Everything you need to know about eloping New Zealand | The South Island
Why would you want to elope in New Zealand?
I could give you a hundred reasons why eloping here is a good idea, but let’s break it down!
If you want to elope in the US and want to elope in the winter with mountains, but not be cold – this is a dream come true. Coming from Washington State ourselves, we were blown away by the beauty of the mountains here and we were in such joy to experience it when it is cold + gray back home.
This is great if you are looking for an abroad location that offers countless adventures and where English is spoken.
Queenstown, New Zealand is known as the “Adventure Capital of the World” – really though you could say that about the entire South Island. The area is busting with things to do like – mountain bike, hike, climb, ski and more. It is an adventure filled location, no doubt.
If you are looking to tick off a bucket-list location for your elopement and pair with with an extended honeymoon, you could easily do that here.
On top of all of these pluses, the US dollar goes further here – so other than the long, expensive flight, if you are using US currency via your credit/debit cards, you’ll get a discount on food, gas and rentals. Did I mention New Zealand has some incredible Airbnbs to stay in!?
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When is the best time to elope in New Zealand?
New Zealand has the 4 traditional seasons you may already be familiar with but if you’re from North of the equator like us, it’ll just be in reverse!:
– December through February is Summer
– March through May is Fall
– June to August is Winter
– September to November is Spring
Temperatures between the seasons vary from 50-78 degrees on average! So at the lower elevations there really is not much difference in temps.
So how do you say when is the best time to elope here? I say it is based on two main factors: what you want to do during your elopement day and how you would like the weather to be.
The windiest time is Summer, but the South Island is less windy than the North Island in general so that is a plus 🙂
It equally rains throughout the year, however, winter does receive the most.
Keep in mind if you are going up in elevation information will vary about weather.
The prime season to visit New Zealand is Mid- December through February. I recommend picking a time slightly on the shoulder season if you can, so late November to Mid December and the end of February. This way travel costs will be a little lower and areas will be a little less busy.
Eloping New Zealand with the Lupines
The Lupines in New Zealand will quite literally leave you in awe. They grace the side of the roads with their vibrant colors in unimaginable abundance. They stand in unison with the even more colorful blue and teal lakes as the towering mountains stand tall in the background. It is a sight to see. When we went to New Zealand everyone told us – do not worry about where the best place to see the mountains is, you will see them everywhere – I thought they were kidding. They were not. Literally, they are everywhere, in certain regions 🙂
If you are dreaming of eloping among the Lupines, I highly recommend considering the Mt Cook National Park region of the South Island. Secondly, I would recommend the Milford Sound/Fjords National Park region and thirdly the Glenorchy region which is just outside of Queenstown.
The lupines start blooming in Spring and are gone towards the end of February/early March. They peak late November to late December.
Important Fact + Leave No Trace Moment: We are dedicated stewards of following the Leave No Trace principles and do not go off trail and into the wildflowers with our couples eloping in, for example, Mt Rainier or the Mount Baker area. So why here do we have couples sitting and romping around in the flowers!?
Lupines are not native to New Zealand. They are stunning and drive tourism in the country, but that is unfortunately not the whole story. These flowers are actually aggressively invasive, as you can tell from how prominent they are along roadways. They harm the native ecosystem in New Zealand, out competing many of the native plant life and causing a large impact up the chain of life. While seed pods are a plenty on the plant, please do not go romping around them which will only assist them in their rampant take over. But while the blooms are out and showing all of their glory, don’t feel a bit bad about living out your flower fantasies and picking a few just for fun along the way :).
Things to do in New Zealand for an Adventure Elopement
Alright, alright – we know you are ready to set out on the adventure of a lifetime for your elopement day! Let’s see what types of adventures you can have! This is a list of ideas that sparked our interest and displays a good overall sense of the island’s top to do’s!
– Explore wineries by bike
– Go Whale watching or on a boat/kayaking tour of Milford Sound
– Take a helicopter tour to the top of Mitre Peak in Milford Sound
– Hike/go Backpacking (we might recommend Milford Sound Trek or Keppler Trek)
– Do a day hike (we highly recommend Roy’s Peak and a few secret spots we know ;))
– Stay overnight in a hut in the wilderness – you can hike to these or take a helicopter ride!
– Visit a farm
– Go to all the places the Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings were filmed.
– Bungee Jump
– Go boating in many of the lakes
– Rock Climb in Castle Hill or Wanakā
– Mountain Bike
– Visit a glacier
– Visit one of the 10 National Parks!!! (all of which are free to enter)
Best Places to Elope in New Zealand
The “best” place will certainly depend on YOU! Elopements are beautiful in a way that they are SUPER unique and tailored to each couple. So picking the best place for you be determined by time of year, how many people, what adventures you want to do and so on. However, this is our general Top 5 Places to Elope in New Zealand List!
Mt Cook National Park
Mt Cook is is a stunning National Park with a towering mountain range and glistening glaciers. The National Park entrance is near Twizel in between several lakes with lupines galore. Mt Cook is home to Mueller Hut which was personally one of our favorite hikes we did in New Zealand and for sure worth all that elevation gain. It would be an incredible place to say I DO! Not up for a hard hike – no worries – there are easier hikes in the areas and beautiful view points to see.
New Zealand takes their conservation seriously for their public lands. So when planning your elopement in this National Park and other outdoor areas, you may need to reach out to the DOC to make sure your vision is in line with their regulations.
Where to stay in this area?
I would say where to stay when visiting the Mount Cook area depends on what you plan to do while there. If you are planning to hike a lot in the area or want to catch sunrise and sunset in the valley in the park you want to stay at the Hermitage or Mt Cook Lodge. I say this because the drive time from any of your options outside of the park is at least a 30-60 minute drive one way. This way you can wake up and have your coffee watching sunrise bring the alpine glow to the peaks. This also saves you from having to deal with the competitive parking to get to the trail heads.
However, if you are planning to visit other areas around the park just as much as be in the park or plan to a helicopter ride into the park to visit the glaciers you may consider staying in Twizle, the closest town, or near Lake Ohau. There are two different benefits here – Twizel has some stores + restaurants and is a little closer to the park. However, Lake Ohau is more private with beautiful views of lakes and mountains with lupines around! Really you can not go wrong either way.
Check out these Airbnb options that would be ideal for getting ready photos, a romantic evening together and more:
In + Around Queenstown
Queenstown is far from a sleepy, boring “town” that you’ll just find yourself passing through. It is THE adventure town. One of the absolutely fantastic thing about Queenstown is you can fly right into Queenstown, stay at one of their many beautiful rental options and base camp here for everything else you have planned. From within Queenstown you can hop onto the lake for an adventure, share vows along the shore, soak in a private hot spring overlooking the river and mountains, visit an incredible farm where you can also host a small wedding at and so on! From big adventures to small – it is here. You can base out of here and still see Milford Sound with a tour and/or hop on a helicopter to see the National Parks. If you do not have a good chunk of time to explore all of the South Island this would be the most bang for your buck location.
Where to stay in Queenstown:
When it comes to Queenstown you have the touristy downtown area and then you have the more casual part of town where the locals live and shop in. The town itself is surrounded by outdoor activities and other smaller towns.
We quite like the little neighborhood of Fernhill, just outside of Queenstown. You can easily Uber or drive into town, but you can also walk to great restaurants in the neighborhood. The views of the lake and mountains in this neighborhood are perfection. Check out this Fernhill Airbnb.
If you want to be in the heart of it all where all the coffee shops, places to eat, shop and access to activities are then you might consider staying right in town here.
If you are looking for something unique and luxurious for your entire group, you can find plenty of options in Queenstown as well. For a great example, we love this place!
Fjordland National Park | Milford Sound
Fjordland National Park is the biggest National Park on the South Island and is over one million acres! This National Park reminded me of a more diverse, more massive version of Olympic National Park here in Washington. Now, if you are familiar with this park then you know – it is cloudy, rainy and weather changes greatly, but what comes with that is a rainforests teeming with unique life, majestic mountains and stunning coastlines! Fjordland is home to the ever famous Milford Sound which many people come from all over the world to experience! Here you can see the unique bird – Kea and some times KaKas. The drive to Milford Sound from the closest town, Te Anau, is stunning with many magical places to stop and sights to see, camp or hike.
Where to stay here:
As we mentioned, Milford Sound is quite remote actually. There is only one place you can stay at that is within walking distance of the sound or even after the tunnel you must drive through for that matter. That place is Milford Sound Lodge – the cabins here are romantic, offer incredible dinners with incredible views. You can also camp at the lodge in a camper van or RV.
If you are planning to visit Fjordland National Park, doing more than just visiting the sound, you may want to consider staying elsewhere. Or if you simply do not mind road tripping around to get everywhere you want to go. The closest town you can stay in is Te Anu which is about 2 hours away. When we drove it we gave ourselves 3 hours to enjoy the sights and bigs along the way. You could give yourself even more and you will not regret it! The town has restaurants, shops, glow worm tours and more!
If you are looking for something unique, consider this Yurt option. While it may sound rustic, it is quite romantic + fun!
This home comes with everything you want in a stay for your elopement – a hot tub, a full kitchen, a beautiful home and an expanse of private land.
Mt Aspiring National Park
Mt Aspiring is the third largest National Park in all of New Zealand! The closest towns around Mt Aspiring are Glenorchy and Wanakā. This park is home to beautiful lakes, many glaciers and many incredible huts you can hike to. The park is known for it’s blue pools, boating, the treks + huts! Not up for adventure by feet? You can also catch a plane or helicopter tour in and around the mountains. If you are feeling up for a bigger adventure you can try canyoneering through waterfalls! This area is home to the ever famous Roy’s Peak, This hike is incredibly busy but for good reason – keep this in mind when planning your trip here!
Where to Stay:
If you are visiting the East side of the park or basing out form there then I would recommend a stay near Wanakā. This modern stay will for sure make you feel like you are on your honeymoon! Or you could stay tucked away at this cottage overlooking the lake!
If you want to stay in Glenorchy you will be able to access different areas of Aspiring. This little town feels remote and is surrounded by incredible mountains. There is a portion of Glenorchy that is called Paradise, and wow, it is for good reason. This stay will leave you feeling like you never want to leave!
The West Coast
The western coast of the South Island is so beautiful! It does run through some of the National Parks listed above, but what really draws me to this area is access to Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. So if you are asking me what the draw is, it is the glacial ice and waters. Picture a deep blue gatorade color but replace the bottle and artificial coloring for a stunning sight you’ll find hard to believe. Hokitika is the biggest town in this area making for a great place to stay. Nearby you can zip line or go for a hike on the Mt Tuhua Track. You can loop part of the South Island driving from Queenstown North to the Mt Cook area, shoot over to Christchurch, then over to the West Coast all the way south hitting the beautiful Landsborough Valley before heading back into Queenstown – the perfect road trip to get married on!
Where to Stay:
Staying in Hokitika really does offer you the best of access to towns and the mountains. What I really love is that this Airbnb is right on the ocean, with private view access and the vibe is fantastic.
As you get closer to the mountains you can stay in the Franz Glacier area, there are not as many options though. However, this little Airbnb is fantastic with its modern feel, hot tub and seclusion.
Traveling to New Zealand for your Elopement
My only experience flying into the South Island is from the United States so I will speak to that. We flew Delta and had a great experience as usual. We flew first to the international airport at Auckland on the North Island and then from there to the South Island. If you also have to do this, be sure to give yourself plenty of time in the lay over to make it through customs, walk the 10 minutes over to the domestic terminal, re-arrange bags as needed and then go through security again. I recommend 3 hours for this. Note that the domestic airlines have very strict times you are allowed to check in and weight allowed in your carry on bags.
We flew into New Zealand overnight our flight left LAX at 10pm – this was fantastic since we were able to sleep the entire flight.
On our way home we left Queenstown at 10am – this for me was tough as I was up for almost 36 hours in total during this travel. From my own experience and if possible for you to do, I recommend flying in the evenings if you can. But hey! The lack of sleep was worth every second of the experience.
Important Note: New Zealand Customs is also very strict about your hiking gear. This means tents, hiking poles, boots, etc. Essentially, if it has ever been used outdoors in a wilderness or park setting, customs wants to see it and make sure that it is very, very clean. You want everything to basically look brand new.
Do you need a rental car?
Absolutely. I would say its important to rent a car in New Zealand if you plan to travel around at all. If you are planning to just stay in Queenstown and do tours from their via bus or plane/helicopter you may not need one, but if you traveled all this way to come to this beautiful place, I’m sure you’d like some control on when you can get where.
Keep in mind when planning any road trips or drive times you should add time to whatever Google Maps tells you. Here in Washington state, we are very used to driving on curvy mountain roads. Not everybody has that experience and with such global interest in New Zealand, there are people from all over the world who decided to enjoy this beautiful country. So between the at times seemingly endless curves and equally seemingly endless views, you should be very certain to know that you will not be consistently going the speed limit. That’s okay though! You didn’t come all this way just to rush through it right?!
While driving, do not forget to STAY LEFT 🙂 Yes, in New Zealand they drive on the opposite side of the road when compared to the US. We found this to be pretty easy, just make sure you pay attention and your co-pilot helps you out when you need a reminder.
What to Pack?
Of course you know to pack your usual items like a toothbrush, underwear and all of that good stuff, but what specifically for NZ…..
– Sunscreen (A lot of the hikes have no shade and NZ is a sunny place with less pollution so it is easy to get sun burnt here. We bought sunscreen at the store because we felt like that was easier and made more sense, just do not forget it!)
-Bug spray for the sand flies (Again you could buy this once you land)
– Layers – some days were chilly, some were hot and it changed often as it does in these type of environments
– Rain jacket if you are visiting the Milford Sound area or just in general 🙂
– Passport + Visa information
– Power Adaptor
– A re-usable water bottle and coffee mug (Several of the coffee shops we went to do not offer to go cups – honestly, love this – so bring your own or be prepared to purchase one.)
How long should your trip to the South Island be?
The tourist travel visa as a US resident will allow you to be in New Zealand for a total of 60 days within 2 years of the visa issue date. The process can be done all online here, and it’s super quick and easy. Their website mentions a very fast turnaround time, but with any international trip you want to be ahead incase of any issues. Try to be a month ahead on obtaining this visa.
We spent 12 days on the South Island and to me that was not enough. I think deciding how long of a trip you need really depends on what all you want to do and what you have time for.
We know people that have traveled there and enjoyed Vanlife for their full 2 months! That to me sounds like the ideal time lol….
For your elopement trip specifically, I would recommend at least 14 days to give you time to see more than one place and to go on multiple adventures and hikes as you want. It also gives you time to relax and take in the experience instead of rushing through it all.
Vanlife Camping on the Island
If you are open to traveling around the South Island Van Life style, it is for sure a thing to consider. There are lots of camp sites all over the island. You can access a lot of the outdoor locations easier if you are camping. For example, you can pay to park overnight and camp in the parking lot for the trail access in Mt Cook! Also, as you drive from Te Anu you may not find any hotels or Airbnbs on the way to Milford Sound, but you do find a lot of camp sites with lupines and mountains all around.
From our own van life experience living years on the road, we will tell you apps are your best friend for finding cheap gas, mapping and finding campsites or other needs. You may want to check out these apps specific to New Zealand: Maps.Me, Campermate and Rankers Camping.
Choosing to experience van life here can give you more flexibility in your trip in general as to where you go, when and where you stay. The down side can be figuring out showers and things like that. If you plan ahead, but also allow yourself flexibility, this can be a win win! This may also be ideal if you are planning to be in the country for an extended chunk of time when it comes to saving money on your trip!
Can you a United States Citizen Legally get Married in New Zealand?
Yes you can get legally married in New Zealand as a US Citizen!!!
To do so you need to:
– Fill out this form within 3 months of your arrival but at least 3 days before.
– Go to the registry office upon arrival, addresses are in forms.
– Pay $150.
For the ceremony you will need 2 witnesses and 1 celebrant.
Your officiant must be a permanent resident of New Zealand. So likely this is a service you will need to hire out! At the ceremony you will give them all of your paperwork you previously obtained!
Depending on what state you live in, you may need to do some further paperwork when you return home in the States. To learn about specific requirements for your state contact the office of Attorney General for where you live.
About the elopement photos in this blog post
These photos are of our good friends Aimee + Rob. One night we were sitting in their dining room eating some tasty pasta when they were discussing this upcoming 10 year anniversary within the next year and a half. They mentioned really wanting to go back to New Zealand to do their vow renewal. This sparked what became our trip to New Zealand. We decided to go as a couple’s friend group on the trip and we would photograph the vow renewal!
The photos from this blog of Aimee and Rob were taken near:
Mt Cook – where we just did an evening of fun photos after dinner one night. We could not pass up the beautiful lupines and mountain views not too far from our Airbnb.
The Dart River – The dart river runs through a town where they shared some very special memories in during their first visit and the extra icing on the cake is part of The Lord of the Rings and one of Taylor Swift’s music videos were filmed here. They shared another first look, in new attire in a field of lupines. We then moved to another place for them to share their vow exchange. It was important to these two to also share their vows with each other somewhere beautiful + private and this ticked all of those boxes. As dusk settled in around the mountains, they shared their first dance to the same song their first dance was at their wedding 10 years ago and then a new “first dance” to a Taylor Swift song. We continued to venture around as they drank wine enjoying the river. Before it was too dark, they shared a blackberry tart from a local bakery in Queenstown. It was the perfect evening remembering where all they had been together, how they’ve grown, changed and being stoked on the future ahead of them. It was filled with so much joy, freedom and fun.
Milford Sound – This area was also truly inspiring to the couple on their first visit, another spot they couldn’t wait to stay at and come back to. Aimee even has Milford Sound tattooed on her back and as her business logo!! They stayed at the Lodge (which is a romantic place, but also the closest place to stay within Milford Sound) so we met up with them mid day for a boat tour of the Sound and finished with evening portraits before dinner.
It was an incredible honor to photograph this moment for our dear friends and to be a part of this trip with them. It was incredibly fun to re-create favorite moments/memories from their wedding day 10 years ago, but also let loose and play around in the river and sand. We photograph a lot of love stories in our work, but it is always a bit emotional and transcending to be behind the camera and present for big moments in your friends lives. To get to experience the vulnerability of vows with them, the highs of the biggest joys and quiet moments that follow. It was also fun to get to tag team this event and photograph along side one of our other really good friends. We work together in hosting workshops, but we had never gotten to work an elopement day/vow renewal together – making choices about light, framing, different angles and poses!
New Zealand Elopement Packages
Choosing to elope abroad is extremely exciting!!! If you have never been to the country you plan to elope at you may be feeling excited, curious and maybe overwhelmed – which is where we come in!!! We only take abroad elopements in places we feel 100% confident that we can provide you the same expert service as we bring for all of our couples in the United States! We like to work in places we are passionate about as it means we will co-create incredible images together and be just as excited as you to be there!
All of our eloping packages include:
– Two International Award Winning Photographers + Experienced Elopement Gurus
– Virtual + in person scouting for your elopement location
– The Most Thurough Elopement Planning Guide There Is!
– A Leave No Trace guide for eloping in Wilderness
– Couple’s questionnaires to co-create the most “you two” elopement day
– Personalized timelines
– Vetted Vendor Recommendations
– Drone coverage where permitted
– Photographer travel fees included
– Photography permit fees included up to $250
– Assistance with your own permits
– Same Day sneak peeks sent right to your phone
– Your full gallery within 5 weeks
Our elopement packages are designed around adventurous elopement days for couples who have built their relationship on epic adventures together! We intentionally help couples craft a day that is true to who they are, what they want most to experience and how they want to celebrate their union. Our elopement packages for abroad elopements start at a half day – which is up to 8 hours of coverage. From there our packages keep going to capture a full day with all of the beauty of both sunrise and sunset, two days over multiple diverse and stunning locations and even three days of non-stop adventure! We love when an elopement involves varying locations and experiences and are always happy to travel to different regions in a country to bring the dream to life. Think spending a full day exploring the mountains and glaciers seeing them during their most beautiful hours, spending the next day transporting somewhere near or far along the island and then another day adventuring out towards the coast where you’ll share a more formal intimate wedding with your loved ones. Whatever you’re dreaming of, let’s make it happen. We are all about the adventure!
We would absolutely love to capture your elopement day in New Zealand as we fell head over heels in love with it while we were shared our own honeymoon there and we know it will offer a wildly amazing elopement experience. We are available for elopements in New Zealand yearly from November through March.
Your New Zealand Elopement Photographers!!
HI-YA!!! We are Traci + Bill your dream team elopement photographers!!!! We 100% will likely be photographing at some point on your elopement day just like you see here!! We LOVE helping couples bring to life an elopement day that feels like them, that intentionally celebrates who they are as a couple and that inspires them deeply as they start off their marriage.
Outside of making it happen, we love documenting this part of your love story! To us photography doesn’t just freeze time, but let’s you keep living through a moment that has passed. It tells a story, it is art, it is you.
A bit about us! We went to New Zealand in December 2023 and fell IN LOVE with the place!!! It is almost like Iceland met Washington, with a touch of the desert sun – if that makes sense lol. Some of our favorite adventures while we were there was hiking Mueller Hut, exploring Queenstown and seeing the Lupines.
We can not wait to connect with you and meet you!