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When is the best time to do a Self Drive tour of New Zealand?

I am often asked when is the best time to do a self drive tour of New Zealand.   Before answering, I try to find out a little more about what type of experience our guests are looking for.

Most of New Zealand experiences all four seasons (sometimes in one day!) so our visitors need to be prepared for any weather.  In terms of the difference in temperature between the North and South Island,  there can be around  a 10 degree variance between the top of the North Island and the bottom of the South Island.

The Seasons in New Zealand

Summer  (December – February) Average degrees:  21 – 32c (70 – 90f)

Cathedral Cove -Coromandel

Cathedral Cove -Coromandel

International visitors are attracted by our warmest months and at the same time the local population are taking advantage of our long Summer holiday season the combination of which makes Summer our busiest season.  However, it is not as crowded as Europe in high season.

Most New Zealanders’ take their annual holidays during January and February (four weeks paid holiday per year is law in New Zealand and our schools are closed for around 6 weeks over Summer) and head off to their favourite holiday places – usually to the beaches and rivers and often into some of our well known walking/hiking tracks.  This doesn’t mean that you will be ‘shoulder to shoulder’ at the beach but rather you may need to walk a little further to get a nice spot to yourself.   We encourage our guests to book early for this season to secure a vehicle and to have access to the best  accommodation options – especially our favourite hosted bed and breakfasts  – they fill up really quickly.

You are never far from the sea in New Zealand so everything that you can do along the coast is available:  Kayaking, surfing, walking/hiking, visiting beach caves, cruising in some fabulous locations.  My favourite is the Abel Tasman Walkway – there is just so much to do from dining at Awaroa (access by boat or walking in), swimming with the Dolphins, cruising around the park, fishing to just lolling on the beach with the seals.

Autumn Average degrees:  7 – 21c (45 – 70f)

Arrowtown in Autumn

Arrowtown in Autumn

This is my favourite season – the photo is of Arrowtown, my favourite place in New Zealand to view the fabulous colours of Autumn.  An Autumn visit works really well  for guests  who don’t mind slightly colder evenings.   The days are often sunny and there is usually less wind than in Summer.  Popular accommodation options are more likely to be available (don’t forget to factor in Easter as often New Zealanders take a week off over this period to holiday).

For hikers and walkers Autumn is just the best time to come and enjoy our walkways. Tongariro Alpine Crossing situated in a World Heritage site has become very popular and Autumn is a great time to do this full day walk.  There are literally hundreds of other options – Jeanette’s favourite is the Mount Roy Walk (Wanaka).   I am heading off to do the Tora Coastal Walk in the Southern Wairarapa (North Island) in November.  This is a lesser known walk which crosses farmland and guests get to stay in well-appointed accommodation on farms along the way.  I will write about this experience later in the year.

Winter – Average degrees:  1 .5 – 15c (35 – 60f)

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Winter – Queenstown Central Mall

Winter in New Zealand is very picturesque and we have some fabulous ski-fields for those who want experience this sport in NZ or just enjoy the crisp clear days and fabulous snow covered mountains – stopping for a wine or a coffee along the way.   The Winter Festival in Queenstown has become very popular and anyone hoping to add this to their self drive holiday needs to book early.

The roads through the central North and  South Islands can be closed due to snow falls – however this doesn’t happen often and there are good warning systems in place for drivers.

Spring Average degrees:  4 .5 – 18c (40 – 65f)

The Daffodil Lawn Christchurch Botanical Gardens

The Daffodil Lawn – Christchurch Botanical Gardens

Spring around the world signals ‘new beginnings’ and none more so than New Zealand.  This season provides so many opportunities as buds burst and new wild-life is born.  Our English forefathers bought bulbs with them from England and planted them in parks, around churches, and of course in their gardens.   A ritual in my family (and many other families in the Christchurch area) is to have family photographs taken on the daffodil lawns in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens.  For generations small children have been photographed crouched amongst the flowers.

Spring is great time to view some of our amazing waterfalls  – Milford Sound , Doubtful Sounds, Huka Falls – there are many options.   Hiking and walking in Spring time also offers some great mountain and forest experiences.  Don’t forget you can walk/hike in most places from 30 minutes to several days and according to your fitness level.

For Ornithologists every season offers opportunities to take that special photograph of NZ bird life. Spring in New Zealand is a particularly beautiful time for observing our much-loved native birds.  All over the country there are groups of people who are committed to eradicating predators and ensuring the native bird population thrives.

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