The Best Time to Visit New Zealand

Rural scene with mountains behind, Kaikoura, Gisborne, New Zealand
George Karbus Photography / Getty Images

As an island nation that runs roughly 900 miles north to south, the weather and climate in New Zealand varies greatly. You can spend lazy days on subtropical beaches in summer, ski in winter, and do everything in between. In general, the warmer months (October to April) are the best time to visit New Zealand, from late spring to early autumn.

Weather

New Zealand ranges from a sub-tropical climate (Northland) to a sub-Antarctic one (several small islands off the South Island), so to it’s important to know how the weather will affect your plans and the kinds of experiences you want to have. To hit the beaches, visit in summer (December-February) and head to the North Island and top-of-the-South. Temperatures can reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) in mid-summer. If you’re into snow sports, visit the mountains of the South Island and the central North Island between June and October. At higher altitudes, the temperatures dip below freezing.

Aside from these extremes, however, New Zealand generally has a temperate climate that makes it a comfortable destination year-round. The main cities on both islands are mostly coastal, meaning daytime temperatures rarely dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) in the winter, or above 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) in summer. The cities are generally comfortable for for sightseeing throughout the year.

Rain should be expected at any time, however. As an island nation, New Zealand’s weather is fairly wet, and it can rain in any season. While parts of the country do often experience drought in summer, these are not usually very long-lasting. If going on a multi-day hike, overlook the possibility of rain at your peril. Luckily, all major cities and most smaller towns have a good collection of museums, galleries, and cafes to retreat to.

Many travelers from the Northern Hemisphere (especially those with kids in school) find that they can only visit during the New Zealand winter. If that’s you, it’s advisable to embrace the colder conditions and head to the mountains. Places like Queenstown and Fiordland are spectacular in the winter, whereas northern, coastal areas may be damp, gray, and less enticing. Alternatively, if you can visit in the New Zealand summer, you’ll have the benefit of skipping part of the Northern Hemisphere winter, but be prepared for crowds of domestic and international tourists in the most popular places.

Peak Season in New Zealand

Summer (December-February) is the peak tourism season in New Zealand, but more specifically, the period between mid-December and the end of January. This is when New Zealand’s schools are on summer vacation. As well as international visitors—who justifiably like to visit in summer—New Zealanders themselves take every opportunity to hit the roads and explore their own country. At this time, book accommodation as far in advance as possible, even campsites. Popular hiking trails—such as the Abel Tasman Coast Track—will be chock-a-block.

Summer is popular with international visitors because it’s warm, but if you want to avoid the crowds while still enjoying this benefit, come a bit earlier or later in the season. November is late spring, and very pleasant in much of the country. Similarly, by February the schools have gone back, and even though March and April are autumn, pleasant weather can continue well into these months. In some places, it’s still comfortable to swim in the sea in April.

January

January is peak season in New Zealand, and for good reason—the weather is warm, the sea inviting, and the outdoors beckon. Don’t forget the sunblock and a hat, wherever you go—New Zealand’s sun is brutal, and the skin cancer rates prove it.

Events to check out:

  • ASB Classic Tennis, Auckland: Watch some of the biggest stars in tennis play over two weeks in January.
  • Bread & Circus World Busker’s Festival, Christchurch: The long, light evenings of a South Island summer are an ideal setting for the outdoor (and some indoor) entertainment of the World Busker’s Festival.

February

February is still peak season, but as schools go back around Waitangi Day (February 6), after that you can expect far fewer domestic tourists. Temperatures remain warm almost everywhere, although in the mountains and parts of the deep south, it can be surprisingly fresh.

Events to check out:

  • Waitangi Day, Waitangi: This day commemorates the day in 1840 when representatives of the British Crown signed a treaty with Maori chiefs, the Treaty of Waitangi. It’s a nationwide holiday, but travelers interested in history should check out Waitangi, in the Bay of Islands.
  • Napier Art Deco Festival: Travel back to the 1930s and celebrate Napier’s Art Deco heritage (the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, and rebuilt largely in the Art Deco style). If you miss the annual February event, Art Deco Weekends are held in July, too.

March

Warm days and cooler nights characterize the last month of summer—an ideal time to go hiking without the crowds.

Events to check out:

  • Wildfoods Festival, Hokitika: At this food festival with a difference, try unusual, weird, or just downright cringe-worthy foods like bull testicles and deep-fried insects. There’s more mainstream food, too.
  • Easter: Many towns hold Easter fairs or markets. Be aware of the restrictions on liquor sales on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

April

April tends to feel quite autumnal throughout the country, although you need to be in the South Island to really experience the changing colors of the leaves.

Events to check out:

  • National Jazz Festival, Tauranga: This jazz festival began in 1962, making it the longest-running jazz festival in the Southern Hemisphere.

May

With cooler temperatures and often wetter conditions, May is a good month to attend some cultural festivals.

Events to check out:

  • Auckland Comedy Festival: Local and international acts perform throughout Auckland, from tiny basements to large theaters.
  • Auckland Writers Festival: Book lovers won't want to miss this literary event, which brings together writers, thinkers, and readers from around New Zealand, and the world.

June

June usually marks the beginning of the ski season, although exact dates depend on conditions. Kiwis who aren’t into skiing tend to holiday in the tropical Pacific Islands during winter, meaning there’s more space for international visitors who choose to come at this time.

Events to check out:

  • Queenstown Winter Festival: The town surrounded by snowy peaks isn’t afraid of winter, celebrating with free concerts and snowy events.

July

As in June, July tends to be a month of hibernation in New Zealand. But, Maori New Year, Matariki, is celebrated in July, and cities and towns throughout the country put on their own events.

Events to check out:

  • Birdman, Russell: The weird and wacky Birdman Festival, in the small Northland town of Russell, will chase away winter blues. Competitors dress up as birds (or, birdmen) and jump off the Russell Wharf.
  • The New Zealand International Film Festival: The festival tends to kick off in Auckland in July, although it travels throughout the country in the subsequent months.

August

August is still winter, but with the days stretching out longer again, warmer temperatures are in sight.

Events to check out:

  • Beervana, Wellington: New Zealand’s capital has a thriving craft beer scene, which is celebrated during Beervana.
  • Winter Games, Queenstown/Wanaka: Skiing, snowboarding, ice hockey, and curling are the focus of this sporting festival.

September

Spring has sprung through most of the country by September, and while temperatures can still be nippy, long beach walks and day hikes become appealing again.

Events to check out:

  • Whitianga Scallop Festival: Seafood lovers shouldn’t miss this festival in the small Coromandel Peninsula town. 
  • World of Wearable Art, Wellington: This creative extravaganza showcases local and international fashion design with a whimsical twist. The WOW Museum in the South Island-city of Nelson can be visited at any time of year.

October

Ski season usually winds up in October, so visitors set their sights to warmer pursuits and higher latitudes again.

Events to check out:

  • Taste of Auckland: Renowned local chefs compete to prepare a tasting menu that will win them the hearts, and bellies, of the hungry masses.

November

Although winter can linger in the south, by November, most of the country is starting to feel quite summery. It’s a good shoulder month in which to travel.

Events to check out:

  • Toast Martinborough: Several vineyards in this North Island town participate in this annual wine festival, a good way to kick off the summer season.

December

School’s out for summer by mid-December, and the Christmas and New Year holidays give Kiwis the excuse to take a break. The weather is good (although often not as hot or dry as January or February) and there are events happening around the country, especially in the week between Christmas and New Year. Most things shut down on Christmas Day itself, especially in smaller towns.

Events to check out:

  • Rhythm & Vines, Gisborne, and Rhythm & Alps, Queenstown are fun ways to ring in the New Year. Gisborne is the first place in the world to see the new year, being in the far east of New Zealand’s North Island, which is a drawcard for many travelers.
Was this page helpful?