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The BEST Time to Visit New Zealand – Weather & Activities

The BEST Time to Visit New Zealand – Weather & Activities

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So you’ve decided you want to visit New Zealand!

It’s a great choice in my opinion. In fact, New Zealand changed my life. Shortly after arriving, I decided I wanted to call this beautiful country home and since then I’ve lived in the bustling tourist town of Queenstown.

Now you’re probably wondering when is the best time to visit New Zealand? Well, every season in New Zealand has its pros and cons. For example, summer has the warmest weather and most days are filled with sunshine. With that said though, it’s extremely busy! Spring is referred to as a ‘slow season’ with lots of great deals to be found in both the restaurants and hotels. With that said, it can rain a lot!

Winter is of course the time to go skiing in New Zealand and it’s also a very quiet time to enjoy road trips as campervans/motorhome rentals in NZ are at their cheapest then. Autumn is easily the quietest time to visit New Zealand and during this time you’ll get the best deals as well as the beautiful colors of fall. Be prepared for temperatures to cool down though and maybe even some snow in the south!

No matter what season you chose to visit New Zealand, you’ll love this place. It’s just one of those destinations that offers so much all year round.

In this blog, I give you detailed information on each season in New Zealand – what the weather is like, what activities are best to do in each season, and the pros and cons of each.

Worth remembering is the seasons here are the opposite of the northern hemisphere. For example, winter in New Zealand runs from June to the end of August. This is completely different from the seasons in Europe, North America, etc.

Important: All tempritures are averages from historical data from this website. The temperature can swing either way a few degrees (sometimes more.)

Summer in New Zealand

A couple kiss at Mermaid Pools in Northland, NZ
The famous Mermaid Pools that are now unfortunately closed!

Summer is a very popular time to visit New Zealand – especially with European and North American travelers who are trying to escape winter. The sun is shining, temperatures are warm, and all the best hiking trails, lakes, and adventure activities are in full swing. Seriously- who wouldn’t want to visit New Zealand in summer!

Because it’s so popular, summer is busy – that’s the biggest downside!

Australians are the most common visitors in New Zealand and with their summer break from school running from mid-December to February, expect crowds. Remember, the summer season in New Zealand starts in December and ends in February. So this overlap makes for a very busy summer season in NZ.

The weather varies a lot during the summer between the North and South Island. On the north Island, expect average highs of 26°C (79°F) degrees Celcius with highs pushing over 30°C (86°F)! The average lows are around 13°C (55°F)degrees but during heat waves, this is much higher – especially with the increased daylight.

On the South Island, highs averages around 22°C (68°F) during the day and there’s usually very little rainfall (although some years it can be unpredictable!) With that said, highs can head to 30°C+ even as south as Queenstown! Be warned, that’s hot for NZ and it feels as hot as a 37°C (99°F) day in Australia. Trust me I lived in Darwin, Perth, and Sydney for two years.

Fun fact: Queenstown’s hotest day on record is 35.2°C (95.36°F) and New Zealand’s is 42.3°C (108.4°F) which happened in Rangiora.

A plus for early birds during the summer season in New Zealand is that the sun rises as early as 5 am. And for night owls, it sets as late as 10 pm – so there is lots of daylight to tick all those amazing activities off your bucket list.

Pros of Visiting New Zealand in the Summer

Summer is my favorite season in Queenstown (my hometown) because you’re pretty much guaranteed good weather – this is also true for most other places to visit on the South Island as well as the North Island. If you’re a hiker the long daylight hours (over 17 hours of daylight!) and warm weather makes it the ideal season to explore the best hikes in NZ. Plus with many trails closed in winter and even spring (due to rainfall or snow) you’re unlikely to have your plans canceled.

Summer is also the best season to try out the many watersport activities NZ has to offer such as whale watching, swimming with dolphins, jet boating, swimming, beach days, and surfing. New Zealand is surrounded by coastline so it would be a shame not to enjoy it! On top of that, adventure activities such as bungy jumping, Via Ferrata, canyoning, and skydiving are much better to do when it’s warm.

Summer really is really the best time to visit New Zealand for outdoor lovers who want to swim, hike, bike, and explore. Although I love every season in NZ, summer is my favorite time of the year and the hardest time to get any work done (I even wrote this guide in winter!)

Related Read: Do you love to hike? Be sure to read my blogs about the best hikes on the North Island as well as the best hikes on the South Island.

Cons of Visiting New Zealand in the Summer

Because Summer is such a popular season with tourists the prices for accommodation are higher and the activities can sell out quickly. The same goes for restaurants – book your table early to avoid disappointment. If you’re self-driving, traffic and parking around New Zealand can be a nightmare during these months too.

On top of that, planning needs to be done well in advance and if you want a campervan or motorhome, you need to book it at least 6 months in advance. A great website to use is Motorhome Republic. It compiles all motorhome companies into an easy-to-use booking site. For cars, Discover Cars is the site I use.

As a local, it’s easy to navigate the crowds because I know where and when to go somewhere. However, summer is a frustrating time to be on the road or at popular attractions (such as Roy’s Peak). With so many people around, the wild experience of exploring NZ is somewhat less adventurous.

Related Read: Read my complete guide to renting a campervan in Queenstown for tons of info and details you need to know.

Best Activities to do in the Summer in New Zealand

Hot Water Beach New Zealand at sunrise
Summer in New Zealand is for the beach! This photo was taken at Hot Water Beach (where you did your own hot spa!
  • Watersports – jetskiing, SUP, and kayaking are all best enjoyed in the warmer summer months
  • Hiking – the best hikes in New Zealand in summer include Ben Lomond, Roys Peak, Routeburn Track, Kauaeranga Kauri Trail (Pinnacles Walk), Queen Charlotte Track, and more! There are many more hikes on the South Island that you can check out too with hiking being one of the best things to do on the South Island.
  • Relax at one of the many gorgeous beaches in New Zealand such as those in Northland, Auckland, Piha Beach (and west coast), Bay of Plenty, Coromandel Peninsula, Wellington, Marlborough Sounds, Golden Bay, and Dunedin.
  • Dining alfresco – get a seat outside at one of the amazing restaurants in Queenstown, Auckland Marina, wineries around Nelson, or even bay side in Wellington. Summer is about outdoor dining and local wine/craft beer!

Winter in New Zealand

Climbing high at The Remarkables Ski Field
Just playing in the snow when I should be skiing.

Winter is an especially pretty season and one of the best times to visit New Zealand if you’re looking for snowy mountain peaks. Winter is popular with groups of young skiers as well as families. During this time, especially during the school holidays, New Zealand is extremely busy. The South Island certainly sees more visitors, however, the ski hills on the North are also busy.

Those looking to get off the beaten path and explore without the crowds will also love winter. Despite the mountain towns and ski hills packing with tourists, most other attractions remain quiet. It’s the perfect time to road trip (if you can stand the cold that is!)

The winter months in New Zealand run from June to the end of August and it gets pretty chilly here during these months. On the South Island, expect average temperatures highs of 10°C (50°F) (to as low as 2°C (35°F)) during the day and at night it typically falls below zero but average lows are 1°C (34°F.) Of course, the further north you head on the South Island, the warmer it gets.

Despite the cold temperatures, you don’t get much snow in towns or cities especially around the Marlborough Sounds and even Christchurch. Queenstown gets a few snow days a year but it tends to melt quickly. In the mountains and mountain passes, however, expect snow and icy conditions. This can often make traveling dangerous and it’s recommended to carry snow chains if you’re driving just in case.

On the North Island, temperatures are much warmer. Around Auckland, expect average lows of 8°C (46°F) and average highs of 15°C (59°F.) Because of this, snow isn’t an issue and you’ll only find it in higher regions and on volcanos. Things are slightly cooler in Wellington but only by a few degrees.

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Pros of visiting New Zealand in the Winter

Skiing is the number one activity to do in New Zealand in winter. With over 10 ski resorts all over both islands, you’re spoiled for choice. There’s a great buzz in these small mountain towns during the ski season with lots of events like the Queenstown Winter Festival which typically runs for a few days at the start of July!

As I mentioned above, it’s also a great time to escape the crowds. Even the most popular attractions in New Zealand such as Milford Sound, Mt Taranaki, Hobbiton, and Mount Cook are uncrowded. I myself love to hit the road during this time even though it’s cold. On top of that, campervan and motorhome rental in NZ is at its cheapest. In fact, you can expect prices to be half of what they are in the summertime!

Related Read: If you want to see Mt Taranaki you should first visit the nearby city of New Plymouth!

Cons of visiting Queenstown in the Winter

Because it’s the ski season prices for accommodation and activities in the most popular tourist towns are inflated. Daylight hours are also short with sunrise around 8 am and the sun setting before 5 pm so there’s less time to pack your day with activities.

New Zealand is also very cold in the winter and sometimes wet, which makes exploring the great outdoors less comfortable. Not to mention, the weather can make driving on the roads difficult.

Best Activities to do in the Winter in New Zealand

Bailey at the top of the Sealy Tarns Track in Mount Cook National Park
Hiking in the winter is still possible!
  • Skiing – hit the slopes at one of the multible ski resorts in New Zealand. You can even go night skiing on Coronet Peak near Queenstown on select days of the week. Skiing in Wanaka is also very popular in the winter. For something closer to Christchuch, visit Mt Hutt (a popular stop on the way from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo.)
  • Snowmobiling or other adrenalin-pumping winter sports like heli-skiing
  • Après-ski drinks is my favourite way to end the day. Even though its cold, the bars are still packed in all te ski towns. Be sure to try some Mulled Wine (warm wine mixed with spices like cinnamon!)
  • Road trip – Get out and explore. Enjoy the lack of people, travel cheap and enjoy all those stunning views with a light dust of snow! Even on the colder South Island there are some epic road trips to do in the winter months.
  • Tour wineries and drink craft beer – any time of the year you can drink New Zelaand craft beer or tour the wineries.
  • Ziplining Ziplining in New Zealand can be done all year round. In destinations like Rotorua, ziplining is very popular in the winter!

Spring in New Zealand

Bailey walks down a row of lavender at the Wanaka Lavender Farm
In Spring the colors are amazing!

Spring is one of the best times to visit New Zealand if you don’t mind a little rain. The spring season in New Zealand starts in September and ends in November. Temperatures can reach as high as 25°C (71.6°F) especially in late November but it will be much cooler in September (it can fall as low as 8°C (46.4°F) on the South Island.

Expect lots of rain showers so be sure to pack your raincoat and umbrella. Late spring is a surprisingly busy time in New Zealand as visitors come to enjoy the warmer weather. However, there are still fewer tourists than in summer which means your money will go further as many activities and restaurants run discounted rates.

Early spring is also a great time to go skiing! Yep, that’s right, the ski season runs until October so you can get some beautiful spring skiing days in. sometimes it’s so hot you’ll dress down to a t-shirt!

Related read: If you’re visiting in Queenstown in spring, be sure to read about the best things to do in Queenstown when it’s raining.

Pros of visiting New Zealand in the Spring

Early spring is typically one of the quietest times to visit New Zealand, so lots of hotels and activity providers have some fantastic offers. The same goes for the restaurants and cafes – a lot of them have great value menus. If you come early enough, you can also catch some spring skiing and get discounted rates.

The sun starts to rise around 8 am and sets at 7 pm so the daylight hours are relatively long giving you more time to explore and enjoy the day. By late spring the days are even longer and with the weather warmer, there’s a perfect mix between snow on the mountains and beach days.

Really, spring is a fantastic time with a great mix of snow in the mountains and warmer weather.

Cons of visiting New Zealand in the Spring

Because it’s quieter in New Zealand in spring some activities have shorter opening hours or don’t begin operating until late spring. The rain can be off-putting as many of the best activities in New Zealand are outdoors. Think about hikes, road trips, and adventure sports. In fact, this is the thing I hate most about spring! In most places, it’s common to get days of rain!

If you visit in late spring don’t expect any special deals or New Zealand to be quiet. By November the summer season has truly kicked off and peak season prices and crowds should be expected! In fact, although November is technically spring, it’s almost more a “summer month” when it comes to prices and the number of visitors.

Best Activities to do in the Spring in New Zealand

Bailey from My Queenstown Diary sits on a rock at Lake Tekapo during Lupin season
Lupins are flowers that bloom in the late spring – so beautiful!
  • Tak in the beautiful colors – Spring is the perfect time to see New Zealand in full bloom. If you head to Lake Tekapo in mid November it’s the perfect time to see the famous lupins. You can also see them in Queenstown, Wanaka ,and other South Island destinations.
  • Go bungy jumping – temperatures are milder than in winter and fall and because there are fewer tourists around, you’ll likely have your pick of times/dates. Other adventure activities like zip-lining, jet boating, and whitewater rafting are also great in the spring.
  • Go on a Wine Tour – escape the spring showers and visit picturesque wineries near Queenstown or even on Waiheke Island. Therese no shortage of wine regions around New Zealand.
  • Go skiing – I’ve mentioned this before but seriously spring skiing is the best and it’s cheaper!
  • Road trip – Get a cheaper rental and hit the road to enjoy the warmer weather.

Autumn/Fall in New Zealand

A cute house in Arrowtown New Zealand
One of the best things to do in New Zealand during fall is to visit Arrowtown for the stunning Autumn leaves. Be sure to visit a café or two while you’re there.

Fall or autumn is the best time to visit New Zealand if you’re looking for great photo opportunities or are traveling on a tight budget.

Autumn in New Zealand starts in March and ends in May with temperatures on the south Island varying from average lows of 10°C (50°F) to highs of 20°C (68°F) early in the season. In fact, some of the best weather days I’ve experienced in Queenstown have been at the start of fall (in March). However, after March, things begin to cool quickly with April being a few degrees cooler and May usually bring the first frost and snowfall for the year. With that said, I’ve seen snow in April before!

On the North Island, it’s a little warmer with average highs of 23°C (73°F) in March and lows of 15°C (59°F). As above, expect it to cool down through April and then become much colder in May with average lows of 11°C (52°F) and highs of 17°C (63°F).

Sunrise averages around 7:30 am daily with sunset at 8:30 pm in March but the daylight gets less and less from April on with sunset at approximately 6 – 6:30 pm in May.

Late fall is without a doubt the quietest time to visit New Zealand. Seriously, it provides a much-needed break from the thousands of visitors (although, I really do miss you all!) Early fall is still really busy with March being one of the busier months. It begins to slow in April, and by May when the Great Walk hiking season ends and just about everyone leaves – except me of course!

Pros of visiting New Zealand in the Fall

Fall is a great season for a romantic getaway in New Zealand because it’s just so pretty to look at and has a relaxed and romantic vibe. Fall is probably the prettiest season in New Zealand when the country explodes in the typical autumn colors of red, yellow, and orange. This is the most beautiful on the South Island. So, make sure to bring your camera to snap some pretty photos.

Fall is typically a quiet or ‘off-season’ as locals like to call it, so you’re likely to get some great value-for-money should you decide to visit. The later in fall you visit, the less busy it will be. This is mainly because temperatures cool down but there’s still not enough snow for snow sports.

Cons of visiting New Zealand in the Fall

Again, because it’s ‘off-season’ activities and restaurants may have limited opening hours. It starts to get a lot colder by mid-April especially in the mornings and evenings, so if you don’t like cold weather then perhaps the summer or spring are better seasons for you. During late fall it’s also too early to go skiing and too late to enjoy some of the summer activities.

In my opinion, late fall is only a time to visit NZ for those who like a slow, relaxing holiday without the crazy adventure sports. It’s more for the road trippers who love to enjoy the scenery and enjoy shorter hikes.

Best Activities to do in the Fall in Queenstown

A lady stands in the middle of the road on New Zealand's west coast on the South Island between Wanaka and Franz Josef
Autumn is stunning! This photo was taken on the road between Wanaka and Franz Josef.
  • See the gorgeous Fall colors – visit Arrowtown on a tour and the Queenstown Gardens for the prettiest colors on the South Island. On the North Island, explore the Auckland area or head to Hawkes Bay for those magical colors at the vineyards!
  • Go for a bike ride – the best bike trails to discover in Queenstown are the Jacks Point trail and the Arrowtown to Gibbston Valley trail – where you can check out the Gibbston Valley wine region. You can even take a Gibbston Valley wine tour by bike! With that said, there are bike trails all over NZ and fall is a beautiful time to explore them!
  • Indulge – Something about fall makes me want to eat! Head out and enjoy the food, visit local restaurants and just spoil yourself. During fall, you can get great deals on First Table!
  • Scenic flight – Take advantage of the great offers on a scenic helicopter ride over New Zealand made even better with those fall colors.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey from My Queenstown Diary poses for a photo at Lake Hawea near Wanaka
The beautiful Lake Hawea

Truth be told, New Zealand is a beautiful place to visit any time of the year. However, choosing the right time for your ideal holiday is important. The above info gives you a breakdown of each season so you can easily decide when the best to visit New Zealand is for you!

Thanks so much for reading this blog! I really hope you found it helpful and maybe even inspiring. Please be sure to browse around some more if you need any info on visiting Queenstown or New Zealand in general!