New Zealand is a gorgeous country that can be visited any time throughout the year. Learn what to take into consideration when deciding on when is the best time to go to New Zealand.
If you’re looking to visit New Zealand but do not know when is the best time to go to New Zealand, here are some things you may want to consider when making that decision.
There are basically three things you could look at when deciding what is the best time to go to New Zealand:
1. The seasons
Certain activities you can only do in certain seasons, so if you’re coming to New Zealand to be able to do a particular activity, the season may affect the period of time you choose to visit New Zealand.
2. Avoiding the crowds
If you’re someone who tries to avoid crowds, you may want to pay special attention to when New Zealanders are on holiday. Campsites and areas on and around lakes and beaches tend to become very crowded when Kiwis are on holiday.
3. Price of accommodation
While New Zealand does not really have a low season – it is almost always high season, pretty much like Hawaii – there are times when hotels and motels are much cheaper.
I’ll go into each consideration in more detail…
New Zealand seasons and weather
The seasons in New Zealand are opposites of the seasons on the Northern Hemisphere.
For example, if you’re living in the U.S.A., Canada, or the U.K.:
When it is spring for you, it is autumn in New Zealand
When it is summer for you, it is winter in New Zealand
When it is autumn for you, it is spring in New Zealand
When it is winter for you, it is summer in New Zealand
In terms of months, this would translate to:
Summer – December, January, February
Autumn – March, April, May
Winter – June, July, August
Spring – September, October, November
It’s not only the seasons that are opposites, though. Temperatures are too. For example, on the Northern Hemisphere you’ll get cooler temperatures the more north you go, which is why Florida is warm and Alaska is cold.
Mount Egmont as seen from Lake Mangamahoe in spring, Taranaki, New Zealand
Mount Egmont as seen from Lake Mangamahoe in spring
In New Zealand, you’ll get cooler temperatures the more south you go, which is why Auckland tends to be warmer than Queenstown. But because New Zealand does not span many latitudes – New Zealand is a relatively small country – the temperatures don’t differ that much.
In addition, temperatures are also affected by the lay of the land. For example, Central Otago can get much warmer than Auckland or Northland in summer because of its location and its geography.
The warmest temperatures usually take place in January and February, but like anywhere else on Earth, the weather varies a lot and can become very unpredictable, especially on the boundaries of the seasons.
The general rule of thumb is that you can expect summer to be warmer than winter, but this rule does not always have to apply, especially not when polar air is blown toward New Zealand in summer and it gets a bit chilly.
One thing to remember is that New Zealand can get cold and that some parts of the country such as Central Otago do experience extreme temperatures during summer and winter. And don’t be surprised either if it rains day after day.
Consider the purpose of your visit to New Zealand
What are you coming to New Zealand to do? Ski, snowboard, visit wineries, go hiking, sightsee while self-driving?
In spring, for example, you can visit cities where trees are blooming. Christchurch is one of those cities to visit during spring. Snow can still fall early in spring, so it’s still the perfect time to see snow on the mountains.
Summer can be seen as the peak tourist season. Most activity providers are open for business and it is the perfect time for adventure, day walks, scenic drives, visiting wineries, picking fruit, etc. etc.
Snow on the South Island of New Zealand in winter
If you want to go leaf peeping, autumn is a great time to do so. The best locations for fall foliage are the Mackenzie Country from Tekapo to Omarama, the Southern Lakes region (Wanaka, Queenstown, and Arrowtown), and parts of Central Otago. There can be early snow in autumn, but generally not enough for winter sports.
Winter can be harzardous where driving is concerned, especially in areas that are at a higher elevation such as mountain passes (for example, Lindis Pass) and Central North Island. The most spectacular scenery can be found on the South Island; the mountains are generally snow-capped and sometimes snow-covered.
Ski fields tend to open in June. A few might open earlier if snow conditions are really good, but that does not happen often. The popular locations for winter sports are Queenstown, Cardrona, and Mount Hutt on the South Island, and the Central Plateau on the North Island.
When is New Zealand the most crowded?
Parents generally take time off from work when their kids are at home. So if you want to avoid the crowds, avoid the periods of time when New Zealanders go on holiday, which are generally during the school holidays.
The New Zealand school holidays for 2016 – 2017 are:
April 15, 2016 – May 2, 2016
July 8, 2016 – July 25, 2016
September 23, 2016 – October 10, 2016
December 16, 2016 – February 7, 2017
April 13, 2017 – May 1, 2017
July 7, 2017 – July 24, 2017
September 29, 2017 – October 16, 2017
December 14, 2017 – January (N/A), 2018
You can find these dates and dates for future years on the website of the New Zealand Ministry of Education.
You can also take New Zealand Public Holidays into account when planning a visit. For 2016 – 2017, these dates are:
Anzac Day – April 25, 2016
Queen’s Birthday – June 6, 2016
Labour Day – October 24, 2016
Christmas Day – December 25, 2016
Boxing Day – December 26, 2016
New Year’s Day – January 1 (or 3), 2017
Day after New Year’s Day – January 2, 2017
Waitangi Day – February 6, 2017
Good Friday – April 14, 2017
Easter Monday – April 17, 2017
And finally, people working in each New Zealand province also get a day off each year – these are called the Anniversary Day Holidays. You can also find these dates on the website mentioned above.
The main thing to note about holidays in New Zealand is that during the Christmas and New Year period, almost all businesses shut down for a couple of weeks, so you’ve got this massive amount of New Zealanders who are on holiday in December and January. It can get very crowded then in some areas, especially where there’s water – beaches and lakes – because Kiwis enjoy water activities and being outside in the sun a lot.
And also be aware that along with those businesses, there aren’t many restaurants open on Christmas Day, so if you are planning to travel during the Christmas holidays, ensure that you arrive in New Zealand before Christmas Day to be able to buy your own food or enquire whether the hotel you are staying at has a restaurant that is open on Christmas.
What are the cheapest months for accommodation?
May and early June can be seen as low season in New Zealand. People don’t travel as much, so business slows down. You can find the best rates at hotels and motels during this time of the year.
The most expensive months are obviously summer during the peak tourist season. Booking way in advance is then highly recommended. This includes making car rental reservations.
In addition, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay part of your reservation in advance. Most businesses here in New Zealand are small businesses that consist of one to ten people, so they can be hit hard by cancellations, which is why some request advance (partial) payment or have stringent cancellation policies in place. Just remember to read the fine print before you make a reservation.
Another thing to note is that accommodation can be slightly more expensive on Public Holidays such as Christmas, Easter, etc.
Final words on the best time to go to New Zealand
Personally, autumn and winter are my two favorite seasons to go on a holiday in New Zealand, mainly because of the colorful scenery in autumn and the snow on the mountains in winter.
I’ve also gone on vacation in spring and summer. Spring can still offer beautiful scenery with snow-capped mountains and spring blossoms. And in summer, the New Zealand Christmas tree – the pohutukawa – comes into bloom.
I don’t mind being on hiking trails with other people; in fact, it is good to have others walking on the same trails as you are, especially if you’re traveling alone in New Zealand.
And one thing to note is that there are currently almost 4.7 million people living in New Zealand compared to, for example, almost 17 million people in the Netherlands with New Zealand being approximately six times larger than the Netherlands. So even if the entire country went on holiday, it would still not get super crowded, and you would still be able to find places where there isn’t a single soul around. The only issue would be finding accommodation in popular places like Queenstown.