New Zealand is spectacular in all seasons, but the bracing air and snow-dusted mountains that winter brings with it are special. A winter road trip avoids the crowds of summer and offers different opportunities for fun. Travel in the colder months, and you’ll see a side of “God’s Own Country” that many others never do.
It does get cold in winter in New Zealand, although it’s far from arctic temperatures. In the North Island, it generally snows only at higher altitudes, although there is an occasional dusting in the more southerly sea-level cities like Wellington. The South Island often gets snow all over. Where it does not snow, rain is very common and hail less so, but it does occur.
The average daytime temperature nationwide in winter is around 10-15 degrees Celsius, but be prepared for colder than that in southerly and mountainous areas - and of course, overnight, it can often drop to zero or below.
What to pack
What should you bring along on your New Zealand road trip to ensure you are prepared for the varied winter conditions? The following are a few key items which may make your journey a little smoother. Of course, this is on top of basics like underwear, clothes and toiletries, and the essentials for any road trip.
● Thermal undergarments: leggings and shirts to wear underneath your other clothes to keep you warm when necessary. If you’re looking to buy some, NZ merino wool is the best available!
● A good raincoat/waterproof layer to protect against rain and snow.
● Plenty of plastic bags to contain damp gear in the car.
● A big rubbish bag or piece of plastic, for tobogganing in a pinch.
● An umbrella.
● Sun protection.
● Swimming gear. Although the ocean may not appeal in winter, New Zealand boasts a plethora of natural thermal springs.
Tips and tricks
Insider knowledge for a better winter road trip.
● Rain is always a possibility in New Zealand, particularly in winter. Take your raincoat with you wherever you go, even if the forecast is clear.
● The best ski conditions in New Zealand come towards the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Before that, snow in the mountains can be patchy.
● Mountain passes and high altitude roads frequently close when the weather requires it. You can check the New Zealand Transport Agency website for information.
● Even in winter, you need to be sun smart in ozone layer-deficient NZ. Wear sunscreen and sunglasses when it’s sunny - particularly in the snow!
● Shops and restaurants in small coastal holiday towns may have reduced hours in the winter. Ensure you are always stocked up on food and petrol.
Where to go and what to do there
Listed below are a few parts of the country which we feel lend themselves particularly well to a fabulous wintertime getaway and the things you might like to do while you are there.
● The Central Plateau: This is the leading ski destination for the North Island, with several ski fields and a network of towns offering all the infrastructure to provide for visitors who come to hit the slopes. There is plenty there for those who don’t like to ski or snowboard too: walking trails amongst the scenic snowy slopes of the three mountains, natural thermal areas with hot pool facilities, cosy lodgings, and nearby Lake Taupo.
● Wellington: If you want a city break as part of your winter road trip, Wellington comes highly recommended. Winters are mild with the occasional dusting of snow, and the fabulous Te Papa museum, one of the city’s premier attractions, is just as enjoyable in winter as it is in summer. In fact, it will get you out of the cold for a good few hours of immersion in NZ’s cultural and natural history. Wellington is known as a foodie’s paradise, so there are plenty of warm, inviting places to eat.
● Westland: The western coast of the South Island is known for its wild remoteness and the beauty that comes along with that. Winter brings a special kind of raw beauty, making this part of the country quite something to behold. Wander desolate black sand beaches, drive empty coastal highways, rug up against the elements to walk some tracks in the native forests and enjoy the warmth of the friendly local pubs.
● Queenstown and surrounds: This is the ultimate in New Zealand winter destinations, combining natural beauty, ski slopes and a buzzing, lively urban atmosphere. Queenstown is a hive of activity with great nightlife, and the mountains and lake are a dream playground for adventure seekers.
Once you know where you're going and what you’re doing, all that remains is to hit the road to experience New Zealand in winter. Book a car rental and start dreaming of an uncrowded, adventurous and bracing road trip to remember.