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Best Time to Visit the North Island – From a Local!

Best Time to Visit the North Island – From a Local!

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Wondering when the best time to visit New Zealand’s North Island is? It can be hard to know, especially since the North and South Islands are so different! So that’s why I decided to write an in-depth guide to help you time your visit just right.

Although I live on the South Island, I travel around the country as often as I can, so I’ve experienced the North Island in all four seasons. So whether you’re looking to ski, surf, chase waterfalls, or experience one of the Great Walks, I’m going to help you decide the best time for you to visit the North Island.

When is the Best Time to Visit the North Island?

Bailey camps with a view of Egmont National Park, NZ
Egmont National Park is a must-see!
Bailey enjoys the view at Te Mata Peak in Hastings, New Zealand
Te Mata Peak!

Generally speaking, I think the best time for most people to visit the North Island is during the summer. The warm weather is ideal for hiking, rafting, and enjoying the beautiful coastline. 

However, the downside is that summer gets very busy, especially during the school holidays, so I would try to avoid coming between mid-December and the end of January if you can. It’s the most expensive time of year and things book up way in advance. I much prefer visiting in February, when there are far fewer crowds! 

Overall, though, my favorite month is actually March. It’s when summer begins to transition into autumn, so the weather is usually still warm enough to enjoy all of the outdoor activities on offer, but the North Island is much quieter. For a more in-depth breakdown of the seasons, make sure to keep on reading…

The Four Seasons on the North Island and Best Time to Visit During Each One 

Summer 

Bailey walks along a boardwalk on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand
Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Waves crash at Piha Beach, New Zealand
Piha Beach!

Best Month to visit – February

Pros

  • All Great Walks are open in summer as well as other hikes (see the best North Island hikes here!)
  • Warmer weather and typically less rain
  • Safer road conditions
  • Can pack lighter

Cons 

  • Busiest season
  • Bookings in advance required
  • Top attractions sell out months in advance (Hobbiton, Waitomo Caves, etc)
  • Campervans are at high-season prices

Summer on the North Island is from December to February, and temperatures usually range between 20-25°C (68-77°F). However, the North Island is definitely warmer than the South Island and it’s not unheard of for temperatures to climb up to 30°C (86°F)! Beaches are one of the biggest draws to the North Island, so you can definitely expect to catch a tan during this time of year, but I do find that the beaches do get pretty busy during the school holidays. 

February is my favorite part of summer on the North Island, as the crowds really thin out when the schools go back. Early December can be a good time to visit, too, while schools are still in session. 

Autumn

Two peoples feet and a tent while camping in Egmont National Park in NZ
Camping at Egmont National Park!
Bailey sits in the door of a red Hobbit home at Hobbiton, NZ
You don’t want to miss Hobbiton!

Best Month to visit – March

Pros 

  • Less busy
  • Can still get warm, dry weather in March and early April
  • Beautiful Autumn colors (April)
  • Cheaper time to visit, and tours don’t book out that far in advance.
  • May is the least busy month on the North Island

Cons

  • Cools down dramatically in April and May
  • Will get some snow in the mountains but not enough to ski
  • Most Great Walks close on April 30th
  • Campervan and motorhome high-season pricing is in effect until around the end of March
  • There are school holidays in late April – check the dates here 

Temperatures do begin to fall in the autumn, although it happens a little more slowly on the North Island vs the South! In fact, March here is often so nice that I find myself almost thinking of it as a summer month. It pretty much is a summer month in terms of tourist seasons, but I will say that it’s noticeably quieter than December and January especially. 

I love hiking on the North Island in March, when it’s still warm but doesn’t usually get hotter than 25°C (77°F). Temperatures in April usually hover between 15-20°C (59-68°F), which I find can be quite nice for hiking, but conditions do begin to worsen in May. 

There are three Great Walks on the North Island, and they do stay open for the autumn/winter season, although the conditions aren’t as good as they are during summer, so it depends how hardy of a hiker you are. I should also note that the Tongariro Northern Circuit is only recommended for advanced hikers with a lot of mountaineering experience during the autumn and winter.

banner asking people to click to join the Queenstown Diary Facebook Group

Winter

A single glow worm in the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
Glow worms in Waitomo Caves!
Whakapapa Ski Field in Tongariro National Park
At Whakapapa you can ski on an active volcano!

Best Month to visit – July or August outside School Holidays

Pros 

  • By mid-June ski resorts are open (most years)
  • Cold winter weather for snow sports
  • Cheapest time to rent a motorhome (but you’ll want a heater)
  • Many activities outside ski towns are quiet, such as Waitomo Caves 

Cons 

  • July school holidays
  • Most ski towns are full
  • Advanced bookings are required for hotels in ski locations
  • Roads can be closed or dangerous during snow storms around the Central Plateau

The North Island is sometimes referred to as “the winterless North.” That’s not quite true, but as a Canadian, I’ll happily take average temperatures of 10-15°C (50-59°F) in the winter! Winter is the wettest season, so even though the Great Walks are open on the North Island, cooler temperatures and lots of rainfall don’t exactly make for the best camping conditions. 

One great thing about winter on the North Island (and New Zealand in general) is skiing! Although I do tend to ski on the South Island, since I live in Queenstown and all, the Whakapapa and Turoa ski resorts are two of my favorites in the country. I always book my accommodation way in advance when skiing here, though, because there are far fewer ski resorts in the North Island so I find that they fill up fast, especially during July school holidays.

And if you’re not into skiing or hiking, you can take advantage of the North Island’s mild winter weather and enjoy some of its top attractions when they’re at their quietest. For example, popular sites like Hobbiton and the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves are still open during winter but they’re way less crowded, so I like to visit during this time of year. 

And if you’re road-tripping around the island in a campervan or motorhome, you’ll be able to do it for significantly less money than during the summer! You’ll need a heater, but unlike on the South Island, you won’t need to worry as much about snow storms if you stick to coastal areas, as it rarely snows outside of the Central Plateau. 

Related Read: If you do want to hit the slopes, my guide on all you need to know about skiing in New Zealand is a must-read!

Spring

Bailey ziplining in Rotorua
Even if it’s a little wet, the zipline in Rotorua is a blast!
Bailey walks the Riverside Walkway in Hamilton, New Zealand
Hamilton is especially green during spring!

Best Month to visit – November for hikes, August (outside of school holidays) for skiing

Pros 

  • Spring skiing in August 
  • One of the quietest periods in September and early October
  • Temperatures start to warm up
  • Don’t have to book far in advance
  • Can get cheaper campervans and motorhomes (until October)
  • Roads usually safer (from snow and ice)

Cons 

  • Can be wet in late spring
  • Not hot enough to swim but not cold enough to ski (most of the season)
  • Middle season with less tours and activities running

Spring on the North Island can be nice, with temperatures usually averaging between 15-20°C (59-68°F). These temperatures are pretty pleasant for walking around geothermal parks, exploring the big cities, and checking out major attractions. Not as many tours and activities run in the spring as during summer, but there’s still plenty you can do. Unfortunately, though, I definitely don’t find it warm enough to enjoy beach days on the beautiful coastline! 

Although spring in New Zealand is technically from September to November, spring skiing on the North Island actually starts in August. It warms up earlier here than it does in the south, so September is too late to ski here! I’ve had some good days out on the slopes in August, and I love to experience the ski fields when they’re quiet. 

Related Read: Once you know WHEN you’re going, it’s time to figure out WHERE. I have a handy list of the 20 best places on the North Island for you!

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey takes a selfie in raglan, NZ
Thanks for reading!

Hopefully, my blog has helped you decide when to plan your North Island adventure. As you can see, there are pros and cons to every season, so it comes down to what activities you want to do, the weather, and whether you mind crowds or not. I still stand by March as the perfect month to come, but I’ve been here throughout the year and always end up having a great time.

For more travel tips and inspiration, I have more articles about the North Island here. Or, check out my full blog on New Zealand here. Here are a few popular blogs I picked out for you that might help!

Two Week North Island Itinerary Ideas – 3 Tried and Tested Itineraries!

4 BEST Tours to Hobbiton from Auckland +Things to Know Before Booking

55 Awesome Things to do in New Zealand (A Local Guide!)