5 reasons to visit New Zealand in the fall

Drone shot of Lake Tekapo in the fall
Yellow trees along the shores of Lake Tekapo in autumn (South Island)

Visiting New Zealand in the fall is seriously underrated. If the following list appeals to you, we highly recommend planning your trip to New Zealand in autumn, from March to May.

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Gorgeous fall colors on Crown Range Road (South Island)

1. Gorgeous fall colors

Queenstown fall colors
Queenstown in autumn (South Island)

Fall foliage is likely the most obvious reason but it is possibly the biggest draw to visiting New Zealand in autumn. While New Zealand is already a very colorful country (so green and blue), visiting in the fall will spice up your visit with bright yellows, oranges, and reds. If seeing autumn colors are your goal, we recommend visiting mid-April to early May (but it always depends on the year).

Torlesse Winery in Waipara Valley, New Zealand in Autumn
Torlesse Winery in Waipara Valley in autumn (South Island)

Even though the majority of flora native to New Zealand is evergreen, you can find a lot of autumn colors, especially on the South Island (more so than the North Island). We found the areas around Queenstown, Wanaka, Lake Pukaki, and Lake Tekapo to have the most fascinating fall colors, but we’ll let our photos speak for themselves.

2. Good weather

Beach at Cathedral Cove
Beach day at Cathedral Cove in autumn (North Island)

While the weather is always unpredictable, you still have great odds for good weather in autumn. According to New Zealand’s tourism board, the average daily temperatures in fall range from 62 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit (we found this to be true on the North Island but closer to the lower end of the temperature range). The earlier in fall you visit (March) the warmer you should expect temperatures, with temperatures gradually cooling at the end of the season (May) as winter approaches.

If you like the sun, you can still get plenty of sun and comfortably lay on the beach on the North Island. Heck, people were swimming when we visited Cathedral Cove and we enjoyed a nice beach day. We had two beautiful sunny days in Auckland at the beginning and end of our trip that reached nearly 70 degrees. I comfortably wore a dress with a light jacket in the day, although changed into jeans, a sweater, and coat for the evening.

Lake Tekapo in autumn
Lake Tekapo in autumn (South Island)

Temperatures are cooler on the South Island, especially the further south you go. You will also get to enjoy the beauty of snowcapped mountains. If you dress appropriately for the weather (wear layers!) you will still be comfortable. The nights get cooler, the coldest temperatures we experienced at night were high-30’s (Farenheight) while on the southern end of the South Island.

Hiking Roy's Peak
Hiking to Roy’s Peak in Wanaka (South Island)

Of course, hope for the best and prepare for the worst when it comes to packing. The SWISSGEAR 5358 backpack made it easy to carry along our rain gear, (which we were thankful ended up staying in our backpack more often than not), along with gloves, hats, and sunglasses (the 5358 has a special crush resistant pocket designed for glasses) so we were adequately prepared for New Zealand’s outdoor adventures in any condition!

We spent 14 days in New Zealand from April 25th to May 9th and only experienced three days with rain. If you want more specific weather information for each region, New Zealand’s tourism guide has an in-depth weather guide

3. Fewer crowds

Drone shot of beach at Cathedral Cove
Drone shot of beach at Cathedral Cove on an autumn afternoon with very few crowds

If you like to avoid crowds, fall is a great time to come to New Zealand! We were able to have many popular tourist destinations all to ourselves and other locations relatively tourist free. Cathedral Cove, which is known for being packed with tourists, had some small crowds when tour boats came in but wasn’t packed.

Marokpa Falls, North Island, New Zealand
Marokopa Falls all to ourselves on a fall morning (North Island)

We had the luxury of having Marakopa Falls all to ourselves one morning and while there were a few families/couples at Tunnel Beach when we arrived, we were the last ones left there at dusk.

As always, we recommend visiting popular tourist attractions early (at opening time if applicable) and on weekdays to further avoid crowds.

4. Cheaper prices

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If you’ve always dreamed of visiting New Zealand and have a tight or backpacker budget, visit in autumn! Depending on when in fall you come it will be considered shoulder or low season. Shoulder and low season prices are typically significantly cheaper than high season (summer) prices. You will pay a reduced rate on everything from accommodation to campervan rentals, holiday parks (to park your campervan), and activities across the board.

Camper van view from Mount Maunganui
View from our beachfront powered camping spot at the bottom of Mount Maunganui, we paid $40 NZD low season cost (autumn/winter) as opposed to $65 NZD in the high season (summer)

For example, at the popular Mount Maunganui Holiday Park, located directly in front of Main Beach in Tauranga, under the Mount Maunganui and in the perfect location to hike up for sunrise, we paid the low season rate of $40 NZD (~$28 USD), as opposed to the high season rate of $65 NZD (~$45 USD). Like most holiday parks in New Zealand, we had access to restrooms with showers and a shared kitchen and BBQ’s.

5) Ability to plan as you go

Milford Sound Cruise
Cruising Milford Sound in autumn on a rare bluebird day (South Island)

If you’re someone who doesn’t like to plan in advance, come to New Zealand in the fall. We didn’t have to worry about making reservations far in advance (or at all). In fact, we planned as we went with the exception of reserving our campervans, Airbnbs for the first night on each island, and Matt booking his fishing trip a few weeks prior to arriving.

We didn’t need to worry about reserving sites for our campervan ahead of time, as there were always spaces available when we arrived in the evening. We certainly wouldn’t have been able to drive up to the Mount Managaui Holiday Park (previously mentioned) at night and get a beachfront powered camping spot if we visited in the summer. We likely didn’t need to book our Airbnbs far in advance – although the earlier you book the more options you will have available. For our last night in Auckland, we booked our Airbnb the morning of without an issue (get $40 off your first Airbnb with this link).

We booked activities the night before or the day of – we booked both our Waitomo Glow Worms cave tour and Milford Sound cruise the night before for the following morning, which you wouldn’t normally be able to do in high season. I even booked my bungy jump at the Nevis Bungy (the highest in New Zealand) the same morning I jumped.

Nevis Bungy Jump New Zealand
Jumping off the highest bungy jump in New Zealand – the Nevis Bungy (booked the same morning I jumped in fall) in Queenstown

We had the ability to look at the weather forecast and plan accordingly in our route. We saw one day of pure sun in the weather forecast for Milford Sound (which is notorious for bad weather and always being overcast regardless of the time of year) so we planned our route around seeing it on a rare sunny day! We had a lot of success with following the sunshine in the forecast around the south island!

We did miss out on visiting the ONSEN pools in Queenstown by not booking in advance, so as always do your research before you visit to determine what might book out year round.

*Bonus: Best time for brown trout fishing

Rainbow Trout Taupo, New Zealand
Fly fishing in Taupo in the fall (North Island)

If you’re an angler, the fall is a perfect time for throwing big flies to some very big trout. New Zealand has some of the best fly fishing in the world, and fall is when the big trout come into rivers and streams from lakes to spawn.

 

We always like to present both sides of the story, so we’re sharing what we found to be the biggest drawback of visiting New Zealand in autumn:

Fewer daylight hours 

Depending on where you are in New Zealand, in late April/early May the sun rises around 7:30 a.m. and sets around 5:30 p.m., giving you roughly only 11 hours of daylight. It begins to get light about a half hour before sunrise and stays light about a half hour after sunset, depending on where you are. The more north you are, the more sunlight you will have (although not too much more). With 12-10 hours of sunlight, this is significantly less than summer with a max of 15 hours of sunlight, with sunrises before 6 a.m. and sunset nearly at 9 p.m. You will experience about 12 hours of sunlight in March, 11 in April and 10 in May.

If you are renting a campervan or car, you will likely spend some time driving in the dark (there’s a lot of ground to cover in New Zealand), so we would recommend being comfortable driving at night if you choose to visit in the fall.

But there are a few bonuses to this “drawback” as well:

  • The roads are less crowded in the fall when you are driving at night.
  • You have more hours to star gaze!
  • You won’t have to wake up as early to catch the epic sunrises (which we found to be more impressive than sunsets in New Zealand)!
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Sunrise at Mount Maunganui (North Island)

Our favorite sunrise spots were hiking to the top of Mount Maunganui for sunrise on the North Island and visiting Nugget Point Light House on the South Island.

Sunrise at Nugget Point Lighthouse
Sunrise at Nugget Point Lighthouse (South Island)

Again, we recommend packing layers for sunrise as it can get chilly while waiting for the sun to emerge, along with all of your camera gear to capture the moment (and maybe a couple snacks!). SWISSGEAR’s 1651 backpack was the perfect backpack to hold our sunrise hike essentials as well as our day-to-day adventure essentials for chasing waterfalls and beach days alike.

 

*In full transparency to our readers, we are SWISSGEAR’s 2018 Travel Ambassadors! The links provided in this post are at no additional cost to you and we do not make a commission. We did, however, receive SWISSGEAR travel gear, airfare, campervans, and travel insurance for our trip to New Zealand. We only promote and collaborate with companies we love and hope you’ll love too!

 

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13 thoughts on “5 reasons to visit New Zealand in the fall

  1. Love this post! I finished my NZ Working Holiday last year and Fall was definitely one of my favorite seasons there. All of your points ring so true & planning as you go is definitely one of the best parts!

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  2. First of all, I am in love with your photos, especially the two sunset ones towards the end. Beautiful. I dream about traveling to New Zealand one day, when I can save up enough for the flight! Good to know that there are fewer crowds during the fall, as this would be the time that I could get away. Nugget Point Light House looks absolutely stunning and I would love to visit someday!

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    1. Thanks, Rachelle! Fall is definitely a less expensive time to go, so you won’t have to save quite as much if you do go then 😉 Also, both of those photos are from sunrises! We found the sunrises to be better than sunsets in New Zealand (granted that was on the east coast). In the fall, you won’t have to wake up as early to catch the sunrise either haha

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  3. I’m all about traveling in the off season and ditching the crowds. Especially when the off season looks like that. New Zealand is breathtaking, and sp are your photos.

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  4. Is there actually a bad time to visit New Zealand?! 😛 it’s been at the top of my list for so, I can’t wait to go there one day!! It looks so beautiful! Great post!

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  5. I’ve actually been thinking about this! I want to visit during the off season since it can be a bit easier for me to do. I can’t wait to visit, it looks like such a beautiful place to see and you captured it so well!

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  6. Gorgeous photography. Your sunrise shots are amazing. Great tip for visiting in the fall and taking advantage of the cheaper prices and less crowded roads. Kudos to you for the bungy dive…I’m way to chicken for that 🙂

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  7. Oh my goodness. I have been looking at going to New Zealand again, and these photos are so convincing to go in fall! So beautiful!

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  8. I have wanted to get to New Zealand for so long! Everytime I see photos, it always looks breathtaking. Thanks for the info on visiting in fall.

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  9. Love those autumn colors – and I don’t think I would have thought of going to NZ in the fall (rather than the summer) if I hadn’t read this post!

    Liked by 1 person

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