December in New Zealand: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

Wide angle elevated view past cabbage tree of Shakespear Regional Park's most popular beach
Pohutukawas (New Zealand's Christmas tree) growing in Shakespear Regional Park.

Mark Meredith/Getty Images

December is one of the best times to visit New Zealand. This month kicks off summer across the incredibly beautiful island nation, which means warm weather accompanies Christmas festivities.

It's a great time to visit whether you're interested in beach-going, trekking, or the countless other outdoor activities that New Zealand has to offer. Luckily, this time of year doesn't yet have the crowds or high rates that come along with peak summer.

New Zealand Weather in December

December is the beginning of summer in New Zealand, so the weather is usually warm (although not as warm as January or February). Some parts of the country experience windy conditions (especially Auckland and north Canterbury in the South Island) although in general December is sunny and settled. An increase in daylight hours makes December a great month for outdoor activities. Temperatures begin to increase across the country, although they remain cool overall, with New Zealand's average December temperature a very pleasant 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius). On the North Island, including in Wellington, temperatures will be slightly cooler.

  • Average high: 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius)
  • Average low: 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius)

Be aware of the humidity in the summer months in New Zealand. Being a maritime environment, surrounded by the sea, wet weather can bring humidity, although never unpleasantly so. The other thing to watch out for is the sun. New Zealand has some of the highest UV levels in the world. It's always advisable to cover up with a hat and a high-strength sunscreen of SPF30 or more.

What to Pack

New Zealand's incredible climactic diversity means that weather can change in an instant. It's not uncommon to experience all four seasons in just one day, and your packing list should reflect this wild variability. Overall, summer is a season of mild weather, with warm days and cool nights—and luckily, not a lot of precipitation. Jeans and T-shirts are appropriate clothing for most island activities, but easily layered clothing is recommended as well, especially for cooler nights and mornings. To start, your suitcase should include:

  • Tank tops and T-shirts for layering
  • Light sweaters or long-sleeve T-shirts
  • Jeans
  • A pair of non-denim pants, such as linen or cargo
  • Shorts, which are useful for wearing on the beach
  • Socks for cozy, chilly nights
  • A swimsuit, since you know there will be time spent in the ocean!

December Events in New Zealand

In addition to the Christmas holiday, December in New Zealand has a full calendar of other events as well, including unique festivals celebrating music, wine, and more.

  • Christmas: Christmas is entirely different to the northern hemisphere as it occurs in the opposite season (summer rather than winter). Nevertheless, it is still an important holiday in New Zealand.
  • Festival of Lights, New Plymouth, North Island: This free annual event runs from mid-December to early February. At night, the festival transforms the park into an illuminated wonderland.
  • Christchurch Wine and Food Festival, Christchurch, South Island: Held at the beginning of December, this one-day festival includes top New Zealand wine producers, food vendors, and live music.
  • Festival of Cycling, Christchurch, South Island: The hallmark of this weekend celebration of all things bike-related is an 80 kilometer ride throughout Christchurch’s iconic Port Hills and Lyttelton Harbour. There are also rides for kids and a 35-kilometer mountain bike section.

December Travel Tips

  • It's starting to get warm enough for swimming at the beaches (the later in the month, the better). It is also an excellent time for hiking and walking and enjoying the outdoors in general. Beware of New Zealand's unpredictable weather when planning your time spent outdoors. The weather can be a little unsettled, particularly in Auckland, Northland, and parts of the South Island.
  • The pohutukawa is known as the "New Zealand Christmas Tree" because of its profusion of red and crimson flowers which appear around Christmas time. It is one of the most beautiful features of coastal regions of the North Island during December.
  • There are more tourists about in New Zealand in December, but luckily, accommodation and attractions are still easy to come by this month.
  • New Zealand is very safe. You can dial 111 to connect to ambulance services, the fire department, or the police.