Here’s our take on five different experiences in five South Island regions that sparkle in late autumn.
Lake Tekapo (pictured) – see the stars
Settled autumn weather brings clear days and nights. In the South Island’s Mackenzie District, this is one of the best times to experience star-filled nights and the immensity of the universe in New Zealand’s International Dark Sky Reserve – the first in the southern hemisphere, and the world’s biggest starlight reserve.
Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is located in the Mackenzie Basin – an alpine region that includes New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki / Mt Cook and the beautiful turqoise-hued lakes Tekapo and Pukaki. Visitors looking to get an insight into the universe can do so with a night-time observatory tour with Earth & Sky.
Earth & Sky take visitors on a journey of astronomical discovery, highlighting an abundance of hidden stars, planets and ethereal gems of the southern skies. Visitors can also enjoy a twilight tour, seeing the sun dip beneath the Southern Alps as the stars start to fill the darkening sky.
Christchurch – Canterbury wildlife adventures
Autumn is one of the most beautiful times to visit the resurgent city of Christchurch, known as the ‘Garden City’ for the many parks and gardens waiting to be explored. When autumn arrives, Hagley Park comes alive with beautiful russet tones and a punt down the Avon River or walk through the award-winning Botanical Gardens makes for a relaxing afternoon.
There are also plenty of adventures to be found further afield in the Canterbury region. Just north of the seaside settlement of Kaikoura visitors have the chance to enjoy a once in a lifetime marine experience.
When the cooler months hit this part of coastal Canterbury, the Ohau Stream becomes a playground for native New Zealand fur seal pups that travel from the ocean to play in the stream while their mothers are out hunting food. Visitors can watch this magical marine encounter by taking a short walk along the Ohau Stream to a picturesque waterfall and pool – the best time to catch the seals at play is between May and October.
Marlborough – get on your bike
With crystal clear days and a warm temperate climate, autumn is one of the best seasons to visit the world-renowned wine region of Marlborough.
One of the best ways to experience this beautiful South Island region and many of its 70 wineries – home to some of the best sauvignon blanc in the world – is by bike. There are plenty of bike tours taking visitors on a leisurely ride down quiet country roads and past spectacular scenery, stopping at cellar doors for a tasting or a delicious cafe meal before continuing onto the next stop.
Marlborough is the southern part of The Classic New Zealand Wine Trail – a 380km touring route that takes visitors off the beaten track to some of the country’s most exquisite wineries, with plenty of accommodation options and gourmet delights to be found along the way.
Each autumn, Marlborough also plays host to one of New Zealand’s most popular riding events. The Forrest Grape Ride for cyclists of all abilities tours through the world-renowned wine-growing region, ending with the opportunity for 100 ‘grape crushing virgins’ to help stomp three tonne of pinot noir grapes.
Autumn in Queenstown
The famed alpine terrain of Queenstown may be best known for its snow-capped mountains, world-class skiing and thrilling New Zealand adventures, but come autumn the all-season resort town is also one New Zealand’s most exquisite places to relax.
In autumn the summer crowds have gone and the winter visitors are yet to come, leaving Queenstown a glorious illumination of red and gold and an epic playground for international visitors.
One of the most magical places to experience autumn in New Zealand is Arrowtown. Just a short drive from Queenstown, this charming old gold rush town on the banks of the Arrow River is nestled between towering peaks and hills covered in forests of brilliant autumn colours. Autumn in Arrowtown is celebrated annually at the popular Arrowtown Autumn Festival.
Not far from Arrowtown is the world-renowned Amisfield Winery where visitors can dine and enjoy a glass of Central Otago pinot noir in a spectacular vineyard setting.
Fiordland – New Zealand
With the summer crowds now departed, autumn is one of the best times to see natural New Zealand at its best. Visitors can travel to the heart of Fiordland National Park, an area of New Zealand overflowing with verdant native forests, ancient glaciers, thundering waterfalls and rare wildlife, to visit Milford Sound, one of New Zealand’s most spectacular places of pure beauty.
New Zealand tour company Real Journeys offer several tours exploring this remote part of New Zealand. Departing from Queenstown or Lake Te Anau, travellers embark on an epic journey of discovery, travelling down the world-renowned Milford Road before taking to cobalt waters on a scenic cruise to visit the majestic Milford Sound – once hailed as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’.
Real Journeys also offer an overnight cruise to the even more remote Doubtful Sound, where visitors can explore the fiord by kayak, boat or tender craft and awake to the sound of song from the abundant native birdlife in the surrounding bush.