New Zealanders are often gently teased about their obsession with the weather – the climate is fondly referred to as “she” (“she’s a good one”), the prevailing winds are named by their direction (easterly, northerly, nor’wester) and even some cities’ nicknames reveal the Kiwi keenness for outdoors – “the City of Sails” (Auckland), “The Garden City” (Christchurch). However this obsession is hardly surprising as New Zealanders highly prize their time outdoors whether working or playing. The country’s greatest exports are products of the land (meat, fish, fruit and grapes/wine), so naturally a close observation of the weather and climate change is of great importance.
The climate is influenced by the fact that Aotearoa/New Zealand is indeed a long island bounded by the Pacific Ocean with a mountain range splitting the South Island (Te Wai Pounamu) down the middle. It’s also a relatively thin island – it’s only a matter of hours to drive from one coast of the country to the other.
In general terms the temperatures in Aotearoa/New Zealand are relatively mild, rainfall is moderately high and sunshine is prevalent all year round in most of the country. Of course this depends on where you! As a southern hemisphere country, the north of the North Island generally experiences the warmest weather – subtropical in the summer – and it is cooler the further south you travel. Inland and alpine areas of the South Island can be very cold in winter (-10 degrees Celsius); whilst the coastal areas, especially the further north you are, can reach 40 Celsius in the summer. The seasons are quite distinct – the summer is December, January and February; autumn/fall is March, April and May winter is June, July and August and spring is September, October and November. The summers can be hot, dry and very sunny; whilst the winter is generally quite cold, short but sunny – a very cold day would be near zero.
A common expression in New Zealand offers a cautionary note – that there are four seasons in one day. Sometimes the weather can change quite suddenly from being seemingly warm and calm to stormy, wet and cold. Visitors, in particular outdoor adventurers, are advised to be prepared for these sudden weather changes by keeping well informed and by carrying sufficient clothing and supplies for such a change.
Sun soaked New Zealand is a glorious place to be! Most of the country gets plenty of sunshine throughout the whole year, 2000 hours or so. The sunniest areas – the wine, avocado and fruit growing areas – are in the north of both islands: Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay (North Island); Nelson and Marlborough (South Island).
The country changes its clocks in spring (and back again in autumn) to allow for more daylight in the summer, “daylight savings”, which means that the summer light can remain until late evening. A depleted ozone layer and relatively little air pollution means that the bright summer sunshine of New Zealand requires caution – the UV rays are very strong and could be harmful. General advice is slip, slap, slop, wrap and slide! Translation: slip into a tee-shirt, slap on a hat, slop on some sunscreen, wrap on your sun-glasses and slide into the shade, especially between 11am-4pm.
The island climate and vast mountain ranges mean that the country’s rainfall is relatively high, between 640mm and 1500mm throughout the year. And as much as Kiwis enjoy the outdoor lifestyle, they are always grateful for the rain which maintains the lush rainforests, facilitates fruit growth and is necessary for farming.
People often wonder when the best time is to visit Aotearoa New Zealand. The answer would honestly be: anytime! The weather doesn’t necessarily need to influence everyday activities such as sight-seeing, relaxing and touring around this fantastic country; and each season has its own distinct merits and beauty.
The colours of the stunning paua shell could be symbolic of a Kiwi summer – the lovely iridescent hues of green and blue are reminders of the sea, sky and bush; all perfect places to be during a New Zealand summer (December, January and February). At this time of year many Kiwis try to relax and enjoy the season – whether its high paced action on land or water (tramping, camping, swimming, surfing, boating etc); or simply hanging around the garden, firing up the barbeque and enjoying a glass of locally produced wine whilst catching up with friends. December marks a beginning and an ending – the beginning of summer and the end of both the school and the calendar year, hence a great time for celebrations and festivities, including Christmas and New Year!
Autumn brings a wonderful majesty to the country – the summer buzz slows to a slightly gentler pace and, as leaves fall from the trees, stunning colours of golds, reds and bronzes decorate the streets, parks and gardens during this season. From March to May, the cooler temperatures at dawn and dusk are welcome, yet the days are frequently still warm and pleasant. Autumn is the time of harvesting orchard fruits and grapes – often picked by hand and processed for later sale, this culmination of a year’s growing, combined with the colours of the season and the anticipation of tasting the fruits, makes this an exciting time of year in the fruit growing regions. Autumn is still a wonderful time for outdoor activities; and seasonal organised sport clubs are resumed at this time.
Winter of course brings cold temperatures, frosts and snow – yet New Zealand’s stunning blue skies and sunshine can still prevail. A natural inclination to slow down and enjoy a more inner experience is understandable – warm soups, hot fires, indoor activities and a lazy pace. But don’t relax too much …the snow season (June-September) begins! New Zealand’s world class slopes attract thousands of visitors, there are competitions to attend and ice festivals to enjoy. The main cities offer winter entertainments and children are not forgotten with events such as kidsfest. The country’s scenic beauty really dazzles at this time, careful road touring can reveal many wonders.
Spring is a delightful season as much for its renewed energy as for the promise of summer to come! As buds burst, blossoms bloom and spring lambs are born, the country seems to awaken with a fresh vigour. Lush greens, pink and white blossoms and the glorious yellows of daffodils and kowhai brighten the vista – in fact blossom festivals heralding the arrival of Spring are held in a few places around the country (seek out Alexandra and Hastings).The mountains are still snow-capped and the days crisp, but the strengthening spring gradually lengthens and warms the days. Opportunities and activities are abundant in spring, white water rafting fans enjoy this time as the river levels are high.