During the process of planning a trip to New Zealand, you don’t necessarily know what to expect in terms of the climate. People who travel around the world are well aware that the climate in the southern hemisphere is the opposite to that of the northern hemisphere, which is that of Europe or of the United States. This why it might be a bit of a puzzle at first when you think about it. So, do you know when is the best time to go to New Zealand?
There’s not going to be a straight answer, unfortunately, as always. You can travel around the country all year round without any worries. Then it all depends on what you want to do during your travels. If you want to ski, hike, do outdoor activities, it’s very different, even a bit tricky during certain periods.
In this “travel tips” oriented article, I summarize everything you need to know about the climate in New Zealand in general. Then, season by season, I suggest what to remember and what it means to travel during these periods. I end the article with a few tips on how to dress for your trip according to the seasons.
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Let’s get straight to the point if we only look at the climate aspect of your trip. As mentioned in the introduction, the most important thing to remember is that if you are coming from Europe or the US, the climate is totally opposite. This means that the months of June to August are the coldest in New Zealand (whereas it’s full summer in the north hemisphere) and on the other hand, the hottest months are the European/US winter (between November and February).
The country is composed of two main islands, and climates vary significantly between the islands. Generally speaking, the further south you go, the colder it will be (as is the case in the whole southern hemisphere). Even though most of the country has a temperate oceanic climate.
It is also important to know that New Zealand is a country known for its very fast changing climates. In the space of a day, it can go very quickly from sunshine to hail, rain, thunderstorms, etc.
January and February are the hottest months of the year. On the contrary, July and August are the coldest months. On the North Island, in Auckland for example, the average temperature varies from 10°C (winter) to 18/19°C (summer). It already drops by a few degrees as soon as you move southwards on the North Island, around Wellington (7/8°C average temperature in winter and 16/17°C in summer). If you move down to the lower part of the South Island, at Invercargill for example, the average temperatures in winter are around 5°, to a small 13/14° in summer. In short, for someone like me who lives in the tropics, it’s the equivalent of the North Pole!
Generally speaking, it rains a lot in New Zealand. During my month spent on the North Island in October, I had the opportunity to see that for myself. On the North Island, to sum up, it rains more during the coldest period, between May and October roughly. Conversely, from November to March, it’s rather calm in terms of rain. In the south of the country, it is the opposite and precipitations will be more important between November and March. As soon as you go up in altitude or go south on the South Island, during winter, you will have snow that can fall from June through to October. So be careful when hiking in the mountains and on the road.
So, to sum up, if only the climate is taken into consideration, we will focus on the summer period from December to February, where the temperature is better and where the chances of rain are least likely. However, if we add into the balance the tons of tourists during this period and the rising prices, it’s another story. This is discussed below.
Here is a summary of what you need to know for a stay in New Zealand, depending on the season. Climate, tourism, activities, prices, it’s all here!
This is a period that I am familiar with since I personally spent a month on the North Island in October 2018. From what I’ve seen and what I’ve been able to get as info, it’s a very good time to travel in New Zealand (I really think so). It’s not yet the tourist season (which starts in December) and frankly, it’s not necessarily crowded, except for some really touristy locations. You could consider it as still being the low season. Be careful with those who want to go hiking because some treks may still be closed because of the snow…
Climatic conditions can still be quite unstable. We had a lot of bad weather alternating with good weather. Rain, hail, and sunshine can be on the map. The fact that I live in the tropics doesn’t help, but clearly, even during the day, it’s rare when I take my fleece off. The weather’s good when it’s sunny, but as soon as it’s cloudy and the wind picks up, you have to cover up because it gets pretty cold.
To tell you the truth, I camped for a month and we had between 4 and 8° at night in some places. You really need to know this for those who go camping. You need to have a good sleeping bag. As a result, the climate is still a bit cool, even cold depending on the area. The prices are not very high overall and I never needed to book a single camping pitch, so indeed there isn’t excessive tourism in this period.
For those in WHV (working holiday visa), arriving a few months before the high season is not bad to acclimatize yourself, find work before all WHV people arrive in December.
From a climatic point of view, this is the best season to visit New Zealand. Temperatures are good, around 20° to 30° on average depending on the location. During this season, the days are long and you can make the most of it without any worries of the weather.
The only thing you need to know is that it’s the peak tourist season! And as shown by the introduction of the new visa to enter the country to regulate tourism, New Zealand attracts more and more people, especially those who have seen the landscapes of the Lord of the Rings. Obviously, tourism means more people on the roads, in all the country’s national parks and their hiking trails, but also in the hotels and campsites which can be fully booked long before your arrival. You may have to plan your trip a little more than if you were in the off-season. As always, all prices increase during this season.
It’s also the right season to practice all outdoor activities without any trouble (mountain biking, bungee jumping, fishing, kayaking, etc.). Finally, beware, because it is also the period when New Zealanders travel the most in the country with the school holidays that last until January. If you can avoid the holidays, it’ll be better!
For those of you on a Working Holiday Visa (WHV), it’s the peak season and usually the season when you can work the most!
During this period, the crowds of tourists are usually already gone and that’s good. You can enjoy the landscape and scenery in a more relaxed way. The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are dropping and the more you move towards winter (June), the more you will have to be prepared to have warmer clothes.
The season is still superb with the beautiful colors of autumn for photographers. The majority of the tourist sites are still open, as well as the main hiking trails. Snow is not far, but not yet …
From a climatic point of view, this is obviously the worst season, meaning that it will be cold and windy. I was there in October, so it was spring and the nights were already more than cool. I can’t really imagine camping outside in the winter. It must drop below zero at night, that’s for sure, so you’ll have to be very well equipped! Here is the complete guide for camping in New Zealand.
This is of course the ideal season for all winter sports lovers. Many Australians come to the country to go skiing during this period. Near the ski resorts, there may be a lot of people…
However, the season will be less pleasant for those who wish to go hiking, as many parks may be closed. It’s also whale season! On the price side, they drop considerably, so budget-wise you’ll save money!
As I said in the introduction, there’s really no better time to go. It’s a very personal opinion, but I would advise you to avoid the high season, the summer and the crowds. Even if the temperatures are milder, I’d much rather lose a few degrees and avoid tourists and all the travelers of the moment. The good compromise for me would be April/May and September/October. I would also avoid winter because the temperatures are not that warm and it will be complicated to camp in the country.
I’m planning a second trip to the South Island of the country, but I probably won’t have much choice concerning my travel dates, so it will be in December or January 2020. Climate-wise, it will be fine, but for tourists, a little less… The advantage is that I will be less cold than I was in October, especially in a tent.
I would like to end this article with a few lines about things to take for a stay in the country, depending on the season.
We’ll start with the simplest, the summer (December-February). This isn’t very complicated, shorts and tee-shirt during the day will do the job without any problem. I advise however to to take a windbreaker for those who go walking in altitude and a small long-sleeved vest for the evenings/nights. It will be cooler anyway…
Temperatures begin to drop as early as autumn (March) and it would be best to consider taking some pants for during the day and some long-sleeved sweets for the evening. For the campers, this is the time of the year when you should start to equip yourself for the coolness of the night.
Winter in New Zealand is to be considered cold and wet. On the program: coat, several layers with long sleeves, fleece, hat. Finally, spring is known to be unpredictable in the country. I was there in October with wind, hail, downpours, but also plenty of sunshine. Even during this period, I had the fleece and cap on all day or almost. You’ve been warned!
Well, I’m just finishing this little advice article to help you know when is the best time to go to New Zealand. I hope you see more clearly now? Are you more the kind of person who’s interested in the climate on holiday? Avoiding crowds even if it’s a little colder? Personally, I am no longer a regular visitor of mountains, glaciers, winters, etc. I’m not used to the mountains anymore. Living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I rightly appreciate the southern winter, the heat and the good weather, life in a tropical environment, quite simply… In any case, New Zealand can be visited all year round, so it’s not really possible to make a bad choice, is it? Looking for itineraries on the North Island?
Have a nice trip