There’s one rule that governs traveling to regions below the equator: Time the trips for when it’s cold above that crucial invisible line. New Zealand is no different. The jaw-dropping scenery is best taken advantage of firsthand, meaning you’ll want to visit when the ocean is swimmable and the mountains are perfect for exploring. Conversely, you can catch some extra powder in the mountains by popping over during the hot dregs of an above-the-equator summer. That being said, with so much to do during every season, it’s hard to book a trip with low-season prices.
When it comes down to it, when you go should depend on what you want from your trip — so read on for the perfect time to visit, whether you’re going for the surf or the snow.
Going for snow? Visit from June to August.
Again, the critical part is that New Zealand winters are Northern Hemisphere summers — so if you live above the equator, plan your trip accordingly. New Zealand has plenty of great opportunities for winter sports, particularly in Queenstown, so if you really hate summer heat, get a bonus ski season by heading south. The South Island is home to three skiing regions and offers some of the world’s best winter sports.
Or, head to the warmer North Island to ski on the active volcano of Mount Ruapehu. Regardless, temps are mild, meaning that a few spills in the snow won’t leave you chilled to the bone — though that shouldn’t prevent you from heading to a natural hot spring at the end of the day. The best months to visit for the slopes are June through August. Just be sure to book well in advance (and budget for the high season prices).
Going for scenery? Visit from February to May.
The natural world is at its most majestic as it changes seasons, and the bounty of New Zealand’s is truly a feast for the eyes. If you’re into mountains and hiking, then March through May, the country’s autumn, is great — as is the shoulder month of February, when summer drops away into fall. That being said, temperatures are still warm, especially in the upper North Island. You’ll also have the bonus of off-season rates, and who doesn’t love a bargain?
Going for surf? Visit from January to March.
If you love the sea — and you need a break from the winter at home — then Southern Hemisphere summer is your optimal time to visit New Zealand. December, January, and February are some of the country’s top tourist months, so, again, prepare for inflated prices. January is when summer really gets into full swing, so it’s a great time to soak up the sun. That being said, February is equally as nice, not to mention that it’s prime dolphin-spotting season and also the month of the Marlborough Food and Wine Festival. March touches upon shoulder season, so prices might be lower than normal, but you’ll still be able to enjoy all the great climate benefits of a long summer. In any month, the walking trails are open, the beaches are splendid, and the water is fine. Plus, the country’s bountiful produce is ripe and ready for you to enjoy.
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Update 10/5/17: This article was amended to remove incorrect information about students’ summer vacation, as well as to update the warmest months of the year.