Every summer the South Island of New Zealand is filled with the beautiful sight and smell of lupins, with vast fields of flowers popping up throughout Tekapo, Twizel, Lake Pukaki, further south in the Lindis Pass, and even around Queenstown and Glenorchy. So where should you go to see the lupins and when should you come? My Ultimate Guide to NZ Lupins will help you find and capture the most beautiful displays.
Firstly, you need to understand the history of the lupins in New Zealand. Originally lupin seeds were scattered on farms throughout the Mackenzie Country to assist as a soil fertilizer for grazing animals - and for this purpose they do a fabulous job, not to mention the number of tourists who benefit from seeing large fields of brightly coloured blue, purple, pink, orange, yellow and white. However, they do spread very easily which has led them to take root around the various riverbeds in the area, which is an issue for some of our endemic birds like the endangered black stilt who make their home there. The lupins can easily hide predators as they grow in tightly packed clumps which can reach head height, as well as destroying their natural habitat. This article from NZ Geo is a great read on the War of the Lupins - one that is ongoing and has been quite a polarising argument between farmers in the region and environmentalists. What the outcome will be is unclear but for now we still have the opportunity to enjoy the lupins so we should make the most of it while we can.
The lupin flowering season is relatively short - generally starting mid-to-late November through to early January. The lupins flower first around Tekapo and the Mackenzie Basin and gradually make their way south through the Lindis Pass and as far as Queenstown and Glenorchy. I have been lucky enough to make two trips on consecutive years to see them - once around the 25th November and the other around 15th December. You may get lucky and see them later in the season but to guarantee a good display I'd definitely recommend late November - mid December.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the weather - you see we're talking about New Zealand and ANYTHING can happen and often does! The first year I was going to see the lupins in 2018 there was a freak snowstorm the week before and I was sure the lupins would be ruined with the weight of the snow. Then the weekend we travelled down the forecast was for heavy rain so I didn't hold out much hope of getting great shots. But as it turned out the MOOD and grey skies made for some totally atmospheric shots - and even though I only had 24 hours in the region I came away with lots of shot I was happy with!
Fast forward one year and 2019 was touted to be one of the best displays of the lupins in years and I was so excited to be able to return. So you can imagine my horror when a massive flood hit the South Island in the height of the lupin season the week before we were due to go down. Would there be any lupins left? I knew for sure that the most impressive field right on the Tekapo foreshore was completely under water so we knew we would have to be a bit more creative looking for spots. What REALLY helped us was that we had lovely colour for 2 sunsets and a sunrise to provide a beautiful backdrop for the shots.
So where are the best spots? Here's where it gets a little tricky because every year is a little bit different - having visited them two years in a row I can confirm that the best fields varied from year to year so you do have to be prepared for a bit of driving around to find where they're flowering at their best. However, as a general rule of thumb these are the places you should visit and you're bound to see some great displays:
Unfortunately it was raining quite heavily when we drove over the Pass but there were definitely large swathes of lupins on the road to Tarras. I also haven't seen the lupins around Queenstown and Glenorchy to know how well they fare but I do know that you can't go wrong with some of the above locations in the Mackenzie District.
I know it might be hard not to slam on the brakes and stop in a hurry when you spot a field of lupins you want to photograph, but please please be safe when you are driving and scouting. Often the roads are narrow and winding in New Zealand and there may not always be a spot to pull over exactly where you want to - but be patient and there will be somewhere to pull over soon!
So what are your thoughts on the New Zealand lupins? Do you think of them as an invasive weed or a great drawcard and something to enjoy photographing? Have you visited them in all their glory or do you plan to? How do you feel about them being sprayed and disappearing for good one day?
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