New Zealand's Best Road Trips


When to go to New Zealand

Nicole Canning
By Nicole Canning

Seasons and climate

Thanks to its stunning scenery, pristine coastline, vast mountain ranges and no shortage of adventure activities, New Zealand has something to offer all year round.

To catch New Zealand's warmest weather, aim to visit during the summer months (December, January, February). Temperatures in the North Island average 25˚C and it’s the perfect time to explore some of the Northland’s untouched beaches like Matauri Bay, Wainui Bay, and Ninety Mile Beach.

If you want to beat the summer crowds and experience a more laid back, quiet New Zealand experience, consider visiting in shoulder seasons — spring (September to November) and autumn (March to May). The weather in these months is still mild enough for plenty of outdoor adventures, but you can expect to find quieter, cheaper (and cleaner) campsites across the country as you dodge school holidays.

Autumn in particular in the South Island is stunning as snow-capped mountains hug the horizon and New Zealand’s roads are lined with golden hues as the trees turn to shades of amber and rust.

If you’re not turned off by colder climates (it can get as low at -10˚C in the South) and feel ready to hit the slopes, there’s no better time to visit the South Island than June, July, August — New Zealand’s winter.

Whether you’re looking for a mellow coastal road trip under the summer sun, snow-packed alpine adventures or a hike through golden autumnal forests, each New Zealand season offers something uniquely special to visitors.

NZ Mount Roy South Island

Winter hike to the summit of Mount Roy, South Island

Festivals and holidays

Expect a plethora of festivals and events if you visit during New Zealand’s surprisingly warm summer, including the ever-popular New Zealand Sevens rugby tournament and music events like the World Buskers’ Festival in Christchurch and Auckland’s Laneway Festival.

Waitangi Day (which is New Zealand’s national day) falls on 6th February and is the perfect time to get immersed in Kiwi culture. Head to Waitangi on the North Island or one of the capital cities to experience traditional Māori cultural performances and day-long celebrations.

The little (but bustling!) city of Queenstown kicks off the winter season with an annual festival in June/July. With a jam-packed 10-day line up of music, snow sports, and entertainment, it’s the best place to be to start off your winter adventure. From there, you can take on the popular ski resorts in the South like Wanaka, Otago, and Canterbury.

Matariki (the Maori New Year) is also celebrated country-wide in June, as well as plenty of foodie festivals like Dunedin’s Chocolate Carnival, Auckland Restaurant Month and Visa Wellington on a Plate for those looking to experience the best of New Zealand’s food scene.

NZ Arrowtown Autumn Festival on Buckingham Street

People gathered on Buckingham Street for the Arrowtown Autumn Festival parade, South Island

About the author

When to go to New Zealand

Nicole Canning

Nicole Canning is a freelance travel writer and co-founder of the adventure travel blog, Follow her on @nikkitravelled where she shares her latest travel plans and country guides for the time-restricted traveller.

Why Horizon Guides?

Impartial guidebooks

Impartial travel guides

Our guides are written by the leading experts in their destinations. We never take payment for positive coverage so you can count on us for impartial travel advice.

Expert itineraries

Expert itineraries

Suggested itineraries and routes to help you scratch beneath the surface, avoid the tourist traps, and plan an authentic, responsible and enjoyable journey.

Specialist advice

Specialist advice

Get friendly, expert travel advice and custom itineraries from some of the world's best tour operators, with no spam, pressure or commitment to book.