How and Where to Find Beautiful 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 – 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 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.

Tips for finding lupins in New Zealand

1. 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

2. 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 in New Zealand 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

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!

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)

READ NEXT: New Zealand Road Trip: The Perfect Itinerary if You Only Have 2 Weeks

Packing for lupin-spotting

Check out my full New Zealand packing list.

You also will want:

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.

READ NEXT: Dart River Adventures: The Most Fun Way to Explore Mount Aspiring National Park


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

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Tips for finding lupins in New Zealand

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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87 Comments on “How and Where to Find Beautiful Lupins in New Zealand

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  1. Am I the only one that sees these for what they are? An invasive weed that really needs to be dealt with. People celebrating lupins in New Zealand is a very sad reflection on the human species.

    Not taking away from your shots, I just get really upset seeing these things on my annual South Island trips.

      I think people appreciating things that are aesthetically pleasing is about as true to human nature as it gets! But yes, they are also an invasive weed.

    Apparently they were planted or sown as cattle and sheep fodder.

    “DOC’s stance is that it is unclear whether the agricultural benefits of Russell lupins outweigh a major risk to fragile native ecosystems, including braided rivers. Its staff are working with Environment Canterbury, government agencies and the merino industry towards understanding how lupins could impact conservation values and adjacent areas.”
    https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/war-of-the-lupins/

      Yes, in some areas I know they are a threat to certain ecosystems and I think contribute to erosion around rivers. They are still there in abundance, though. But if the NZ DOC decides to get rid of something, they are pretty serious about it!

    Stunning photos! It’s sad they’re considered a weed when they do so much good for the soil by enriching with nitrogen. Plus they’re a tourist attraction. I know i would like to visit when they’re in bloom. I’d be interested to learn DOC’s philosophy and why they’re intent on eradicating them?

    Hi Amanda, bravo-
    May I have your picture for my ads ?
    credit title with your name

      For advertising? No. I hold copyright to my images. If you’re interested in licensing any for commercial purposes, feel free to email me about rates.

    That farmers wife was Connie Scott – and the distribution wasn’t particularly secret – She had her sons David and Bruce throw them out the car window as she drove them to or from School. Sadly the naked on a white horse never happened – Grannie was not particularly fond of horses – and naked in the Mackenzie sun will get you badly sunburned (or turned to an icicle depending on the season).

    Glad you enjoyed the show 🙂

    Jill

    Hello, Amanda,
    Thanks for the lupins information. As a lupin hunter I went twice to Wanaka but I did not find the lupin field there. Could you be kind to let me exact location of the lupin field as I may visit and photography them in my next trip in Nov.2018. thank you.

      The field I visited in Wanaka was somewhere along Beacon Point road, if I remember correctly. It was behind a fence on private property, though, so keep that in mind! (We just took photos through the fence.)

    I was just there and somewhere between Fox Glacier and Queenstown (based on my photographic evidence), I saw field after field of lupins growing by the road. I stopped by a creek and took amazing pictures. It was December 28, 2017 according to the datestamp on the pics.

      Sounds about right – that’s definitely lupin country!

    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 🙂

      Happy to help! They should definitely be blooming now, especially around Lake Tekapo. 🙂

    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.

      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.

    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.

      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.

    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!

      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.

        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?

          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.

    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.

      They *should* still be blooming then. But the blooming times can change year to year!

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