Lupin-Spotting in New Zealand

Lupins in New Zealand
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For about 4-5 weeks at the end of each year, the center of New Zealand's South Island bursts into color — purples and pinks and blues and yellows sprout up along lake sides and in riverbeds in Mackenzie Country, making the already-stunning views even more incredible.

Lupins in Wanaka

Lupins in Wanaka

Lupins along the Ahuriri River in New Zealand

The Ahuriri River

Lupins at Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

The story goes that the wife of a local farmer decided the drab center of New Zealand's South Island could use some color. So for years she secretly spread lupin seeds along the roadways and riverbeds each spring — some more embellished versions of the story have her doing so while riding naked on the back of a white stallion.

I'm not sure if ANY of that story is true (the naked-on-a-white-stallion part definitely isn't), but there's no denying that the Russell lupins DO add a pop of color to countryside that is otherwise a bit colorless.

The ironic part? The Russell lupin is actually considered an invasive species by New Zealand's Department of Conservation.

Talk about a pretty weed!

Lupins in Wanaka, New Zealand

Lupins in Wanaka

Lupins at Lake Tekapo

This was my fourth trip to New Zealand, but my first one during lupin season. So of COURSE I had to go lupin-spotting! My friend Liz and I made it our mission to get some unique shots (or, at least some really pretty ones), driving from Wanaka to Mount Cook and back on the lookout for lupins.

I think we definitely succeeded.

Lupins at Lake Tekapo

Lupins at Lake Tekapo

Lupins along the Ahuriri River in New Zealand

Along the Ahuriri River

Lupins at Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

Lupins in New Zealand

Here are some tips for lupin-hunting in New Zealand, should you like to follow in our footsteps:

Go at the right time of year

The lupins technically bloom from spring to summer (September-February) in New Zealand, however “peak” lupin season in Mackenzie Country is usually from mid-November until just after Christmas. The lupins at Lake Tekapo are best in late November, while the flowers hit full bloom a little later the further south you go.

If you're visiting outside this time of year, I'm afraid spotting lupins won't be likely.

Lupins along the Ahuriri River in New Zealand

Ahuriri River lupins

Lupins along the Ahuriri River in New Zealand

Know where to look

Telling you to go to “Mackenzie Country” is really quite vague, I realize. Some of the best places to look for lupins include:

  • Around Lake Tekapo***
  • All along the Ahuriri River from the Lindis Pass to Omarama***
  • Around Lake Wanaka (though some of the best fields are on private land)***
  • The Crown Range Road between Wanaka and Queenstown (lots of yellow ones here)
  • Burkes Pass
  • Around lakes Pukaki and Dunstan (and perhaps Hawea, too)
  • Near Twizel

***All of my photos were from these areas.

NZ lupin map

RELATED: New Zealand Smackdown: North Island vs. South Island

Ahuriri River lupins

Lupins at Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

Be safe about it

Please, please, PLEASE, be careful when you're lupin-spotting. There are often beautiful patches of them along the side of the road, but DON'T just stop in the middle of the road to snap a photo. New Zealand's roads are often narrow and twisty, and you should ONLY pull over when it's safe (preferably in designated pull-off spots).

There are TONS of lupins growing along the Ahuriri River near Omarama, but there are also DOC-provided pull-outs and parking/camping areas — use these instead of the side of the road!

RELATED:  DOs and DON'Ts for a New Zealand Road Trip

Lupins in Wanaka, New Zealand

Lupins in Wanaka

Lupins at Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

Even though they are technically a weed, part of me secretly hopes they aren't ever able to completely eradicate the lupins in New Zealand. Because, damn, do they make for some awesome views!

Where to stay when lupin-spotting

Like I said, you really can spot lupins all over the South Island and especially in the Mackenzie Basin in early summer. But if you're road-tripping it and want to take some time, here are some good options for where to overnight:

Lake TekapoThree Rivers Lodge for its floor-to-ceiling windows with views out over the lake. (Read TripAdvisor reviews | Book here)

Omarama – The Heritage Gateway Hotel for its location right at the crossroads of MacKenzie Basin, Lindis Pass, and Waitaki Valley. (Read TripAdvisor reviews | Book here)

Twizel – The Mackenzie Country Hotel for its mountain views and close proximity to Mount Cook National Park. (Read TripAdvisor reviews | Book here)

Wanaka – My picks in Wanaka include the Wanaka View Motel and The Moorings Motel and Apartments because of their lake views and how close they are to the town center.

Crown Range Road – The Cardrona Hotel because of its atmosphere. (If you don't stay here, at least stop by for a bite at the hotel's iconic restaurant.) (Read TripAdvisor reviews | Book here)

Things you'll need

I also never travel long distances without good travel insurance policy – because you just never know! I recommend World Nomads for basic (and really affordable) travel insurance.

Would YOU want to go lupin-hunting in New Zealand?

 

Tips for lupin-spotting in New Zealand

 

 

72 Comments

  • Audrey says:

    So SO SOOOO pretty! I love every single one of these shots! My Instagram feed is clogged with photos of lupins in bloom across NZ, but I have no complaints. 😉

  • Jess says:

    Wow, so beautiful!! I remember hiking the Rees Dart track near Queenstown and seeing these, so surprised to hear they’re a weed. You’ve taken such gorgeous photos! Love the 4th shot! 🙂 Jess

  • Petra says:

    Your shots are amazing! That light is incredible too. What lenses do you use Amanda?

    • Amanda says:

      Thanks so much! I have an Olympus mirrorless camera, and use the kit lens (14-42mm) as well as a Zuiko 40-150mm zoom lens – though I’m not sure I used the zoom lens on any of these shots!

  • Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! Thanks so much for sharing your photos.

  • Beth says:

    Oh. My. Gosh! TOO pretty! I’ve honestly never heard of these flowers before I saw them on your Instagram and I am OBSESSED! I’ve just decided at what time of year I’ll be visiting NZ!

  • There are great lupin fields along the river in Arrowtown near Queenstown, I definitely recommend going there for some spotting. Also Glenorchy is not a bad area either. I am heading to Tekapo this weekend to check the famous lupin site myself. I am planning to write a post about them as well!

    • Amanda says:

      Good tip on Arrowtown and Glenorchy! I went to Arrowtown briefly on this trip, but didn’t see a ton of lupins (then again, we weren’t really looking for them at that point!).

  • Deb says:

    Great photos girl! I want to go Lupin Spotting!

  • Renuka says:

    These lupins have made your photos even more stunning! I just can’t stop gasping. NZ is so, so gorgeous.

  • tanya says:

    wow, these are amazing. So pretty. I would totally hand any of those pictures up on my wall too. What a pretty flower.

  • EuroTripTips says:

    Super pretty photos, Amanda! Although I felt like this was an Iceland post – there are heaps of lupins over there as well! And the scenery is so similar!

    • Amanda says:

      Thank you! And yeah… I often feel like Iceland and New Zealand are kind of the same place! Didn’t know they had lupins over there too, though (I’ve only been to Iceland in the winter). All the more reason to go back during a different time of year!

  • kami says:

    I don’t know why but I always thought lupins are such a Polish thing – you can imagine how surprised I was when I’ve your post! 🙂 It looks soooo pretty! Now I want to go to New Zealand really badly, just for the lupins! 🙂

  • George says:

    Beautiful photographs Amanda, though you’d best not leave any future lupin spotting for too long. Unfortunately the Dept. of Conservation (which appears to be anti anything that is not a native species) is intent on eradicating the lupins.
    Great shame. They are also extremely heavy handed with aerially dropped poisons (in particular 1080, an indiscriminate and deadly poison ) when it comes to eradicating pests.
    Serpents in paradise!

    • Amanda says:

      Yes, I heard that while I was there! I DO understand the harm they can cause when they get into the river flats. But I kind of hope they won’t eradicate ALL of them.

  • Katie says:

    I am planning to get married in lupin season around Wanaka in a couple of years so I hope they are still around then!

    • Amanda says:

      That sounds lovely! I hope they’re still around, too – wedding photos in a lupin field would be magical!

    • Lydia Jackson says:

      They are definitely still there, we saw lots on our summer holiday this year. They are only considered weeds because they self seed. I’ve not seen anything more than roadside spraying happen to eradicate them, they can’t spray around the rivers and lakes.

  • Such gorgeous photos! The flowers, the mountains, and the water are all beautiful together! Thanks for sharing these!

  • David says:

    An incredible landscape Amanda and your equally beautiful photographs really pay homage to it. Thanks for sharing 😉

  • WOW! These photos are gorgeous! I’m headed to NZ in January and I hope to find some lupins!

  • aifa says:

    Hello amanda. just reading your amazing post. May i know if im planning to visit nz early feb. is there’s any possibilities i can see lupin. appreciate ur reply 🙂

  • michele says:

    Beautiful photos! We are coming to NZ to try and time the Lupin right 😉
    What exact days did you visit that they were in bloom like this?

    Thank you!! 🙂

    • Amanda says:

      I was on the South Island from mid-November (about Nov. 18) until early December (I left Dec. 7). The lupins bloom usually from mid/late November until after New Year’s in January.

  • Liz Fisher says:

    Lupins are beautiful and you know how to take great pictures of them. Well done!

  • Deborah says:

    I live in New Zealand, whilst I agree the lupins are amazing…you must realize that many non-native species here have become invasive -meaning they out compete native species and become the dominant species.For that reason its important that they be controlled.The method is the issue- not sure how DoC does this in the case of Lupins; if at all ( it might be its planting in certain areas is banned or its removal encouraged by landowners).I had river stone delivered to my property when a nearby waterway was cleared of a build-up which impeded flow- and hey presto I now have lots of Lupins.

    • Amanda says:

      Yes, I know they’re actually a problem, especially when they impede the flow of waterways. I’m not sure what DoC does to try to combat them, but I understand the need to. (Though, secretly I hope they never completely eradicate them, because they’re so pretty!)

  • Gary "Gabs" Higgins says:

    On my fourth trip to NZ… I will go lupin spotting!
    Last trip (April 2015) was in autumn, and timed perfectly for repeated drenchings including a 1.4 metre dump of rain and gales at Milford Sound. And nary a single lupin, just the dead stalks of the faded season in some places along the road to Aoraki/Mount Cook. This time, I shall go prepared. Beaut photos documenting these weeds that the majority of New Zealanders yank out and stomp and crush. Poor lupins…Can’t be an easy (short) life being a pretty lupin face.

  • Dawn Tan says:

    Helo Amanda! Where can I take coach bus from to Lake Tekapo? Also could you pls provide website that I can book my coach & also the estimate charges? Thankyou

    • Amanda says:

      Most of the big bus lines in New Zealand stop at Tekapo on their way between Christchurch and Queenstown. I would check out Naked Bus and InterCity. I don’t know what the prices will be like, but I’ve gotten tickets on both at the last minute for about $30-$40 before.

  • Josephine Lim says:

    Hi, which part of Lake Wanaka did you get your photos from? Heading there soon and am pretty psyched! 🙂 I don’t recall seeing any near the Wanaka township the last time I was there in the summer though, that’s why I’m asking. Do we need to drive to the other side of the lake?

    • Amanda says:

      I got photos on the east side of the lake, heading towards Albert Town (or possibly even a little bit past there). The biggest field we saw was on private land, though… we may have walked a bit down a driveway to take photos through a fence!

  • Kenji Wong says:

    Hi Amanda,

    I am planning to visit NZ in early Dec 2017 and I am highly impressed in the places you visited in your blog. May I know if you have any idea on other wildflowers field (or planted flowers field such as sunflower) locations in NZ ? Of course with blooming at around December.

    thank you

    Kenji

    • Amanda says:

      Lupins will be blooming at that time of year, but I’m afraid I don’t know of any other fields of flowers similar to the lupins in New Zealand. There are some lavender farms in New Zealand, but I’m not sure when it usually blooms.

  • Ballack Lai says:

    Hi Amanda is it possible to spot the Aurora at Lake Tekapo during the blooming season of Lupin near Lake Tekapo?

    • Amanda says:

      I’m not an expert on the Southern Lights, but lupin-blooming season is spring/summer, which usually isn’t ideal for seeing an aurora. And Lake Tekapo is a bit too far north to see them even in the best conditions, I think. (Most photos I’ve seen of the Southern Lights have been from Wanaka or even further south.)

  • Ranjana says:

    These are so so so pretty. Can I ask if we would be lucky enough to spot some during the first week of September? I booked my trip to New Zealand in a rush so, now I am regretting not having planned this one out clearly.

  • shulamite says:

    hi Amanda, love your pictures much. i’m wondering if lupins still blooming at its best in lake tekapo around 10th to 15th of Dec coz i’ll visit at that time.

  • Camilla says:

    Hi Amanda, your photos are lovely! Did you drive from Queenstown to Lake Tekapo? Planning to go there in September and I’d like to know how the drive is. New to right hand driving but if it’s just an easy drive in the South Island, I can consider. Otherwise, I can go check for a coach tour or take the bus if there is. Thanks in advance!

    • Amanda says:

      Yes, I’ve driven there. I’ve also taken the bus, which is nice, but when you self-drive you can obviously stop for photos whenever you want! The roads are generally well-kept and very easy to drive.

      • Camilla says:

        Thank you for your reply. Good to hear that, I’m used to left-hand driving but with what you said, I’ll probably rent a car and drive 🙂 we went to Milford Sound last time (group tour) and I noticed that the roads were a bit narrow and curvy that’s why I asked. Were you able to go to Mt Cook as well?

        • Amanda says:

          Yes the roads to some of the more remote spots (like Milford Sound) are indeed really narrow and windy! But the roads between Queenstown and Lake Tekapo aren’t too bad – you’ll only go over one mountain pass.

          And as for Mount Cook, yes I’ve been there, too! If it’s a clear day and you can see the mountain, it’s definitely worth visiting! The Hooker Valley track is a nice 3-4 hour hike there if you have time.

  • Hasny* says:

    Hi Amanda,

    I’m planning to go to New Zealand in Oct or Nov. What is the best time to spot the Lupins? Many thanks for the advice.

    • Amanda says:

      The lupins technically bloom from spring to summer (September-February), but “peak” lupin season in Mackenzie Country is usually from mid-November until just after Christmas. The lupins at Lake Tekapo are best in late November, while the flowers hit full bloom a little later the further south you go. So if you’re there in November you might spot some on the South Island.

  • Hasny* says:

    Many thanks for your reply. I’ve been to New Zealand some time ago (can’t remember the month), but didn’t spot any lupins. They are so pretty. I really want to see them in my next trip to NZ. I plan to go to Lake Tekapo. I understand that the blooming times can change from year to year. Can you kindly advise, the best time to spot the lupins at its best in Lake Tekapo, is it better to arrive there in last week of November or first or second week of December? Thanks in advance.

    • Amanda says:

      It does change year to year and since I don’t live in New Zealand, I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything about the lupin bloom this year specifically. But when I saw them at Lake Tekapo a couple years ago, they were actually at peak bloom in mid-November. I visited Lake Tekapo again in early December and while they were still blooming, they were more vibrant in November.

  • roxy says:

    Loved this! Me and my girlfriend are going to New Zealand in a week and will definitely want to check this out. This was so so helpful and am so looking forward to seeing these beautiful lupins 🙂

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