Understand what to expect from the different seasons in New Zealand and plan your itinerary to make the most of them.
Through the seasons of Aotearoa New Zealand, each region gets its time to shine.
From the subtropical north to the Antarctic winds of the South, the weather patterns here are a big part of what makes our country such a special place.
The following seasonal New Zealand travel tips will help you to decide when you might like to travel to New Zealand and which spots you might prioritise.
The seasons in New Zealand
Each season in New Zealand offers something different. They each have their own advantages and disadvantages, resulting in great travel opportunities if you know where and when to visit.
December, January, and February – Expect warm and sunny weather throughout the country.
Mid-December through to late January can be very busy, especially near tourist hotspots and beach settlements.
This is peak season throughout the country.
March, April and May – Expect fairly settled weather, getting colder as the season progresses, and occasional rain.
This is shoulder season.
June, July and August – These are the coldest months in New Zealand.
Expect periods of rain (though when the weather is nice, you’ll get chilly blue-sky days) with occasional snow to ground level in the deep south.
This is off-season for most of the country, but peak season for Queenstown, Ohakune etc. – anywhere with skiing/snowboarding.
September, October and November – The weather starts to warm up in spring but can still be fairly unsettled with periods of fine weather followed by days of rain and high wind.
This is considered shoulder season, getting busier in November.
Seasonal variation in Aotearoa
As you hit the northern-most part of New Zealand (nicknamed the ‘winterless north’), winter is less pronounced.
However, the further south you travel, the more difference you will notice between the seasons. This is most noticeable in the winter months when the South Island experiences the coldest weather in the country, including snow in some areas.
Plus, right throughout New Zealand you’ll generally notice the weather is normally warmest by the coast.
When is the Best Time to Visit New Zealand?
If you’re planning a trip to Aotearoa, you’ll likely be wondering when the ‘best’ time to visit is…
The country has four distinct seasons which means there is always something awesome going on, no matter what time you visit.
Your personal preferences will influence when you would rather plan a trip – whether you prefer the sun-kissed touch of summer, the insta-worthy red and golden hues of autumn, the wonders of winter, or the blooming and blossoming parks and reserves of spring.
Each of our seasons has a unique charm and appeal to travellers.
Being in the southern hemisphere means that the seasons are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere.
So before you ask – yes, we have an island-life kiwi Christmas on the beach. This includes swimming, sunning yourself and BBQs for Christmas lunch! It’s a wonderful time to be here.
But whenever you choose to travel, we really do have it all.
Learn more about the ‘best’ time to visit New Zealand.
Summer in New Zealand: Dec, Jan & Feb
During the summer months, New Zealand comes alive with outdoor activities and adventures.
School holidays and warmer weather make this a busy time to travel – but it’s a popular season here for good reason.
Across New Zealand, there are lakes, rivers and streams galore, which are all the more special in summer.
As you travel State Highway 1 (the main road from the top of the north to the bottom of the south), you will cross over hundreds of bridges, big and little, that arch from riverbank to riverbank.
Many of these areas have rest stops where you can explore the area a bit more or take a dip (if it is safe to swim).
Being such a mountainous country, there are also many, many waterfalls to enjoy.
Summer is a good time to check these out, as after a short walk, you might even be able to take a dip under one.
Mid to late summer is also the lavender season in Aotearoa, and who doesn’t love a romantic photo – or perhaps one of your family – amongst the soul-warming rows of violet blooms?
Fortunately, you’ll find many lavender farms across the country.
And we haven’t even mentioned the many glorious beaches in NZ!
Though you’ll notice more people travelling around, it can be hard to beat a beautiful summer’s day in New Zealand.
Average temperatures in the summer
20°C to 30°C (68°F to 86°F) during the day, dropping to 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F) overnight.
Daytime averages of 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F) and nighttime averages of 5°C to 10°C (41°F to 50°F).
Our favourite places to visit in the summer months
The Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is not only a sacred and historically significant area, it is also a sight for sore eyes.
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds [save 10% using the promo code NZTTPLAY] are spacious, lush and well-loved. With a grassy area that goes right down to the water’s edge, it is a fantastic viewpoint to watch wildlife and boaties alike.
This is also a fantastic place to visit if you’re looking for an authentic Māori experience and to learn about early Māori/English Crown history.
Outside of Waitangi, the Bay of Islands is a paradise for those who love the water. Dolphin spotting, fishing, paddle boarding and snorkelling are high on the priority list here.
In addition, you’ll find a number of wonderful walking trails there.
These are just a few of our favourites:
- Manginangina Kauri Walk
- Cape Brett Walkway
- Puketi Nature Trail
- Kerikeri River Track
- Tapeka Point Track
Tongariro National Park
If you love walking, hiking, tramping or trail running, National Park is the place to be in the summertime.
The famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a huge draw card here. It’s part of a Great Walk, and is a great choice for summertime walking as winter brings challenging conditions.
If you don’t want to commit to a significant walk, you’ll find a number of shorter trails in this world heritage area (like Gollum’s Pool and Taranaki Falls).
Plus, Tongariro National Park is the oldest national park in New Zealand, making it an extra special place to visit.
It first opened in 1998, after a pair of NZ brothers were inspired by a similar show in Canada.
Now it attracts countless visitors and locals each year, ready to enjoy a fantastic light display around Christmas time.
Abel Tasman National Park
The Abel Tasman National Park is a stunning destination to visit year-round, but particularly in the summertime.
It is known for having phenomenal beaches (with very swimmable water temperatures) and its world-class coastal walking trail (which is another of the Great Walks).
Scenic cruises, [discounted] kayaking, walking, [discounted] heli flights and wildlife spotting are all great activities on offer in Abel Tasman. And if you’re looking for a more heart-thumping adventure, there is even a [discounted] skydiving option!
Or, if you’d prefer, spend the day lounging on the beautiful golden sands of Kaiteriteri Beach.
Add to that the turquoise lakes and snow-covered mountains and you’ve got a memorable combination.
Did you know? Though they are beautiful, lupins are an introduced species in New Zealand, making them a pest. This means that they are sometimes sprayed, and as such, you never know exactly where you’ll see them.
Wānaka is another popular summertime destination in Aotearoa.
Climbing Roys Peak is a popular activity, but do so early in the morning before it gets too hot.
Some keen walkers even set off hours before first light, ensuring they’re at the top ready for the most amazing sunrise.
Kayaking and paddle boarding are another fun summer option in Wānaka. The lake’s edge is changeable and there are plenty of places to pull up for a rest. Or, if you’re up for more of a challenge, paddling to Ruby Island is a fun choice.
If you’re the camping type and are looking for a great spot to do so, don’t look any further than Glendhu Bay campsite. It has a fun family atmosphere, and with the lake at your fingertips and mountains all around, it’s a memorable spot. Just be sure to book in advance.
What’s more, Wānaka is also home to an impressive lavender farm, complete with a gift shop and petting zoo for the little ones.
It also has a great food truck park. We recommend you choose something tasty for dinner and pull up a seat beside the sweet little river.
Autumn in New Zealand: Mar, April & May
Autumn in New Zealand is a real treat. It’s all about dazzling colours and pleasant weather.
Towns and cities are also far less crowded as locals return to work and visitor numbers drop back, allowing more flexibility in travel plans.
What’s not to love about all of that?
15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F) during the day, dropping to 5°C to 15°C (41°F to 59°F) at night.
Daytime averages of 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F) and nighttime averages of 0°C to 10°C (32°F to 50°F).
Awesome autumn destinations
Self-acclaimed food and wine country, Hawkes Bay is also known as the fruit bowl of the North. It’s full of vineyards, orchards and citrus trees, so it’s no wonder the region shines with autumn colours.
Food and Wine tours and cycle trails are popular ways to make the most of the colourful eye candy, all while the year’s grape harvest is also in season.
Marlborough: Blenheim & Picton
Much the same as Hawkes Bay, the region of Marlborough offers wine tours and cycle trails – it’s even possible to cycle between the winery cellar doors.
Autumn is a lovely time to be there thanks to the changing of the leaves and more moderate temperatures (great for bike riding). It’s also the perfect time for a spot of fishing or sailing in the breathtaking Marlborough Sounds.
And that’s not to mention the amazing seafood it produces. There are many ocean-to-plate experiences here; one of which is the Havelock Mussel Festival (held in March).
Mackenzie Country, in the South Island, is a photographer’s dream during this season.
There you’ll find landscapes bathed in autumnal colours everywhere you look – all-shades-of-yellow, red and gold.
Charming Arrowtown is a classic that couldn’t be left off our list.
In fact, is there’s one NZ place to head during autumn, this is probably it!
Arrowtown is a little gem of nature and history.
The tiny cobblestone streets, heritage-listed cottages and gold-miners huts line the river edge. And in autumn, the leaves take on a life of their own with colours that seem to reflect the riches of its waters.
Hungry for more? Central Otago is the fruit bowl of the South.
Wine tours and fresh local produce are abundant in this area. Road-side stalls are everywhere, selling everything from berries, apples and stone-fruit (such as nectarines, peaches and cherries), to vegetables, locally produced honey, flowers and even saffron.
Autumn sees the Clyde Wine and Food Festival pop up on Easter Sunday, blocking the main street for the day. This popular festival attracts wine and food enthusiasts, keen to enjoy the gastronomic delights of the region.
Or, if you’d prefer to enjoy the area’s autumnal scenery, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
A number of great cycle and walking trails can be found there, including Gibbston Valley, Lake Dunstan Trail, Roxburgh Gorge Trail and the historical Otago Rail Trail from Clyde to Middlemarch.
Winter in New Zealand: June, July & Aug
Winter is a wonderland in New Zealand.
Some towns spring back into life, popular with skiers and snowboarders, while other areas enjoy the benefits of off-season with surprisingly settled weather.
Average wintertime temperatures
10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F) during the day, dropping to 0°C to 10°C (32°F to 50°F) at night.
Daytime averages of 5°C to 10°C (41°F to 50°F) and nighttime averages of -5°C to 5°C (23°F to 41°F).
Spots to visit in winter
Get cosy with the geothermal wonders of Rotorua. Pick from multiple hot pools and take a dip, thaw out and then grab a hot chocolate.
How wonderful does that sound?
South Island’s West Coast
The West Coast of the South Island is a real wintery treat!
This is the perfect to to get up close and personal with giant frozen bodies of water – glaciers.
Sadly, they are retreating rapidly, so if you can, take your chance to see these beauties now.
There are a few ways to do so:
- Walk the glacier track from the car park – you might get a peek of the glacier for free
- Embark on a [discounted] heli hike with a guide, walking in and over a glacier
- Take a [discounted] scenic helicopter flight over Fox and/or Franz Josef Glacier, with an optional snow landing.
- Stop by the Fox Glacier Lookout in your car (a little on from Lake Matheson).
Many are also surprised to learn that the West Coast enjoys fairly settled weather during this time of year, making it an extra-special time to visit.
But even if the weather isn’t playing ball, there’s plenty of fun to be had. The [discounted] quad biking, for one, is unmissable and goes ahead whatever the weather!
Queenstown and Wanaka
Snow on the surrounding mountains, a crisp chill in the air, string lights twinkling and a mulled wine in hand… it just doesn’t get better.
Skiing and snowboarding is the big drawcard here, with numerous ski fields to check out. Coronet Peak even offers a night skiing option.
Once you’ve had a full day up the mountain, you’ll find plenty to do in and around Queenstown and Wānaka. Both exude a bustling, fun atmosphere – even in the winter season.
Once a year, DFS Winter Fireworks puts on a vibrant display on the main wharf in Queenstown. It’s a spectacular evening, with the fireworks starting early, so even the kids can make it. Ah, the benefits of winter!
Taking a scenic helicopter ride is another outstanding option while in town. This is an incredible way to see the area and take in all the beauty of winter. Seeing things from a new perspective will add a little dazzle to your day.
Milford Sound is stunning at any time of year, but we particularly love it in the wintertime. This national treasure is a sight to behold on a miserable, wet and dreary day – honestly!
When the rains won’t stop, it’s time to head to Milford. There are hundreds of temporary waterfalls that emerge with the rains, cascading down enormous cliff faces and over rock rock and native bush. It is absolutely spectacular and, for many, a real bucket list experience in Aotearoa.
What’s more, Milford Sound is the only fiord in New Zealand that is accessible by car, making it the most affordable of Fiordland’s most famous fiords.
The Catlins is a wild and untouched region of Southland, and the low light pollution there makes it a great place to catch a glimpse of the aurora australis and also do some star gazing/astrophotography.
Both of these activities are best done in the wintertime.
Plus, with fewer travellers in this area, you’ll often feel like you have the coast to yourself!
Spring in New Zealand: Sept, Oct & Nov
Spring always feels like a relief, doesn’t it? The earth is no longer frigid and freezing, bees remerge buzzing, little birds, livestock and bulb flowers all emerge and everything has a fresh glow.
The Far North, Waikato, Taranaki and Marlborough are all perfect places to book a house and relish the warm air, light breezes and walk or bike along the many river or country trails.
Plus, here in NZ, we love a spring festival, so you’ll notice they’re our itinerary focus below.
5°C to 20°C (59°F to 68°F) during the day, dropping to 5°C to 15°C (41°F to 59°F) at night.
Daytime averages of 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F) and nighttime averages of 0°C to 10°C (32°F to 50°F).
The best spots to visit in the spring
Christchurch Botanic Gardens
The beautifully curated Christchurch Botanic Gardens are definitely a must-see in the springtime.
With several little pockets to choose from to explore, we have a few recommendations to check out.
- playground and paddling pool – perfect if you have little ones or just want to dip your feet
- peace train – this miniature train takes you on an eight-minute loop around the gardens. It runs on the first and third Sunday of each month from September through to April and is even wheelchair accessible
- New Zealand garden – established in the early 1900s, it features an array of New Zealand plant species
- Art in the Garden – see if you can find the art dotted about the entire of Christchurch’s Botanic Gardens.
New Plymouth: Centuria Taranaki Garden Festival
There, you’ll see a number of impressive sustainable gardens and public gardens, and you can join a relaxed garden party.
Head along to this festival late October/early November for a joyful experience.
The Alexandra Blossom Festival
The Alexandra Blossom Festival is held at the end of September each year to celebrate the blossoms lining the main street of this Central Otago town.
The weekend-long event includes a Mardi Gras on the Friday night (with live music and food stalls), a grand procession on the Saturday (complete with floats made from paper blossoms, which have been lovingly and painstakingly created every year by local businesses and school children), and a party in the park (with markets, food and beverage stalls, rides and live music).
It’s a wonderful event that brings the community together and people from all over.
Dunedin: Port Chalmers Seafood Festival
Make sure to arrive hungry as there are food stalls and excellent local craft beer trailers. There’s also a music lineup and even kid’s entertainment.
For seafood-lovers this is sure to be a memorable day out.
Pro tip: Catch the train out to the festival to save the hassle of packing. Plus, it’s an awesome way to see the coast and arrive in style.
Four Seasons in One Day
The weather in New Zealand is incredibly changeable.
As we say here, you’ll experience four seasons in one day.
This is because Aotearoa lacks the landmass of larger continental countries. When weather fronts arrive, they are not always here to stay.
When travelling around the country, we recommend you’re well equipped for a variety of conditions, regardless of the season.
This means that in the summertime, you’ll still want a jumper/rain jacket close to hand and in the wintertime, it’s sensible to dress in layers so you can easily adjust to remain comfortable.
Seasonal Packing Lists For Your Trip to New Zealand
Aside from the standard gear that you’d take anywhere (your passport, undies, toiletries etc.), we recommend the following items for each season you spend in NZ…
Packing for Summer in New Zealand
- Sunscreen – the sun in New Zealand is likely to be harsher than you’re used to
- Insect repellent
- Swimming togs (that’s what we call a bathing suit)
- A cap/sunhat
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Jandals (flip flops)
- A rash top (for extra sun protection in the water)
- Water shoes
Packing for Winter in NZ
- Merino layers
- Jeans and/or track pants
- A warm, waterproof jacket or vest
- A beanie
- A scarf
Packing for Autumn/Spring in Aotearoa
During the shoulder seasons, you’ll want a mixture of clothing from both the summer and winter packing lists.
The key to travelling during these seasons is to pack in layers – that way it’s easy to increase/decrease your temperate as required. As the weather is so changeable in New Zealand, it’s a real advantage to change quickly like this.
New Zealand is a year-round destination just waiting to welcome you.
Tailor your visit based on your own personal preferences and interests, support local businesses and embrace the magic of New Zealand’s seasons!
Now, isn’t it time you got planning?
Planning your first visit to New Zealand? 🇳🇿 Start here or check out these must-read articles:
Guest post by Theresa from Little Pocket.