Learn what kind of snow conditions to expect in New Zealand and in particular on the South Island of New Zealand during the late autumn months (April, May) and winter months (June, July).
As an extension to my best time to visit New Zealand article, I'd like to expand on the winter season in New Zealand and share with you what the snow conditions in New Zealand are like during winter.
Snow in New Zealand can start falling as early as late April. A dust of snow on mountain tops in not an uncommon scene in April.
For example, I took this picture of Hawkdun Range with snow in April. The snow was gone the following day, though, because the temperatures were too high to maintain snow on the mountains.
Late May you can expect to get the odd day on which bucket loads of snow can fall within a short period of time. But such events usually do not last for days and days at a time. And again, soon afterwards, the snow melts off and disappears.
Starting from June you can expect to get steady falling of snow on the mountains. Temperatures and precipitation play a major role in whether there is a lot of snow that falls and how far down the mountains it gets. The freezing level rises and falls, so the amount of snow on mountains also varies as the freezing level varies.
In general, though, the snow does not usually reach the ground and if it does, it does not stay there for long. You can find out how low the snow is falling on the mountains by going to the Metservice website.
July weather in New Zealand can be unstable at times bringing periods of rain instead of snow. Or the snow might fall, the temperatures rise, and the melting snow will cause lake and river levels to rise. You can also get high winds and polar blasts.
I've been in Mackenzie Country in July, and the weather seems a bit more stable there, although you don't always get blue skies. The reason why the Mackenzie Country enjoys such good winter weather is mainly because most of the rain (and snow) falls on the western side of the main divide.
However, this does not mean that Mackenzie Country does not get snow, because it does as you can see from the following picture I took at Lake Pukaki where the mountains of the Ben Ohau Range were partly covered by snow.
I've also been in Queenstown in July, and again the weather was unsettled. While not much rain fell, it was often cloudy and gloomy. The mountain tops had snow on them and the snow pretty much stayed there, because the temperatures were low enough, but I was surprised to see that the roads were clear of snow. I must admit, though, that I "stayed low" and did not drive up to any NZ ski fields.
I've also been in Kaikoura in July, and would not like to repeat that experience. It rained for the entire time I was there and there were several slips and flooding on State Highway 1. But while all of that rain fell, the Kaikoura Ranges still had a bit of snow on them, and the snow stayed on the mountain tops.
Because August is at the tail end of winter, snow would have already fallen in the months leading up to August. So if snow conditions are right, it should make August one of the best times if not the best time to see snow in New Zealand.
Whether you are in New Zealand or outside of New Zealand, you can always check snow conditions online by using one of the 3 methods to find out whether it has snowed or is snowing in New Zealand.
Update 8 August 2010:
Today a huge amount of snow fell on the South Island of New Zealand and the South Island ski fields. This is a note in case you’re looking to plan a winter visit to New Zealand next year or sometime in the future. As I already suspected, August is a very good month to visit New Zealand for snow. To recap: Snow started falling in New Zealand on 27 May 2010, a good amount of snow also fell on 22 and 23 June 2010, and now a huge amount has fallen on 8 August 2010.
Update 16 August 2014:
In 2014, snow started falling in New Zealand on May 26. On July 21, snow covered the hills of Wellington, and affected parts of southern Fiordland, Southland, Otago, and Banks peninsula. On August 8-9, a snow storm hit Central Otago and dumped a huge amount of snow. On August 12-13 there was a cold snap and snow showers in Southland and Otago. On August 13 Central North Island got a good amount of snow. On August 15, Ruapehu skifields had up to 30cm of fresh snow fall. All in all, August was a very good month for snow falling in New Zealand.
Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.