Autumn in New Zealand is a time of plenty in every imaginable way. During the months of March, April and May, skies are blue and foliage is ablaze with golden colours. Fruit harvests are underway and New Zealanders are heading out at weekends to play and compete alongside international visitors in a jam-packed calendar of events.
Kiwis have mostly returned to work or school and university after their summer break, leaving a playground for international visitors to enjoy at their leisure. Popular destinations are uncrowded at this time of year, and it’s easy to travel between towns and within cities.
Now’s the ultimate time to swim with dolphins or seals, visit rare native birds in their home environment, gaze upon stars in crystal-clear night skies, picnic among the drifts of leaves carpeting the ground at lakesides and in parks, and join Kiwis at sport and play in the great outdoors.
The seasons in New Zealand are the opposite of those in the northern hemisphere. As winter-weary residents north of the equator watch for signs of spring, New Zealand’s long, languid summer days are gradually giving way to autumn, bringing cooler evenings, brilliantly clear skies and gorgeously burnished landscapes.
While the native flora is evergreen, there are also many introduced deciduous varieties which lose their leaves when summer has past. Nature casts a mantle of golden colours across the autumn landscape. The countryside is alight with trees decked out in orange, yellow and fiery red, set against deep blue lakes and skies, and mountains in the distance dusted with their first sprinkling of snow.
Savvy international photographers and film crews head here at this time of year to capture the exquisite light and intense colours. All through the length and breadth of the country, you can feast your eyes (and camera!) on the changing of the guard in the gardens of heritage sites such as Pompallier House and Kerikeri Mission Station in the Bay of Islands, at themed and botanic gardens like Hamilton Gardens and Hadley Park in Christchurch, while you’re passing lavishly planted homesteads and backyard plantings, and the tree-lined shores of the South Island’s alpine lakes.
By autumn (or fall, as it is known to Americans), the intense heat of the summer months has eased. Daytime conditions remain comfortably mild in autumn, although you may need an extra layer of clothing in the evening and are likely to find temperatures progressively cooler as you travel from the far north to the deep south. It’s still pleasant for hiking or trekking on foot or horseback, and the waters of lakes and beaches are not yet too cold.
Settled conditions and the smaller numbers of private boats out and about mean you can enjoy water-based activities without dodging sudden rainstorms or having to compete for space. You can choose your preferred level of water sport excitement, from exhilarating jetboat rides exploring scenic outposts in the Bay of Islands or Shotover River canyons outside Queenstown, to boat tours further offshore to observe wildlife on protected islands like Kapiti near Wellington, to swimming with dolphins or watching them at play at destinations on the North Island’s east coast or coastal waters off Kaikoura in the south. The calm, clear waters provide excellent visibility for snorkelling around the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve 23 kilometres off Northland’s east coast. Your hosts provide wetsuits, and a hot shower and cup of soup on board when you surface.
Hiking and cycling tracks are usually dry and uncrowded during the autumn months. It’s a pleasant time of year to take a spin along some of the trails in New Zealand’s growing cycle network, which covers all grades of difficulty from gentle gradient to challenging downhill runs. You’re also not too late to tackle one of the New Zealand Great Walks. Completing the world-renowned Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which involves traversing a multi-cratered active volcano, in a single spectacular day provides the kind of memories no souvenir could outclass.
At this time of year, fruit trees are groaning with produce – rosy apples and pears, juicy oranges and plump green and gold kiwifruit. The grape harvest is underway, and festivals offering delicious fresh food, fine wine and other delectable nibbles and tipples are popping up everywhere. Many restaurants also refresh their menus to reflect local seasonal produce. In southern regions, you can enjoy the singular experience of raising a glass to the season’s grape harvest while basking in gentle sunshine and admiring a backdrop of mountains. At growers and farmers markets in towns and cities across the country, opportunities abound to rediscover old food favourites and sample bold new tastes.
Monday, 25 April is Anzac Day, a national holiday marking the country’s participation in the two World Wars and other international conflicts. Many people consider that Anzac Day – the anniversary of the landing of soldiers on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25 April in 1915 – commemorates New Zealand’s coming of age as a nation. You are welcome to join any of the hundreds of formal ceremonies, including dawn services, held at city monuments and village cenotaphs across the country.
On any day, anywhere in the country, you can count on New Zealanders’ good nature, good humour and generous hospitality. Providers are increasingly looking to provide environmentally friendly tourism, including accommodation in boutique lodges and retreats that combine green credentials with luxurious appointments in inspired natural settings.
Whether you’re an adrenalin addict wanting to pit yourself against the elements or the competition, a nature lover seeking solitary rambles in unspoilt habitats or beautifully curated gardens, a people-person wanting to hang out with the locals, or a connoisseur with an appetite for good food and wine, autumn in New Zealand ticks all the boxes.