A Guide to The Best Time to Visit New Zealand
An endlessly green island filled with epic natural landscapes and a whole lot of sheep; New Zealand is on the bucket list of many. Visits here will be unavoidably beautiful, profoundly adventurous and unforgettably eye opening. Any time is a good time to visit but depending on what you want to do, some seasons could be better than the others. If you are getting ready to plan the trip of your dreams to New Zealand, here is a guide to the best times to visit.
Springtime in New Zealand lasts from September to November and is characterized by weather that ranges from 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The weather tends to vary a bit during this time so while the days in general are sunny and warm, don’t be surprised if you encounter a couple of cold and rainy days as well. Aside from mild weather, another huge benefit of visiting in spring is that the tourist crowds are quite small.
What to Do & See
- Milford Sound: It’s located on the western coast of the south island and is known for its pristine natural beauty. The sound itself was carved out by glaciers all the way back during the ice age and is now full of cliffs, waterfalls and mountain peaks. The spring rain makes the waterfalls even more majestic so make sure to take a boat cruise along the waters or take a multi-day hike along the Milford Track.
- Central Otago: Known for its history in gold mining, Central Otago is now a destination for food and wine lovers. Tour the vineyards and try the Pino Noir, take a walk on one of the scenic trails or go cycling.
- Waitakere Ranges: It’s a natural paradise that is characterized by waterfalls, rainforests and coastline. A mere 40-minute drive from the city, this regional park is the place to visit for black sand beaches, walking tracks, and multi-day hikes.
- Hobbiton: This little town is one of New Zealand’s top attractions and best seen in the spring when the hills are a strikingly beautiful green. Tour the movie set, learn about the history of the farm and get clued in on little film set secrets throughout the tour.
- Hawke’s Bay: Wine country is one of the best ways to describe Hawke’s Bay. Make sure to visit the vineyards, do some tastings and dive right into the food scene as well. There are also art deco buildings to be seen, plenty of shopping and bird watching too.
- Okarito: Home to more than 60 species of bird, Okarito is the biggest estuarine lagoon in the country. Surrounded by forest and snow capped mountains in the distance, you can hit the waters on your kayak and do some bird watching as you go along.
- Kaikoura Whale Watching: Spring time is one of the best to go whale watching in the infamous Kaikoura region. Take a boat out with a tour company and learn all about the Sperm Whale as you dash across the water, trying to catch one coming up for air.
Festivals & Events
- Fashion Week: Established in 2001, the New Zealand Fashion Week is the place to be and be seen if you are anyone who’s anyone in the country’s fashion world. It typically takes place in the beginning of September and includes fashion shows and shopping opportunities.
- Food & Wine Festivals: This time of year, food and wine festivals are going on all across the two islands. Try the Toast Martinborough to drink the renowned Pino Noir in November, or the Gisborne Wine & Food Festival in October.
- Fringe Garden Festival: Located in Taranaki, this festival takes place between October and November. It offers ten days of gorgeous gardens around the area and at the homes of local gardeners.
Unlike most places around the world, the New Zealand summer runs from December through February. During this time, many schools go on break for the holidays and most Kiwis decide to take their family vacations. The average temperature ranges from 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit with sunshine being common and muggy days mostly uncommon. It’s during these summer days that most locals and visitors can be seen at the beach, doing outdoor activities and picnicking in the parks.
What to do & See
- Raglan & Taranaki: Summer is a great time to learn how to surf and Raglan or Taranaki are the places to do it. Located on the west coast of the north island, Taranaki is home to 12 world class surf breaks and plenty of out-doors adventures. Raglan has equally renowned surfing opportunities but with a more surf-town vibe. Enjoy the café scene and creative culture as you take breaks from hitting the waves.
- Rotorua: You can smell the sulfur from this volcanic town from miles away and once you get up close, you can actually see the steam rising from the ground. Similar to Yellow Stone National Park in the U.S, you can see bubbling pools of mud and colorful geysers from the safety of the boardwalks. Another reason to hit Rotorua in the summer is the world class mountain biking trails. There are over 90 kilometers of trails that are fit for even the most professional of mountain bikers.
- Franz Josef Glacier: This World Heritage Area is one of the top outdoor activities to do in New Zealand. Gear up and visit the town of the same name as a base for exploring. You can take an ice walk or a guided heli-hike right on the glacier itself.
- Akaroa: One of the most French towns in New Zealand, Akaroa is full of historic buildings and quaint culture. Walk around this charming town in the beautiful summer weather and make sure to taste the food and wine that enriches the culture there.
- Marlborough Sounds: It’s one of the most stunning natural landscapes in the country and is full of sunken river beds, sandy inlets and rolling mountains. There are animal sanctuaries, plenty of wildlife and tons of vineyards to get your wine fix.
- Cathedral Cove: Located in the north island’s Coromandel region, Cathedral Cove is a marine reserve with plenty of coastline. You can park your car in one of the lots and take a 30 minute trek through the forest to an almost hidden beach. It’s a great place to snorkel or scuba dive too.
Festivals & Events
- Christchurch/ South Island Wine & Food Festival: Early in December is when this festival is held, bringing out over 40 wineries and a whole host of chefs. Come on an empty stomach because there will be plenty of tastings as well as cooking demonstrations, wine tasting seminars and live music.
- Sand Castle Competition: Head to New Brighton Beach in Christchurch if you want to see some epic sandcastles . Join thousands of others as they browse the beach and watch the artists at work.
- Wellington Summer City Festival: It lasts for about three months and offers a whole variety of events. Try to catch the New Year’s Eve celebration, Wellington Pasifika Festival and the Meridian Gardens Magic Concerts.
Taking place in March, April and May, fall in New Zealand is a fantastic time to avoid large tourist crowds while still enjoying beautiful weather. Sunny, warm and long days tend to occur during these months and on average, the weather tends to be between 18C and 25C. However, expect the evenings in mid-April to get a little chilly.
What to See & Do
- Orca & Dolphin Watching From Wellington: Autumn is the perfect time to catch the Orca whales and dolphins playing by the coastline from Wellington. After spending a few days seeing what the city has to offer, take a guided boat tour out onto the sea to watch these majestic creatures.
- Hokianga: This harbor displays history and culture from both the Europeans and Maori people. The area is located on the north island and is full of small settlements and nature to explore. Stop at the sand dunes, the Rawene settlement and the Wairere Boulders.
- Ruapehu: This region is characterized by volcanoes, rivers, lakes, desert and forest. It’s a natural paradise so come prepared to do a bit of exploring outside. You can hike, wander around the associated town, go skiing, take the walking trails or go mountain biking on the network of trails.
- Hike The Tongariro Alpine Crossing: It’s one of the most famous hikes in New Zealand and can take up to 8 ( or more) hours to complete. The hike itself is not too strenuous though so trekkers of any level can succeed. You can start at either end, getting dropped off by bus and take your time hiking past volcanoes, sulfur pools and brilliantly colored lakes.
Festivals & Events
- The Wild Foods Festival: Located in Hokitika, this festival is meant to celebrate all that comes from the West Coast. There is a huge focus on wild, ethnic and gourmet food which includes international dishes as well as the traditional, Maori Hangi feast. Aside from the food, there will also be entertainment in the form of concerts, after parties, chef demonstrations and kid’s activities. It takes place during March so if you are a foodie, you should especially try to plan your trip around the event.
- Hopstock: Taking place in April, this festival celebrates the hop harvest as well as all things beer. The festival can be found in Wellington where craft breweries line up to share their creations with festival goers.
- Auckland’s Readers & Writers Festival: Happening in Auckland during the month of May, this festival draws in over one hundred talented writers and thinkers to celebrate the craft. It consists of various workshops, programs and readings for people of all ages.
While the weather may be a bit chillier, winter is still a perfectly lovely time to visit the country. Taking over the months of June, July and August, the winter here is characterised by 50 to 60 degree Fahrenheit days in the north island and much colder and snowier days in the south island. While the weather is cooler and more rainy in general, there is still plenty to do, even outdoors.
What to See & Do
- Queenstown and Wanaka: These two neighbors are the places to be if you want to get involved in some winter sports. In fact, Queenstown has some of the world’s best skiing on Coronet Peak. You can try heli-skiing or snowboarding too if you want to learn something new. Also try Wanaka which is the home to the biggest skiable region in all of Australasia. Plus, Lake Wanaka is a cozy resort town, making a perfect retreat from the cold.
- Rangitoto: This island outside of Auckland is home to the biggest pohutukawa forest in the world. It only takes a short ferry ride to reach it from the city and is made up from the largest and youngest volcano around Auckland. You can explore the island on foot, take a guided tour or see it by train.
- The Coromandel: This gorgeous region is full of natural attractions, quaint towns and history. Visit Cathedral Cove and go fishing, boating or scuba diving before wandering around the towns and doing some shopping. Don’t forget to visit Hot Water Beach where you can dig your very own hot tub right into the thermally fueled sand.
- Tauranga: Located in the Bay of Plenty, this city typically keeps the sun on. Wander the waterfront if you want in on the restaurant and pub scene or get off the harbor and into the waters themselves. This destination is a good one if you want to go sailing, diving, or out to watch the dolphins.
- Hot Pools: The chillier weather makes a day spent at the hot pools much more worthwhile than the summer time. These can be found all over the country in both controlled and uncontrolled settings. Aside from Hot Water Beach, try Kerosene Creek in Rotorua, Taupo DeBretts Hot Springs, Tekapo Springs, Hanmer Springs, or the Omarma Hot Tubs.
Festivals & Events
- Matariki Festival: This historic festival is based on the traditional Maori New Year and takes place in different areas each year. The name refers to the significant star constellation and the holiday is meant to be a reflection on the year. It’s a national holiday that usually takes place in June and offers up plenty of food and fun to celebrate.
- Illume Festival of Lights: It takes place in the Coromandel and extends for two nights full of light. Visitors will find projections, live music, food and street performers amongst the light displays. It’s festive, free and fun!
- Bay of Islands Jazz & Blues Festival: Taking place for three full days in August, this festival is all about the music. Head to the north island for street performances, live shows, plenty of food and mingling amongst the music crowd.