New Zealand’s climate ranges from subtropical in the northern North Island to temperate/cool in the South Island. Whatever the season, it is essential to bring umbrellas and waterproofs; a typical Auckland day, for example, veers between periods of showers and sun; and on the South Island, Fiordland and the west coast have very high rainfall – Milford Sound gets more than 6m (20ft) of rain a year.
Summer days are generally warm and pleasant in most of the regions. Winters can be cold in the central and southern North Island and coastal districts of the South Island, and can be severe in the central regions of the South Island. Alpine weather is notoriously changeable, so those planning on visiting mountainous areas should bring warm clothing, even in summer.
New Zealand receives two waves of visitors. Summer (Dec-Feb) is the busiest time of year, with the bulk of international arrivals blending with New Zealanders enjoying their summer holidays. In winter (Jul-Sep), over a dozen ski fields are the focus of attention for both New Zealanders and Australians.
Climate-wise, summer is the best time to visit New Zealand. The focus at this time of the year is all outdoors – camping, tramping, fishing, golfing, swimming, surfing, kayaking and mountain climbing. The summer season is dominated by long, warm days, everything is open, and there’s plenty to do and see. Unfortunately, it’s also very busy, especially from Christmas through the end of January, which is the summer school holiday season. Spring (Sep-Nov) and autumn (Mar-May) are excellent times to visit New Zealand – you’ll avoid the crowds and you don’t need to have a firm itinerary.
Ski fields begin opening for the winter season (Jun-Aug) in June, although conditions are best July through early September. Winter is officially over at the end of the August calendar month, but some ski resorts stay open into October, including Whakapapa on the North Island.