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6 stunning South Island places, autumn glory: what to see

  • 4 minutes


New Zealand foliage is largely evergreen, introduced (exotic) trees and shrubs provide the burst of autumn colour. The glorious seasonal change is best experienced in Hawkes Bay, Central Otago and Southland. For visitors not near these places the classic city or town botanic gardens nineteenth century plantings / early twentieth century will provide glimpses of autumn delight. The South Island, with its definitive seasonal change is arguably the best place in New Zealand to experience seasonal change. There are numerous highlights from inland Canterbury to the MacKenize country and the classic well known spots of Queenstown and Arrowtown. And, of course there is always a vineyard with its bronzed vine leaves and courtyard cafe to relax in.

TIP: Drive safely
High mountain passes are glorious yet snow and ice can make the journey hazardous. A tour is a good option for autumn colour. If you are self guided carrying tyre chains is recommended.

Frosted red rose hips in the garden. Winter landscapeSix stunning places, autumn glory in the South Island. Frosted red rose hips in the garden. Winter landscapeSix stunning places, autumn glory in the South Island.


Early to mid April. While May is known for occasional beautiful summery type weather the leaves are often crisp, brown remnants on the roadside and valley floor.



An instagram hot spot for photographs of leaves, trees and views and definitely a rival for Lake Wanaka. Walk along the riverbanks or take one of the short walks for views. This is a great place to enjoy the charms of a sophisticated cafe / visitor town experience with natural vistas just a short stroll away.

Arrowtown, New Zealand @Sunshine Coast Daily Arrowtown @Sunshine Coast Daily

Botanical gardens for visitors who want a leisurely stroll. Enthusiastic cyclists will enjoy the sweeping views of foliage on the Queenstown to Arrowtown cycle route. Lake Wakatipu is a glorious homage to seasonal autumn glory.

Queenstown cycle route, New Zealand @NZ Cycle Trail Queenstown cycle route @NZ Cycle Trail

A nature lovers driving route into the MacKenzie country is a leisurely drive through Fairlie and over Burkes Pass. Fairlie’s main tree is framed with mature oaks and sycamores creating a satisfactory introduction to the glory of autumn leaves. Burkes Pass, a nineteenth century mining town, now a charming heritage visitor stop is picturesque with mature exotic trees and quaint wooden historic buildings.

Burkes Pass, New Zealand @Edward Klasen Burkes Pass @Edward Klasen

Autumn’s golden hour is sunset with glorious layers of reds, pinks and purples offering a dramatic foil to the bronzed foliage, the lakes and distant mountains. The area is a well known photographer’s hotspot where visitors relax in the dusk as the sun sinks behind snow tipped peaks.

Mackenzie region, New Zealand @mackenzienz Mackenzie region @mackenzienz

The contrast between azure blue lakes and stunning autumn leaf colour is magnificent.
Lake Tekapo is the scenic gift that keeps on giving. The stunning yellow trees that frame the lake’s edge in autumn are iconic. It is a special moment for visitors capturing the trees and landscape in the lake’s reflective waters. Visual perfection

The western side of the lake by Tekapo Springs in the early morning is a great photo and visual location. The gently rising steamy mist contrasts with the mountains and the autumn foliage. Tekapo Regional Park with its exotic forest on the south eastern side of the lake has picnic tables, toilets, trails and magical autumn views.

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand @NZ Escape Lake Tekapo @NZ Escape

A temporary town created from work on a hydroelectric dam constructed proactive tree-planting has a autumn gorgeous legacy of hundreds of exotic thousands of exotic trees being planted all around the township. A walk along the Twizel River or further afield to Lake Ruatuniwha is a visual feast. Watch out for the Twizel Autumn Festival which has been postponed in 2021.

Lake Ruataniwha near Twizel, New Zealand @Nostalgic Kiwi Lake Ruataniwha near Twizel @Nostalgic Kiwi

Quiet lesser known lakes are ripe for dedicated autumn / landscape photographers to explore these two beautiful lakes. A short drive from Lake Tekapo to a place that’s a wildlife reserve. There are no jet boats disturbing the serenity of the MacKenzie countryside.

Lake Alexandrina, New Zealand @Lake McGregor Lake Alexandrina @Lake McGregor

Lake Pukaki is the largest lake in the area, and it proudly shows off New Zealand’s tallest peak, Aoraki/ Mount Cook, from the many vantage points along the lake. The water is an extraordinary turquoise due to glacial flour, made from extremely fine rock particles that have come from the surrounding glaciers. The lake is fed at its northern end by the braided Tasman River, which has its source in the Hooker and Tasman Glaciers. For autumn buffs the Hayman Road has numerous exotic trees. Hayman Road is gravel on the eastern side of the lake. The Alps2Ocean Cycle Trail passes through the area with toilets

Pioneer settler T.D. Burnett of Mount Cook Station had a passion for planting trees, and through his determined efforts, there are now many exotic trees along Hayman Road and at Mount Cook Station. Hayman Road is a long gravel road running along the eastern side of Lake Pukaki. This is a dead-end road that terminates at the gates to Mount Cook Station. Spend time to slow down, park the car or bike, unpack your impromptu picnic and absorb the iconic alpine scenery.

Lake Pukaki, New Zealand @Trip Lake Pukaki @Trip

Vineyards with autumn foliage tinting the vines and the Maniototo District driving towards Alexandra, Nasby and beyond. The district is dotted with exotic trees with a local favourite being the Clyde Dam.

Alexandra & Clyde, Central Otago, New Zealand @Tim Bardsley-Smith Alexandra & Clyde, Central Otago @Tim Bardsley-Smith

The name Garden City sums up the autumn blaze of colour from Hagley Park, the Botanical Gardens, the streets lined with mature trees. A punt on the River Avon is an ideal way to savour the sensory experience of colour.

Hagley Park, New Zealand @Dean MacKenzie Hagley Park @Dean MacKenzie

Unique journeys, special moments, the adventure is worth it.


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