Allowing a wide range of outdoor activities such as hiking and skiing, many travellers wonder when is the best time to visit New Zealand to enjoy this scenic country as much as possible.
This post by Danny from Coddiwomp will tell you what are the best places to visit in New Zealand, when is the best time to hike in New Zealand, to ski or to cruise as well as where to stay and how to get around the country.
The best time to visit New Zealand and what to do
New Zealand is one of my favourite places in the world.
For its hospitable, friendly people, laid-back atmosphere, ease of travel, diversity and sheer proximity to indescribable natural beauty, it is simply sublime.
Aotearoa, as it is known in Maori, is simply an awesome place to travel around. And, fortunately, that doesn’t really change throughout the year.
But the country itself does. Though always amazing, the opportunities and general feel of New Zealand chops and changes depending on the season.
So, if you’re planning on travelling to this remarkable country and considering the best time to visit, let’s take a look at all there is going on so you can make the call.
When is the best time to travel to New Zealand weather-wise
Let’s begin with the New Zealand weather.
Aotearoa literally translates as ‘the land of the long white cloud’, which might not fill you with confidence if you’re after sunshine!
Rest assured though, the weather in New Zealand is superb, if subject to change. In Auckland for instance, even in summer, there’s a running joke that you need to prepare for all seasons every day.
In other ways, New Zealand weather is really a tale of two cities.
Though it cools as you travel further south, generally speaking, its close proximity to the coast gives it a lovely mild temperature all year round. However, the summer months of January and February reach subtropical temperatures up North; Winter temperatures can reach -10 degrees Celsius in alpine areas on the South Island (July is the coldest month). That’s a pretty extreme contrast!
For sunshine, warmth and blue skies then, the summer months will be for you. But this also constitutes peak season, so it is busy busy busy with others enjoying the weather as well!
It is also important to mention that the New Zealand sun is wonderful, but intense and dangerous too. Indeed, NZ now has the highest rate of melanoma skin cancer in the world. So, alongside other important travel gear, pack your sun cream and take your sun protection practices seriously!
For snow, skiing and alpine adventure, the winter months will be for you. The land down on South Island literally transforms in mountainous areas such as Queenstown and Wanaka. Winter comes around and the hikers, lake swimmers and sunbathers make way for skiers, snowboarders and sledders!
The snow doesn’t follow you everywhere in winter though. Move further north and you’ll find more temperate conditions. However, it is definitely fair to say that the time of year you go has a big impact on the weather you experience.
Consequently, the things you want to do in NZ will also affect the best time to visit. So, let’s move on to some of the events and activities that happen each year.
New Zealand’s best events and activities
There’s a lot to do in New Zealand. No matter when or where you go there’s a lot to get your teeth stuck into.
Events in New Zealand
The following list is a tiny selection of organised events that happen every year. Here are 5 NZ events that shouldn’t be missed:
1. Rhythm and Vines Festival
This is an award-winning New Year’s Eve festival held every year held at the Waiohika Estate vineyard, a few kilometres from Gisborne. Welcome in the first sunrise of the New Year in beautiful surroundings with chilled vibes and great music. But book ahead of time to ensure your tickets!
2. Waitangi Day (6th Feb)
New Zealand’s national day, the 6th of February every year marks the day that NZ’s founding document (the Treaty of Waitangi) was signed in 1840.
It’s a public holiday every year and brings a huge number of Maori cultural events up and down the country- the best of which are at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds themselves in the Bay of Islands.
3. Festival of Lights
The stunning festival of lights is held annually in beautiful New Plymouth- Pukekura Park to be exact! This premier botanical garden is illuminated with all manner of magical lighting throughout December and January, attracting over 100,000 visitors each year.
4. Balloons Over Waikato
This free event is a photographer’s heaven! Held in Hamilton each year in March, marvel at this awesome spectacle of hot air balloons of all shapes and sizes floating in droves throughout the sky.
5. NZ International Comedy Festival
Between April and May each year (and predominantly in Auckland and Wellington), comedians flock to NZ shores for this festival of fun and laughter. If you enjoy comedy then this shouldn’t be missed.
Activities in New Zealand
Head to New Zealand and there’s always something to do, regardless of the time of year.
1. Extreme Sports
New Zealand is famous for its extreme sports. If you’re an adrenaline junkie or just fancy doing something extraordinary to celebrate your travels, then you’re in the right place. It isn’t cheap, but it is definitely memorable!
All year round you can jump from aeroplanes, do bungee jumps from ridiculous heights, fling yourself from canyons, raft down white water rapids and more.
The most well-known place for extreme sports is Queenstown, which hosts the world’s largest canyon swing. Check out this website for more info: https://www.canyonswing.co.nz/
2. Climbing & Gorge Jumping
Anyone who enjoys climbing will love NZ. There are a huge number of places to do it.
One of the most famous sites is called Castle Hills, on South Island, where climbers from all over the world flock each year. But in almost every part of the country climbing is a celebrated and much-practised sport.
In the same way, there are lots of places you can do gorge jumping too, where you jump from height into wonderful clear blue waters below.
Oftentimes, if you know where to look it’ll be entirely free too. Some of the best sites I found were near to Wanaka. Just ask anyone in town or the owner of wherever you’re staying, and they’ll point you in the right direction!
On to one of the biggest activities in New Zealand: hiking.
The country boasts nine ‘Great Walks’- hikes of varying lengths and difficulties situated among diverse landscapes that will leave you speechless (…and breathless).
These walks are maintained by local authorities and cover some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country: from mountains, forests, rolling hills, beaches and lakefronts.
You pay for the privilege of walking these routes and stay in designated huts and/or campsites along the way. The Great Walks are popular though and some (like the Milford Track) even need to be booked up weeks and months in advance to secure a place.
Here’s the department of conservation website that has all the Great Walk information you’ll need.
However, if you prefer a cheaper and ‘less trodden’ path, you’re never far from a good hike. There’s no shortage of walking and hiking opportunities in the country and in summer there can be no better way of spending your time.
If hiking is your summer activity, winter is the best time to ski in New Zealand, alongside other activities like snowboarding!
As I mentioned above, the alpine regions of South Island transform in winter (winter months stretch from June to August), with temperatures plummeting and heavy snowfall settling to create a skier’s paradise. South Island is where the main skiing is held, but you can ski on North Island too.
North Island Snow:
Mount Ruapehu is the homeland of NZ’s North Island Skiing, host to two main areas: Whakapapa and Turoa.
Turoa: open July through October and one of NZ’s largest Ski areas, with the country’s largest vertical drop of 720m.
Whakapapa: New Zealand’s largest ski area and perfect for skiing of all levels, including beginners. Helped by a snow machine, Whakapapa also boasts the longest ski season, running from June through October.
South Island Snow:
You can find skiing at multiple locations around South Island, but the three main areas are around Queenstown, Wanaka and Canterbury.
Queenstown: The popular resort town in the beautiful Southern Alps and flanked by two main ski fields, Coronet Peak and the Remarkables.
Wanaka: Queenstown’s little brother and home to supposedly one of the best ski fields in NZ, the Treble Cone.
Canterbury: offers a range of skiing for different levels of ability, including great off-piste areas.
You’re never far from a coastline in New Zealand and cruising offers a fantastic way to explore all 15,000km of it. Considering that the first European settlers to Aotearoa arrived by boat in the 18th century, you could say there’s a long tradition of cruises here too!
Cruises to New Zealand commonly arrive from the Pacific Islands and Australia, travelling to some of the most well-known and stunning parts of the country. These include the Bay of Islands, Auckland, Gisborne, Wellington, Abel Tasman, Kaikoura, Christchurch and Fiordland, among others.
However, boats are a popular tourist attraction in the country too and many of the above locations offer boat tours.
For example, head down to the Milford Sound and you can explore this remarkable place in more depth on one of the many cruise boats that run there each day. Or in the Bay of Islands hop on a tour to see dolphins and whales!
Wherever you choose to cruise, this is an amazing way of seeing the best of New Zealand.
Where to stay in New Zealand and how to get around
Accommodation in New Zealand is plentiful and so are your options for getting around.
From hotels, hostels and guesthouses to farm stays and huts, there is always enough accommodation in the country to go around, regardless of the time of year and where you are.
However, it is worth mentioning that in summer periods there is far more demand for beds in popular areas such as Queenstown and Auckland, so expect higher prices and try to book ahead to avoid disappointment. In the winter months, outside of the ski towns and resorts, this is less of an issue!
Getting around the country is exceptionally safe and straightforward. Buses run regularly to and from all major places; outside major cities, the roads are quiet, well maintained and easily navigable; there are multiple car and van hire companies, coach services and domestic flight services for longer trips.
To conclude, I’m not sure there is a ‘best time to visit New Zealand’! It simply depends on your priorities. For heat junkies and lovers of hiking, the summer months may be more up your street; for skiers and snowboarders, the winter months will be a better bet.
However, that aside, New Zealand is a fantastic country to visit all year round. And, regardless of the time of year you go, there will always be awesome events and activities, outstanding natural beauty and friendly faces to greet you upon arrival.