New Zealand Seasons: Which One Suits You Best?

shona hore

By Shona Hore

7 minute read

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It’s always the dilemma of traveling to a new country – when is the best time of the year to visit? Well, you can’t really go wrong travelling to New Zealand, each of the seasons offer fantastic opportunities that are unique to that particular time of year.

Find out below when the best time is for you to visit New Zealand.

Spring (September, October, November)

If you are someone who loves lots of colour, frolicking lambs and the smell of nature just after a rainfall then spring is definitely the season for you.

Lupins Lake Tekapo4

Wild Lupins add a burst of colour to our landscape in Spring.

The reality of travelling in the spring is that the rainfall is higher so the chance of getting wet increases, however there are some great benefits to a higher rainfall. Spring is typically a quiet season for tourism and the benefits of that are fewer people, and it tends to be cheaper to get here.

Here are some great reasons to travel to New Zealand in spring:

Waterfalls – spring is our waterfall season; with all the rain that falls at this time of the year, it’s the best time to check out some incredible waterfalls. The best place to see waterfalls in spring is Milford Sound - with granite cliffs streaked with lightening bolts of water making their way down the cliffs, it's definitely a sight to behold and something that disappears very quickly once the rain stops – this is one of the reasons why Milford Sound is best in the rain.

Flowers – in an otherwise evergreen nation, springtime adds a splash of colour to the countryside. Wild flowers grow on the roadside, in farm paddocks and along the banks of rivers with great gusto, heralding spring and lifting everyone’s spirits. Some of the most iconic images of New Zealand involve towering mountains with crystal clear water trickling its way through riverbeds with lupins, foxglove and common thyme flashing their true colours in the foreground. This is a perfect time for photographers, botanists and gardening enthusiasts alike to travel in New Zealand.

Lambs – picture green rolling hills and tiny sheep (aka lambs) frolicking through the pasture... this is what we in the industry term ‘cuteness overload’. But lambs are not the only baby animals you could see, there is an abundance of calves, fawns and foals to capture your imagination and hearts at this time of the year.

Snow capped mountains – with winter just leaving the doorstep, temperatures haven’t risen enough yet to melt all the snow on the mountains. If you are the sort of person who feels mountain scenery is more dramatic with snow-capped mountains then this is the season for you.

Top tip for spring visitors: after you've booked your trip, trawl the Internet for flight deals; this time of year is perfect for scoring a cheap flight and don’t forget to pack a good raincoat.

One of the best New Zealand Trails tours for springtime is the Masterpiece. While all our tours are fantastic at any time of the year, we feel this tour hits many of the hotspots for spring. Seeing lambs, wildflowers and roaring waterfalls and activities which include kayaking, cycling, hiking, cruising around Milford Sound by boat and exploring the alpine Mt Cook region, this tour truly makes the most of this season.

Summer (December, January, February)

Are you someone who loves soaking up the sun, meeting the locals and likes a challenge?

Rocky Mountain Summer views across Lake Wanaka

Gorgeous summer views over Lake Wanaka from Rocky Mountain.

Summer is a very popular time of the year for visitors to New Zealand, which means that it can be really busy, with lots of people at popular destinations. The flip side to this is that there are also a lot of Kiwi’s on holiday, so if you are the sort of person who likes to meet and interact with locals while travelling - then this is the perfect time of year to do so.

Kiwi Christmas – Christmas in New Zealand is very different to that in the Northern Hemisphere. For a start our Santa wears shorts, gumboots (rubber boots), a singlet (tank top) and rides around in a tractor towed by sheep! (See A Kiwi Night Before Christmas by Yvonne Morrison and Deborah Hinde). Celebrate Christmas in New Zealand Kiwi style by enjoying a BBQ on the beach, going on a picnic or partaking in a hangi (traditional Maori cooking method using hot rocks and burying the food underground).

Longer days – more time in the day to do fun things! If you like hiking - there's less snow on the mountains and more hours in the day, so you can challenge yourself with longer day hikes into alpine regions that would otherwise be inaccessible without technical skills.

Settled weather – activities are less likely to be cancelled due to bad weather at this time of year. Warm days and nights mean you can fill your days to the brim, but always be sun smart... make sure you take your hat, sunglasses and sunscreen wherever you go.

Swimming – you can’t beat jumping into cool clear water to beat off the heat of a hot summers day, and with an abundance of beaches, lakes and rivers to cool off in, the choice is yours – or if you are feeling brave, have a quick dip in a glacier lake on the Hooker Valley walk in Aoraki/Mt Cook!

Top tip for summer visitors: make sure to book well in advance, being such a popular time of year it can be difficult to get last minute reservations. Always be prepared for bad weather – even in summer the weather can turn quickly, particularly in alpine regions.

Two of the best New Zealand Trails tours for summertime are the Sweet North and the Kiwi Classic. These two tours offer access to higher alpine regions and more challenging hikes. With the weather more settled and a lack of snow in summer, the chances of having epic alpine vista’s is exponentially increased.

Autumn/Fall (March, April, May)

If warm days and crispy nights, epic sunsets and watching the night sky come alive are what tickles your fancy, then Autumn might just be the best time of year for you to visit New Zealand.

Autumn Colors in Siberia Valley

Spectacular autumn hiking in Siberia Valley.

Autumn colours – autumn is synonymous with the leaves turning gorgeous hues of deep red, burnt orange and golden yellow, however... New Zealand’s native bush is evergreen with no truly deciduous trees. Luckily for those who love the autumnal colours, early European settlers who pined for the familiarity of home planted trees such as poplars, oaks and maples that now grace popular autumn destinations like Arrowtown, Christchurch and the Mackenzie Country.

Star gazing – with shorter days, stargazing becomes much more accessible - no longer do you have to stay up past midnight to catch the southern stars. With March and April being prime months to look at the night sky and plenty of low light pollution destinations (such as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve) you could be catching breathtaking views of the Milky Way, Magellanic Clouds and of course the iconic Southern Cross.

Southern lights – Autumn has some of the clearest night sky’s, making it the best time to catch the Aurora Australis. New Zealand has become a well known destination for catching this natural phenomenon, with the Queenstown Lakes, Stewart Island and the Mackenzie Country being some of the best locations for viewing and photographing the Southern Lights.

Sunsets – with settled weather and shorter days, catching fiery sunrises and sunsets is easy in autumn. Just don’t forget to pack a warm top - as evenings and early mornings in autumn start to get fresh.

Top tip for autumn visitors: the word is out and Autumn is becoming a very popular time for travellers visiting New Zealand, so make sure to book in advance to secure your flights.

Two of the best New Zealand Trails tours for Autumn are the Grand Explorer and the Pure South. These two tours really make the most of Autumn colours and the more settled weather for getting into some of our more remote locations, like Siberia Valley. You can also combine any of our South Island trips with the Sweet North, for an epic all-encompassing visit to New Zealand.

Winter (June, July, August)

If snow capped mountains, sipping on a mulled wine by a roaring fire or chilling in a hot tub with snow gently falling around you are what most excites you, then it sounds like Winter is the ticket for you. 

Snow/Skiing – New Zealand has arguably the best ski fields in the Southern Hemisphere (to be fair there isn’t a lot of competition down here). With a plethora of mountaintops perfect for skiing, it has become a very popular sport here and a great way to escape the crowds and hit fresh snow. But for those that just like to play in the snow, build snowmen and throw snowballs, you can’t beat Aoraki/Mt Cook Village to do just that in wintertime.

Dramatic scenery – there is something about everything being covered in snow that brings out our inner child. Everything seems otherworldly, like you’ve stepped through the wardrobe into Narnia (incidentally it was filmed in New Zealand).

Southern lights – we will see your autumnal Southern Lights, and raise you some snowy mountains in the foreground! This is an incredibly popular time of year for photographers wishing to capture the Aurora Australis. You just need to Google it to see some of the incredibly inspiring photographs captured in New Zealand.

Less people – while the ski towns of New Zealand pump with people, other parts of the country become deserted, this is the perfect time of year to explore coastlines, wander the trails and hide away in comfy lodges by a roaring fire. This is the time of year to visit if you want to feel like you have the place to yourself.

Top tip for winter visitors: come prepared for the cold weather and if you are visiting any ski areas like Queenstown, make sure to book well in advance – accommodations book out quickly during the winter ski season and especially during the Queenstown Winter Festival (late June).

New Zealand Trails doesn't currently run tours during the winter.

Whatever the time of year you travel, you are sure to have an incredible experience in New Zealand. No matter your age, ability or interests - there is something for everyone in this country to tick all your boxes!

Below is a handy guide for the best months to visit New Zealand based on popular interests:

New Zealand seasons

Check our trip schedules and availability on our availability page. To work out which trip suits you best, check out Which Trip is Right For Me.

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