Winter in New Zealand

The New Zealand winter arrives in May and ends around October. So now it's the heart of winter. Some people don't understand my enthusiasm for New Zealand winter vacations, but some of the most beautiful sights I've experienced in New Zealand were in winter. Yes, it's cold. In the bottom half of the South Island it gets very cold, below freezing sometimes, but there are compensations aplenty!

Here are some of the reasons that I like the New Zealand winters - 

  • You have the country all to yourself, well almost; that's how it feels, especially in the South Island.
  • The scenery is magnificent. There's nothing like viewing mountains totally covered in snow with a backdrop of clear blue skies and at dusk, brilliant sunsets. And having them all to yourself!
  • Nearly all tourist attractions remain open through the winter, with one important difference - their costs are cut to the bone.
  • You can ski if that's something you enjoy. Both the North & South Island offer outstanding skiing.
  • It's a less stressful time of year; you get more opportunities to relax and meet with the locals.
  • There are fantastic accommodation deals available in all categories of hotels including the most luxurious as well as motels, B&B's and Farm Stays.
  • Rental car companies also offer huge discounts on their rentals over the Winter.


We've written elsewhere about the wonderful Southern night skies. Best time to seem them in all their glory? That's right, winter!


Mt Ngaurahoe, North Island in winter - aka Mordor, Lord of The Rings.


Natural hot springs are scattered throughout the country, these are in Tekapo, South Island. We're repeating ourselves, but with good reason - the best time to enjoy them? Winter!

New Zealand is special because in a country with a total population about equal to the city of Los Angeles (just 4.5 million people) and two thirds of them congregated around the greater Auckland region, you're still able to experience that special feeling of space and solitude and freedom, especially in winter. There's a beauty about that experience that's increasingly hard to find in this world.

I've crossed the Canterbury Plains in the South Island when it was in the grips of what's called a "black frost" where the ice freezes on the trees and gives them the appearance of being black. It's one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. On a 4 hour winter drive from Christchurch to Queenstown a few years ago, just 6 cars passed me traveling in the opposite direction.

We've also driven up the West Coast of the South island in the early morning, with the forests and snow covered Southern Alps as a backdrop for most of the way, the fog clinging to the coastline and the sun trying to break through. It was breathtaking and we had it completely to ourselves. 

New Zealand weather tends to take the form of fast moving weather fronts that sweep in from the Tasman Sea, sometimes with a bit of Antarctica cold joining in. The good news is that they normally cross the country in just 2 or 3 days then they're gone. The bad news is that the rain and snow they dump during their transit can temporarily close roads and force airport delays. In the North Island the weather can also come from the north and that means rain, sometimes lots of it, although temperatures are always higher than the South Island.

So when we work with you to design a great New Zealand winter vacation the key to success is "flexibility". This  means that if a part of the country is inaccessible for a few of days, you can either wait for it to clear or our team down in NZ will work to quickly provide you with an alternative routing. It becomes an adventure and the fact is, the alternative routes are sometimes even more interesting!

The photo at the top of this page is the summit of Aoraki Mt Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand and heli-sking in this region is a great experience.


My friend Ross McComish enjoys taking photos of Mt Ruapehu from his home at Waiouru in the middle of the North Island. This one was taken a week ago. Beautiful shot Ross.


Queenstown, the ski capital of New Zealand on a magnificent winter's day.


Another wonderful view that you won't see on a summer vacation in New Zealand, snow on Mitre Peak in Fiordland, The South Island. 


Vineyards of Central Otago, South Island. Pinot Noir country.


Maybe the sheep in this photo understand my enthusiasm for winter in New Zealand. Late winter is when when they start lambing and watching newly born lambs playing in the fields is one of the cutest things you will see.

For a winter vacation, we suggest this itinerary, a 16 day vacation encompassing the North Island and Best of the South Island.

Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • Jul 20, 2017