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 nakedย 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 โ€“ 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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89 Comments on “How and Where to Find Beautiful Lupins in New Zealand

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  1. 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.

      I don’t think you’ll find any in September, unfortunately. They don’t usually start blooming until late November!

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

      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.)

    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

      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.

    Hi, which part of Lake Wanaka did you get your photos from? Heading there soon and am pretty psyched! ๐Ÿ™‚ 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?

      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!

        Thanks! Appreciate the tip. ๐Ÿ™‚ Do you mean somewhere around here: https://www.google.co.nz/maps/place/44ยฐ39'28.8“S+169ยฐ07’55.4″E/@-44.658008,169.1298783,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d-44.658008!4d169.13 ? Or further inland towards Albert Town?

          Ah, URL doesn’t copy paste properly. I meant coords -44.658008, 169.132067 on Google Maps.

            I honestly have no idea. We weren’t using a GPS or anything – just driving around the lake and looking for lupins! I know we did not drive very far out of Wanaka, though.

    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

      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.

    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.

      Each season in New Zealand has something worth seeing, but late spring/early summer is definitely best for lupins!

    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.

      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!)

    […] want to shut up. He smoothly swayed between topics while pointing out local flora. For example, the Russel Lupin. I had recently announced it as my second favorite flower2 before learning it is considered an […]

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

      Thanks very much, Liz! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Beautiful photos! We are coming to NZ to try and time the Lupin right ๐Ÿ˜‰
    What exact days did you visit that they were in bloom like this?

    Thank you!! ๐Ÿ™‚

      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.

    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 ๐Ÿ™‚

      There might be a few left down on the South Island, but the main blooming season is from mid-November to early January.

    […] Starting in November and lasting pretty much all spring, the lupins bloom all over New Zealand’s South Island. Yes, they’re technically weeds. But do they ever make for gorgeous photos! Spend at least an afternoon lupin-hunting. […]

    […] have been a problem. But when you factored in coffee breaks and far too many stops to photograph lupins along the way, we didn’t even get to Aoraki village until noon. Add in lunch and some more […]

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