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Guest Post by my buddy and baby daddy Tom Wilson

7 Tips to Make Sure the Weather in New Zealand Doesn't Ruin Your Holiday

cathedral cove
Beaches like cathedral cove are beautiful in summer

"The weather in New Zealand is terrible" explained the couple sitting in the hot pool across from me.

They had been travelling New Zealand for the last 2 weeks and they'd seen a lot of wet weather. Yesterday they'd been on a 6 hour boat ride in the Bay of Islands and it had rained constantly!

I felt sorry for them. They didn't realise that the bay of islands was a summer destination. Going in the middle of winter, they were bound to get rain. If they had known a little more about the weather in New Zealand they could have gone skiing instead.

So I explained to them that New Zealand is like a 2 year old girl. At times she's the sweetest little thing on earth - clear blue skies and warm heavenly sun. At other times she's wild and unpredictable - cold, windy and drizzly.

And like most 2 year old's, if you're smart enough, you can stay on their good side. All you need is a few clever tricks up your sleeve. Smart strategies to help you extend the sweet times and protect you from the rough times.

Read on to discover 7 tips I shared with the disappointed couple. Tips that helped them stay on the good side of the weather.

 

1. Understand The Weather In New Zealand to Prevent Disappointment


An interactive map about the weather in New Zealand

This is my #1 important tip. Understanding the basics of the weather in New Zealand can stop you from...

  • Wasting your time and money on activities that are better suited to other times of year.
  • Having false expectations, only to have those expectations crushed.

To begin learning the basics, lets start off with some simple geography.

New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere (I told you it was simple!)

It's got 4 seasons and they're opposite to those of the northern hemisphere. Check out the seasons below...

 

Pick the Best Season for Your Trip

  • Summer - December to February
  • Autumn - March to May
  • Winter - June to August
  • Spring - November to January

In most parts of the country the dry season is during summer. But in the far south, winter is the driest season.

During Christmas time, the rest of the world is fighting off the snow. But here in New Zealand, us kiwi's are firing up our barbeques and getting ready to hit the beach.

Although officially summer starts in December and ends in February - a lot of people say that March is their favorite 'summer' month.

 

New Zealand is Skinny

I'm telling you, if New Zealand were a model, she would kick ass on the catwalk. She's over 1600 km's long and only 400 km's wide at her widest point.

This means that the weather in New Zealand can vary dramatically from one end of the country to the other. Stewart island in the far south receives icy blasts from Antarctica. It feels completely different to the warm and dry Kaitaia in the far north.

temperature of new zealand
The weather in New Zealand is warmer in the North
(source: NIWA)

Generally, the further south you go, the colder it gets. The average annual temperature in the north is 6 degrees warmer than in the south.

 

New Zealand is a Mountainous Island Chain

What's the best part about having a skinny island country that is covered in mountains? It means that you can ski on the mountains and surf in the sea during the same day. Exciting huh? It's almost a good enough reason to book your holiday right now!

Having mountains so close to the coast has a big effect on the weather in New Zealand.

We get prevailing westerly winds here. And the wind is sopping wet from it's journey across the ocean. As the humid air hits those tall mountains, it drops all it's moisture. You get rain.

And like magic, you get bright green grass and jaw-droppingly beautiful rainforests everywhere.

This effect is most easily seen in the south island...

 

The South Island Has a Long Mountain Range

The southern alps run like a spine down the length of the south island. They are the biggest range of mountains in the country. In combination with that prevailing westerly wind, you get...

  • The wettest part of the country on the Western side of the alps
  • The driest part of the country on the Eastern side of the alps.

To give you some idea of how much this varies. The West receives between 4 and 10 metres of rain per year while the East can receive less than 0.5m. These places are just over 100km away from each other.

 

2. Learn to Find the Sun and Stay Warm

sunshine hours in new zealand
Follow the sun to stay warm
(source: NIWA)

New Zealand looks best when the sun is shining. That's why it's important you come during the right season.

If you're in New Zealand in January to March, you're in luck. You're probably going to experience long periods of warm dry weather. Perfect weather for hitting the beach.

Unless you want to ski, this is the time I recommend you come.

Many people also come during Autumn and Spring. These times are cooler and wetter than summer. But the weather is nicer than in the middle of winter.

This picture on the left tells an interesting story. It shows you the spots around the country where the sun shines the most. Study it carefully if you want to stay warm.

Nelson and Blenheim in the North of the South Island are in a relatively sheltered area. This area receives plenty of glorious sunshine. It's where we did our kayaking adventure holiday.

Tauranga and Gisborne on the East Cape of the North Island also get a lot of sunshine.

 

3. Ski the Slopes by Following the Snow

If you're in New Zealand for some skiing then you'll want to make sure that you're here between June to late October. August is the primo time to hit the slopes.

There are ski fields in lots of alpine regions across New Zealand.

  • Ruapehu (North Island)
  • Canterbury (South Island)
  • Mackenzie (South Island)
  • Wanaka (South Island)
  • Queenstown (South Island)

As you can see, most of them are in the South Island where it is colder and more mountainous.

 

4. Beat the Rain Using These Strategies

rainfall in new zealand
The weather in New Zealand is wet...in some places
(source: NIWA)

As you can see from this picture... it does rain a lot in New Zealand.

Most of the rain in spread out over the year and you won't get much of it during Summer.

If you're in New Zealand during the non-dry season then make sure you pick activities that are enjoyable in wet weather...

  • Skiing the remarkables
  • Diving the poor knights
  • Caving in Waitomo
  • Exploring the many thermal hot pools

Also, try to pick sensible accommodation. Sleeping in a damp campervan in the middle of a wet and cold winter is horrible. Much better to tour in a sedan and stay at proper accommodation.

Another important thing to remember is that the rain depends a lot on where you are. I've already told you about the west and the east of the south island.

But even more extreme was just the other day. It was drizzly and grey in Auckland. So we decided to go to Piha beach, 15 minutes drive away. The sky was completely clear. You wouldn't even know it was a winters day. Amazing.

One good idea is to look at the many webcams around the country. Surfers use these to check out the surf conditions. But you can use them to keep an eye on the weather in New Zealand too.

 

5. Protect Yourself From the Scorching Sun

Leo burnt his feet in the strong new zealand summer sun
Protect your skin from the weather in New Zealand

I have seen so many people get fried by the sun in New Zealand.

It. Is. Powerful.

Walking on the beaches in the middle of summer you'll see people sunbathing who are like lobsters. And they don't even know how burnt they are.

My friend Leo, with white skin, got roasted last Summer. He wasn't able to wear shoes for 4 days because his feet were too sore. Everyone else found it funny, but he didn't.

The reason the sun is so strong here in New Zealand is because we've got a massive hole in the ozone layer. It allows lots of UV radiation in. There's also low pollution levels, so there's no protection.

My best tips for saving yourself from the harsh sun are...

  1. Respect how strong it is and limit your sun time between 11am - 3pm in summer.
  2. Use trees for protection. Beautiful pohutukawa tree's line many of New Zealand's beaches. They're perfect for lying under.
  3. Wear a hat and sun screen.

 

6. Prepare Yourself for Anything by Wearing Layers

Outside of Summer, the weather in New Zealand can be quite changeable. For example, today (a day in August), we've had hail, rain and the most beautiful clear blue skies.

That's why it can be a good idea to have layers of clothing. Take advantage of the sun by wearing a tee shirt. But if the weather decides to pack up, you can just chuck on your jacket.

If you're hiking in alpine regions the weather is even more changeable. When I did the tongariro trek one minute it was stinking hot, the next I had frozen eyelashes.

 

7. Have Fun Even if the Weather in New Zealand Isn't Perfect

I hear it all the time... "The weather's going to be bad tomorrow so I won't do X (some outdoor activity)". People often put off doing things because of the weather forecast. The problem is, the forecast is often wrong and the weather does the exact opposite of what you expect.

That's why it's best to just get outside and do stuff regardless of what the weather is like. The worst thing you can possibly do is waste your time in New Zealand by staying indoors the whole time. There are too many amazing things to see.

On our trip to Spirits Bay it was raining constantly. But instead of staying in our tents, we all decided to get into our wetsuits and go fishing. It made the day so much fun and we forgot it was even raining.

 

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