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.
1. Gorgeous fall colors
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).
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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)!
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.
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!