Autumn in New Zealand – What to expect and do in the fall
If you’re wondering what it’s like to visit New Zealand in the autumn/fall, this post will tell you what to expect and give tips for enjoying this magical season. We’ll also tell you the best places to visit for autumnal events and where to find golden autumn leaves in New Zealand.
Visiting New Zealand in autumn – March, April and May – makes for a remarkable holiday. With milder weather and fewer crowds following the busy summer, a sense of calm washes over many of the country’s great walks and grand landscapes.
The off-season gives certain parts of our well-photographed outdoors a uniquely wild, striking feeling; untouched, aside from the bold autumn hues that paint the terrains in gold, crimson, amber, and yellow.
While most of New Zealand’s native trees and shrubs are evergreen, deciduous trees can still be found bursting into colour and transforming the ground beneath them into leaf-strewn carpets.
If all of this sounds wonderful, it’s because it is!
We think autumn (of ‘fall’, as our American friends like to say), is the most underrated New Zealand season of them all.
Is autumn a good time to visit New Zealand?
Yes, autumn is a superb time to visit Aotearoa.
With fewer crowds, cheaper rates and pleasant weather, autumn is one of the best times to explore New Zealand’s magical landscapes and endless attractions.
While popular activities and hotels may still get booked up in advance, the slower shoulder season of autumn allows a little more flexibility if you prefer to ‘book things on the go.’ On that note, prices are also likely to be better for anything that doesn’t have a set price year-round.
No matter where you’re based in New Zealand, this is a chance to explore the colourful autumn leaves and quieter scenery.
The milder weather makes it a perfect time for those in Wellington to enjoy local walking tracks, jump upon crunchy leaves at the Botanic Gardens or cycle along the Remutaka Cycle Trail.
Likewise, Christchurch‘s Hagley Park comes to life with vibrant fall colours, and the North Canterbury Wine & Food Festival makes for a beautiful day trip for those in South Island’s largest city.
If you didn’t already know that autumn is an exceptional season for foodies and wine lovers to explore NZ, you might be convinced by the end of this post!
New Zealand weather in autumn – a
leaf peepers’ delight
On the whole, autumn is a fantastic time to visit New Zealand.
However, with the weather growing more unpredictable towards the end of April and a few public holidays disrupting the usually calm season, there are a few things to consider before planning your trip.
Lear peeper (noun): a person who visits wooded areas in autumn to view the changing colors of the foliage.merriam webster Dictionary
New Zealand in March
March is a brilliant time to visit NZ. There are fewer crowds than in the busy summer and hotel and ticket costs can be cheaper. Even popular campsites may now accept last-minute bookings if you prefer a more flexible travel approach.
The weather is still great in March. The days are usually still warm (especially in the North Island) and sunny, with relatively long days and little rain. March is a great time for camping, swimming and outdoor activities, though there can be a touch of chill near the end of the month.
Popular attractions – such as beaches and hikes – are less trafficked, and you’re more likely to have incredible New Zealand scenery to yourself. Popular walks, such as Tongariro Crossing, are still expected to be relatively busy – especially on weekends – but cooler weather and long days still make it a favourable time to take on one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.
In March, New Zealand comes to life with autumn food festivals up and down both islands. This is the perfect time to visit wineries or try local produce from farmers’ markets.
You’ll also enjoy seeing the leaves turn from green to beautiful shades of red and orange, signalling the turn of the season.
Average temperature (high/low) and rainfall in March
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March public holidays
There are usually no public holidays in New Zealand during March, unless Good Friday falls at the end of the month.
New Zealand in April
The temperature remains pleasantly mild in April. This is often considered one of the best times for cycling or hiking (or ‘tramping’, as we call it here in NZ).
April is also the last month in the Great Walks season. Unless you are an especially experienced hiker – or plan on visiting with a guide – this is usually the last chance to take on one of these memorable walks until the season begins again from October onwards.
Expect shorter days after daylight savings ends at the beginning of April.
By late April, there are early signs that winter is approaching – snow chains are recommended if you’re travelling through mountainous areas.
Average temperature (high/low) and rainfall in April
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April public holidays
If you’re travelling to New Zealand in autumn to avoid the crowds, make sure you avoid the public holidays. There are three public holidays in April:
- Good Friday
- Easter Monday
- Anzac Day.
New Zealand in May
Following a drop in temperature at the end of April, May remains chilly.
May until August are the rainiest months of the year. With that said, this rainy weather drives away the crowds.
This is a chance to enjoy Zealand with cheaper rates (on accommodation, rental cars, campervans and flights) and fewer tourists. And while it remains chilly in mornings and evenings – particularly in mountainous regions – temperatures are often still mild in the middle of the day.
Just pack appropriately when visiting New Zealand in May, especially if you’re camping (though for many, it’s now too cold to be under canvas). This is an excellent time of year to cosy up under knitted blankets while wearing cheery sweaters, and drinking hot chocolates.
With proper preparation, this can be a peaceful time to enjoy the country’s sweeping landscapes. Be aware though, most of the autumn leaves will be gone by now, with snow-capped mountains signalling the arrival of winter.
Average New Zealand temperature in May
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May public holidays
There are no public holidays in May in New Zealand.
The best places to visit in autumn in New Zealand
From north to south, these are our favourite autumnal spots in Aotearoa.
Autumn is the perfect time for a city break to Auckland, with fantastic autumnal events and fiery fall foliage to appreciate.
Near the city centre, enjoy the fresh air at the Auckland Botanic Gardens, or head north for small-town vibes in Matakana. On the way north, you can unwind at the historic Pūhoi Pub. We also recommend trying home-grown produce at Matakana Market – it’s the perfect place to pick up some seasonal pumpkin and kūmara for a hearty meal back home.
If you’re on the hunt for crisp autumnal leaves in Auckland, you’ll be delighted by the vibrant displays in parks around the city, including Western Springs Park, Albert Park and Cornwall Park.
While New Zealand forests are primarily formed of evergreen trees – which do not change colour – some of Cornwall Park’s 8,000 trees are of the vibrant seasonal variety. Look out for yellow ginkgo trees, subtly orange dawn redwoods, picture-perfect plane tree leaves, and wonder trees that burst to life with perfect red berries.
Meanwhile, foodies will love the Indulge Food and Wine Festival. It kicks off the autumn season in early March, with wineries showcasing their latest harvests, alongside local chefs’ masterclasses and a music festival stage.
2. Waiheke Island
Meanwhile, just off the coast of Auckland, Waiheke Island is unbeatable, especially for wine lovers who can enjoy the 30 boutique wineries on the island.
In May, Waiheke Island Wine and Food Festival allows guests to ‘taste Waiheke’. Participating vineyards put up food pairings and tastings across the island, alongside art and live music.
And although you might want a warm jumper to wrap up in when you head to the beach, early autumn is a glorious time to enjoy the view from the shoreline. Waiheke’s coastal walkways and endless sandy beaches are no exception, especially if you wanted to beat the summer crowds.
It’s even possible to spot migrating blue whales and orca pods in March. Whereas humpbacks and pilot whales are usually seen from May onwards.
3. Hawkes Bay: Napier & Hastings
Hawkes Bay is one of the best places to see autumn leaves in the North Island. This is also wine-making season and thus a fantastic time to visit one of the region’s 72 wineries.
Drive through Tukituki Valley to Te Mata Peak for fabulous views of the region, decorated by autumn’s warm hues of amber and gold. While there, stop at the famous Craggy Range vineyard or relax at the scenic Lake Tūtira.
In early April, you can enjoy the Harvest festival. Or enjoy bountiful produce at the Hawkes Bay Farmers’ market throughout right the season, including a local apple cider.
Alternatively, make the most of your time there by joining an iconic food and wine tour, or take in the crisp autumn air and ocean views from Cape Kidnappers.
Book: Gourmet lunch and wine tour | Wine tour with optional craft beer tasting | Cape coast winery bike ride.
Though Gisborne doesn’t necessarily spring to mind when people think of autumn in New Zealand, bear with us.
If the mention of autumn makes you dream of jumping over a patchwork quilt of crunchy, colourful leaves, then you’ll love the array of vibrant woodland walks at Eastwood Hill, the National Arboretum of New Zealand.
Plus, May sees The Chardonnay Affair arrive – this is among the country’s most impressive wine festivals. Guests are invited to dress to impress as they enjoy luxurious bubbles at the Bushmere Estate.
What’s more, as Gisborne is so close to the Hawke’s Bay, it works well as a combination getaway.
Making our way down to the South Island, you’ll find Marlborough – home to Blenheim, Picton and the beautiful Marlborough Sounds.
With more than 30 cellar doors in and around Marlborough, this is yet another spectacular autumn destination for foodies and wine lovers.
The fall months are a fabulous time to try local produce, including Marlborough Sound’s seafood offerings. Hop on a seafood cruise, or explore local restaurants and cafes at your own pace.
Book: Seafood Odyssea Cruise – save 10% using the promo code NZTTPLAY.
The region’s popular cycling and tramping tracks are still well-used in the off-season but rarely crowded. Nearby, the views along the Queen Charlotte Track are unmatched. With nice weather and fewer people on the track, it’s the perfect time to take on a section of this 73.5km trail.
Be sure to check weather conditions in advance if you’re hiking from late April to May, paying particular attention to the rainy late-autumn weather. Be sure to dress accordingly and only walk when you’re well-prepared for the elements.
Book: Discounted boat transfers to these walking tracks.
6. Lake Tekapo
Though many flock to Tekapo during the summertime to see the lupins in bloom, we think this lakeside town is also magical during the fall season.
Autumn sees the Milky Way pass over New Zealand’s night sky and this is the place to see it! There are few places in the country that are better for stargazing than Tekapo, largely thanks to its inclusion in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.
Whether you choose to join a guided tour [promo code NZTTPLAY], or venture out independently for some astrophotography, make sure you don’t bed down for the night early!
Book: Dark Sky Project summit tour – save 10% using the promo code NZTTPLAY.
This is also the perfect time to hit the hot pools in town. You’ll be able to enjoy the chill in the air, while warming up in the water. All without being too cold when you hop out.
7. Arrowtown and Queenstown
Arrowtown is the quintessential New Zealand autumn escape.
This historic mining town, charmingly located beside the Arrow River, is uniquely enchanting in the fall months. The boutiques, cosy pubs, and small-town attractions are even better under the backdrop of gold and ruby foliage, as are the walking trails.
In April, the Arrowtown Autumn Festival is one of the best local festivals in the country, filled with food, wine, arts, entertainment and its yearly parade.
Nearby, this is a lovely time for hiking in Queenstown, with fewer crowds and mild weather. Or simply stroll around the Queenstown Botanic Gardens before viewing the fascinating light installations at the LUMA Southern Light Project in March.
Be sure to stop by Lake Hayes as you drive between Arrowtown and Queenstown too. It is absolutely magical at this time of year.
A drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is also stunning. As with all of this region, fall foliage transforms the scenery into a beautiful shade of yellow.
As if it couldn’t get better, this is also a beautiful time to visit nearby Queenstown wineries, such as the iconic Akarua Wines & Kitchen.
Further afield, That Wānaka Tree never looked better, and the Ripe wine and food festival makes the Wānaka a great autumn vacation spot.
8. Central Otago
New Zealand might not be renowned for autumn leaves, but the region of Central Otago is! With fiery scenery bursting to life in the hinterland, you’ll see miles of tree-lined roads as you drive around the area.
Stay in historic towns such as Alexandra, Cromwell and Clyde, enjoying the views along the Cromwell Gorge along the way. You’ll find a number of cosy pubs to warm up in once you arrive, some serving mulled wine in front of crackling fireplaces. Autumn perfection!
We also recommend taking advantage of milder weather and riding on the region’s cycle trails. They are beautiful at this time of year.
Central Otago is also one of the world’s southernmost winemaking regions. Here, the wineries are known for producing unique wines due to the semi-continental climate.
Meanwhile, the landscapes are unbeatable. You’ll find land carved by rivers, with deep canyons and snow-capped mountains.
How could you hope for more?
Pro tip: We also recommend venturing towards Dunedin for a ride on the Taieri Gorge Railway. It’s beautiful in the autumn season.
Summary: New Zealand in autumn
As you can see, the New Zealand autumn months are as vibrant and eventful as any other.
With wineries, local markets, and food festivals bringing the best NZ autumn flavours to life, and quieter trails from which to explore the ever-beautiful landscapes, it’s the perfect time to explore.
Whereas to find autumn leaves in New Zealand, head to Central Otago, Arrowtown, Hawke’s Bay, or many of the country’s beautiful parks for beautiful NZ fall scenery.