New Zealand is such a wonderful vacation destination. From the mountains surrounding Queenstown, to the long stretches of Northland’s 90-Mile Beach, to the crystal waters of the Abel Tasman. This country has no shortage of mesmerizing beauty.
Whether you like lazing at the beach, satisfying your cravings for hikes, experiencing the snow while skiing or soaking up in exquisite wines— New Zealand has something special to offer every month and season of the year.
But, with flight durations from West coast of about 13 long hours, this trip does need a bit of planning.
Use this comprehensive guide in order to determine the best time to finally check off your bucket-list trip to New Zealand.
New Zealand Weather and Seasons
The weather in New Zealand is a fickle beast. And you’ll hear the whole “4 seasons in 1 day” line a lot and it’s pretty accurate.
Fact: New Zealand is in the South Hemisphere of the Earth.
The Southern Hemisphere being considered as the opposite side of the world by most Americans, the seasons in New Zealand are a bit different than what you might know.
When the snow is heavy and piling up high in Michigan, locals in New Zealand are busy getting their tan on glorious beaches.
Furthermore, New Zealand is a tad smaller than California, thus the climate between the south and the north can vary greatly.
Because New Zealand is an island, there are usually intermittent showers and breezes coming off the Tasman Sea and Cook Strait.
Now, let’s take a look at what you can expect during the different seasons, so you can get a sense of the best time of year to visit New Zealand.
The summer season in New Zealand is not too scorching (although they do have some really hot days) and the days are nice and long since it does not get dark until 9 pm.
Summer does not mean all-time sunshine, because they also get summer rain, so you are not guaranteed good weather.
Average temperature highs during this time of year are 22 degrees Celsius in the south and 25 degrees Celsius in the north, with lows between 12 and 13 degrees Celsius.
Fall in New Zealand is absolutely gorgeous. It is still warm enough and the colorful autumn leaves are out with vivid golden, reds and russet brown colors. This is particularly true in Hawkes Bay in the North Island, or the Otago and Wanaka region in the South Island.
It is also a lot quieter in terms of other tourists and you will pretty much only get local hordes on public holidays and long weekends.
Average temperature highs during this time of the year are 17 degrees Celsius in the south and 20 degrees Celsius in the north, with lows between 7 and 11 degrees Celsius.
New Zealand’s winter season, particularly in the South Island, can be a special time, but come with potential difficulties. It gets cold, but depending on where you stay, it might not be that bad.
You will experience frosty morning and clear sunny days, however, it can also rain for several days and snows occasionally. If you’re traveling mostly in the North Island or coastal regions of the South Island, then snow probably won’t be a big issue.
Average temperature highs during this time of year are 10 degrees Celsius in the south and 15 degrees Celsius in the north, with lows between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius.
The spring weather in New Zealand can range from frosty and cold to hot and warm. During spring blossoms, buds, and other new growth bursts forth throughout this wonderful country and newborn lambs run and frolic in the fields just before dusk.
Springtime also offers great scenery as hills and mountain ranges are still covered in snow while the sun melts them away slowly. New Zealand weather in spring is usually a bit more temperamental, however, other than that, it is the perfect time to travel.
Average temperature highs during this time of year are 16 degrees Celsius in the south and 18 degrees Celsius in the north, with lows between 7 and 9 degrees Celsius.
When And Where To Find The Best Weather
The two main islands which make up the country, appropriately called the South Island and the North Island, are narrow and long. This means that the weather can change quickly and can be widely different from one end to the other.
The South Island’s Queenstown features sunny and warm summers and winters that drop to near-freezing temperatures.
Meanwhile, Hawke’s Bay on the North Island’s east coast has a reputation for all-year-round sunshine. In Auckland, temperatures usually move in the low 70s in the summer and drops in the high 40s during winter, although days can also get a bit sunny and warm.
Still, some regions tend to experience more rainfall during the winter season and others during the summer, however, there’s no true “rainy season” in this country.
Tourists should be aware that regardless of where or when they are going, the weather in New Zealand is quite unpredictable and it’s likely to rain at least a bit any time of the year.
Ski Season in New Zealand
If you love skiing, then you need to start packing and head in early June through late October. The best-known and popular ski areas are somewhere near Queenstown, the incredible Lake Wanaka and the Remarkables mountains.
These areas are noted for their spectacular scenery with a wide variety of trails and terrain as well as popular resorts. If you plan to visit the North Island, then you need to check out the Turoa and Whakapapa ski areas that are floating on Mt. Ruapehu.
Best Time For New Zealand Wine Tasting
New Zealand has become quite popular for its wines, particularly the savory pinot noirs and Sauvignon blanc.
Wine tastings are available for wine enthusiasts and travelers throughout the year.
Meanwhile, harvest time for vineyards usually begins in February, but with some late-harvest types that are being picked as late as June in the Otago region. The Queenstown Wine Trail offers tourist wine-tasting and sight-seeing all year-round, visiting many of the premier wineries and vineyards in the Queenstown or Otago region.
New Zealand’s Hiking and Hunting Season
The weather extremes are not so extreme in New Zealand, thus making it a pleasant place to hike and explore the great outdoors all year round.
Hunting in New Zealand is popular, particularly for the amazing red stags— one of the 7 types of deer introduced to New Zealand around 150 years ago by European settlers.
Deer hunting season is official from February to September, however, the rut (when the largest stags are available) is from late March to late April.
The Best Time To Enjoy New Zealand Beaches
The crystal clear beaches are at their best during the summer with the water rarely warm. During the winter season, ocean temperatures are a bit cold, so consider bringing a wetsuit if you want to swim.
However, from January to early March, New Zealand beaches are usually hot enough in order to make the ocean temperatures comfortable. There are multiple rugged coasts, too, so even during the winter, it is totally worth stopping by for the views.
A bit of caution though, New Zealand waters have riptides, so ensure to swim between the flags on beaches protected by the lifeguards.
When is New Zealand The Busiest and Most Crowded?
Summertime is high season in New Zealand, particularly over the Christmas and New Year period. Almost all business in New Zealand close their doors for a couple of weeks during this time, so you will see a massive horde of locals crowding in some areas, particularly where there is water— lakes and beaches— because they love water activities and being outside in the sun a lot.
Furthermore, be aware that along those businesses, there are not many restaurants that are open on Christmas Day. So, if you’re planning to travel during the Christmas holidays, then be sure that you arrive in the country before Christmas Day so you can buy your own food or inquire whether the hotel or accommodation that you are staying at has a restaurant which is open for the holidays.
In general, parents in New Zealand take time off from work when their children are at home. Thus, if you want to avoid the crowds, then you should avoid the periods of time when locals go on a holiday (that is usually during the school holidays).
You can find the dates of school holidays on the New Zealand Ministry of Education website. Moreover, you can also take the New Zealand Public Holidays into account when you plan your visit. Lastly, locals who work in each New Zealand province also get a day off every year, which are known as the Anniversary Day Holidays. You can find these dates on the website that’s mentioned above.
When Are The Cheapest Months For Accommodation?
May to early June is considered the low season in New Zealand. People do not travel as much and businesses slow down. Thus, you can find the best rates at motels and hotels during this time of the year.
In contrast, the most expensive months are during the summer peak tourist season. By then, booking in advance is highly recommended, including car rental reservations.
Furthermore, do not be surprised if you are asked to pay a part of your reservations in advance. Most businesses in New Zealand are small businesses which consist of 1 – 10 people, thus they’re hit hard by cancellations. This is the reason why some request advance payment or follows strict cancellation policies in place.
The Worst Time to visit New Zealand
Frankly speaking, there is no bad time to visit New Zealand. Well, unless you are a snow bunny and plan to spend time on the slopes, then it is generally wiser to avoid traveling during the winter season.
Since seasons here are quite opposite to the Northern hemisphere, tourists end up leaving the sun and head to gloomy weather.
Although New Zealand does not get anywhere near as cold as the Northern part of the US, it’s still damp and chilly. Plus, homes and accommodation are notorious for being poorly insulated. Which only means that it can be as cold inside as out.
Keep in mind that although summer comes with beautiful weather, early January is not a great time to visit. It is common for locals to take 3 – 4 weeks off around holidays, which only means that the cities are empty while everyone heads to beaches and most cafes and restaurants are shut down, which limits your choices for dining and crowding beaches.