When is the best time to visit New Zealand?
The best time to travel to New Zealand largely depends on what kind of holiday you want to have, with the peak season (featuring the best weather) falling over December – February; however, if you’re after snow, travelling during the winter months of June – August is the way to go.
Although New Zealand’s climate is quite varied due to its diverse landscape, most of the country experiences a maritime climate with four distinct seasons: summer, autumn, winter and spring. This is part of the reason why New Zealand is the perfect country to visit year-round, as there’s always plenty to see and do regardless of the season. To help you plan out your trip, we’ve broken it down month by month.
When is the best time to visit the North Island?
Summer is the perfect time to visit New Zealand’s north island as the weather’s the best it will get, lending itself to beachside getaways and various water activities. Temperatures can reach a mild but nice 25°C with a low chance of rainfall, so be sure to make the most of being in the beautiful great outdoors.
A little heads up, places like the Bay of Islands and Mount Maunganui are popular during this time, so booking accommodation and securing transportation as soon as possible is recommended to avoid any disruption to your travel plans.
When is the best time to visit the South Island?
With epic ski destinations like Queenstown and Nelson, it’s little wonder travellers fly to the South Island in droves when winter rolls around. While temperatures can reach a low of -10°C, unfavourable weather patterns hardly deter travellers looking to spend some time on the slopes. In fact, ski season falls between June and October, so this is often the busiest (and most popular) time to head to the South Island.
When is the best time to see snow?
If snow is what you’re after, the best months to visit New Zealand are June to August. However, snow predominantly falls on the South Island (rarely on the North Island), accumulating roughly 600 milimetres every year, so keep this in mind when planning your trip. Some of the best locations to visit for snow include Queenstown, Otago and Canterbury – all on the South Island.
Best for: lazy beach days, swimming and snorkelling
The sun is out in full force during January in New Zealand with an average of 25 partly cloudy/partly sunny days, so it’s little wonder it’s the most popular time to visit. You can expect these days to be long and warm (with hardly any rain), ones that are perfect for water-based activities such as swimming and snorkelling. Once you’ve had enough of the water, plenty of daylight is left to participate in a little sunbathing – just remember to slip, slop, slap.
Best for: boat cruises, bush walks and mountain biking
The good times keep on rollin’ in February (and so do the warm temperatures). February is officially the last summer month in New Zealand but that doesn’t mean the weather’s turning bad anytime soon. You can still expect temperatures to reach a sweat-inducing 30°C in some parts of the country; however, they’re more likely to sit at a comfortable 25°C average.
February’s also known to be one of the driest seasons in New Zealand, so partaking in outdoor activities such as bushwalking, mountain biking and boat cruising are all a pretty great way to spend the long days of sunlight. If you want to take your summer getaway to the next level, visit Aoraki Mt Cook National Park and Stewart Island for views you simply won’t get anywhere else.
Best for: Dunedin Fringe Festival celebrations, cycling and paddle boarding on Lake Wanaka
It might not be summer anymore but that doesn’t mean the nice, warm weather automatically disappears. In fact, you can still count on temperatures of 18°C+ most days. These temperatures will start to decrease as the month goes on though, so ensure you’re making the most of the nice weather before it retreats during the winter season.
And it’s important to note that while it isn’t technically peak season anymore (bye summer, bye tourists), some popular destinations such as Lake Wanaka, Milford Sound and Lake Tekapo will still be a little busy, so booking in advance is recommended for most activities and accommodation.
Best for: rainforest exploring, going on walks and picnic lunches
Autumn is well and truly underway in April with most of the country’s foliage turning from green to an array of oranges, reds, yellows and browns. For this reason, April is one of the best months to go outside and explore the great outdoors, and when you’ve got destinations like Auckland, Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne at your gloved fingertips, why wouldn’t you?
While New Zealand’s landscapes in April might take your breath away, there’s a real possibility that this month’s weather might as well with unpredictability reigning supreme – one minute it could be nice and sunny, and the next, it could be cold and pouring with rain. To help combat this, try to dress in layers and always carry an umbrella with you (especially if you plan on spending long periods of time outside).
Best for: wandering around Hobbiton, learning about Maori culture and oyster festival celebrations
You might be aware of the Lord of the Rings franchise filmed in New Zealand, but you probably didn’t know that May is one of the best months to explore it. Why you may ask? Well, May is technically considered the low season for travelling in New Zealand so while the summer brings plenty of tourists to this famous filming location, you’ll have it largely to yourself in May.
Not only that, but the weather is somewhat ideal too (think not too hot but not too cold either) with average temperatures in some destinations reaching a comfortable 21C. However, winter is fast approaching, so if you plan on heading towards mountainous regions, you can expect a light dusting of snow.
Best for: Matariki (Maori New Year) celebrations, skiing and snowboarding
While summer might be the most popular season for travelling in New Zealand, winter still promises a whole heap of fun, from snow-based activities to those that are perfect for adrenaline junkies (think tandem swings and bungee jumping). However, the temperatures expected during this month are no joke – especially on the South Island.
In places like Queenstown and Lake Tekapo, temperatures can reach a chilly -2°C but you might not mind that much when you can spend all day hitting the slopes. Matariki (Maori New Year) celebrations also happen in June when there are plenty of festivals full of dancing, singing and eating happening across the country.
Best for: hot springs, museum visits and river jet-boating
Some people might be settling down for hibernation come July, but not you. There are plenty of cool experiences to be had and stunning destinations to see in winter – put simply; the fun doesn’t stop just because the temperature’s dropped (yes, we’re poets and small-group tour operators).
You can expect ‘four seasons in a day’ type of weather with the month prone to experiencing a mixture of rain, snow, sun and wind at any given moment. While this adds to the excitement and unpredictability of your adventure, make sure you pack accordingly so you don’t find yourself too cold or too hot. Some popular activities to keep you busy in July include jetboating in Queenstown and relaxing in hot springs in Rotorua.
Best for: heli-hiking, marvelling at geothermal activity and carving your own Pounamu (jade) necklace
Most people think winter is perfect for cosying up in front of the fireplace with a hot chocolate in one hand and a good book in the other, but there’s plenty of fun to be had in the colder months in New Zealand. Yes, temperatures can reach a chilly 7°C in August but that’s what thermal layers and beanies are for, and as far as we’re concerned, that’s not a good enough escape to miss the sight of snow dusting some of this country’s most iconic landscapes.
While road-trippin’ can be a lot of fun (emphasis on the ‘lot’), it’s important to remember that roads can be dangerous with low temperatures encouraging snow. Before long drives, tune into local weather stations, listen out for advice and make sure your car is appropriately equipped for icy conditions.
Best for: Hobbit Day festivities, evening cruises and cheese & wine tastings
September heralds the start of spring in New Zealand, and while it might not promise the ideal summer weather, it’s still a fantastic time to travel. Not only are the large crowds of tourists still a couple of months away but the landscapes are coming to life after a long winter – you’re going to want to take plenty of photos of gardens bursting with flowers and lush countryside looking like a sea of green.
Hobbits (LOFTR characters) hold a special place in the heart of New Zealanders thanks to the iconic filming location outside of Rotorua, so Hobbit Day is not to be missed if you’re anywhere near Hobbiton come September 22nd. Outside of that, other popular activities include soaking up that nice springtime weather with a glass of local wine and a bite of cheese and spending a quiet evening on the waters of Milford Sound.
Best for: brewery tours, Lake Taupo sailing adventures and national park wanderings
October in New Zealand marks the middle of spring, and with it comes mild weather and a relatively even mix of rainy/sunny days. But, even if the sun isn’t shining, you should still be wary of its potentially harmful rays and wear sunscreen if you’re spending long periods of time outside. This’ll come in handy for the mornings spent sailing the calm waters of Lake Taupo and the afternoons spent wandering the trails of various national parks.
Best for: seeing glow worms, seal spotting and winery visits
We’re not going to say you’ve hit the jackpot if you’ve chosen to travel around New Zealand in November but we’re not not going to say that (if you know what we mean). November technically falls into the second shoulder season of the year (outside the peak and low seasons) but summer is right around the corner, so temperatures are warmer up and days are getting longer. The tourists are also not out in full force yet, so you still have popular locations largely to yourself. Sounds like a win/win situation.
Best for: wildlife watching, Christmas markets and New Years celebrations
December marks the start of summer in New Zealand, and while that generally means warm temperatures, average highs can differ depending on your location. For instance, on the North Island temperatures can reach up to 30°C while the South Island experiences a much cooler 23°C on average. Rain is also nonexistent this month, so make the most of December’s clear days before we blink and winter’s back to rear its shiver-inducing head.
PSA: school holidays start from mid-December onwards, so expect popular spots to be more crowded than usual. You should also lock in accommodation and activities well in advance to avoid disappointment or disruption to your travel plans.
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