Autumn Travel in New Zealand - Kiwi Guide Stories
In this article MoaTours Kiwi Guide Andrew shares why he loves travelling around New Zealand in autumn, his favourite places to visit and a few autumn travel tips.
Kia Ora, my name’s Andrew Wells and I’m a Kiwi Guide with MoaTours, one of the proud guide team who lead our small group tours to the very best corners of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Why do I love travelling around New Zealand in autumn?
Getting out and travelling around New Zealand during the autumn months of March, April and May is awesome, but why? Here are my top reasons for travelling around New Zealand in autumn.
The most settled and sunny weather of the year
While we can’t quite make guarantees about the weather here in New Zealand, if I had to stake my life savings on a settled time of year to travel in I’d choose one of the autumn months.
Once the new year is behind us and we move into March, the weather seems to settle down and we have those beautiful calm, clear autumn days, with just the right amount of crisp cool temperatures in the mornings and warm sunshine in the daytime.
Another plus about the weather in autumn is that it’s past the heat of summer, which makes for much more comfortable travelling. If you’ve ever been through the Mackenzie Country, Central Otago or Northland in the height of summer it can be pretty hot at times but travelling in autumn is always a bit cooler.
It’s quieter on the roads and in the travel hotspots in autumn
The situation is a little different in 2021 as our borders are closed to international visitors but despite this there are lots of people out and about travelling during the summer school holidays.
We love a good summer holiday road trip as much as anyone but, as guides, we always love it when March rolls around and there are less people out on the roads.
Prior to 2020, February was always the busiest month for overseas arrivals and the day will come when borders are open and overseas travellers are back. When this happens February will be busy again, but March through May are quieter which makes for more relaxed travelling which everyone on our tours loves.
There’s something about travelling through places in the autumn sunshine with a backdrop of blazing autumn colours. The well known spots like Arrowtown and Wanaka deserve their reputations as must-see autumn destinations but there are also lots of hidden gems which shine at this time of year too. Regions like Marlborough, Manawatu, King Country and special places like wonderful Eastwoodhill Arboretum near Gisborne are spots our guests always love visiting in autumn - all places where lots of exotic trees have been planted.
As readers will know, one of the most interesting things about travelling around New Zealand is how much variety there is in landscapes and environments.
A classic example of this is on our Doubtful Sound & West Coast Odyssey tour, where we spend a couple of days in the lush green world of Fiordland on a Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise, as well as the autumn colours of Arrowtown and Wanaka.
A truly unique New Zealand experience!
Food & Wine
Autumn is also a busy time in the vineyards making it an exciting time to visit wine regions like Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough, Central Otago, Wairarapa and Eastland. Many of the wineries in these areas offer tours and with all hands to the pump picking and preparing the grapes you’ll see all this in action first hand.
It’s also the time many winemakers release the new wines for the year, giving you the unique opportunity to try a brand new wine at the very place it has been grown and crafted. Perhaps that Cloudy Bay or Gibbston Valley wine even tastes a little better when you’re enjoying it right there.
Visiting the autumn wineries with MoaTours
Many of our autumn tours include winery visits, tastings and lunches at some of our best known wineries. Here’s a sample, just to whet your palate:
Our East Cape Caper 6 day tour visits Bushmere Estate vineyard near Gisborne for lunch
Our Wairarapa Wandering 7 day tour includes a private tasting at a Martinborough vineyard
Our Southern Beauty 9 day tour stays right next door to Rippon vineyard in Wanaka, with time for a visit for those who would like to.
Best places in New Zealand to visit in autumn
It’s always hard to play favourites with all the amazing places we have here in New Zealand but I’ll give it a go.
Here are my recommendations for the best places in New Zealand to visit in autumn:
Eastwoodhill Arboretum (near Gisborne)
I first went here a couple of years ago while visiting the East Cape and was just amazed at what I saw, I had no idea such an impressive place even existed. Eastwood Hill is the national arboretum of New Zealand and is the largest collection of Northern Hemisphere trees in the Southern Hemisphere!
It was started by a very colourful local character, Douglas Cook, as his vision to preserve as many tree species as possible in the Southern Hemisphere just in case a global catastrophe hit the Northern Hemisphere.
It’s a little way out of Gisborne, up the Ngatapa Valley, but once you’re there the team at the Arboretum take great care of us and the curator will even give us a guided tour around the grounds in their funky little open top minibus, it’s a great way to see the property.
Eastwoodhill Arboretum is included in our East Cape Caper 6 day tour, with departures from spring through to autumn.
The Mackenzie Country in the South Island
As a guide I have so many great memories of travelling through the Mackenzie Country in autumn. The brilliant sunshine and autumn colours all the way from the Canterbury Plains through to Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki then up the Aoraki Mt Cook road to stay in the village to watch the sun set over Aoraki Mt Cook. This is iconic New Zealand High Country, in the shadow of the Ngai Tahu ancestor Aoraki and the ghost of Sir Edmund Hillary in the air, you’ll feel proud that this is where we call home.
We can’t come all this way without getting outside to enjoy this amazing alpine environment right on our front door and luckily the settled weather of autumn is the perfect time to get out and enjoy the short walks easily accessible from Mt Cook Village.
Our Southern Beauty 9 day South Island tour and our High Country Stations, Gardens & Goldfields 7 day tour make the stunning autumn journey through the Mackenzie Country to stay overnight in Mt Cook Village.
Moondance Manor in Waikato
This is a real hidden gem in the Waikato Countryside and somewhere we’ve been enjoying visiting on tours for several years. Our hosts Stephen and Jeanette welcome us into their home and share their passion for their garden with us.
What’s remarkable about the garden at Moondance is that they’ve created this mostly all by themselves, with very minimal help from others. Stephen is a real expert in the garden and loves sharing his knowledge with visitors, a real must for garden lovers.
We visit Moondance Manor on our Bridge to Nowhere & Forgotten Worlds 7 day tour, World of WearableArt Awards Show 7 day tour and Country Roads & Cross Hills Gardens Fair 7 day tour.
Arrowtown & Wanaka
There’s a reason these two Central Otago spots are long time favourites with Kiwi travellers in autumn, the exotic flora in the idyllic laneways around Arrowtown and the poplars and oaks in the countryside surrounding Wanaka put on a fiery show in autumn that makes you feel like you’re in a another world.
Strolling through the towns or taking a nearby short walk like following the Arrow River trail or the Wanaka lakeside trail is the perfect autumn afternoon walk.
When we visit Lake Wanaka we always stay right on the water at Edgewater resort, meaning these lakeside autumn scenes are just minutes away from the comfort of your room.
Our Southern Beauty 9 day South Island tour, Doubtful Sound & West Coast Odyssey 7 day tour and Wanaka Warbirds & Southern Wheels 7 day tour all visit Arrowtown and stay in Lake Wanaka during the beautiful autumn season.
Central North Island, Wairarapa & Hawke’s Bay
Many Kiwis don’t know so much about the wide open countryside and landscapes of the Central North Island, from the Manawatu towns of Feilding and Taihape, through the Gentle Annie route just below the Tongariro National Park and on to Hawke’s Bay.
The Gentle Annie route is a classic Kiwi Road Trip included on our Bridge to Nowhere & Forgotten Worlds 7 day tour, travelling from Taihape through the Hawke’s Bay countryside during the autumn months.
Being well known wine producing areas on the Eastern side of the North Island, both Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay both enjoy good sunshine and settled weather in autumn. The added bonus of a vibrant food culture paired with new season’s wines, adding a real flavour to any visit.
Our Wairarapa Wandering 7 day tour visits country homes, gardens and wineries in the Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay region.
Great Barrier Island
If you like warm weather, friendly locals and getting off the beaten track then Aotea Great Barrier Island in autumn is for you.
Especially in the last year or so, Aotea has become really popular with Kiwis who want to discover their own country and the school holiday high season has become quite busy. Being so far North, April and May are still warm on the Barrier but one thing we won’t see is the summer holiday crowds.
The Barrier is a different world, it’s like all the best bits of New Zealand from 30 years ago, bottled and preserved out there in the Hauraki Gulf.
We’ll meet local artists, fisherman, organic gardeners and more. This is what guests on these tours tell us they loved the most of all, the welcoming and warm locals who always have an interesting story to tell.
Visiting Aotea Great Barrier Island in autumn
After the popularity of our new Aotea Great Barrier Island Escape 5 day tour over summer, we’ve added new departures in April and May. The perfect autumn getaway before winter!
Special Events in Easter
As Easter falls during autumn, it’s always been a popular time for events, fairs and shows across New Zealand. This is one period when it’s a little busier on the roads and out in regional New Zealand, but it’s usually worth it to visit the kind of unique events which are only held during Easter weekend.
There are two Easter events which we’ve been visiting for several years now which combine all the great autumn experiences mentioned above with the excitement of an international airshow.
We’re talking about the Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow and the Yealands Classic Fighters Airshow in Marlborough. For more information on these events see their websites here:
Both these events are in regions which are great to visit in autumn, with the autumn colours, stunning South Island scenery and some of New Zealand’s best wines so to combine all that with an International Airshow makes the perfect Easter trip.
These events run in alternate years. In even numbered years it’s the turn of Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow, so 2022, 2024, 2026 etc. Then in the odd numbered years it’s the turn of the Yealands Classic Fighters Airshow in Marlborough. So 2021, 2023, 2025 etc.
How to visit the Easter Airshows with MoaTours
Our Wanaka Warbirds & Southern Wheels 7 day tour takes guests to the Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow and includes a 3 day Gold Pass to the Airshow, plus plenty of opportunities to explore the wonderful Southern Lakes region.
Highlights include Southland’s transport museums, a memorable jet boat ride in Fiordland and a couple of classic New Zealand roads, the Crown Range and the Southern Scenic Route from Invercargill to Manapouri.
Our Kaikoura & Yealands Classic Fighters Airshow 7 day tour includes Gold Pass entry to the Omaka Classic Fighters airshow, winery lunch in Marlborough, a mussel cruise on Kenepuru Sound plus an overnight stay in Kaikoura on the way up from Christchurch on the new road.
Get out and travel New Zealand this autumn, you’ll love it
I’ve been guiding all over New Zealand since 1999 and if you ask me what my favourite travel memories are, one that always comes up is travelling through remote countryside like the Mackenzie Country, Central Otago or Central North Island in the autumn sunshine with colours everywhere and the occasional dusting of snow high up on the hills.
It’s a special time to be out exploring Aoteaora, with the crisp mornings and brilliant autumn weather, so if you’re thinking of squeezing one more adventure in before winter arrives then this is your chance.
Thanks for reading and I hope to see you out on tour (in autumn!) soon.