Why Autumn is the Best Time to Visit New Zealand

By Ziggy Dukes

6 minute read

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Fall, or Autumn as we call it in this part of the world, is a magical time in Aotearoa/New Zealand and the perfect time for your New Zealand hiking adventure. A combination of warm days and cooler nights, with water temperatures still warm from the summer heat make it a perfect time to visit, especially with the peak season crowds all heading in the opposite direction. 

When is Autumn in New Zealand?

Autumn covers March until May in the Southern Hemisphere and particularly in New Zealand is often when the weather is the most settled. The evenings are still mild and long, not getting dark till around 8 p.m. in most of the country, and the Pacific Ocean currents keep the sea as warm as it is in the peak of summer. Average daily temperatures in the North Island are around 20°C (70F), with the South Island slightly cooler at 17°C (65F). Humidity in the North Island is a lot lower than summer meaning nights are cooler and the midday heat is very pleasant. Rainfall is also lower in most of the country during Autumn, the settled weather sometimes bringing weeks on end of beautiful sunny days before the first of the colder winter weather arrives in May. 

Autumn is the best time to explore New Zealand

Autumn is our favourite time to be out exploring New Zealand.

In the North Island, popular summer holiday destinations such as the Coromandel are perfect this time of year. Temperatures still routinely hit 25°C (80F) and the ocean is not much cooler, ideal for an afternoon swim after a day of exploring Cathedral Cove. Usually packed with thousands of visitors a day in the peak of summer, autumn days allow visitors to soak in this beautiful region almost uninterrupted. This is especially useful for Hot Water Beach, where you can dig a shallow hot bath in the sand and listen to the evening chorus of birds as the sky turns pink over the beach with only the company of a few others who were smart enough to visit this time of year. Also notorious for its hot humid nights in summer, the fresh evening breeze in fall/autumn makes for ideal evening temperatures to go for a sunset walk along the beach or to one of the cafes or bars along the waterfront. 

Down in the South Island, Autumn/Fall is considered by locals as the best time of the year, perfect for getting out and exploring the amazing scenery without the crowds of summer. The fall colours bring the Central Lakes districts to life with the contrasts of the red and yellow leaves against the lakes and mountains a sight to behold. The lakes themselves are at their warmest after spending all summer heating in the sun, with a day spent out on the trails followed by a cold drink and a lake swim about as good as life gets. 

Best places to visit in Autumn in New Zealand

The lakeside town of Wanaka is absolutely stunning in autumn/fall, with its meandering lakeside tracks covered in leaves and secluded bays around each corner for quiet moments of reflection. Due to its location in a rain-shadow from the Southern Alps, Wanaka and the surrounding areas such as Queenstown can often reach temperatures of over 35°C (95F) in summer, making hiking in the middle of the day an exhausting proposition. Whereas come autumn/fall, daily highs of 20°C (70F) with still plenty of daylight hours make for ideal hiking conditions. But don’t tell anyone, 75% of hikers on the trails around Wanaka still visit fromnDecember-February meaning almost no crowds other than a few locals make the most of these conditions.

Exploring near Queenstown in Autumn

Exploring the Mt Crichton trail near Queenstown on our New Zealand hiking tours.

Just over the hill, the historic gold mining town of Arrowtown really turns it on this time of the year with the surrounding forest making its way through half the rainbow as the colours change through the season. The town itself has kept much of its nineteenth-century charm and heritage, evoking the feel of the Wild West with its collection of saloons, stores and historic stone buildings. You almost expect a horse and carriage to make its way down the main street, kicking up the various coloured leaves gracing the road. Just out of town, the Arrow River Trail is a must-do for anyone visiting, particularly in fall/autumn. The trails follow the crystal-clear Arrow River as it winds its way through the valley, with bridges and historical cottages sprinkled amongst the canopy of yellow and red leaves. The trail continues for miles, and also doubles as a fantastic beginner's mountain bike trail, crossing farms, vineyards and even a bungy bridge as it retraces the original carriage road into the area. 

What to pack for Autumn in New Zealand

When travelling to New Zealand in Autumn, it is important to pack a range of clothes suitable for not only hiking but also relaxing in the evenings. While temperatures won't reach the heights of summer, it can still be pretty warm in the middle of the day, especially when heading up above the tree line on some of the beautiful mountain trails. In the bush though, it can be a lot cooler, so it’s essential to pack plenty of layers, with merino a perfect bottom layer to not only retain warmth but also breathe when things heat up. A light waterproof jacket is great for all weather conditions and an essential piece of gear whenever hiking regardless of the weather. Also, a bathing suit should always be kept on hand as nothing beats an afternoon dip in the lake after a day on the trails. For the evenings, it is important to have a few options of warmer clothing as this is when temperatures cool down and some warm layers allow for some magical evening strolls to/from dinner or enjoying a sunset over the mountains.

Why Autumn is the best time to visit New Zealand

At New Zealand Trails, Fall/Autumn is one of our favourite times to show guests the best New Zealand has to offer without the crowds of summer. Queenstown takes on a whole different persona in Fall, the bustling resort town of summer and the winter ski season suddenly transforming back into the quaint lakeside village of yesteryear. From our lovely accommodation overlooking the lake, a ten-minute wander through the Queenstown Botanical Gardens leads to the usually crowded beach which is a great peaceful sunset spot this time of year. Or further along, the waterfront is lined with lovely bars and restaurants, including our favourite dinner spot down on Steamers Wharf.

At the far end of the lake, the tiny town of Glenorchy is a picturesque photo stop at the foot of the Southern Alps before we head on to hike a section of the world-famous Routeburn Track. This is one of our favourite day hikes, especially this time of year without the peak of the crowds, with a picnic lunch at Routeburn Flats, an oasis in the mountains, a chance to sit back and soak in nature at its finest with only birds and our travel companions for company.

Exploring Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park in Autumn.

We love exploring New Zealand's iconic destinations like Aoraki/Mt Cook in Autumn without the crowds of summer.

Fall is also one of our favourite times to take guests to experience the wonders of Fiordland, New Zealand’s largest National Park. Following one of the world’s most scenic roads through vibrant native bush, a journey through the National Park to Milford Sound is an absolute highlight for all lucky enough to visit. From March onwards crowd numbers decrease significantly, only adding to the vast scale and serenity of this special part of the world. The number of boats on Milford Sound itself also drops significantly, with fur seals and dolphins the main inhabitants of the fjord this time of year. After a great day exploring the National Park, we love to stay in the gateway town of Te Anau, set on the lakefront and a perfect spot for a delicious meal and a comfortable night's sleep after a day to remember. 

Autumn in New Zealand with New Zealand Trails

While we love to use our local knowledge to avoid the main crowds in summertime with our flexible itineraries, Autumn/Fall gives us all the tools to showcase New Zealand at its best. If quiet leafy trails, peaceful towns and long mild days sound like your idea of paradise too, then get in touch today and let us show you why we love this time of year! 

Grab a copy of your FREE BROCHURE HERE or get in touch with Jodi today. She’s the friendly Kiwi accent on the other end of the line and an expert in pairing you up with your perfect New Zealand adventure!


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