Best Time to Visit New Zealand: When to Go & When to Avoid

Best Time to Visit New Zealand When to Go & When to Avoid young-male-standing-near-high-mountain-lake-egmont-national-park-north-new-zealand

Choosing the best time to visit New Zealand can be a bit overwhelming. New Zealand has four distinct seasons, each with its own unique draws (and drawbacks) to traveling during that time. We’re going over the pros and cons of each season to help you decide the best time of year to visit New Zealand.

Best Time to Visit New Zealand | Lake Tekapo Lupines, South Island

New Zealand has four distinct seasons, each with its own unique draw to visiting during that time. You’ll see all kinds of blossoms in bloom in the spring, festivals, outdoor excursions, and adrenaline-pumping activities in the summer, vibrant foliage in autumn, and powdery snow for an epic ski season come wintertime.

Being located in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are the mirror opposite of those in the north. That means while we are shoveling snow and putting up our Christmas trees in the US, New Zealanders are basking in the long days of sunshine, during the warmest months of the year.

While we are watching flowers bloom, New Zealanders are enjoying the changing of the leaves. The hottest months of the year in the northern hemisphere are the coldest in the south, and while we are raking leaves and preparing once again for winter, New Zealanders are celebrating spring in full bloom!

This makes New Zealand a great winter getaway if you are based in the northern hemisphere because you can leave behind your puffy jackets and boots and trade them in for sunshine and flip flops (or jandals, as the Kiwis call them!).

So this begs the question…

What time of year is the best time to visit New Zealand?

In general, the best time to visit New Zealand is during the summer months, January – March, when the days are long and sunny with warmer temperatures. 

However, your answer to that question may fluctuate depending on what you want to get out of your trip.

  • Spring is the best time to visit New Zealand if you are looking for mild temperatures (great for hiking!) and fewer crowds. (September, October, November)
  • Summer is the best time to travel to New Zealand if you’re looking for warm temperatures, long hours of daylight, and days spent at the beach. (December, January, February)
  • Autumn is the best time to visit New Zealand if you want to avoid major crowds while still having enough daylight and comfortable temps to enjoy an array of outdoor activities. (March, April, May)
  • Winter is the best time to go to New Zealand if you want to enjoy winter sports or are on a tight budget, as this season brings the most discounted rates and the fewest crowds of the year. However, you must also be okay with colder temps, shorter hours of daylight, and some activities being shut down for the season. (June, July, August)

What would we choose? Our personal pick would be to visit New Zealand during the shoulder season between spring and summer (November/December); but more on that later…

Truthfully, as with all questions of this nature, there is no correct answer. Each season has its own unique draws (and drawbacks too).

But fear not…

We’re going to go over the pros and cons of visiting New Zealand during each season to help you decide which time of year is ideal for YOU.

Answer these questions to get started:

  • Do you mind cold weather?
  • Are you easily bothered by crowds?
  • Are you into winter sports like skiing and snowboarding?
  • Or do you prefer to spend your outdoor time hiking, kayaking, or cycling?
  • Are you into adrenaline sports such as whitewater rafting?
  • Which would you rather see: spring blossoms or colorful fall foliage?

Thinking about your answers to these questions is going to help you start to determine when to visit New Zealand.

Tip: Once you’ve figured out the best time to visit, you’ll want to check out our perfect New Zealand itinerary to make sure you get the most out of your trip and see all the highlights of this incredible country!


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New Zealand Geography Overview

Best Time to Visit New Zealand | Mount Cook South Island

The country of New Zealand is actually made up of an estimated 600 islands in the south-western Pacific Ocean. While not a large country exactly, New Zealand spreads about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from the top of North Island to the bottom of South Island – the two main islands.

For the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on the North and South Islands as these are the largest and most visited islands in New Zealand.

The topography across the islands varies from sandy beaches, to mountain ranges, fjord-like sounds to rolling green hills, and glacial lakes to valleys filled with vineyards.

New Zealand Weather

Best time to visit New Zealand | New Zealand Weather

It’s important to keep in mind that with such variations in terrain, comes differing temperatures and weather patterns. The climate in New Zealand can be described as extremely variable and you can find pretty much everything from dry to subtropical, with the exception of true tropical climates.

In just one day, you can experience all 4 seasons in New Zealand, so come prepared!

However unpredictable the climate in New Zealand may be, the weather is pretty mild and the difference in temperatures from winter to summer is usually only about 10°C in any single region.

It rarely drops below freezing (32°F / 0°C) or gets above 86°F / 30° C in any part of the country. This low temperature range, lacking in extremes, means New Zealand does not experience tropical storms often.

It does, however, experience A LOT of earthquakes being situated on two major tectonic plates.

Stats on New Zealand Weather & Seasons:

  • Warmest month(s) in New Zealand: January – February
  • Coldest month in New Zealand: July
  • Rainiest month(s) in New Zealand: July (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch); December (Queenstown); March (central Otago)
  • Driest month(s) in New Zealand: February (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch); February & July (Queenstown)
  • Most crowded month in New Zealand: January
  • Least crowded month in New Zealand: May

What temperatures can I expect in New Zealand?

This is a tough question to answer because it really depends on where in the country you plan to travel.

It would kind of be like asking, “What is the temperature in Europe in January?” Scotland is going to have a much different climate than Barcelona. Or, “What is the temperature in the USA in April?” Miami will have a much different answer than Seattle.

The Bay of Islands in Northland, for instance, has a subtropical climate, while the mountain towns on the tip of the South Island can experience much colder and more drastic weather.

While it varies quite a bit throughout the country, here are the average daytime temperatures, according to the New Zealand tourism guide:

Spring:

  • September, October, November
  • 61 – 66°F (16 – 19°C)

Summer:

  • December, January, February
  • 68 – 77°F (20 – 25°C)

Autumn:

  • March, April, May
  • 62 – 70°F (17 – 21°C)

Winter:

  • June, July, August
  • 53 – 61°F (12 – 16°C)

Psst! If you have your itinerary planned out, you can look at the average temperatures throughout each region here, which will give you a better idea of what to expect in each location.

Summer in New Zealand

Best Time to Visit New Zealand | Summer in New Zealand

Summer is the peak tourism season in New Zealand, with the warmest temperatures, and it is also the most crowded. While the schools are on holiday break, many New Zealanders take time off work and lots of businesses and restaurants can be closed for weeks on end.

Accommodation can also be hard to come by with so many locals on holiday, so it’s a good idea to book in advance if you plan to visit during New Zealand during this time of year.

Summer months at a glance:

December brings the start of summer, and of course holiday breaks. This month is the optimal time for penguin viewing in the south.

January is the month when most locals go on holiday and many restaurants and cafes will be closed. Accommodation will also be at it’s peak price wise.

February is the warmest month of year in New Zealand and the best time to head to the beach. Locals will have gone back to work by this time, so you won’t run into as many business closures.

Best Time to Visit New Zealand | Waiheke Island Bay

Best places to visit in the summer in New Zealand

  • Stewart Island – in December
  • Dunedin/Otago Peninsula – for penguin viewing
  • Coromandel Peninsula – for beaches
  • Abel Tasman National Park – for beaches & outdoor activities
  • Waitomo Glowworm Caves – Nov – April (the caves get too cold in the winter)
  • Waiheke Island – Feb/March is the best time

Best things to do in the summer in New Zealand

  • Head to the beach
  • Penguin viewing in the south
  • Hiking/kayaking/outdoor sports
  • Check out some of New Zealand’s best campsites
  • Parihaka Peace Festival – January
  • World Buskers’ Festival in Christchurch (January)
  • Auckland’s Laneway Festival (January)
  • Attend the New Zealand Sevens rugby tournament (January)
Best Time to Visit New Zealand | Punakaiki Rocks Pancake Rocks

Summer is the best time to visit New Zealand if…

  • …you don’t mind crowds too much.
  • …you want plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures.
  • …you want to hit up the beach.
  • …you can make your bookings well in advance.

What to pack for New Zealand in the summertime:

  • bug repellant (solids are the way to go, because sandflies really suck)
  • activewear
  • a light jacket or fleece
  • rain jacket
  • good walking/hiking sandals (We prefer instead of hiking boots as they are less bulky and are good for walking through water)
  • reef safe sunscreen
  • swimwear

Autumn in New Zealand

Best Time to Visit New Zealand | Hooker Valley Track

Autumn is the best time for hiking as the temperatures start to cool down just a bit, but the sun usually stays out for long crisp days.

Locals have gone back to work and the peak tourist season has died down so trails aren’t as crowded. New Zealand also experiences the seasonal changing of the leaves from green to bright orange, yellow and red hues, which can be a fantastic sight to behold.

Autumn months at a glance:

March brings with it the start of autumn, however, temperatures are usually still fairly warm and skies are sunny. This is a great “shoulder season” month to visit some of the big tourist destinations without all the crowds.

April in New Zealand is the prime month for viewing the changing of the leaves. Tourism also dies down significantly after the Easter holiday so accommodation may be easier to come by.

May is the month in which temperatures really start to drop in New Zealand and you’ll want to break out the thermals and start dressing in layers. May is also the cheapest month to fly to New Zealand from the US (according to Kayak).

Best Time to Visit New Zealand | Marlborough Vineyard Wine

Best places to visit during autumn in New Zealand

  • Marlborough wine region + Blenheim – in March
  • Central Otago wine region – vineyards are in full bloom in the fall, but it’s also the wettest season
  • Hawkes Bay – changing of the leaves in April
  • Lake Tekapo and the wider Mackenzie Country – changing of the leaves in April
  • Alpine region S. Island – for hiking in April
  • Auckland – fall/winter (to avoid the crowds of the spring/summer)

Best things to do during autumn in New Zealand

  • Visit some of New Zealand’s best wineries
  • Leaf peeping & photographing fall foliage
  • Get outdoors and tackle one of the best hikes in NZ
  • Pasifika Cultural Festival in Auckland
  • Hamilton’s Balloons Over Waikato Festival in March
  • Wanaka’s Festival of Color (April)
  • The Auckland Royal Easter Show (April)
  • Great New Zealand Food Show in Hamilton (May)
Best Time to Visit New Zealand | Milford Sound

Autumn is the best time to visit New Zealand if…

  • …you are seeking comfortable temperatures for outdoor activities.
  • …you would like to see (and photograph!) fall foliage.
  • …you like to avoid crowds.
  • …you enjoy cool and crisp air.
  • …you’re into wine tasting and plan to visit vineyards.

What to pack for New Zealand in autumn:

  • rain and windproof jacket
  • a scarf
  • thermal layers
  • warm socks
  • walking/hiking shoes
New+Zealand+Packing+List+_+Two+Wandering+Soles

Winter in New Zealand

Best Time to Visit New Zealand | Helicopter Ride on a Glacier

With the winter comes the snow. Ski season brings with it the snow birds from the Northern Hemisphere, looking for some “off-season” skiing.

During this time roads can be a bit hazardous, particularly in high country. However, the snow rarely makes its way down to the lowlands and the temperatures in the valleys are actually quite mild.

The North Island tends to see more rainfall during the winter months than the South Island. Winter is the wettest season in Auckland and the driest season in Queenstown.

Winter months at a glance:

June is the start of the ski season in New Zealand. As snow begins to fall in the mountains, ski areas open their doors for tourism. Matariki (the New Year of the indigenous Māori people) is also celebrated in June.

July and August usually receive the most snowfall and are the best months for skiing. Aside from ski resorts, this is typically off-season in New Zealand and you’ll find the best rates and most availability for travel during this time.

Best Time to Visit New Zealand | Queenstown

Best places to visit during winter in New Zealand

  • Tongariro National Park – winter (best to be avoided during their busy season Nov – April)
  • Queenstown – while Queenstown is a great place to visit all year round, it is particularly fun in wintertime
  • Pancake rocks in the South Island
  • Glacier Country/Franz Josef Glacier – winter (to avoid peak season in the summer!)
  • Fiordland – winter brings clear/crisp days, but be warned, it will be cold!

Best things to do in the winter in New Zealand

  • Skiing/snowboarding
  • Queenstown annual winter festival (Jun/Jul) – music, snow sports and entertainment
  • Dunedin Midwinter Carnival (June)
  • Lyttelton’s Festival of Lights (June)
  • Dunedin’s Chocolate Carnival (July)
  • New Zealand’s International Film Festival (July)
  • Auckland restaurant month (August)
  • Visa Wellington on a Plate (August)
  • NZ Fashion Week (August)

Best places to go Skiing in New Zealand

Ski season typically runs from June – 1st week in October in New Zealand.

  • Ruapehu and Taranaki are the main ski areas on the North Island
  • Wanaka, Otago and Canterbury are the main ski areas on the South Island
Best Time to Visit New Zealand | Two Wandering Soles

Winter is the best time to visit New Zealand if…

  • …you don’t mind colder temperatures
  • …you want to ski or snowboard
  • …you want to avoid the crowds
  • …you want to save money and travel during off-peak season

What to pack for winter in New Zealand:

  • layers, including a versatile jacket, gloves and a hat
  • warm and comfortable shoes
  • wool socks
  • sunglasses (remember, the snow reflection can be harsh!)
  • a winter hat or beanie
  • ski gear (if needed)

Spring in New Zealand

Best Time to Visit New Zealand | Two Wandering Soles

Spring in New Zealand is in full bloom, and hiking and outdoor adventures become popular once more. As temperatures begin to warm up, the greenery comes alive. Spring is also New Zealand’s windiest season, so be sure to pack your windbreaker!

With white peaks still visible on the mountain tops, the scenery is picture perfect. This is the best time for whitewater rafting as the snow is melting in the mountains and the rivers are high and strong.

Spring months at a glance:

September’s weather can be a bit volatile and inconsistent. Most ski resorts are still open in September, but spring is coming into bloom in the lowlands.

October brings with it the close of the ski season. But fear not, because the spring weather is at it’s best during this month.

November is sometimes considered to be the start of summer in New Zealand. Temperatures are rising and tourism starts to pick up as well.

Best Time to Visit New Zealand | Wellington Botanical Gardens

Best places to visit during spring in New Zealand

  • Wellington – October is typically the best weather here, but try to avoid September when Wellington sees their worst weather.
  • Hawkes Bay – trees in blossom
  • Christchurch – known as “the garden city,” spring is the best time to take in the gardens and parks while they are in full bloom.
  • Rotorua/ Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley

Best things to do in the spring in New Zealand

  • Taranaki Rhododendron and Garden Festival (North island)
  • Alexandra annual blossom festival (September)
  • Nelson’s Cherry Blossom Festival (September)
  • Auckland Heritage Festival (October)
  • Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival (October)
  • Diwali celebrations in Aukland & Wellington (October)
Best Time to Visit New Zealand | Auckland Albert Park

Spring is the best time to visit New Zealand if…

  • …you want comfortable temperatures (not too cold or too hot)
  • …you want to see flowers in bloom
  • …you don’t mind a bit of unpredictable weather

What to pack for spring in New Zealand:

  • comfortable walking shoes
  • rain gear
  • warm outer layers
  • a scarf
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