South Island Weather

Backpackers guide to South Island New Zealand weather

Hard fact for backpackers – you’re going to need lots of different clothes and shoes while in New Zealand. This is because the weather is very changeable in any region, any season and any given day for that matter. Don’t let it put you off, it’s this unpredictability that makes New Zealand such an interesting place to visit and you can pack accordingly without weight and bulk, to find out more read on.

Summer

Let’s start with summer weather conditions in Auckland, Northland, Coromandel, Hawkes Bay and the Bay of Plenty – pretty much the top of the North Island and the coastal areas to the East and upper half of the North Island. These areas can get crazy hot in the summer (topping 30°c/86°F but usually in the 20s/68°F+, humid weather makes it feel hotter), you’re going to want to have some swimwear for the beaches but you’re also going to need a shirt, sunglasses, hat and sunscreen. Without much air pollution the UV rays from the sun are super strong and skin can burn in as little at 15 minutes if unprotected. Many holidays have been wasted by people getting sunburnt and having to stay indoors to recover – don’t let this be you, you are awesome but not stronger than the sun.

NZ beaches are pretty casual, jandals (flip flops) to protect from hot sand are the usual footwear choice and you can pick up pairs at most seaside shops or department stores. The Warehouse or K Mart will probably be the cheapest stores to get beach ready.

Just bear in mind the weather is changeable so always have a plan B and C. The North Island very occasionally gets struck by the remnants of tropical cyclones which can cause wet weather and flooding but mostly the summer weather is amazing and the beaches are too. A good weather website to use is the Met Service so you can plan your travels around the weather. We also use MetVUW as their forecast charts are great but you do have to know (or learn) how to read a weather map.

Auckland has warm and humid summer weather and is known for changeable weather, four seasons in one day is a very good expectation here and throughout much of the country for that matter.

Further down New Zealand in summer you’ll still strike beautiful beach weather and there are loads of lakes to swim in. Inland areas can get really hot in summer and the Lakes District and Canterbury in the South Island are stunning in the summer. Some of the South Island West Coast beaches are often too rough for swimming but the lakes make up for that and the weather is usually warm. The top of the South Island gets settled summer weather with lots of sunshine and beaches to match.

If beaches aren’t really your thing, but you want to get out and about, then summer is a great season for hiking, camping and travelling in general. Be prepared for crowds in some areas though as it’s New Zealand’s busiest season.

Autumn

Autumn weather can be lovely in New Zealand. The temperatures can be cold overnight especially in the South Island and inland areas and there can be some frosty starts to the day but generally this leads to crisp blue sky days and stunning Autumn tree colours. As it’s a shoulder season you’ll have more options with fewer crowds.

Northern temperatures don’t go sub zero so hiking in this season is awesome as you don’t get too hot or cold. Coastal areas are the same, it doesn’t get too cold, but in the far south and inland areas the temperatures can plunge sometimes unexpectedly in Autumn. A good rule of thumb is to have a rain jacket and a layer of warm clothing next to your skin, a merino wool or thermal top is ideal. You can get merino tops and leggings at most outdoor shops.

An Icebreaker is the ultimate in travel and outdoor wear, made from New Zealand merino sheep wool. The Merino sheep breed are the tough badasses of the sheep world. They live in mountainous regions in the South Island and cope with 35°c in summer and -20° in winter so the clothing made with their wool is the best – natural, non-itchy breathable fibre. Check out Icebreaker for more information. While not as awesome synthetic thermal tops and leggings are much cheaper and you can get them at the big department stores sometimes for around $10 each. These types of under layers don’t take up much room so great for backpackers and travellers in general.

Winter

Winter in New Zealand is awesome as in the North Island there aren’t many crowds except at the skifields and the same goes for the South Island except for the Queenstown/Wanaka/Mt Hutt regions which get really busy catering to thousands of skiers and snowboarders.

New Zealand gets a mixture of weather in the winter. Auckland weather can be wet, winter is the wettest season for the city but the temperatures are mild. Areas like Rotorua and Taupo can get pretty cold but there’s plenty of natural hot pools to warm you up. We get a few storms that can bring snow to low lying areas in central North Island and throughout much of the South Island and sometimes the roads, especially the high mountain passes, are closed for a time during bad weather patches. Don’t let it put you off though, there’s usually other roads you can take and much of the country is coastal where snow isn’t a problem. If you’re driving yourself during the winter then keep up to date on road conditions with New Zealand Traffic Agency in fact this is a good website regardless of the season as it gives information about all factors affecting travelling such as road works etc.

The South Island doesn’t have much rain in winter. July brings the coldest temperatures of the year and the odd storm aside it’s usually beautiful and sunny during winter which makes up for the cold temperatures.

As for clothing for the winter you can’t go past a puffer jacket. While not the epitome of designer fashion, it’s like wearing your own fitted sleeping bag and they’re super cosy. They also pack down into their own little bag so they don’t take up much space in your luggage. You can almost get away with this being your main winter number one item but it also depends on what you’re going to get up to in the outdoors. If you’re going up to the ski fields you can rent most gear/clothing you’re going to need, a better option than carting about bulky skiing clothes.

If you’re going to be doing some short hikes it’s a great season for photo taking as the sky is usually crisp and blue but you’re going to have to be prepared for every eventuality. The ever changing weather is a major factor on hiking tracks and a good website to make sure you’re prepared is the New Zealand Mountain Safety Agency . Don’t go thinking this is overkill and over safety conscious, New Zealand may not have wild beasts in the great outdoors but the weather is a big hazard that often gets underestimated. This website will tell you how to plan your trip, tell someone your plans, be aware of the weather, know your limits and take sufficient supplies. Sorted.

Spring

Spring weather in New Zealand can be lovely. Warmer days, green grass, newborn lambs and calves throughout the farmlands. However spring can bring unsettled weather so expect rain every now and then, wind and fluctuating temperatures.

Auckland and much of the country typically has the best weather in the mornings, it’s usually calm in the early morning before sea breezes rise. In Franz Josef Glacier Village this is often the case and the evenings are also calm. Just ask about in the regions you’re in and the locals will give a good description of the best time of day for certain activities. Spring weather can bring higher rainfall everywhere and melting snow can add to the rivers and streams.

You can’t beat a warm spring day especially in the countryside or wherever there are lots of blossom trees. Christchurch and the Central Otago area are famed for their spring blossoms.

Just assume you’re going to get rained on in New Zealand regardless of the season. Get yourself a good rain jacket, especially if you intend on going hiking. If you just need to get from A to B in the rain without messing up your hair then one of those ponchos from a souvenir shop will set you back a couple of dollars and will do the trick nicely.