road on SH1 north from Auckland.)
Smell: The nose knows
The North Island’s central volcanic regions are a playground for rich outdoor adventures and sensual experiences.
Deep in the heart of the Waikato, in the small country town of Te Aroha, you can relax in natural soda waters sourced from springs deep under bush-clad Mt Te Aroha. The silky texture and remedial properties of the waters at Te Aroha Mineral Spa have been attracting visitors for centuries. Fill your bottle or go for deep immersion in a slipper bath complete with aromatherapy – and breathe deeply.
Further south, the North Island’s Chateau Tongariro is one of the most beautiful hotels in New Zealand. Built in 1929, its Neo-Georgian grandeur is the perfect place to inhale crisp, clean mountain air and relax after a thrilling day on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – where you might just get a whiff of volcanic thermals.
If you’re looking to get away from it all, you may prefer to take a walk on the green side on one of New Zealand’s nine great walking trails – a multi-day experience in a remote South Island wilderness or just a couple of hours in Wellington’s Zealandia Eco-sanctuary is as far as you need to go to inhale the earthy perfume of the forest floor underfoot.
Te Aroha: In nearby Tirau, browse the charming shops, look at quirky street art – or visit one of the region’s 27 golf courses. (Nearest airport: Hamilton.)
Tongariro National Park: Autumn is a wonderful time to embark on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the most popular day walks in the world. (Chateau Tongariro is best reached by car, or on the Overlander train – a five-hour scenic journey.)
Wellington: Zealandia Eco-Sanctuary is a few minutes by car from downtown Wellington. Meet some of New Zealand’s rare locals and discover their amazing conservation stories. (Nearest airport: Wellington.)
See: The eyes have it
Forgotten World Adventures – based out of the central North Island town of Taumarunui – allows visitors to pilot modified rail carts or pedal rail bikes along more than 142 kilometres of disused railway tracks, through established deciduous trees that look astonishing in autumn. The apple trees will just be ripening.
For the past three years, the annual Great Easter Sunday Long Brunch, has taken place within the grounds of Wairakei Resort on the northern fringe of Lake Taupo. The perfectly manicured garden is a treat for the eyes while the brunch with a jazz band takes care of the ears and tastebuds too.
But you haven’t seen it all until you’ve discovered the magnificent Southern Alps – the mountain range extending the length of the South Island – and the skies above the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. The heavenly reserve of nearly 4300 square kilometres of night skies is protected from light pollution, making a visit to the area’s Mount John Observatory, above Lake Tekapo, a must-do for star-gazers.
Taumarunui: This small country town is a gateway into the outdoor wonders of Tongariro National Park in the Central North Island. The Ruapehu region is popular for rafting, kayaking and jet-boating. (Nearest airport: Hamilton, and two hours by road on SH4.)
Taupo: In the heart of the North Island, New Zealand’s largest lake, Taupo is also close to the spectacular Huka Falls. Explore the area on an easy bush trail through native and exotic forests. (Nearest airport: Taupo, or 3.5 hours by road from Auckland, five hours from Wellington.)
Tekapo: Holiday makers flock to Tekapo for swimming, boating, water-skiing, horse-riding and walking. The hot pools are a highlight. (Nearest airports: Christchurch or Queenstown; Tekapo is west of Christchurch and three hours by road.)