New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere; therefore, all seasons are the opposite of those in North America, Europe, and other Northern Hemisphere locations.
There really isn't a bad time to travel to New Zealand. Keep in mind, though, that most Kiwi families take their main annual holidays between mid-December and the end of January, which puts enormous pressure on accommodations in major summer beach destinations. During the Easter break and school holidays in April, June to July, and September to October, it also pays to reserve well in advance.
Remember, too, that accommodations at ski destinations like Ohakune, National Park, Methven near Mount Hutt, Wanaka, and Queenstown fill up quickly - reserve early and be prepared to pay higher winter rates. In most other areas, though, you'll be paying lower rates during the winter months (Apr-Aug). In some summer-peak areas, the winter also means that tour, lodge, and adventure operators may take advantage of lower tourist numbers and take their own holiday breaks, closing their businesses for 1- to 3-month periods.
Dialing the Weather -- In New Zealand, call Metservice at tel. 0900/999 followed by your New Zealand area code to hear the current and expected weather conditions for the region you are in. Calls cost NZ$1.99 per minute including GST. You can also visit the Metservice website, www.metservice.co.nz, for further details, or check their blog, http://blog.metservice.com/, for the latest updates.
New Zealand's climate, especially by Northern Hemisphere standards, is pretty mellow for much of the year. You'll find a far greater seasonal difference in the South Island than in the subtropical North, and don't believe anyone who says it never gets cold here or that there are no extremes. In Central Otago, winter temperatures are often 14°F (-10°C) and sometimes as low as -4°F (-20°C), with summers up to 100°F to 104°F (38°C-40°C). By comparison, the northern part of the North Island is subtropical. That means lots of winter/spring rain, and often daily light showers.
The west coast of the South Island can get up to 100 inches or more of rain a year on its side of the Southern Alps, while just over the mountains to the east, rainfall is a moderate 20 to 30 inches annually. Rain is also heavier on the west coast of the North Island, averaging 40 to 70 inches annually. Milford Sound, though, beats the lot; it's the wettest place in the country, with a phenomenal 365 inches of rain a year.
Spring (Sept, Oct, Nov) -- This is a beautiful time to visit - the countryside is flush with new green grass, baby lambs, and blooming trees. Christchurch in the spring means blossoms, bluebells, and daffodils in abundance; Dunedin is a splurge of rhododendron color. The weather can still be very changeable right up to mid-October, so come prepared with light rain gear. In the South Island, it's still perfectly normal to get late snowfalls in September.
Summer (Dec, Jan, Feb) -- This is peak tourist season, so you'll pay top dollar for accommodations and airfares. Book early to avoid disappointment -- this also applies to the major walking tracks, such as Milford, for which you should make bookings 6 months ahead. The country's beaches come alive, and boaties flock to the water. Fresh fruit is falling off the trees. (You must try Central Otago cherries and apricots; the apple district is Hawke's Bay.) Everyone should see Central Otago when the lupines are flowering, with brilliant colors etched against blue skies and golden tussock.
Autumn (Mar, Apr, May) -- I think the best time to visit is February through April. The temperatures are pleasant (still hot in Feb in most parts), and even in April you'll be wearing summer clothes in the upper North Island. The most spectacular autumn colors are found in Queenstown, Central Otago, and Christchurch. Keep Easter and April school holidays in mind, though, when lodgings may be tight in some areas.
Winter (June, July, Aug) -- If you're a skier, you'll be heading to Queenstown, Mount Hutt, Canterbury, or the Central Plateau in the North Island - and paying top dollar for the privilege. Otherwise, if you travel elsewhere during this period, you won't need to prebook much at all (except during the July school holidays). You'll find some excellent rates - just don't expect great things from the weather.
National public holidays include New Year's Day (Jan 1), New Year's Holiday (Jan 2), Waitangi Day (Feb 6), Good Friday (varies), Easter and Easter Monday (varies), ANZAC Day (Apr 25), Queen's Birthday (first Mon in June), Labour Day (last Mon in Oct), Christmas Day (Dec 25), and Boxing Day (Dec 26).
Regional holidays include Wellington (Jan 22), Auckland (Jan 29), Northland (Jan 29), Nelson Region (Feb 1), Otago (Mar 23), Southland (Mar 23), Taranaki (Mar 31), Hawke's Bay (Nov 1), Marlborough (Nov 1), Westland (Dec 1), and Canterbury (Dec 16). Regional holidays are always observed on a Monday. If the date lands on a Friday or weekend, the holiday is observed on the following Monday. If it falls earlier in the week, it is observed on the preceding Monday.
School holidays: Four school terms are observed. Dates may vary, but as a guide Term 1 is January 27 to April 3. Term 2 is April 20 to July 3. Term 3 is July 20 to September 26. Term 4 (summer term) is October 12 to December 17 Dates can vary between schools, but the longest holiday period is December to January, when NZ families also take a summer holiday.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.