Spring offers a snapshot of New Zealand’s stunning diversity of landscapes, like no other season. Match that with milder temperatures, longer days and less crowded landscapes and spring is a good time to visit.
But when does spring burst into life in New Zealand? Technically, it’s the months of September, October and November – but in a long narrow country that spans from 34 to 47 degrees latitude south, it becomes something of a moving feast that can’t be narrowed down between a couple of dates.
In the North Island, it may be when the kowhai trees burst into their golden yellow blooms bringing the nectar-eating native birds out of their nests and the paddocks are populated with baby lambs.
But, ask a local in the temperate South Island and the answer may be when the mountain-fringed fruit bowl of Central Otago covers itself in a chaos of pink and white blossoms — or, when the exquisite white herons or sacred kotuku, in the West Coast hideaway of Whataroa, return to their only New Zealand nesting colony to transform themselves with fine breeding plumage.
Even the herons’ beaks change colour and, in pre-European New Zealand, Māori culture required an individual to see this rare bird at least once in their lifetime. Take up the opportunity from mid-September, on the guided boat trip that floats you through the pristine Waitangiroto Nature Reserve, 30km north of Franz Josef Glacier, to the conservationist-managed colony of big, purpose-built hides.
North and south – whatever route you take — spring is a memorable time of year to experience New Zealand’s special wildlife and natural attractions.
Just beyond Auckland, the entrance to the North Island’s idyllic Coromandel Peninsula doubles as one of the world’s iconic birding destinations. As temperatures warm, godwits — kuaka — arrive from incredible annual migrations that take them as far afield as Siberia and Alaska to the Miranda Shorebird Centre.
Head south – another couple of hours down the road – and at Rotorua’s Rainbow Springs, it’s kiwi hatching season and the first kiwi chicks emerge any time from mid-September on. Book a Kiwi Encounter tour to marvel at how humans help hatch and raise precious chicks of New Zealand’s flightless icon: it’s New Zealand’s only “open-to-view” kiwi hatchery, and a great introduction to many uniquely New Zealand creatures.
Going for an even deeper immersion in New Zealand’s natural attractions, may call for a soak in one or more of the central North Island’s thermally heated hot spots. These are year-round attractions, of course, but spring is a great time to get in ahead of the summer sun and crowds.
A quirky thermal road trip might trace a triangle from the tiny seaside junction of Miranda Hot Springs to Hot Water Beach — a peaceful holiday beach town near the bottom of the 85-kilometre Coromandel Peninsula where you can dig your own hot bath in the sand at low tide thanks to ancient springs beneath the beach.
Drive back down the coastal peninsula highway for pure pampering in the soda springs (you can drink this refreshing pure water) at Te Aroha Mineral Spas in the character, historic town of Te Aroha for a different mineral hot pool experience. And complete the spa extravaganza with a mud bath at Rotorua’s Hells Gate or nearby Polynesian Spa which has been voted one of the world’s 10 best day spas. Soak in steaming, natural thermal pools before hitting the road again, past country paddocks of bouncing spring lambs and foals.
Exploring in spring makes for good memories and glorious photographs.
It’s a great time to take a hike and, north or south, New Zealand has a walk to suit anyone from leisure walker to experienced hiker. Sign up for the Bay of Islands Walking Weekend (in the subtropical north) and choose from 20 lovely coastal walks with something for everyone. Or, grab your boots and take a walk on the wild side with experienced guides who will help you make the most of a World Heritage Walking Tour in southern Fiordland.
Recovery time? From Central Otago to Waiheke, Marlborough to Hawke’s Bay, drink in the serenity among budding vines at a winery restaurant, or enliven your senses just strolling through swathes of spring flowers.
Out west, New Plymouth’s central Pukekura Park and Pukeiti on the edge of Egmont National Park are Taranaki icons renowned for rhododendron displays, the latter with more than 2000 varieties. At the other end of the scale — intimate, delicately embroidered by fern-fronged paths and all-native, seek out urban New Plymouth’s private garden of national significance, Te Kainga Marire. New Zealand has no shortage of world class gardens. Time your visit for the first week of November to indulge horticultural hankerings during the Taranaki Garden Spectacular.
In the south, Hagley Park - Christchurch’s big green gem - transforms into an explosion of colour while one of the Canterbury region’s more secluded springtime treasures lies just 20 minutes’ drive away: Otahuna Lodge bursts with more than one million daffodils, and small groups can book to visit.
With the upsurge in nature’s energy comes an upswell in creativity. Spring is the time Wellington unveils stunning new creations at the Brancott Estate World of WearableArt (WOW festival) — and it’s the season for tantalising taste buds at some of New Zealand’s favourite foodie events. In bountiful, hospitable Hawke’s Bay, the Food And Wine Classic appeals to the eye as well as the discerning palate; Toast Martinborough and the Coromandel’s laidback Whitianga Scallop Festival are regional classics.
Central Otago is a bucket-list experience for oenophiles: a destination combining gold medal regional wines with stunning South Island scenery. Make the most of it with the region’s new spring festival, the Down To Earth Wine Celebration.
With the ski season lasting into October, there’s still enough snow on the mountains to indulge in a spring skiing holiday. Consider timing your run for the Queenstown International Jazz and Blues Festival: it features more than 80 musicians from around the globe; or the Air New Zealand Queentown International Marathon for a flat-out beautiful half or full marathon or 10km run along an unforgettable subalpine trail.
The best of sport and culture, fine food and wine, a million daffodils, kiwi chicks and sweet, snow-white herons in their wedding best: spring is definitely the time to see New Zealand at its most showy.