Parts of New Zealand boast that they can offer “four seasons in one day.” That may sound a little daunting, but for the most part New Zealand weather is temperate and influenced mainly by the ocean air currents and the mountains.
Being in the southern hemisphere also means that the warmest areas of the country are in the north and the coldest areas are in the south.It’s important to remember that New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere. This means that its seasons are opposite those in the United States. Spring goes from September to November, summer from December to February, autumn from March to May and winter from June to August. Being in the southern hemisphere also means that the warmest areas of the country are in the north and the coldest areas are in the south. The seasonal differences have more to do with temperature than rainfall, as New Zealand doesn’t really have dry or wet seasons like more tropical countries do.
The far north of the country has a subtropical climate. Summer days tend to hover in the high 70s to low 80s, and even over the winter the temperatures are generally pretty comfortable. The region gets lots of sunshine and is a favorite vacation spot. The rest of the North Island is more moderate, with average temperatures only varying by about 15°F between the warmest and coldest months. Snow is only common in the mountains over the winter, and in summer it’s rare to see the temperature top 85°F.
The top of the South Island gets the most sunshine of any region in the country, with an annual average of over 2,300 hours. Again, the temperatures are moderate and snow is very rare.
The west coast of the South Island is affectionately known as the “wet coast,” as the prevailing winds from the west blow clouds into the Southern Alps mountain range, causing them to dump their moisture on coastal inhabitants. This makes the areas to the east of the mountains, such as the Canterbury Plains, some of the driest land in the country. The mountains themselves have extremely changeable weather; overzealous hikers are often caught unprepared in sudden cold snaps or unseasonable snow.
As you head south the weather does grow colder. Frost and snow are common in the Otago and Southland regions over the winter, and the area around Queenstown gets some of the best skiing and snowboarding conditions in the southern hemisphere. Overnight temperatures often dip below freezing even in coastal cities like Christchurch and Dunedin. In summer the south is generally mild and occasionally hot, but not often humid and sticky.
Overall, the climate on Stewart Island is not that different from other parts of the country. What sets it apart is the fact that it can be very unpredictable. Being a small island, any change in wind direction can bring in a different weather system almost instantly. So while you can expect comfortable summer days in the 60s and 70s and cool winter days in the 40s or 50s, you have to be ready for any weather at any time.
As you can see, it’s important to be prepared for anything when you plan a day out in New Zealand. While the average conditions are easy to handle, things can change quickly with a shift in wind direction, and you may just get to experience those four seasons in one day, ready or not!
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Living Abroad New Zealand.