The Best time to Visit New Zealand's South Island
The South Island by Season
New Zealand’s South Island enjoys a moderate climate, with mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine throughout the year, even in the depths of winter. As the South Island features both an extensive coastline and a mountainous interior, its weather can vary considerably depending on where you are. So to help you plan for your holiday, here are our seasonal suggestions.
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September – November
As temperatures hit the mid-teens, the winter snows melt across the South Island and ‘waterfall season’ starts, with the rivers filling up with meltwater and the cascades around Milford Sound in full flow. Springtime sunshine brings colourful flowers too, with the fruit-growing region around Central Otago and the gardens of Christchurch being particular flower-viewing hotspots.
Otago Blossom Festival: celebrate the start of spring in Alexandra, where the orchards bloom with the first blossom of the season and there’s a Grand Procession to mark the occasion.
New Zealand Cup Week: in November, get dressed up and head to Christchurch for the biggest horseracing event of the year, accompanied by plenty of Champagne.
December – February
You might not think that the South Island has beaches, but it does and summer is the ideal time to test them out. Try the golden sands and peaceful coves of Abel Tasman National Park, where conveniently, summer is the peak time to tackle the Abel Tasman Coast Track. Summer is also a great time to look for marine wildlife – get down to Kaikoura to see sperm whales, orcas and dolphins aplenty.
Pohutukawa trees: otherwise known as New Zealand’s Christmas tree, pohutukawa blooms a vibrant shade of red around Christmas time, and features on many a Christmas card.
New Year’s Eve: New Year wouldn’t be New Year without fireworks, and the South island’s best spot has to be Queenstown, where the waterfront display, set to music, reflects beautifully on the lake.
March – May
While autumn’s temperatures are lower than those in the summer, they’re only just below 20°C and there are still plenty of bright, sunny days, making this a great time for some hiking. Perhaps try the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds, or head to the wineries around Nelson, where the golds and reds of autumn make the vineyard vistas especially photogenic.
Autumn leaves: the colours of autumn appear island-wide but where better to appreciate them but from a steaming hot pool in the forests around Hanmer Springs?
June – August
Winter brings snow to the South Island, especially in the mountains, creating a pure white landscape worthy of any postcard. Ski season centres around Queenstown, Mount Cook and the Canterbury region, and lasts from June to October. There’s little rainfall in winter, making it a great time to hike the Franz Josef or Fox Glaciers, or try some wildlife watching on the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin.
Rugby: if you want to see the All Blacks play, winter is the peak season. Book as far in advance as you can though, as tickets sell out fast in this rugby-obsessed nation.
Queenstown Winter Festival: in late June, head for Queenstown and celebrate all things winter with ice-rinks, craft markets, ice hockey, a street parade and, um, Frisbee golf.