New Zealand in the winter

Old Jan 3rd, 2020, 12:25 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 75
New Zealand in the winter

Hello all,

It has been a few years since I have posted, and I am a little rusty at searching the Forum, so apologies if this is clearly answered somewhere.

My family (H/W aged ~50 and teenage son) are planning our vacation and would love to go to New Zealand. However, because of school, we are limited to mid-June to mid-August. We like hiking, biking, outdoor adventure, scenery, good food and wine. We do not ski. Is it even worth it to go to New Zealand in their winter, or should we really wait until we have more flexibility and a better shot at good weather? This is likely to be our one-and-only trip to NZ, so I don't want to "settle". For example, I have done some preliminary research, and it looks like the Great Walks are not open or are limited in the winter. Is there still plenty of other hiking and exploring to do? Will we be limited to North Island? (Nothing against North Island, and in fact I had not settled on whether I wanted to one or the other or both - but we would likely have only around two weeks.)

moosey is offline  
Old Jan 3rd, 2020, 04:36 PM
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For "hiking, biking, outdoor adventure" you will be more limited in winter because of the weather and because the days will be much shorter. On the plus side, accommodation will cost less and there will be fewer visitors, except in ski areas, such as Wanaka or Queenstown (there are other ski areas but these are probably the ones you'd want to visit). You could certainly walk all or part of the Abel Tasman Track in winter. Here's info about "walking seasons" on the Abel Tasman Track:

The weather is changeable and widely variable year-round. However, in winter you can expect more rain on the North Island and snow and on its higher elevations, such as the Desert Road, which travels through the North Island Volcanic Plateau that includes Tongariro National Park and its Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

In general, with the exception of Fiordland and its West Coast, the South Island will get less rain than the North Island but more snow, ice and frosts (even sometimes at sea level). Because of frosty roads, it's often recommended you not drive or drive with greater caution before 10 a.m. and avoid driving after dark. Frost can remain on shady parts of the road throughout the day. There are more road closures in winter. On the plus side, winter tends to be less windy (as compared to summer), and we get many beautiful clear, crisp days. Though fierce rainstorms along the coast and lower elevations can occur, causing flooding, slips on roads and walking tracks.

As for "scenery, good food and wine", the possibilities are limitless year-round. Some wineries might have shorter hours in winter, but you will still find many to visit. This is the best time of year for stargazing on the South Island, because the nights are longer, tend to be clearer, and the galactic core is visible (Feb.-Oct.) and is directly overhead, with the core being brightest in June and July.

There are many fine walks in New Zealand besides the Great Walks. For instance, the Queen Charlotte Track, which is used by walkers and mountain bikers (as you are interested in cycling). The Queen Charlotte Track is near Picton (home to Interislander and Bluebridge ferries to Wellington; note the crossing is more likely to be rough in winter) and Blenheim, the heart of the Marlborough wine region.

In winter, the sun is lower in the sky and when driving on clear winter mornings or evenings, sunstrike and glare can be a concern. Please read these links:

There are also NZ school holidays between July 4 through 19.

If you'll only have two weeks, I would stick to one island. If it were me, I'd wait until you could visit during summer, early autumn or spring.

Last edited by Diamantina; Jan 3rd, 2020 at 05:08 PM.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2020, 05:26 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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We love NZ in the winter and have often visited then or during shoulder seasons. I have several winter NZ trip reports posted here, just click on my screen name and scroll...
Melnq8 is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2020, 05:03 AM
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Thank you both for the input. Will check out the suggestions and links and decide if we want to wait.

moosey is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2020, 08:51 AM
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If you want to hike in the South Island, I probably would try for a different time frame. I found spring break to be a good time, weather-wise if it doesn't coincide with local holidays.

Another option is Thanksgiving into December, although you can still run into "winter" as I found out doing the Hump Ridge Track one year during "summer".

If you aren't familiar with that one. Although they offer winter walks, IMO it would be too cold overnight.

Last edited by mlgb; Jan 4th, 2020 at 08:55 AM.
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Old Jan 4th, 2020, 11:09 AM
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We always go to New Zealand in winter sometimes into spring and think it is a great time of year to visit. the absence of crowds is a huge advantage. The weather has generally been very kind to us. Yes we saw snow, rain and just about everything in between but we also saw a lot of blue skies. The weather didn’t stop us doing anything. Some of the great walks are closed but we did plenty of hiking. The Department of Conservation website is a fantastic resource and details all the hiking options. is another excellent site.

With two weeks I would stick to one island. For me it would probably be the South Island which, IMO has the more stunning scenery. However there are pros and cons for each island and much depends on what you want to see and do. a few of our highlights are covered in our blog @ for some reason, most of the posts are about the SI. nothing against the NI, we loved our time there too, especially around Lake Taupo, Tongariro NP and and the Coramandel.

We have always travelled by camper-van it suits us as it enables us to see much more and retain a huge degree of flexibility in where and when to go places.
crellston is offline  
Old Jan 5th, 2020, 08:05 PM
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I mentioned the shorter days of winter in my earlier post. To give you an idea about how short the days will be in winter, on June 20, the sun will rise at about 8 a.m. and set at about 5 p.m. If the roads are frosty and you had to wait until 10 a.m. to set off on your drive for the day, this would give you about 7 hours of daylight to drive to your new destination, stop and explore along the way, and for explorations and activity at your new destination.

You mentioned this would likely be your one and only trip to New Zealand. If you are planning a driving trip, you'd be able to see and do more in NZ winter and avoid feeling rushed by having more than two weeks for your trip (which I guess is not possible) or by limiting your trip to fewer destinations.

By contrast, on Nov. 27, the sun will rise around 5:42 a.m. and set around 9 p.m. At this time of year you need to worry less about frost on the roads and could start driving or walking at 9 a.m. or even earlier, giving you about 12 hours of daylight. This would give you more time for driving to a new destination, with time to spare for still exploring along the way and at your new destination. You'd be able to make the most out of your time here.

Other sunrise/sunset times here:

Have you looked at DOC's Great Walks site? It thoroughly explains which walking tracks can be safely walked (or navigable in the case of the Whanganui Journey) in winter.
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