A visit to New Zealand in the wintertime is the trip of a lifetime. With a little inside knowledge, you can wrap up warm and be fully prepared to enjoy Aotearoa at its most otherworldly and enchanting.
Though many consider summer the best time to visit New Zealand, winter brings many delights for those keen to brave the elements.
June, July and August is when winter falls in New Zealand. This is generally considered low season – though ski resort towns don’t experience the same downturn that the rest of the country does. But it is considered the best time to travel to NZ by many.
In the northern part of Aotearoa, temperatures remain relatively mild, rainfall increases, and the crowds disperse.
Further south, snow sometimes transforms the landscapes into a winter wonderland. Scenery can become a frozen fantasy – an endless wilderness of glacial lakes, frosted rooftops, and ice-white valleys. Mountains are dusted in snow and crisp days can bring surprisingly sunny skies.
Although ski season beckons tourists to the Southern Alps, with its busy winter sports destinations like Queenstown and Wānaka, you can still find plenty of quieter spots to enjoy.
In this post, we’ll give you plenty of insider information about travelling in New Zealand’s coldest season. We’ll tell you how to make the most of our (occasionally) unpredictable weather and seasonal festivals while sharing New Zealand’s most unmissable winter destinations.
Because done right, winter is an exceptional time for a true New Zealand adventure.
Before going, check out our detailed guide for first-time visitors with our 101 New Zealand travel FAQs.
Is Winter a good time to visit New Zealand?
Yes, winter is a magical time to visit New Zealand.
In fact, some would argue that Winter is the best time to visit the South Island! You really cannot beat views of the Southern Alps after a snowfall.
The North Island in the wintertime
While the North Island remains reasonably quiet, with fewer crowds and cheaper rates, you should definitely prepare for rain. With a good jacket or umbrella, though, there’s no reason to stay home. And we still get plenty of clear days to get out and explore.
The temperatures in the North remain mild, but it does tend to get more chilly the further south you go. For example, Wellington experiences colder temperatures than Northland.
With that said, winter is an excellent time to visit one of the capital’s fantastic museums, cosy up in a cafe, or grab some delicious food from one of many restaurants participating in the annual Wellington on a Plate festival.
Winter in the South Island
Meanwhile, the South Island thrives in the winter, with crowds of people heading to Queenstown and Wānaka for the ski season.
But, of course, the closer you get to a ski field, the more the prices and the number of tourists increase.
The ski season runs from mid-June to early October, but the crowds reach their peak in July and August. During these months, book accommodation well in advance as the best and most affordable hotels get booked up months ahead.
Still, you don’t have to go far to avoid the winter crowds.
Whether you’re happy to brave the crowds in the ski resorts, or want to find a quieter spot, many of the South Island’s natural attractions are at their best in the wintertime. Famous destinations like Aoraki/Mount Cook, Queenstown, Lake Tekapo and Wānaka are most stunning under a dusting of snow.
Don’t let the cold weather put you off from travelling in New Zealand. A mesmerising winter wonderland awaits you!
What to Expect of New Zealand’s weather in Winter
While winter temperatures remains relatively mild in the north of the country (for example, Auckland has an average temperature of 14-15°C), the season also brings an abundance of rain. To ensure you’re prepared in the North Isand, we recommend a good quality raincoat, worn over warm layers and waterproof shoes.
The temperatures drop considerably as you head further south, particularly towards mountainous regions in the Southern Alps. However, providing you don’t mind the cold, these areas often get less rain than Auckland.
Outside of winter sports, other outdoor activities are at a minimum. NZ’s Great Walks are closed for the year, and the water is too cold to enjoy water sports – unless you’re feeling particularly brave!
However, many shorter walking tracks remain open, especially in coastal regions such as Nelson.
Snow spots in New Zealand
If you ski or snowboard, you’re in the right place. New Zealand has some fantastic ski resorts for all ages and abilities. Among the most famous include Cardrona, a family-friendly field conveniently located between Queenstown and Wānaka, and Treble Cone, the largest ski area in the South Island.
Other ski resorts include The Remarkables, which offers spectacular views and fabulous beginner skiing. Coronet Peak is another popular skifield as it is also very close to Queenstown.
Close to Christchurch (and closer still to Methven), you’ll find Mount Hutt.
Plus we have a number of smaller club fields that have good skiing in supportive, friendly environments.
Though most of our snowsports are found in the South Island, the North Island doesn’t miss out entirely.
Head to Mount Ruapehu, near Taupo, and enjoy the breathtaking runs at Whakapapa and Turoa.
In fact, Turoa offers the longest vertical drop in Australasia!
⚠️ April 2023 update: The Mount Ruapehu ski fields were put into receivership in 2022. Both are expected to open again in 2023, but it’s worth checking before planning your trip.
Other winter activities
If you’re not inspired to hit the slopes, there is plenty more to enjoy in the New Zealand winter.
Hot pools and geothermal activity
What could be better than making the most of New Zealand’s geothermal currents by warming up in a naturally heated thermal hot pool with a view of snowy mountains in the distance?
Since it’s colder down below, you will find the best hot pools on the South Island. But we also have countless hot pools around the country, and they really are the perfect way to relax on a chilly day.
Our favourites include:
- The Lost Springs, Whitianga (in the Coromandel)
- Hell’s Gate, Rotorua
- Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools [promo code NZTTPLAY], Hanmer Springs
- Ōpuke Thermal Pools, Methven
Southern lights and stargazing
This time of year is also your best chance to spot the southern lights (particularly as you head further south), and also for stargazing.
With the Milky Way overhead, wintertime in New Zealand is a favourite amongst astrophotographers.
Safe driving in chilly conditions
Finally, remember to drive particularly carefully during the New Zealand winter.
Check weather forecasts and be prepared for last-minute changes.
If you’re travelling in the lower South Island or near the Southern Alps, you’ll want to carry snow chains. Learn how to fit them before starting your trip.
Road closures do happen due to unpredictable weather, with routes being cut off due to everything from mudslides to flooding last winter. So, be prepared to be flexible and change your plans as required, and check for road closures around the time of your departure.
With all of that said, driving in the wintertime in New Zealand is generally safe and totally uneventful so don’t let our precautionary messages put you off!
New Zealand in June
Up north, Auckland and Northland experience a fair bit of rain in June, though the weather remains mild across most of the North Island.
Temperatures get increasingly chilly the further south you go. In the South Island, Nelson is one of the only places that remain mild and sunny; it’s there that some of the longer tramps remain open during the colder months.
Other parts of the South Island also have stunning clear-sky days, but these are often accompanied by cooler temperatures.
June is the low season in many coastal regions and across most of the North Island. As a result, you can expect lower costs and fewer crowds in areas outside of ski fields.
The slow transformation of New Zealand into a winter wonderland begins with the ski season officially starting in mid-June.
Naturally, you’ll find the best snowy scenery on the South Island, but Mount Ruapehu and Mount Taranaki are stunning spots on the North Island that still get painted icy white.
Average New Zealand temperature (low/high) and rainfall in June
|Days of rain
June public holidays
The monarch’s birthday is the only public holiday in June.
This is celebrated on the first Monday in June right across the country.
New Zealand in July
July is the coldest month of the year in New Zealand – but also one of the most beautiful. This is generally your best chance of seeing snow, and the mountains seldom look better than when coated in white.
The first half of July is when a two-week school holiday falls, although many locals families choose to escape the cold and head elsewhere… unless they’re planning a skiing holiday, of course.
Although July is the wettest month in North Island, the Matariki festival (also known as Māori new year) keeps things vibrant, with numerous events taking place in Auckland. The New Zealand International Film Festival also begins in the City of Sails before travelling around the country.
Meanwhile, July is a fantastic time for whale watching. Kaikōura is one of the best spots to enjoy these stunning marine animals, and many more.
Average New Zealand temperature (low/high) and rainfall in July
|Days of rain
July public holidays
New Zealand’s newest public holiday, Matariki, is celebrated in the middle of July. This marks the Māori new year.
As this even is tied to the stars, the exact date changes each year.
New Zealand in August
August’s weather and temperatures are similar to July, so you can expect similar conditions.
The slopes might be slightly quieter following July’s two-week school holiday, but this is still peak ski season. As a result, winter sports areas will remain busy – especially Queenstown and Wānaka.
Elsewhere, August is still low season. The cold weather is the perfect time to enjoy hot springs, short walks with frosty mountain views, and to escape the rain in one of the country’s many memorable museums.
Average New Zealand temperature (low/high) and rainfall in August
|Days of rain
August public holidays
There are no public holidays in New Zealand in August.
The best places to visit in winter in New Zealand
No part of New Zealand is a write-off in the wintertime, but if you’re looking for spots that really shine in the chilly weather, these are our top picks, in order of north to south…
Northland is on this list for a totally different reason to the other spots we’re about to introduce you to – largely because it’s your best chance at escaping the typical wintery weather in Aotearoa.
With the mildest of all climates in NZ (thanks to its microclimate), stunning beaches and heaps of natural beauty, we recommend heading north to enjoy a good dose of sunshine.
While Rotorua doesn’t get the snow that makes some other parts of New Zealand magical in the wintertime, this gorgeous town nestled beside Lake Rotorua is still a perfect destination for cooler days.
The region is famous for the massive number of natural hot springs and pools found there.
Aside from the swimmable springs, take advantage of Wai-O-Taupu Thermal Wonderland and Waimangu Volcanic Valley [discounted] for a wonderous experience of New Zealand’s geothermal landscape. The dazzling multicoloured pools are too hot for human touch but they sure are beautiful.
Round up a wintery Rotorua trip under the canopy of the Redwood Forest (don’t miss the enchanting Redwoods Treewalk).
Or, on a clear day, take the cable car up to the top of Mount Ngongotaha for fabulous views over the town and beyond. And let’s face it, racing down on the luge is fun no matter the time of year!
Ruapehu and Taupō
You can find both of North Island’s main ski fields at Mount Ruapehu. Whakapapa and Turoa ski resorts both draw people in from all around the North Island.
In fact, Turoa offers the longest vertical drop in Australasia, so keen skiers and boarders are in for a treat!
Unlike the rest of North Island, which is mostly devoid of tourists in the wintery months, Ruapehu is a hot spot for winter sports, so book hotels early if you want to get a good deal.
Nearby, Taupō is the perfect place to find many family-friendly activities, such as a cruise upon Lake Taupā to see the iconic Māori Rock Carvings [promo code NZTTPLAY to save 10%].
Like Rotorua, Taupā is a hotspot for gorgeous hot pools, so warm up with a dip at the scenic Taupo DeBretts Hot Springs or bathe for free beside the river at Otumuheke Stream. Adults will also really enjoy the Wairakei Terraces hot pools.
June to August is the best time to see whales in Kaikōura – it’s always when the nearby mountains are most likely to be covered in snow, making for beautiful views from town.
You can see sperm whales year-round, but June to August is the best time to see humpback whales.
In winter, the humpback whales swim through the ‘underwater highway’ on their great annual migration, which takes them right past Kaikōura – lucky for us.
These fantastic creatures are incredible to watch in full display, breaching out of the water with the tremendous snow-capped Kaikoura Ranges behind.
Winter is also an excellent time to see blue whales and southern right whales and many species of dolphins, including Hector’s dolphins (the smallest dolphins in the world).
And you can’t miss the hundreds of fur seals stretched out along the Kaikōura coastline, adorably unaware of the chilly weather!
Lake Tekapo is a magical destination year-round; with its Summer lupin season and charming Autumn foliage, the winter is just as beautiful.
However, the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd looks particularly quaint when nestled upon a blanket of snow.
This is also prime stargazing/astrophotography season. We recommend booking yourself on a stargazing tour or heading outside with your manual camera and tripod to snap the night sky.
Before leaving Tekapo, be sure to warm up at Tekapo Springs too – the views are fantastic from the pools.
For real winter magic, Aoraki/Mount Cook is the place to go.
From sparkling icebergs on frozen lakes to walking through snowy valleys across frosted boardwalks, it’s genuinely spectacular.
Many hikes will be closed for winter, but the famous Hooker Valley Track is still open in the wintertime – and it’s well worth doing.
There will be signs at the front of trailheads to say if there’s an avalanche risk but check with the Visitor Centre if you need clarification on whether hikes are open.
While you’re in the area, we highly recommend skydiving over the snowclad landscape, heading up to see the Tasman Glacier in a helicopter or ski plane, or going heli hiking on the glacier – all of which are discounted through NZTT of course!
When you’re ready to escape the cold, head to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre.
Aside from the museum, the attached Hermitage Hotel has incredible mountain views in full display from the enormous floor-to-ceiling windows, which you can enjoy in comfy chairs with mulled wine in front of the fireplace.
Wānaka is another brilliant ski region. It’s close to Cardrona Alpine Resort (which suits practically all levels of skiing) and Treble Cone (the largest ski area in NZ with magnificent off-piste terrain and long runs).
Alternatively, take the family to the Snow Fun Zone at Snow Farm for good old-fashioned winter fun, building snowmen and tubing the slopes.
Wānaka is more than just a ski-town though. It is home to a number of great restaurants, and our favourite movie theatre in the whole country – Cinema Paradiso!
There, you’ll be served freshly baked cookies (we recommend the white chocolate, ginger chunk cookie) while lounging on comfy sofas. It is well worth going out of your way for.
Kids love Puzzling World too, and as much of it is inside, it’s a great choice on a rainy day.
If you’ve got some dosh to drop, we also recommend heading up in a helicopter tour – you’ll be treated to unrivalled views of Wānaka. Weather permitting, these outdoor adventures take lucky visitors heliskiing or soaring past icy peaks before landing on glaciers.
Back on solid ground, it’s possible to walk Roys Peak even in the wintertime – as long as you’re well-prepared. It is stunning under a dusting of snow and totally worth the effort.
And that’s not to mention the outstanding views surrounding the wintery city. Soak up the scenery on a fun gondola ride to the top of Bob’s Peak, or take a short hike to Bob’s Cove track or up Queenstown Hill. Even in the cooler season, most of Queenstown’s most popular trails are open.
The Queenstown Winter Festival also keeps visitors busy with its annual lineup of vibrant events. Each July, the four-day festival lights up the city with fireworks displays, concerts and comedy shows, and unique winter sports competitions.
Plus, during a Queenstown winter trip, don’t miss a drive to Glenorchy. The mountains around Glenorchy are strikingly stunning in the winter months.
Nearby, Arrowtown’s historic gold mining town is also particularly quaint under a dusting of snow.
Fiordland is known for being most beautiful when it rains. Hundreds of temporary waterfalls tumble down mountains and into the fiords, breathing new life into the frosted valleys.
So while many people hope for clear days when visiting, those in the know appreciate that rain in the region is also a blessing – and there’s plenty of that in the winter season.
Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are both absolutely stunning and a highlight of any New Zealand itinerary.
During winter, the overnight trips in the fiords stop, but a day trip is still an outstanding way to see the region’s natural beauty.
Look out for whales, dolphins, and other fascinating animals during your cruise – a nature guide is usually on hand to ensure you spot them.
Road closures occasionally happen, so check the weather beforehand, and remember your snow chains.
Driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound also opens up to exhilirating scenic views that’s only possible by car and a few short walks down the spots. Consider this a warm up for all the exciting tours in Milford Sound that’s waiting for you.
Known for its reasonably mild winter weather (which is surprising, considering this is the southernmost part of New Zealand), this is a great season to visit Rakiura.Stewart Island.
This southern island is an ideal destination for nature lovers, famous for its wildlife and untouched scenery. Enjoy a relaxing few days exploring the tracks, spotting native birdlife and enjoying starry night skies.
If you want to see New Zealand’s most incredible light show – the outstanding Aurora Australis (also known as the Southern lights) – you’ll have your greatest chance of seeing them on Stewart Island.
Summary: New Zealand in Winter
Without a doubt, New Zealand rewards those who put time into exploring in the winter.
Although you might have to put up with some unpredictable weather and cold nights, it’s worth it to see sweeping winter landscapes (that are sometimes transformed by ice and snow).
Drive safely, wrap up warm, and wait to be charmed and enchanted by some of the most breathtaking scenery on our planet.
The New Zealand winter really is something special.