Summer in New Zealand

Many people are under the impression that New Zealand is a tropical country because it is in the Pacific Ocean. That’s incorrect, but New Zealand does have some fantastic summer weather.

New Zealand comprises two long narrow islands, imaginatively named by the British colonizers as the North Island and the South Island.  

Because of New Zealand’s geography and location, weather can vary significantly from one location to another. Also, the climate differs widely from one end of the country to another.

Here’s are some answers to common questions about summer in New Zealand. 

When is summer in New Zealand?

The summer months officially fall in December, January and February.

These are the warmest months of the year and seasonal dry with little rainfall.

January and February have the highest temperatures.

This is also when schools are closed, making it a very popular time for family holidays.

Summer is an excellent time to visit New Zealand, but if you want to avoid the crowds, the best months are February and March, when schools have returned and the weather is very settled.

Summer also brings long hours of sunlight which makes it a perfect time for outdoor activities such as:

  • Bushwalking and multi-day hikes
  • Beach holidays and camping
  • Road trips by car or RV
  • Fishing, boating, kayaking and other water sports
  • Surfing and swimming at the many gorgeous beaches
  • White water rafting
  • Exploring native forests

Hot summers are becoming increasingly common but can be interrupted by occasional ex-Tropical cyclones arriving from the north.

Also, sudden changes can occur at any time of year, bringing rain and cold fronts as cold air moves over the country from the southern oceans of the Antarctic.

But these short interruptions won’t put you off having a fabulous holiday.

The best way to experience a New Zealand summer is to plan for great weather, while being prepared for the occasional disruption.

Fun Fact
The Maori names for the North Island and South Island are descriptive. Te Ika-a-Māui (Named from the Maori myth as ""the fish of the Māui.") And Te Waipounamu ("the waters of greenstone") for the South Island.

Climate and Average Summer temperatures in New Zealand

The majority of New Zealand has a mild climate compared to other countries worldwide.

This little country has a temperate climate with mild temperatures and moderate rainfall.

Three factors that impact New Zealand’s climate are the mountains, the coasts and the winds. It is the prevailing westerly winds that bring moisture and cooler temperatures.

Being nearer the equator, the north of the North Island is subtropical.

This brings temperatures up to 30 C in the summer and many beautiful sunny days around 75 – 82 F (24 – 28 C).  

The average temperature in the South Island is about 5 degrees cooler as it is nearer the South Pole.

But regions east of the Southern Alps, central regions like Central Otago, and northern regions of the South Island (such as Nelson and Marlborough) experience delightful summer temperatures.  

During a typical New Zealand summer, you can expect lots of sunshine, mild temperatures and warm nights in most locations, especially those near the coast or away from the prevailing westerly winds.  

Packing for summer vacation in New Zealand

Preparing to come to New Zealand in summer means packing light clothes, but add a jacket in case of a sudden drop in temperature, an unseasonal rainstorm, or a trip up into the mountain ranges.

No need to get dressed up, unless that’s your thing. The people of New Zealand love dressing casual.

Shorts, t-shirts with sneakers or jandals (flip-flops) are regular attire. Team this with a light jacket, sweatshirt or hoodie, and you’ll fit right in.

Ladies, if you’re not into shorts, then simple summer dresses are also popular.

Of paramount importance – Bring sunscreen. 

New Zealand has very high UV radiation levels, 40% higher than locations at similar latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. 

It is very easy to get sunburnt in a short amount of time, especially during the middle of the day.

The rates for skin cancers, like melanoma, are the highest globally in both New Zealand and Australia.

And even if you think your chances of getting skin cancer are minor, the pain, discomfort and embarrassment from being badly sunburnt are not worth the risk.

Fun Fact 
Slip, Slop, Slap is a public awareness campaign in Australia and New Zealand to prevent sunburn and skin cancer. Slip-on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen and Slap on a hat. 

Other things to pack for New Zealand include an open, friendly attitude, a big smile and a camera.

Best summer destinations in New Zealand

Top summer destinations include:

  • Bay of Islands
  • Coromandel Peninsula
  • Bay of Plenty
  • Hawke’s Bay
  • Marlborough Sounds
  • Abel Tasman National Park
  • Nelson
  • Queenstown
  • Central Otago
  • Milford Sound

Due to limited summer rainfall, the sunniest areas are Nelson, Marlborough, and Hawkes Bay.

New Zealand’s blue skies are largely unaffected by pollution, beautiful vistas and stunning scenery.

In contrast, Milford Sound is the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand and one of the wettest places on earth, with an average of 182 rainy days per year, but it is the best place to visit on a sunny day.

Best time to visit New Zealand

A visit to New Zealand in the summer months of December, January or February will guarantee a good time.

But as mentioned, the weeks from Christmas to the end of January are school holidays, which means many families are enjoying the beaches, either camping or in holiday homes.

Visit New Zealand during February is my recommendation. Expect settled summer weather with long, dry, hot days and warm nights.

Talk to several tour operators. Then plan for abundant sunshine, stunning scenery, unique road trips through small towns and a variety of outdoor activities.

Fall or a New Zealander’s call it – Autumn

Autumn, which is March, April and May, are also great months to visit New Zealand. 

March usually continues the settled summer weather experienced in February, except the nights will get a little cooler.

April and May is also  a great time to travel. Expect warm to mild temperatures that are cooler in the mountain areas, and don’t be suppressed by an occasional cold southerly front bring cooler winter temperatures.

The further south you travel, the more the weather conditions become wintery, while the north of the North Island may enjoy subtropical weather well through fall.


Spring is a shoulder season for travel.

September, October and November are delightful and bring the chance to experience the opening of spring buds and spot tasty spring lamb in the paddocks.

However, during spring, the weather is less reliable, with continuing snowfalls in the inland alpine areas of the South Island and the central volcanic mountains of the North Island.

In spring You can expect longer days, meaning more hours of sunshine.

Spring is also affected by the prevailing winds from the northwest and west. These winds bring cooler temperatures and rain to the west coasts of the South Island and North Island.

Fun Fact
Wellington is famously the windiest capital city in the world. This is because of New Zealand'sZealand's location between 40 and 50 degrees latitude (where gale-force westerly winds often travel), the mountain ranges that run up the spine of both islands, and the channel between the South and North Islands, Cook Strait. Both the northerly and southerly winds are forced to travel through this gap resulting in an annual mean wind speed of 11.8 knots (22 km/h).

Winter in New Zealand

If you’re a keen skier or snowboarder, then the colder weather of the winter months of June, July and August is a great time to visit.

The mountainous areas in the Southern Alps of the South Island and the central volcanic mountains of the North Island provide world-ranked ski fields.

Read more about Winter in New Zealand here.

You can also catch some of the biggest trout here in New Zealand. Here’sHere’s an article on Why rout Grow Big, Especially in New Zealand