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February 12, 2017, New Zealand

All lit up in golden autumn hues

New Zealand is at its spectacular best in fiery shades of gold and auburn

Esther Teo

THERE is never a bad time to visit New Zealand; it is a glorious, all year round destination for adventurous, fun-loving folks and families who embrace the great outdoors.

But autumn, which lasts from March till May, is arguably the most romantic time to bask in the country’s unrivalled natural beauty.

The days are stiller with plenty of sunshine, making for more enjoyable sojourns through landscapes cloaked in magnificent hues of golds, fiery yellows and rusty auburn.

It is also off-season — a boon for budget-conscious travellers or those who want to avoid summertime crowds.

Orcas, whales and seals, oh my!

The autumn period is an especially good time to spot some of New Zealand’s most majestic marine giants.

From March to July, orca and Bryde’s whales, long-finned pilot whales, humpback whales and blue whales are known to visit the Bay of Islands in the North Island more frequently.

On the capital city Wellington’s coast, you can also spot orcas and dolphins from the waterfront; or hop onboard a ferry to Eastbourne or Picton for a whale cruise.

Kaikoura, Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Plenty are other well known top spots for year round whale and dolphin watching.

Cruise or kayak into the heart of Abel Tasman National Park and you will find yourself in New Zealand Fur Seal territory. You will spot the blubbery lazy bodies sunbathing on the rocky outcrops around the edge of Tonga Island.

Dapper little blue penguins march ashore at dusk in Marlborough Sounds, Akaroa Harbour, Oamaru, Dunedin and Stewart Island; yellow-eyed penguins nest on the Otago Peninsula, south of Dunedin and around the Catlins region; and the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin can be spotted in the rainforested areas of Haast, Lake Moeraki, Stewart Island and Fiordland on the South Island.

Explore New Zealand on horseback to see the country from a unique vantage point. You can go for relaxing coastal treks along white-sand beaches in Northland, or ride under the shadow of snow-topped dormant volcanoes in Ruapehu.

Ideal for film buffs

New Zealand’s spectacular vistas — golden rolling plains, looming mountains and unfathomable valleys — have made it a movie maker's dream.

Most famously, the country was the backdrop for the mythical world of Middle Earth in award-winning blockbusters The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogy. A whopping total of more than 150 locations throughout New Zealand were used to film the two movie series.

There are many good organised film tours in, and departing from, Wellington.

At the Weta Workshop, the Weta Cave Workshop Tour ( gives visitors a behind the-scenes look at the inner workings and artistry behind 20 years of film making.

The workshop is the brainchild of leading Kiwi filmmakers — including Sir Peter Jackson and Sir Richard Taylor — who worked on blockbusters such as the Oscar winning film Avatar, King Kong, The Avengers and Prometheus.

On the Full Day Tour by Wellington Rover (, follow in the footsteps of hobbits, dwarfs, elves and men. The tour starts on Mount Victoria with a visit to the lookout, then goes to locations like the Outer Shire, Hobbiton Woods, the Hutt Valley and Kaitoke Regional Park (the location of Rivendell).

Along the way, travellers will also visit Isengard, Fords of Isen and see the locations for Helms Deep and Minas Tirith.

Or go on the 14-day Elven Magic self-drive itinerary, which stretches 1,374km from Auckland Central to Central Queenstown.

Travellers will get to explore some of the most stunning landscapes in the country, and immerse themselves in the otherworldly filming locations of Forest River, Dimrill Dale and Lothlorien.

Gastronomical delights

New Zealand is known for its luscious green-lipped mussels, tender lamb and steaks, sumptuous seafood — salmon, cod, whitebait, lobster, oysters, abalone — and fresh local veggies.

In autumn, there are a few major food events no connoisseur would want to miss.

The award-winning Hokitika Wildfoods Festival (March 11) celebrates the West Coast’s famous bush tucker. Every year, new wild foods — from clams to offal, wasp larvae ice cream to ostrich sandwiches, whitebait to escargots and shark and scorpions (raw and cooked) — are introduced.

Following that is the Havelock Mussel & Seafood Festival (March 18). The iconic Marlborough Greenshell mussel is the top draw, along with a tantalising line-up of the best local seafood by celebrity chefs Karena & Kasey Bird (MasterChef 2014 winners).

The annual Bluff Oyster Festival (May 20) celebrates the seasonal harvest of the prized delicacy which many claim is the biggest, juiciest and tastiest oyster in the world. Other local specialities include sought-after Muttonbirds, wild foods and a variety of fresh regional seafood.

Along with autumn arrives the grape harvesting and wine-making season in vineyards and wineries. It is a good time to visit cellar doors, and to get intoxicated on the heady aroma of fermenting wine.

Some wine festivals to check out include the North Canterbury Wine & Food Festival (March 12) and Fullers Waiheke Wine & Food Festival (April 1).

- Visit for more destination information and ideas.

Fly in comfort

With extensive international and domestic connections, Air New Zealand is the airline to fly for your trip to New Zealand.

The airline’s multi-stop fares also make it more economical to plane-hop on your journey, so you do not have to drive all the way.

If you are travelling with little ones, or want more space without paying a premium for Business Class, the airline’s innovative Kiwi-designed Economy Skycouch could be your best bet.

The Economy Skycouch is a row of three seats in Economy that easily converts into a flat surface for rest, relaxation and play.

To book the Sky Couch, top up:

- $1,200 per way for individuals with one Economy Class ticket

- $600 per way for couples with two Economy Class tickets

- $200 per way for families — two adults and two kids — with Economy Class tickets. One adult and two kids can enjoy the Skycouch while one adult will be assigned a seat next to the Skycouch.

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