What is the Climate in New Zealand Like?
New Zealand’s climate is determined by three main things: the ocean, mountains and its prevailing winds. As diverse as the landscapes in New Zealand so is the New Zealand climate.
The climate in New Zealand has always been of vast importance to the locals, who even to this day, rely heavily on the land. For visitors to New Zealand, New Zealand’s drawcard is the outdoor experiences, so the weather is of obvious interest when planning a trip in New Zealand. This guide to the New Zealand climate will give you an overview of the typical climate experienced throughout the country, so you can plan accordingly for your trip to New Zealand.
For more information, check out What is the Weather Like in New Zealand?
New Zealand Seasons
New Zealand has four distinct seasons: summer, autumn, winter and spring. However, these seasons are experienced in different months to what is experienced in the Northern Hemisphere. Seasons officially start on the first day of the season’s month and end on the final day of the season’s month. For example, summer begins on December 1 and ends February 28/29.
- Summer – December, January and February
- Autumn – March, April and May
- Winter – June, July and August
- Spring – September, October and November
The Temperature in New Zealand
Because New Zealand lies south of the Equator, the temperature increases the further north you go and decreases the further south you go. You can feel a real difference in temperature between the North Island and South Island, with the mean annual temperature in the North Island being 16ºC / 61ºF and the South Island being 10ºC / 50ºF.
The warmest months are December, January and February. The highest temperatures experienced are between 20-30ºC / 68-86ºF. The coldest months are June, July and August with the highest temperatures being 10-15ºC / 50-59ºF.
Location plays a huge factor in the temperature in New Zealand. For instance, the Far North of the North Island has a subtropical climate with the highest temperatures in the country. Inland in the South Island, the alpine landscape means there’s snow on many mountaintops year-round and temperatures as low as -10ºC / -50ºF in winter.
When planning your trip to New Zealand, take into consideration the month and the locations you will be visiting to get a better representation of what temperatures you will experience. Take a look at our month-by-month guides on the weather in New Zealand for more information:
- New Zealand Weather in January
- New Zealand Weather in February
- New Zealand Weather in March
- New Zealand Weather in April
- New Zealand Weather in May
- New Zealand Weather in June
- New Zealand Weather in July
- New Zealand Weather in August
- New Zealand Weather in September
- New Zealand Weather in October
- New Zealand Weather in November
- New Zealand Weather in December
Rainfall in New Zealand
Rainfall can be in the forecast all year round in New Zealand due to its maritime climate. Most areas of New Zealand receive between 600 and 1600mm (1,970 and 5,250″) of rainfall throughout the year. However, some areas of New Zealand are much wetter than others.
On the North Island, more rainfall is experienced through winter than in summer. In the South Island, there’s more rainfall in summer than in winter. The South Island experiences a great divide in rainfall weather patterns due to the Southern Alps, situated running down the middle of the island, acting as a barrier for the westerly prevailing winds. For this reason, the West Coast receives considerably more rain compared to the east coast of the South Island.
While rainfall is frequent in New Zealand, usually they are only short showers due to the coastal winds moving weather on quickly. New Zealander’s often describe New Zealand as having “four seasons in a day” because of this.
Snowfall in New Zealand
Snow falls mainly in the high altitudes of mountainous areas of New Zealand, such as the Southern Alps and the mountains of the Fiordland National Park in the South Island. Or on the North Island, snow mainly falls on the Central North Island volcanoes and Mt Taranaki. Because the rest of the country is coastal, it’s uncommon to experience snow elsewhere. However, the east side of the country is more likely to experience snow than the west in extreme conditions (which is rare).
Frosts can occur anywhere in New Zealand throughout winter. Usually, this is due to cold nights with clear skies and no wind.
Just as frequently as having rain, New Zealand can just as frequently experience clear weather and sunshine. The majority of New Zealand has a high number of sunshine hours. Areas that are sheltered by the prevailing westerly winds receive annual sunshine hours of more than 2,250, such as Northland, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Nelson, Tasman, and Malborough.
New Zealand’s three largest cities, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch also receive high sunshine hours of around 2,000 to 2,250 hours. The least amount of sunshine is experienced in the Southland region and the Southern Alps with annual sunshine hours fewer than 1,500.
It’s important to note the high UV radiation levels in New Zealand during the “daylight savings” months (September – April). New Zealand receives 40% higher UV radiation than countries at similar latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. Wearing high factor sunscreen is a must to protect the skin from sunburn, especially between 10am and 4pm during the daylight savings months, and in high altitudes and in snow during winter.
Severe Weather Events
New Zealand is a country that’s relatively safe from extreme weather scenarios. Once or twice a year, storms may pass through the country bringing more rain, wind or snow with it. The main extreme weather that could affect New Zealand are cyclones.
Cyclones that make a large impact on the country happen infrequently, as the New Zealand MetService puts it: “On average, about 10 tropical cyclones form in the South Pacific tropics between November and April each year, and about one of those will affect New Zealand as an ex-tropical cyclone (most commonly in February or March).”