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After deciding that New Zealand is the destination (good decision!), naturally the next question for most people is 'when should I visit?' There's certainly not one blanket answer that will suit everyone, it really depends on what you plan on doing, where you want to go, your budget and so on. Of course, many of you will be restricted to a certain time frame, based on holidays or maybe a particular event so I'll break down the general seasons, but I'll also give you some local's tips, if you've got some flexibility.
Spring – September/October/November
The real action happens on the 27th of September, when we spring our clocks forward by 1 hour, giving us extra time in the day to enjoy the outdoors. Spring is an exciting time of year when you have that strange mix of still being able to ski on the slopes – and even night skiing becomes ‘twilight’ skiing – or alternatively being able to go for a hike in moderate temperatures. In the North Island you can expect an average high temperature of 18 C (64 F), while further south, Christchurch will be a shade cooler on 17 C (63 F) and Queenstown 15 C (59 F).
Summer – December/January/February
Summer in New Zealand is just awesome, the weather becomes more settled and the days are long with warm weather right into the evening. It’s a bustling time of year with plenty of festivals and racing events to keep you entertained and it’s also the best time to hit the beaches with warmer ocean temperatures. Average high temperatures rise a fair bit with the North Island around 23 C (73 F), Christchurch 22 C (72 F) and Queenstown 20 C (68 F). That average high temperature may seem low, but it’s deceiving, for example in Queenstown and the Central Otago region it’s not uncommon to experience very hot afternoon temperatures of 30 C+ (86 F+), but the evenings will cool right off again – remember this is grape growing territory, similar to somewhere like the Napa Valley in California!
Autumn – March/April/May
It’s hard to pick a favorite time of year, but gee, autumn is up there! As I write this, it’s mid-March and we had our first frost this morning down here in Queenstown, followed by a blue-bird, settled day. The crowds of summer have dispersed and there are a few good public holidays coming our way. Most significantly, autumn puts on a sublime colour-show, particularly down in this region of the South Island. The temperatures start to cool again, similar to those of spring with Auckland around 20 C (68 F), Christchurch 17 C (63 F) and Queenstown cooler on 15 C (59 F).
Winter – June/July/August
It’s all about the attitude in winter, I reckon. Sure, it’s nippy, even down-right freezing on some days, but if you want to hike, bike or kayak in New Zealand’s wilderness with few others in sight, this is the time to do it. The weather can actually be very settled, especially in June, so you just need to pick your window and go for it – don’t worry about the backcountry huts being booked, you’ll probably have one all to yourself! Packing the right gear is essential and it’s all about layering, to keep the cold out. If you’re a skier or snowboarder New Zealand’s slopes are fantastic (much better than neighboring Australia’s) and we have a dozen or so club ski areas, which offer a quintessential winter experience. The average winter high in Auckland is 15 C (59 F), but Christchurch hovers around a colder 12 C (54 F) and Queenstown 9 C (48 F).
Our Local’s Tips
For one reason or another everyone wants to come to New Zealand at Christmas. Well, that’s how it feels sometimes! Come outside of the peak season - you’ll avoid the busy tourist season and save a few bucks on flights. If you’re coming on an adventure vacation consider the shoulder seasons like November or March, yes the weather will be a little more variable, but you really should see Milford Sound raining, in all its glory!
New Zealand is well known as an epic multi-sport racing destination. If you’re a keen trail runner or multi-sporter consider combining your holiday with one of these special events.
Buck the trends and come in winter! Kayak Milford Sound when Mitre Peak is capped with snow, snowboard Treble Cone and get your powder fix and hike the local’s favourite Copland Track to soak in natural hot springs. Active Adventures New Zealand offers all this and more on their 14-day ‘Winter Rimu’ trip.
If you're a photography buff here are three highlights to focus on, depending on the season:
1. Spring and the lupins; I have to point out, lupins are a weed here in NZ, but they paint the countryside in really nice purple colours. So grab some amazing images of the lupins next to our big milky blue lakes, but don't pick any as we don't want it spreading!
2. Autumn and the changing leaves; I've already touched on this. Try the Arrowtown Autumn Festival from April 10th to 19th and capture all the shades of orange amongst the pretty architecture and surrounding mountains.
3. Winter snow-capped peaks; Many budding photographers come to NZ in winter, when the atmosphere is crystal clear and sharp. It's common to get amazing purple sunsets, little or no wind and perfectly snow-capped peaks.
No matter when you come, remember to be sun smart. The sun is intense down here in New Zealand and can often catch people out. Even when it’s cloudy slip on some shades, slop on some decent sun cream and slap on a big hat!
Active Adventures New Zealand
I’m proud to work for a Kiwi-owned company that paves the way for adventure travel in New Zealand, heck we’ve been doing it for 20 years. Get in touch with us to learn more about our trips – let us share our backyard with you.
Our signature adventure trip, the 'Rimu' is the ultimate South Island adventure. We'll hike, bike, and sea kayak in the most beautiful places in New Zealand. When you travel with us you can be assured that you're with the real local experts.