When is the best time to visit New Zealand? Well, if you ask me, it’s spring.
Ok, I know… when is the last time someone told you that spring was the best time to travel anywhere (except for maybe to see the cherry blossoms in Japan)? What about summer? And, besides, is there REALLY a ‘best time’ to be in New Zealand? Its true that New Zealand’s incredible – and you’re guaranteed to have an amazing time no matter when you visit.
And, of course, everyone will have their own opinion on the best time to travel to New Zealand. Mainly because it highly depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for.
Each season is best for something. Summer is the best for overall weather. Winter is the best for skiing. And autumn is the best for leaf peeping.
But if you’re looking for an outdoor adventure riddled with fields of wild flowers, rushing waterfalls, and spectacular snow-capped mountains – with less of the sandflies and none of the crowds – then spring is the best time for you to visit New Zealand.
Here’s more information on spring in New Zealand and why I loved it so much (and why you will too)!
When is spring in New Zealand?
Spring months in New Zealand are September, October, November – directly opposite spring in the northern hemisphere.
Spring usually arrives on the North Island first, sometime around early September. It makes its way down to the South Island a bit later, usually arriving around the last week in September.
TIP: If you’re planning to visit both islands early in the season, consider traveling north to south. That way, you’ll catch warmer weather on the South Island.
Temperature and spring weather in New Zealand
First, let’s get this out of the way: One of the biggest misconceptions about traveling New Zealand in the spring is that you’re guaranteed to have bad weather. That’s definitely not true.
It is true that early spring weather in New Zealand is reliably unpredictable. Some days are frosty and cold, and other days you get lucky with weather that’s warm and sunny.
Daytime temperatures fluctuate between 50 – 70F (10 – 21C) and nighttime temperatures around 30-40F (-1 – 5C). And in September, you can very well experience all four seasons in one day. If you’ve ever been to Iceland, you’ll know what that’s like!
But as you near November, weather begins to stabilize and days become increasingly pleasant; although nights (and early mornings) remain a bit chilly until the end of November – especially on the South Island.
We spent 3 weeks road tripping New Zealand between September and early October. In that time, we experienced only 2 days of torrential downpours. The rest of our time was lovely – with refreshingly crisp mornings, some extremely clear nights, and sunny days interrupted only by brief rain showers.
We even had clear skies on our drive to Mt. Cook!
9 reasons why spring is the best time to visit New Zealand
1. Spring is one of the cheapest times to visit New Zealand
If you’re traveling on a budget, spring is the best time to visit New Zealand. Spring in NZ is considered the off-season, when tourism is at a low and prices are even lower. Traveling in the off-season comes with heavy discounts on just about everything – which is why traveling in the off-season is my absolute favorite travel hack.
Expect to find lower prices on everything from flights and hotels, to rental cars and attraction entrance fees.
Thinking of taking that campervan road trip? Well you’re in luck! Spring in New Zealand is one of the best times to rent a campervan for cheap. Just about every campervan company in New Zealand runs off-season promotions. You can potentially score deep discounts on daily base rates, relocation fees, and rental packages.
If you’re looking for a great campervan rental, I can highly recommend Britz. They also run some really amazing off-season deals that can save you a bunch of money. Be sure to check them out here!
Looking for a cheap flight? READ MORE: Your guide on how to find the best flight deals
2. Spring is the best time to visit New Zealand if you want all best spots all to yourself!
Milford Sound, Roy’s Peak, and Cathedral Cove are a few of the most popular places to visit in New Zealand. Now imagine having them all to yourself. With 3.82 million visitors to NZ each year, the thought of being alone in these places might sound crazy. But it can happen if you visit New Zealand in the spring.
There was a day we woke up before sunrise, groggy and disheveled, to race down to Cathedral Cove to beat the crowds. This place is plastered all over Instagram, after all. Come to find out, we had the entire beach to ourselves for over 3 hours. I’m not sure what it’s like here in the summer. But I can tell you that there’s a certain magic about having a beach like this all to yourself. A magic that doesn’t feel quite the same when there’s a crowd.
But our peace and quiet wasn’t just limited to Cathedral Cove. We regularly found ourselves enjoying complete solitude in some of the most beautiful places in all of New Zealand. And that, my friends, is another reason why off-season travel will forever have my heart.
3. You don’t need to make campsite reservations in advance
If you’re taking a campervan holiday in New Zealand during peak season (Dec – March), you’ll definitely have to plan ahead. In the summer months (and even into the fall), the best campsites fill up quickly. So, unless you book far in advance or claim your spot before 5pm, you’ll find yourself searching any open campsite you can find.
If you’re a last minute planner or someone who likes to ‘just go with the flow’, spring is the best time to travel to New Zealand. In the spring, there’s plenty of space for last minute camping – even at the best campsites, like Milford Sound!
Plus, campsites are usually discounted in the off-season. Which is nice, since the price of camping adds up rather quickly.
CamperMate is the best app for finding campsite locations and pricing in New Zealand. Don’t forget to download it before you go!
Need to know more about campervan road trips in New Zealand?
READ MORE: 17 Need-to-Know Tips for Campervan Rentals in New Zealand
4. There’s still snow on the mountaintops
…and its REALLY pretty. Just look at it!
If you’re a photographer, snow capped mountains in New Zealand should be reason enough to visit this time of year. New Zealand is always stunning, but there’s something about seeing that last bit of snow in the alpine that makes it that much more magical.
But, no rush. It can still get pretty cold in the spring, so the mountains are usually covered in snow until early summer. In fact, a local told me that New Zealander’s don’t consider it ‘summer’ until the last snow has melted from the mountaintops around Queenstown. This sometimes doesn’t happen until December!
Note: Be careful of snowy roads if you’re road tripping NZ in the early spring. You might run into some snow and ice, especially in the mountainous regions of the South Island. Always carry snow chains as a precaution and check with the NZ Transport Agency for road closures before driving mountain passes.
5. It’s lambing (and flower) season!
Fun fact: Sheep outnumber people in New Zealand. And in the spring, you can see [literally] thousands of lambs bouncing around just about everywhere. They line the roads and pepper the hills. And they’re seriously SO cute.
But the lambs aren’t the only things making their annual appearance. Every spring, flowers in New Zealand burst to life, coloring everything from alpine meadows to rocky coastal shores. This is the time to see the lupine fields around Lake Tekapo, the famous Mt. Cook buttercups, and the cherry blossoms lining the streets of downtown Queenstown.
For a full flower breakdown, check out New Zealand Insider’s guide on the best time and place to see spring blooms in New Zealand.
6. You won’t get (totally) eaten alive by sandflies
Ah, the dreaded New Zealand sandfly – which actually isn’t a sandfly at all. New Zealand sandflies are female black flies that resemble gnats. They’re only about 3mm long, but have a hankering for blood that could put even the thirstiest vampire to shame.
The good news is that they won’t kill you – but damn can they ruin your holiday faster than just about anything else in New Zealand. So, if you don’t want to spend your vacation avoiding all forms of water at all costs – or scratching bites until you bleed – then you’ll want to avoid sandflies as best you can.
One extremely effective way to avoid sandflies, of course, is to visit in the winter. But, if you’re like me, then you probably also want to avoid the snow. In which case, spring is the best time of year to visit New Zealand.
Spring in New Zealand means minimal sandflies, which is a blessing if you ask anyone who’s visited New Zealand in the summer.
Sandflies in New Zealand can breed year round. So, you’re bound to run into them regardless of the time of year – and despite your best efforts to avoid them.
During our three week road trip in September, we were only bothered by them in Milford Sound, Hokitika Gorge (pictured above), and around ponds at remote campsites. But they can be an enormous nightmare just about everywhere in the summer months.
Need advice on keeping New Zealand’s little vampires at bay? Liz over at Young Adventuress put together a great guide on surviving New Zealand sandflies. Good luck!
7. It’s the best time for wildlife viewing and outdoor adventure
Fewer sandflies, cooler weather, and fields of flowers, make spring the best time to go to New Zealand for anyone looking to get outside.
Melting spring snow creates spectacular waterfalls, which is the best time to visit Milford Sound. And adrenaline junkies will find their fix in white water rafting, since water levels are at their highest. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to look up. You might catch a glimpse of the southern lights!
Spring is also a great time to tackle some of New Zealand’s most popular hikes because the trails are pretty empty.
Take the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, for example – the infamous trek through New Zealand’s volcanic landscape. Not only is it one of New Zealand’s best hikes, but its renowned as one of the best day hikes in the world.
Note that we were unable to access this hike in September since the mountains were still covered in snow. There are companies that will take you up in the snow, but we decided that was a hard pass for us. It’s pretty extreme. You can check them out here though if you’re interested. If you plan to tackle the Tongariro Crossing like an average person, you’ll have to wait until November.
Other hikes to check out in the spring are the Milford tracks around Milford Sound, Roy’s Peak, and the Mueller Hut in Mt. Cook National Park.
As for wildlife…New Zealand is home to an abundance of wildlife, and spring is the best time to see many of them. Keep your eyes peeled for seal pups around Kaikoura, nesting penguins in Dunedin, breeding gulls, orcas, and enormous pods of dolphins.
8. Spring is a perfect time to visit the South Pacific
Spring in New Zealand also happens to be the best time to visit the South Pacific islands. Winter and spring in the South Pacific is the dry season, giving you weather that’s more pleasant and less humid.
Find cheap, direct flights from Auckland to tropical islands, like Fiji, Niue, Tahiti, Samoa, and the Cook Islands! Or hop on over to Vava’u, Tonga to swim with the humpback whales between July and October.
Just be careful about booking travel to the South Pacific during New Zealand school holidays. Flights from Auckland tend to be more expensive during that time because they fill up fast!
Here’s the list of New Zealand school holiday dates you’ll want to avoid for 2020:
- September 26, 2020 – October 11, 2020
- December 16, 2020 – February 9, 2021
- April 16, 2021 – May 3, 2021
- July 9, 2021 – July 26, 2021
- October 1, 2021 – October 18, 2021
- Labour Day: October 26, 2020
PS: Don’t forget your reef safe sunscreen!
READ MORE: Why You Should Care About Coral Reef Safe Sunscreen
How to pack for spring in New Zealand
As you’ve learned, spring weather in New Zealand tends to be unpredictable. With daytime temperatures ranging anywhere from 50F to over 65F, the trick to packing for spring in New Zealand is to think in layers.
Here’s a general packing list based on what I packed for a 3 week road trip in September. I found that what I brought with me was sufficient, as some days (mostly mornings and nights) were chilly and other days were pretty warm.
- A heavier jacket to wear casually and on short walks. I wore this jacket by Rainbird Clothing CONSTANTLY. It’s also waterproof, so it doubled as my rain jacket. Plus the yellow looked fantastic in pictures when the weather was moody.
- A packable down jacket. I was happy to have this on longer hikes because it was easy to stuff in my bag when I got too warm.
- A rain jacket. I didn’t find I needed this as often as I thought I would because my Rainbird jacket was waterproof. But don’t forget to bring a quality rain jacket because you’ll definitely need it.
- A light (windproof) jacket for layering.
- A warm hat and pair of gloves
A good rule of thumb when packing light is to pack less bottoms and more tops. Of course, I ended up packing too many tops (as always!), but I was happy to have the variety. I could have done with much less since I didn’t end up wearing everything I brought. Here’s what I actually ended up wearing:
- 4 long sleeve shirts, including a Smartwool baselayer
- 1 turtleneck
- 1 denim button up
- A zip up hoodie (I actually ended up wearing this so much that I had to wash it several times)
- A Patagonia fleece
- 1 cardigan
- 4 t-shirts
- 3 tank tops
- 2 pairs of jeans
- 3 pairs of leggings
- 1 hiking pants
- 10 underwear
- 1 bathing suit
- A sturdy pair of hiking (i.e. tramping) boots.
- A comfortable pair of boots or sneakers
- Tevas or other kind of walking sandal (they also double as shower sandals)
And don’t forget…
- Your camera!
- Wifi hotspot
- Satellite phone (for when wifi coverage is completely non-existent, especially on the South Island)
- All of your chargers and back up power banks
- Sunscreen (did you know there’s a hole over the ozone layer in New Zealand?!)
- Baseball cap
- Travel adapter
- Dual voltage hair dryer (I only used this a few times since there were hair dryers are just about every serviced campsite)
Was traveling to New Zealand in the spring on your bucket list? If it wasn’t, I hope it is now! As always, if I missed anything, if you have any questions, or if you liked this post, please feel free to drop a comment below. I love to hear from you!