There’s really no wrong time to visit New Zealand! From its nearly tropical northern shores to the bubbling mud pits of Rotorua to its snowy southern peaks, the adventures to be had in this amazing nation are nearly limitless. Temperatures remain relatively temperate throughout the year, so any month will accommodate your adventuring. (Though, you will want to bundle up if you’re exploring the South Island in the winter.) Summer is pleasantly hot but not humid and opens up everything New Zealand has to offer—hiking, biking, kayaking, rafting and more. If they work with your schedule, shoulder seasons are ideal, offering all the fun and pleasant weather minus some of the crowds.
Backroads Pro Tip
New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere, so remember that the seasons don’t align with the northern hemisphere. December to February might mean snowball fights and hot cocoa in the United States, but that’s the dead of summer here.
Weather in New Zealand
(All temperatures quoted are in Fahrenheit.)
Spring across New Zealand tends to offer unpredictable weather. Don’t be surprised to encounter a cold snap or even a snow shower deep into November. The South Island can get below freezing, especially at night, throughout spring. Expect daytime temperatures around 50–68. The warmest month tends to be November, the wettest month is October, and the driest month is September.
Expect pleasant temperatures, low humidity, lots of sunshine and mild nights in the summer. Average daytime highs hover around 68–77 degrees. If you’re a camping fiend, summer is the ideal time to visit! With such pleasant weather, it’s easy to see why this is the biggest tourist season for New Zealand.
Temperatures fall off during the autumn to around 62–70 degrees, but it’s still sunny and pleasant for most of the season. Expect nights to get a bit nippy from mid-April on, especially on the South Island. With Daylight saving in April, anticipate shorter days. By May, cooler weather has set in down south, and it’s not uncommon for it to dip below freezing at night.
Winter in New Zealand does bring its share of snow and rain, but winters, in general, are quite mild here. The North Island (sometimes known as the “winterless north”) has temperatures around 50 to 43. The more mountainous South Island experiences daytime temperatures from 44 to 54.
Hot springs and other geothermal activity abound in New Zealand. Check out Rotorua, Lake Taupo, Hammer Springs (on the South Island) and Coromandel, to name a few. You can visit for a relaxing dip any time of year, but it’s a particularly great activity whenever there’s a nip in the air.
Albatross Colony (Otago Peninsula)
These majestic birds have a wingspan of up to nearly ten feet, and they can fly almost 75 miles per hour! September through November is when they arrive at their breeding grounds to build nests. If you’re more interested in seeing the chicks, hatching occurs from late January to late February.
For one of the most iconic whale-watching spots, head to Kaikoura. Sperm whales are visible all year round, but activity intensifies from June to August.
Playful. Intelligent. Inquisitive. Dolphins are a beloved sight across New Zealand, adored equally by tourists and locals. A wide variety of dolphins can be found here, but head to the Marlborough Sounds for a great chance of seeing them all. Venture here in warmer months, and you might even see the largest of the dolphin species: the orca.
World Buskers Festival (Usually in January)
This celebration of the dynamic and diverse creative cultures that permeate New Zealand is an annual favorite. Centered in Christchurch, the event features hundreds of street performers offering music, fire stunts, acrobatics and much more.
Balloons over Waikato (Usually March or April)
This annual five-day event is held in Hamilton, New Zealand, and draws well over 100,000 spectators. Attracting local and global hot air balloonists, the festival is fun for the whole family. The crowning event, the Night Glow, offers illuminated hot air balloons, live music, fireworks and food options galore. (Best of all? Admission is free!)
New Zealand International Comedy Festival (April and May)
From its humble beginnings as a two-day event, this festival has developed into a three-week extravaganza featuring over 200 shows, 250 performers and more than 100,000 visitors. Shows span across Auckland and Wellington. Get ready to laugh!
Auckland International Carnival (October)
This free event is a celebration of Auckland’s unique cultural diversity. Come for the international costume parade, but stay for the concerts, carnival rides, crafts and food stalls.
Thanks in part to the “100% Pure” marketing campaign and the popularity of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings franchises, tourism numbers in New Zealand have spiked. In 2019, the nation saw 3.8 million tourists. (Compare that to its population, which is just shy of 4.9 million.)
It’s a lot for a small country, but there are still plenty of places to get away. Expect the biggest crowds in summer. (Remember, all you northern hemisphere denizens, that’s December to February.) Larger cities like Auckland, Christchurch or Wellington or big tourist hubs like Queenstown are more likely to attract groups, but venture even just a little off the beaten path, and it can soon be nothing but you and the sheep!
Backroads Pro Tip
March is a wonderful time to visit New Zealand. Summer crowds have largely dissipated, but you’ll still enjoy pleasant weather that makes for great hiking, swimming, kayaking and camping.
On the warmer North Island, expect most mountain biking trails to be open year round. On the South Island, October through April is the ideal window for biking.
Hiking and Walking
Hiking and walking are some of the staple activities in New Zealand. Whether you’re going for beautiful day hikes or traversing the multiday Milford Track, New Zealand truly offers some of the world’s most pristine, stunning scenery. Expect big crowds during the summer, especially on more well-known trails. For more serenity and elbow room, opt for shoulder seasons. Spring (September, October and November) offers mild temperatures—perfect for hiking—and fewer crowds.
By kayak, you can see unexplored corners, caves and islands throughout this beautiful nation. September to April provides the sunniest skies and the most pleasant kayaking conditions.
NOTE: No matter what time of year, always be prepared for the unexpected with New Zealand’s weather. Strong winds can pick up quickly and make a pleasant day kayak into a strenuous slog. If you’re inexperienced, consider going with a guided tour, especially if you’re venturing to open waters like you’ll find at Abel Tasman National Park.
With over 9,000 miles of coastline—not to mention hundreds of bays and coves—New Zealand offers some prime surfing. From 90 Mile Beach, which can accommodate newbies, to Piha outside of Auckland, which can challenge even the most experienced surfer, there’s something here for everyone!
New Zealand is an incredibly safe place to live, to work and to travel. According to the 2020 Global Peace Index, New Zealand is the second-safest country in the world (only behind Iceland). Tourists have little to worry about in terms of violence here.
As in any country, though, always use common sense precautions. Especially when you’re in larger cities during more crowded tourist months (namely, summer), don’t leave valuables out of your sight. Petty crime, such as pickpocketing, can happen in any country at any time of year. Being aware of your surroundings can help minimize this chance.
Most safety concerns here revolve around natural events and activities. Again, though, let common sense guide you. When hiking or biking, plan for variable weather. Dress in layers, and pack plenty of water and food. Weather during the shoulder seasons can be more unpredictable, so take extra caution during these times.
Travel to New Zealand with Backroads
Backroads offers numerous ways to experience the very best of New Zealand on one of our award-winning active travel adventures. Explore this country in the best and most genuine way possible—away from the crowds, buses and tourist hot spots. We hope you'll join us! Check out our full list of New Zealand adventures here.