Are you thinking about visiting New Zealand in October, November or December? Well that's our spring season and we're sure you have a few questions, like “what is it like in New Zealand in spring?”, “Is it the same as in the Northern Hemisphere?” and “what should I pack for spring down under?” This is your complete guide to travelling to New Zealand during spring including what the weather is like, why visit in spring, the best things to do, what to pack and more.
We're MoaTrek and we've been running Small Group Tours in New Zealand since 1971, which means we've been through quite a few spring seasons with our guests. We hope you find this spring travel guide useful!
For many people, summertime is the happy season. Fall (or Autumn as well call it) can be beautiful and romantic. But you know what beats the summer heat and the darkening nights of fall? Springtime. The start of spring reminds us of the natural beauty of our world as plants begin to bloom and newborn animals arrive.
But when spring ends, it’s gone for another year. Or is it? Wouldn’t it be nice to change autumn back to spring at least one time? Ever wondered what it would be like to experience the spring twice, in less than 12 months? Well, it’s possible. Even without a time machine. US residents, residents of Europe, and the rest of the northern hemisphere can enjoy spring again by heading to New Zealand. Head this far south and the seasons reverse.
When is spring in New Zealand?
Just as in the United States and Europe, spring arrives at slightly different times, depending on the latitude. Officially the months of spring are September, October, and November, but to Kiwis, we know that December is often more like spring than summer.
Spring arrives on the North Island first so October in Northland is a lot warmer than October in Queenstown. One great tip is to travel from North to South, so you make the most of the warmer temperatures first and by the time you're in the South Island you'll be acclimatized and the weather is a little warmer as well.
What is the weather like in spring?
The weather in September in New Zealand changes from year to year (thanks to strong weather fronts) and varies depending on the location around the country. Expect a minimum temperature of around 2 C / 37 F in Queenstown, one of the Southernmost main towns in the country. Up in Auckland, the temperature rarely falls below 10 C / 50 F in September.
The weather in October is typically only a degree or two warmer. Christchurch, the South Island's biggest city will see high temperatures of up to 17 C / 67 F. Christchurch's climate is quite dry and sunny. Wellington, although further north, receives cold wind from the South and the maximum high is typically around 15 C / 59 F.
November weather in New Zealand is pleasant everywhere with temperatures in the high teens, and even in the 20s in Auckland. Queenstown can still feel a bit of a chill at this time of year, with overnight temperatures dropping to 6 C / 43 on some days. Sub-zero temperatures in spring are not uncommon anywhere in New Zealand at night up until November, especially on the South Island.
By December the weather is certainly warming up and the days are very long (our longest day is the 21st of December) but we still often don't feel the real arrival of summer until January, although each year is different. In Auckland average temperatures will be above 20 C and down South in Queenstown you will get some 20 C days but average temperatures will still be in the teens.
New Zealand Spring Temperatures
Here's a summary of the average daytime high and overnight low temperatures in New Zealand's main centres for the spring months of September, October, November and December.
|Sep Av. Low / High||Oct Av. Low / High||Nov Av. Low / High||Dec Av. Low / High|
|Auckland||10°C (50°F) / 16°C (60°F)||11°C (52°F) / 18°C (64°F)||12°C (54°F) / 20°C (68°F)||15°C (59°F) / 22°C (72°F)|
|Wellington||8°C (46°F) / 14°C (57°F)||9°C (48°F) / 15°C (59°F)||11°C (52°F) / 17°C (67°F)||13°C (55°F) / 19°C (66°F)|
|Christchurch||4°C (39°F) / 15°C (59°F)||6°C (43°F) / 17°C (62°F)||8°C (46°F) / 19°C (66°F)||11°C (52°F) / 21°C (70°F)|
|Queenstown||2°C (37°F) / 13°C (55°F)||4°C (39°F) / 15°C (59°F)||6°C (43°F) / 18°C (64°F)||8°C (46°F) / 20°C (68°F)|
Why Visit New Zealand in Spring?
This is the big question. Most visitors arrive in summer but let’s take a look at why spring might be a better option.
If you’ve ever visited Iceland, Norway, or Alaska, you’ll recognise a lot of similarities with New Zealand. Parts of Iceland, in particular, appear to be the twin of many places in New Zealand. The winter months in both countries can be cold and the mountains are generally snow-covered. Do you love waterfalls as much as we do? With warmer temperatures in spring, the snows begin to melt, creating rivers and spectacular waterfalls.
Spring is when you’ll get to see millions of newborn lambs frolicking in paddocks throughout the country. New Zealand is famous for its sheep, by the way. Fields full of young lambs are a common sight for people travelling around the country.
Another advantage of visiting New Zealand in spring is lower visitor numbers. Popular places are far less crowded outside of the hottest months. New Zealanders are all on their summer holidays in late December and January, and popular spots like the Bay of Islands, Rotorua and Queenstown can be pretty busy. So if you're visiting before this time you'll be sharing these places with far less people!
The country is sparsely populated so you’ll never feel claustrophobic. But every year, New Zealand’s grows in popularity with travellers from all over the world (and rightly so, we say). The summer months of January and February are the peak season months. At these times, you might have to wait to snap that perfect photo when visiting some of the most popular spots. Finding a spot to sit on the terrace while sipping wine at a cafe is harder, especially in the main tourist towns - everyone loves the warm NZ sun (and the wine) at this time of year.
However, spring is still sunny, but it’s not as busy with visitors, so you can experience many places all to yourself.
Travel to New Zealand during off-peak times and you can often enjoy lower prices on flights and accommodation. Many services catering to tourists offer discounts for shoulder season travel so it’s worth looking around for the best deals.
If you’re visiting from the Northern Hemisphere and fancy some early season skiing, you could be lucky. The ski season can sometimes continue into spring down south. On the North Island, New Zealand’s biggest ski field, Whakapapa, sometimes opens up in summer for skiing if there’s enough snow left over.
If you’re trying to avoid the hot weather of, say, Australia in Summer, you might be happy to know that New Zealand is never as hot its neighbour. In fact, December temperatures in NZ can feel positively spring-like, with cool evenings and sunny but mild days. Australian weather, on the other hand, can be brutal during the late spring months.
This time of the year is also one of the best for capturing great photos of the New Zealand landscape (which you’ll discover is varied and spectacular). Each season has its pros, but here’s why spring is awesome for photo enthusiasts.
- Plants like the purple lupin and flowers like the Magnolia bloom at this time of year making the countryside and gardens awash with colour.
- Spring is a great time to see the Southern Lights or aurora australis in the South of the country, when it’s not so cold, making it easier to enjoy the lights outside. The Aurora Australis, the southern hemisphere’s version of the Aurora Borealis, is caused by atmospheric solar winds. Stewart Island or Invercargill are two of the best places to see this beautiful natural light show in the sky.
- Waterfalls are everywhere and photographers know that flowing water, mixed with flowering plants and lush green landscapes make for beautiful photographs.
- Alpine flowers in bloom. New Zealand's native flowers are all found in sub alpine regions and are in flower in late spring. The Mt Cook Buttercup, our most famous alpine flower, can bloom any time from late October through to December and is usually all gone by the true summer months of January and February.
The best things to do in New Zealand in spring
You’re in luck. This part of the year is a great time to visit these shores and there is so much to do. Read on for a few suggestions for spring activities you'll love.
Best Things to do in Spring in the North Island
The most populated of the two main islands of New Zealand is also the furthest north, meaning it’s a tad warmer than the south (most of the time). New Zealand’s two biggest cities, Auckland and Wellington, are here so there are plenty of cultural events year round. But the north island is also a place to experience nature. With an abundance of pristeen beaches, volcanoes and geothermal areas there is no shortage of beautiful spots up north.
Visit the Bay of Islands
Auckland is New Zealand's biggest city and there's a reason the Bay of Islands is one of the most popular escapes for JAFAs (Just Another Fabulous Aucklander) escape North for long weekends and summer holidays. The sunshine, the beaches, the sailing, plus of course the famous laid back Northland way of life. But if you're here at the same time trying to view dolphins from your cruise or get a table on the verandah of the famous Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell, it can be tricky. Which is one great reason for heading North before the rush starts, September to December before the Christmas Holidays is our tip!
One of our favourite events, the Bay of Islands Food and Wine Festival, is a one-day event celebrating award-winning wine (and other drinks), food, and the glorious Bay Of Islands region of Northland. It’s a match made in heaven. The event takes place in October every year.
Walking in Tongariro National Park
Spring is a great time to get outside in our national parks but there's something special about visiting Tongariro as it's the only place in New Zealand with such a unique volcanic environment. In the early spring months of September and October there is often snow on the volcanic peaks of Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe which is a site to behold. There's easy access to the base of the Whakapapa ski field by road and the chairlift even operates right through the year.
If you're staying in Whakapapa Village then there are great short walks right out your door, our favourites are the Taranaki Falls and Silica Rapids, both excellent short walks of 2 - 3 hours easily enjoyed by anyone with average fitness. They're at just the right altitude so that throughout most of the spring you you'll be walking on nice clear tracks (no snow on the ground) but have the snow covered mountains as your backdrop.
The Tongariro crossing, one of the world’s great walks, is ever popular during the summer months. But the end of spring, despite the chance of encountering snow on the ground, is a smart time to do the crossing. You might even have the trail all to yourself. (Always leave your contact details and plans with the local DOC office and a relative or friend before attempting a long walk in New Zealand).
In November, the Tongariro Crossing trail is generally free of snow but you will see snow on the mountains and isolated patches in secluded areas. All in all, this makes for even more interesting scenery and some unique photo opportunities.
Taste new season wines on Waiheke Island
When friends and family visit us in Auckland, we love nothing more than taking them over to Waiheke Island for the day. This combines two must do activities, cruising on the Hauraki Gulf and tasting the best New Zealand food and wine. The advantage of heading to Waiheke Island in spring is that this is often the time that new wines have been released after the autumn harvest. Travelling to Waiheke for the day and visiting the wineries will give you the opportunity to be the first amongst your friends to try the newest New Zealand wines!
Of course Waiheke Islands is not the only place you can enjoy the latest releases, visit Hawke's Bay, Marlborough or Central Otago on your trip to New Zealand to make a real food & wine experience. Read more about the best wineries in New Zealand to visit here.
Best Spring Events & Activities in the South Island
Wildlife in Kaikoura
Kaikoura is a marine wildlife mecca, with the deep ocean trenches just off shore providing ample food for the resident Sperm Whale population as well as supporting large populations of dolphins, seals and seabirds. Like most of the animal kingdom, the spring months are when the young seal pups are born and they spend the first few weeks and months of their lives on shore until they are strong enough to fend for themselves in the open ocean. The rock pools around Kaikoura are teeming with seal pups in spring.
As well as the year round population of Sperm Whales in the ocean off Kaikoura, the migrating species of Southern Right, Humpback, Pilot and even Blue Whales are spotted up until the start of spring. Read more about the wildlife mecca of Kaikoura here.
Milford Sound Scenic Flight
If the thrill of a flight over snow-peaked mountains bordering deep blue lakes and cavernous fiords leaves you keen to experience more, you’ll be happy to hear that by heading further south (and a bit west), scenic flights from Queenstown reach one of the world’s most magnificent natural wonders, Milford Sound. We don’t want to harp on about waterfalls, but the melting snows of winter create a world of flowing water in Milford sound during spring like nowhere else in the world.
During the spring months the snow line is much lower than in summer, making the mountain views even more spectacular.
We recommend travelling to Milford overland from Queenstown and then flying back after your cruise, that way you will experience the magic of Milford in three ways, overland, cruising on the Fiord and from above on your scenic flight back to Queenstown. This is something we have been doing for many years on our tours and when we ask guests what they loved most about their trip, so many tell us it was their day to Milford.
Walking amongst the Alpine Flowers at Mt Cook
New Zealand's most famous flower, the Mt Cook Buttercup, is only found in the Southern Alps and flowers in spring, anytime from October to December, but they're usually all gone by January. For New Zealand walkers and flora lovers, a photo of a Mt Cook Lilly with Aoraki Mt Cook in the background is a bucket list item ticked off!
The scenery at Mt Cook is very different to the volcanic environment of Tongariro, this is the alpine heartland of New Zealand with our highest peaks and longest glaciers right out your door. The excellent short walks of Kea Point, the Hooker Valley, the Red Tarns and the Tasman Valley are all easily accessible walks of 2 - 4 hours and offer stunning views and unique alpine flora all around.
Other events in the South Island in Spring
For many people, Queenstown is a firm favourite among towns in New Zealand. It’s one of those places that seems to have everything. There’s so much going on that it’s hard not to miss something. But if you find yourself in Otago in October (mid-spring), don’t miss the Queenstown Jazz Festival. 4 days of high-quality music, food, and wine, in one of the most beautiful settings in the world.
One of the main events in the early spring calendar is the Alexandra Blossom Festival. 15,000 people attend this yearly event which is also the longest running festival of any kind in the country. Alexandra is a small place so the event completely takes over the town. Tick a few boxes on your “been there and done that” list and get some colourful photos in the last week of September.
You might even get a glimpse of early blooms of the Southern Rata tree, a crimson red flowering tree found mostly in the west coast of the South Island. The red colour can change the entire look of sections of the natural rainforest of New Zealand and is always a popular sight for tourists.
Visit New Zealand's Spring Gardens
One of the best gifts of our English heritage is the wonderful gardens all over the country, from North to South and both in the cities and countryside. With plenty of sunshine and rain (at times!) it's no wonder New Zealand is a gardeners paradise. Spring is one of the best times of year to visit our gardens and on our MoaTours garden, special event and regional itineraries we have five wonderful spring garden tours to choose from.
What to pack for spring travel to New Zealand
If you look at a map of New Zealand, you’ll see that it sits in an uncrowded part of the planet. The country is all alone in the middle of the ocean. This isolation influences what we’ll call New Zealand’s “changeable weather”. Weather fronts travelling through the South Pacific can change the outlook in almost any part of the country from sunny to windy and wet and back to cold again, in a matter of hours. But not to worry. It usually bounces back just as fast. However, this changeability means you should prepare for four seasons in a day.
We recommend packing warm sweaters, waterproof jacket, light wool hat, light gloves, and some other items that would normally be for winter use. Most of these items will pack down well so it’s not too much extra weight to think about. Try to use waterproof clothing that’s also windproof, especially if you’ll be doing some hiking or outdoor pursuits.
One of the most important items for your trip is footwear. If you fancy a spot of hiking or trekking then you should carry shoes that protect your feet. They might get muddy, wet, scuffed, or all of the above, so don’t expect to wear the same shoes to dinner (Kiwis are pretty relaxed about dress code but it’s better to be safe than sorry).
Here are the essential items to bring to New Zealand in spring
- Sunglasses - the sun is strong down here at all times of the year, especially higher up the mountains.
- Light, long-sleeved shirts - layering is the best way to keep warm and shirts with sleeves can be converted to short sleeves easily.
- Hiking shorts and casual shorts - The days get longer and warmer in spring and there’s a chance to top up that tan even in September.
- Hat/sun visor - As we mentioned before, the NZ sun might not generate a lot of heat in spring but it can burn quickly. Headwear that also shades the face is a must for outdoor activity.
- Thick socks for walking and outdoor activities and thin ones for travel days or going out.
- Light pyjamas - September at the southern end of the South Island can still be cold. If you like to sleep with a layer on, don‘t forget to bring your most comfy set of night clothes.
- Rain Jacket - The better quality your jacket, the fewer extra items you need to bring. We recommend jackets that are water resistant and windproof.
- Woolly hat - These are light and packable so there’s no harm in bringing your favourite one. At the same time, we should mention that New Zealand merino wool hats (available in most large stores) are a great investment.
- Hoodies - Despite being the uniform of choice of the street-wise younger crowd, hoodies are versatile items of clothing.
If you take one thing from this article, we hope you agree with us that spring in New Zealand can be one of the best times of the year to visit. From walking amongst the snow covered alps to enjoying coastal wildlife, you'll have days in New Zealand in spring that you can't have anywhere else in the world. Added to that there are fewer people around, prices are lower, and new life is taking hold, spring will be a great time for your big trip to New Zealand!
Our small group tours of New Zealand run from October through to April, so Spring is a big part of our season. To find out more about travelling to New Zealand get in touch with one of the friendly team now.
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