For the most part, New Zealand has a mild climate that makes travelling at any time of year possible. With that said though, if you’re planning a trip to Aotearoa, you’ll want to know; when is the best time to visit New Zealand?
Nobody wants bad weather to get in the way of their plans though, so it is still important to consider the best time to visit New Zealand when booking your vacation.
Unwelcome rain can ruin travel plans. Unexpected sunburn can make vacation time quite uncomfortable.
Don’t get caught out whilst planning your travels to Aotearoa – instead use our guide (written by yours truly, a Kiwi) and figure out the very best time to visit New Zealand.
This post first appeared on New Zealand Travel Tips.
What to Expect from the Weather in New Zealand
From the far north where they enjoy warm, subtropical weather during the summertime, to the mountainous inland parts of the deep south, where temperatures drop into negative numbers, though our climate is generally temperate, there are obvious differences in certain parts of the country.
As our largest cities are found near the coast, travellers can generally count on mild temperatures whilst enjoying sunshine and limited rainfall.
There are of course optimal times to travel to different parts of the country, depending on what you wish to do.
When then, is the best time to visit New Zealand?
Located in the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand’s seasons fall in direct opposition to the Northern Hemisphere.
The warmest months in New Zealand fall in January and February (providing the perfect mid-winter escape for those in the Northern Hemisphere), whilst the coolest weather is generally experienced in July.
As a general rule, the further south you travel, the colder the weather gets (as you get ever-closer to Antarctica).
As New Zealand is made up of a number of islands (the largest of which are both relatively narrow), we do not experience the extreme weather that larger continental countries face.
By comparison, we have a unique weather system here, known affectionally as ‘four seasons in one day’. Weather can change very quickly, regardless of the season so it’s important to be well prepared whilst travelling the country.
As we say here, if you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes!
The Best Time to Visit New Zealand Depends on Your Itinerary and Expectations
Though our seasons are fairly mild, with very few towns receiving snow down to sea-level, we do have definite seasons that you’ll want to take into account whilst planning your holiday down under.
Some activities and locations are better suited to consistently clear weather, whereas other plans you’ll be able to charge ahead rain, hail or shine.
Whilst planning your visit to New Zealand, you’ll also want to consider the impact that public holidays and school holidays will have on your plans. As with all travel, there are real advantages and disadvantages to travelling during peak times (which, for us, means summertime).
Public Holidays and Hours of Operation: How Your Travel Plans Could be Impacted
According to national law, all shops must close for a minimum of of 3.5 days each year; Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and half a day on ANZAC Day (until 1pm).
In addition to these public holidays, shops in smaller towns often choose to close their doors on Sundays and to observe other public holidays (New Year’s Day, for example).
Check our seasonal guide below to see when each public holiday falls.
Most shops in larger centres operate 7-days a week; 9am – 5.30pm Monday to Saturday and 10am – 5pm on Sunday.
The majority of shopping centres/malls operate the aforementioned hours, with the addition of a late night (either Thursday or Friday), until 9pm.
When Are They?
The vast majority of schools in New Zealand observe the same school holidays.
Though it’s worth noting that university students and private school students do have slightly different holidays, our public schools have the largest impact on the rest of the country.
The largest break for students (which coincides with our peak travel season), falls from mid-December until the beginning of February. These holidays are approximately 6 weeks long, whilst other holidays span two weeks at a time and are spread three times across the year.
Schools are able to set their own start and end dates for the year (within a period of approximately a week) so there will be a staggered start and end each year. For the most part though, holidays are consistent across the country.
Check our seasonal guide below to see when you might expect school holidays to fall. Remember though, the exact dates of school holidays vary each year, so it’s best to check online to be sure of the potential impact on your travel plans.
How Might School Holidays Impact My Travel Plans in New Zealand?
Without doubt, school holidays are a busier (and often, more expensive) time to travel, so if you’re able to avoid them, it will work in your favour.
In an ideal world, the school holidays are not the best time to visit New Zealand.
With that said though, I can only ever travel in the school holidays and don’t generally face any problems (aside from inflated airfares and busy campsites at the peak of summer).
If you’re restricted to the school holidays (or long weekends, which are also busy travel times), don’t let it stop you from having an amazing New Zealand adventure!
Which is the Best Season to Visit New Zealand?
The following seasonal rundown will help you to determine the best time for you to visit New Zealand.
Summer: December, January, February
Warm, Sunny Weather
Summertime brings the most stable weather of any of the seasons in New Zealand. Expect comfortably warm days with relatively low rainfall. Evenings cool down a little so be sure to take a light jumper out with you at night.
Though you’ll experience the odd day of rain, most days during this period will be sunny and warm. Weather is seldom an issue when travelling over the summer period (with the odd cyclone that comes through around New Year’s), but you certainly will battle summer crowds.
This is the ideal time for outdoor activities, water sports, camping and hiking.
Prebook During Our Peak Season
If you’re planning a visit to New Zealand during the school holidays (mid December until early February), you’ll want to prebook where possible.
Rental cars, flights, major activities, accommodation, campsites – anything that you’d either be disappointed to miss out on (as some certainly will book out), or that you don’t want to pay through the roof for (flights and rental cars, in particular) need to be booked well in advance.
Be SunSmart Whilst Visiting New Zealand in the Summer
During the summer it is especially important that you ‘slip, slop, slap and wrap‘ as we say down there in New Zealand. Due to the position of New Zealand (right under the hole in the ozone layer), our sun is especially harsh.
Though the hole in the ozone is slowly repairing itself, for the time being you’ll really need to be SunSmart in New Zealand.
You will get burnt here, like you’ve never experienced elsewhere. This is not not an exaggeration (though I wish it were!)
Summer Public Holidays
Summer is a busy time for holidays in New Zealand. The weather is nice and people are out and about making the most of the time off!
- Christmas Day – 25th December
- Boxing Day – 26th December
- New Year’s Day – 1st January
- Waitangi Day – 6th February
The longest school holidays in New Zealand, most schools break up mid-December and return late January or in the first week of February.
Autumn (Fall): March, April, May
Autumn can be a great time to visit New Zealand. As the summer sun fades away, so do the crowds that would ordinarily be found around the country.
The seasons in New Zealand seem to be coming later and later; this means that March is often still warm and pleasant and it’s not until April that the weather really starts to cool down.
As autumn progresses, the weather obviously starts to get cooler. The southern-most parts of the country feel the chill first, whilst Northland retains subtropical weather well into the new season.
Though you’ll notice changing trees everywhere, they’re most pronounced in the South Island. Down there, autumn brings the most beautiful gold, auburn and red leaves to trees lining streets – it’s a magical time to visit New Zealand.
Regardless of the time of day (or where you are), you’ll want to travel with a jumper.
If you’re off on an adventure, be sure to take plenty of warm clothes and food, as in the shoulder seasons, weather can be even more changeable than normal. If you’re looking to take to the water, you’ll probably want a wetsuit (or do as we do, and only swim in the ocean if it’s really worthwhile).
- Good Friday – Dates change annually but are generally early April
- Easter Monday – Dates change annually
- Anzac Day – 25th April
Winter: June, July, August
As you’d expect, the country is at its coldest in the depths of winter. There’s still plenty to see though, should you choose to visit New Zealand at this time of year.
Hit the Mountains!
If you’re on the hunt for snow-capped peaks (and the snow sports that go with them), this is definitely the best time to visit New Zealand.
In Queenstown and around Mt. Ruapehu, prices go up (and availability of accommodation goes down), but aside from this winter-locales, accommodation in the rest of the country is likely to be at its cheapest.
Likewise, you’ll find crowds at their peak near our ski/snowboarding mountains, but reduced in other areas of the country.
Four Seasons in One Day
Even during winter, weather can be changeable so you may find yourself visiting New Zealand in this months and being greeted by sun or rain!
Just incase you get stuck with a week of rain, we recommend you travel with plenty of merino layers and a waterproof jacket. If you’ve got the right gear, the odd winter storm shouldn’t get too much in the way of your plans to visit New Zealand.
- Queen’s Birthday – 3rd June
Spring: September, October, November
As warmer weather starts to show its face, the country springs to life.
A Beautiful Time to Visit New Zealand
New born animals, spring flowers and beautiful fresh fields, spring is a gorgeous time to visit – so much so, I’d almost go as far as to say that it’s the best time to visit New Zealand!
At this time of year, the South Island lupins pop out of hiding (starting in September if you’re lucky – they’re more likely in November/December though) and wild flowers spring up around the country.
Though September can still experience the odd spurt of bad weather, temperatures begin rising and rain becomes less frequent.
Again, the further north you travel, the earlier you can expect the weather to get warmer.
- Labour Day – 28th October
Average Temperatures in New Zealand’s Main Cities
To give you a better idea of what to expect as you travel around the country, we’ve included a rundown of the highs and lows that each of our major cities experience.
Remember that, as a rule, our warmest weather is to the north and our coldest weather is inland and to the south.
With the most temperate climate of any major city in New Zealand, Auckland reaches higher highs and has more subdued lows.
If you’re looking for better weather still, head north to the likes of Kerikeri/Paihia or East to the Coromandel.
Known as ‘Windy Wellington’, the country’s capital city certainly experiences its fair share of wind! Likewise though, it gets plenty of sunshine and enjoys temperatures just a touch cooler than Auckland.
A vibrant, culturally-rich city, Wellington has pretty good weather to boot.
The further south you head, the colder New Zealand gets (as a general rule). You’ll notice there’s also more variance between the daily highs and lows.
Christchurch has some stunning summer days but be prepared to get your woolies out mid-year. In the depths of winter, the average low is barely a whisker above freezing.
Known as the adventure capital of New Zealand (which says a lot in a country recognised as the adventure capital of the world), a visit to Queenstown in the winter months really calls for warm clothes!
With snow on the surrounding mountains and beautiful clear days, it’s worth braving the cold to enjoy this stunning town.
Our southern-most city, Dunedin doesn’t get as hot as our other cities but it also has very little in daily temperature variation – you know what you’ll get when you head south.
With a little luck, you’ll get a #dunnerstunner of a day!
Anytime is the Best Time to Visit New Zealand!
New Zealand is an incredibly diverse bucket-list country, regardless of the time of year that you choose to visit.
Different seasons offer different appeals and challenges but one thing remains the same – it’s a country that you just have to experience yourself!
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Photo credit: Tourism New Zealand and Holiday Weather.