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New Zealand Photography Advice | Russell Lupin Flowers

Posted by Todd & Sarah Sisson

Sunset lupins, Hollyford river

Sunset lupins, Hollyford river Lupins at sunset beside Hollyford River, Fiordland, New Zealand Photography by: Todd Sisson. Image Gallery: Fiordland NP
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II  Lens: EF17-40mm f/4L USM  Shooting Data: f/16, 0.3 sec, ISO 100

This image is now available as a limited edition Canvas Print \ Framed Print | Fine Art Photographic Print.

 From time to time we publish blog posts notifying our readers of unique and interesting photographic or travel conditions here in New Zealand.  

Related: Last week's photo advisory on the Mount Cook Lily flowering.

This article provides advice regarding the wild flower Russell Lupin (Lupinus polyphyllus) which is currently in full bloom in certain areas of the South Island.  We live about two hours from lupin central (the Mackenzie Basin) and we have been enchanted by the annual flowering for several years - Sarah has self-diagnosed herself with Lupin-itis and regularly suffers from a mild whiplash from perving at lupins while driving past at 100kph (as a passenger, thankfully).

Here is a very short and fairly comprehensive guide to finding and photographing the Russell Lupin in New Zealand.

What Is A Russell Lupin?

Lupins (seemingly spelled Lupines in North America) are an introduced species and are officially listed as an invasive weed by the Department of Conservation.  Weed / Schmeed we say!  As photographers we prefer to overlook this and instead bask in the insane color displays that break out across the countryside every November and December.  Lupins love moist environments and accordingly they thrive on the river banks, eventually choking out every other species (hence the weed / schmeed status) and in roadside drainage culverts.  More (mostly boring) information about the Russel Lupin can be found on this Wikipedia page.

Where Can I Find & Photograph Russell Lupin Flowers ?

The Mackenzie Basin:

The best place to photograph wild lupins is around Lake Tekapo in the Mackenzie Country.  Local legend attributes the success of the lupin in the Mackenzie basin to the work of a local farmer's wife who would scatter sacks of seed every spring from the back of a majestic white stallion, all the while as naked as Lady Godiva*.  A variation on this theme has tour bus drivers doing the same in order to 'brighten up' the landscape.  Regardlenss of  however it came to be, the Russell lupin now calls the Mackenzie basin home.  For visual proof check out more lupin images in our Mackenzie Country image gallery!

Fantastic stands of lupins can be found:

  • On Lake Tekapo foreshore
  • On the road to Lake Alexandrina
  • Burkes Pass
  • Near the highway at Lake Pukaki
  • Around Twizel
  • All along the Ahuriri River from Lindis Pass to Omarama.

*The white stallion/unicorn and gratuitous nudity were introduced purely for entertainment value.

Purple Lupins, Lake Pukaki & Mount Cook, New Zealand

Purple Lupins, Lake Pukaki & Mount Cook, New Zealand Purple lupins on the edge of Lake Pukaki looking up towards Aoraki / Mt Cook, Canterbury, New Zealand. Photography by: Sarah Sisson. Image Gallery: Mackenzie Country
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II Lens: EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM Shooting Data: 16, 1/400, 800

This image is now available as a limited edition Canvas Print \ Framed Print | Fine Art Photographic Print.


Arthur's Pass Area

The lupins around Arthurs Pass are smaller and less colourful than their Mackenzie based brethren - we wouldn't recommend a lupin specific journey, but they are well worth stopping for if you are already in the area.  Refer to the lupin map below for great spots to start your lupin hunt.



There are some incredibly dense and colourful expanses of lupins along the Eglinton River which are accessible from the Milford Sound Highway. The lupin action dies off rapidly once you enter Fiordland National Park, due to aggressive spraying programmes.



Sunrise, Lupins, Lake Tekapo

Sunrise, Lupins, Lake Tekapo Sunrise over a mass of pink and purple flowering lupins on the shore of Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand. I made this image while teaching a lupins workshop in the Mackenzie basin. My students seemed strangely underwhelmed by the incredible colour that hit the clouds that morning - I couldn't believe my luck! Photography by: Todd Sisson. Image Gallery: Mackenzie Country
Camera: NIKON D800E Lens: 17.0-35.0 mm f/2.8 Shooting Data: 10, 2, 100

This image is now available as a limited edition Canvas Print \ Framed Print | Fine Art Photographic Print.


When Do New Zealand Lupins Flower?

The Mackenzie basin lupin flowering usually begins in the first or second week of November and builds to a crescendo at the end of November.  Looking through our archives we have found peak colour to be in the first week of December. Things go downhill rapidly from there on and things are looking very scrappy by the end of December.

Arthur's Pass and Fiordland area lupins seem to flower about 1-2 weeks after the Mackenzie Basin. 

Flowering times and numbers vary wildly between years and locations depending upon conditions.

Photographic Considerations

The usual flower photography issues apply when photographing Russell Lupins in flower.  Wind is the biggest problem.  You will want  to crank ISO or open up the aperture to freeze small amounts of wind movement.  Lupins look great backlit, so try putting the light behind your lupinage!

Despite their weed status, care for the lupins while photographing.  Don't go around crushing them in pursuit of a shot - it just ruins it for the next 200 photographers and flower lovers who will pass through later that day!

Add To This Article

Do you have anything to add to the Lupine knowledge base? Hot locations, photographic tips, or something else? If so please add it to the comments section below.

Keep clicking!

Todd & Sarah

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