Whether you're an outdoorsy type, a festival fan, or enjoy wine tasting, there's no shortage of things to see and do this autumn, writes Kate Ford
QUEENSTOWN AND ARROWTOWN
Celebrate the change of season in one of the country's prettiest destinations, with the Arrowtown Autumn Festival (April 22-26).
The festival has been a must-do in the region since 1985, when events included barbershop quartet competitions and sheep races. Though the calendar of events may have changed, many long-held traditions remain today, like the art exhibition at the Lakes District Museum, the street parade, and market day. It's certainly a lively way to spend your time in the south.
Is there a better autumnal activity than strolling through gardens invigorated with pops of orange? Listen to leaves crunch underfoot and take in the beauty of Queenstown Gardens, which stick out like a branch on a small peninsula on the fringe of Lake Wakatipu. Meander past rose gardens, participate in leisurely lawn bowls, or take a picnic and be awed by the Remarkables, staring down at you.
Wanaka is one of the jewels in the South Island's crown, so be dazzled by the autumnal hues of amber, topaz and citrine that bursts from the landscape. For more vibrancy, check out Wanaka's Festival Of Colour (April 12-18).
Featuring everything from conversations about fake news to the New Zealand String Quartet combining Beethoven with James K Baxter, to physical comedy, ballet, and immersive live music experiences, the festival is a celebration of the arts that is not to be missed.
Those with a sense of adventure can get on their bikes for the Contact Epic Bike Race (April 17). Described as the longest, most scenic mountain bike race in New Zealand, riders can choose between 95km, 125km, or 160km-long trails. With creek crossings, hill climbs, and varied terrain, this race is for serious riders. Rewards include cycling through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.
Autumn signals one of the best times to see the Aurora Australis, so visit Lake Tekapo in the hope of experiencing the majesty. Tekapo Springs offers one stargazing location, combining the stunning skyscape of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve and the hot pools, where you can soak in the stars on a floating hammock.
The lake itself is a must-see. Walk along the water's edge and take in the changing trees. Or visit Lake Tekapo Regional Park, a 165ha forest on the southeastern side of the lake, where you can enjoy picnic spots, a dog park, and 24km of cycling and walking tracks.
Don't forget to visit the hidden gems of Lake Alexandrina and Lake McGregor. Just a short drive from Lake Tekapo, these small lakes sit among plenty of peaceful walkways, perfect for picnic lunches.
ALEXANDRA AND ROXBURGH
Embrace the crisp temperatures and experience the landscape's changing colours by bike. The Central Otago Rail Trail is a classic southern activity to take on while in Alexandra and Roxburgh. Spend a day on the trail or, for ambitious outdoorsy types, take on the whole 150km track that snakes around from Clyde to Middlemarch.
The Roxburgh Gorge Trail offers a one-day ride from Alexandra to Lake Roxburgh Dam, with a middle section that requires a boat-ride crossing. Pedal through the spectacular scenery of the dramatic bluffs and schist outcrops that dominate the vistas. Then treat yourself to some of the region's finest food and wine, including Alexandra's Black Ridge Vineyard & Winery, one of the world's southernmost wineries.
Christchurch is never short of leisurely entertainment, so time a trip for the Christchurch Food Show (April 9-11). More than 120 exhibitors will be dishing up tasty bites, there'll be wine and cheese masterclasses, cooking theatre, and everything you would expect from a delicious day out.
Continue the food theme with a visit to one of the region's enticing farmers' markets. From Christchurch to Riccarton to Riverside, there's plenty of locally-sourced goodies to fill you up, from cheeses and deli offerings to coffee and pastries. Then, if you feel the need to burn off the calories, take on the Christchurch Marathon (April 11).
Don't miss the classics while you're in the city, like the Botanic Gardens, lush this time of year with hydrangeas and a crisp, cool autumn leaf display. Venture a little further afield and explore the North Canterbury wineries, like pioneering Pegasus Bay Winery, Pyramid Valley Vineyards, or Waipara Hills. And, since you're in the area, it'd be rude not to take your relaxation to the next level with a Hanmer Springs visit. Soak in the mineral-rich waters, or indulge in a spa treatment – a perfect tonic as the air begins to cool.
For those who like their exercise to come with a side of elegance, the Hawke's Bay Marathon (May 15) could be for you. Take on 10km, 21km or 42km; run through the region, across local cycle trails and country roads, and jog past vineyards and orchards. In what is perhaps the most sophisticated way to finish a running race, the marathon wraps up at Elephant Hill Estate & Winery, so you can reward your efforts with a crisp chardonnay.
If you visit on a clear autumn day, check out Maraetotara Falls, even if it's too cold for a dip. A short drive from Havelock North gets you there, and an easy walk leads to a beautiful swimming spot at the base of the Falls. It's enough to just amble around the area, though, and enjoy the Maraetotara Historic Walk.
Continue down the nature path and visit the Pekapeka Wetlands. Covering 98 hectares, the wetlands is home to protected bird species like the grey teal, kingfisher, morepork, and the rarely-spotted Australasian bittern.
Raise a glass to the harvest season and visit some of the Wairarapa's finest wineries this autumn. With more than 20 cellar doors, Martinborough is a must-go destination for wine fans.
One crowd-pleaser on the scene is Poppies Martinborough, a boutique wine producer that draws on traditional wine-making techniques. There's a tasting room for their wines or, if you'd like to linger longer, settle in for a tasty lunch or platter while you sip on a sauvignon semillon.
Continue exploring the Wairarapa wine trail and stop in for award-winning wines at Masterton's Matahiwi Estate, Gladstone Vineyard in Carterton, and Martinborough's Palliser Estate, to name just a few.
Fans of craft markets will find plenty to love at Martinborough Fair (April 10), where hundreds of stallholders will be selling top quality New Zealand-made craft, clothing and food. From botanical and resin art, to fudge and candles, there's a lot on offer here. And, if you need another reason to visit, profits from the fair go to local causes and projects in the Wairarapa region.