For about 4-5 weeks at the end of each year, the center of New Zealand's South Island bursts into color. Purple and pink and blue and yellow lupins sprout up along lake sides and in riverbeds in Mackenzie Country, making the already-stunning views even more incredible.
Lupins are not native to New Zealand – in fact, they're classified as an invasive species – but there's no denying that they are beautiful and make for a great photo backdrop.
Hence why people seek them out each and every year.
How lupins got to New Zealand
The story goes that Connie Scott, 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 Russell 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 disinclined to believe the naked-on-a-white-stallion version of that story, but there's no denying that the lupins DO add a pop of color to countryside that is otherwise a bit colorless.
Are lupins invasive in New Zealand?
The bad news is that the lupins have taken a little *too* well to certain areas of New Zealand. Lupins spread easily, and love lakes and rivers – of which NZ has a lot! The problem is that they can choke up waterways and disrupt native ecosystems.
Today, the Russell lupin is actually considered an invasive species by New Zealand's Department of Conservation, AND has been named a road safety hazard by the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) – yes, people (tourists) really are crashing their cars due to being distracted by lupins.
So lupins are definitely a little controversial in New Zealand. In recent years, efforts have been made to cull a lot of lupins, and control/contain where they grow and spread.
But there are still plenty to see, especially throughout the central South Island.
And as long as you aren't going out and spreading more lupin seeds yourself (or crashing your car because of them), I see no problem with enjoying them or stopping to take some photos of them.
I myself have gone lupin-spotting in New Zealand, and would do it again!
Here are some tips for lupin-hunting in New Zealand, should you like to see some for yourself:
Tips for finding lupins in New Zealand
1. Know when lupins bloom in NZ
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 New Year's in early January.
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.
2. Know where to look
Lupins can be found around lakes and braided rivers all throughout Mackenzie Country. Though I realize that telling you to go to “Mackenzie Country” is really quite vague. So here are some specific places you can look for lupins in New Zealand:
- Around Lake Tekapo (literally all over!)
- The road to Lake Alexandrina
- Burkes Pass
- Braemar Road between Tekapo and Lake Puakaki
- Near Twizel
- All along the Ahuriri River from the Lindis Pass to Omarama
- Around Lake Dunstan near Cromwell
- Around Cardrona
- The Crown Range Road between Wanaka and Queenstown (lots of yellow ones here)
There used to be tons of lupins around Lake Wanaka, too (though many of the best fields were fenced in an on private land). However many of these fields have since either been contained, or impacted by bad weather. So at present Wanaka isn't a great spot to look for lupins.
3. 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!
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 stay overnight:
Would YOU want to go lupin-hunting in New Zealand?
Pin it for later: