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When is the Best Time to Go Backpacking in New Zealand?

Tourism NZ

When is a good time to go backpacking in New Zealand?

With New Zealand transforming in many ways between seasons, planning when to go backpacking in New Zealand is an important decision to make! What’s more, there’s no right or wrong answer to what is the best time to go backpacking in New Zealand. It’s a personal choice usually dependent on what weather you prefer, how spontaneous you want to be on your trip, how busy you prefer your surroundings, what events are going on, and whether you are looking for any seasonal bargains. We’ll talk about all of this further in the article below!

So when is the best season to travel in New Zealand? Well you also need to consider when New Zealand’s shoulder seasons, off season and peak seasons are, as well as the climate and seasons. This is different in New Zealand compared to the Northern Hemisphere, so keep that in mind. Wise up to the seasons and climate by reading The New Zealand Seasons and Climate.

the off and shoulder seasons in New Zealand

When planning when would be the best time to go backpacking in New Zealand, the “off season” and “shoulder seasons” are well worth considering. The off-season is during New Zealand’s winter season when the country tends to have less tourists (except in the places where there is a ski season). The shoulder seasons are during spring and autumn, between the off-season and “peak season” of summer. Finally, the peak season is summer when tourism in New Zealand is at its busiest.

  • Peak season: between December and February (going into March)
  • Shoulder seasons: between March and June, and between September and November
  • Off-season: between June and August

Find out more about the off and shoulder seasons in 11 Reasons to Travel in the Shoulder and Off-Season in New Zealand.

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Summer: December to February

The Advantages of Backpacking in New Zealand in Summer

The most obvious one is the weather. If you want the most consistently warm and sunny weather while you are backpacking in New Zealand then between December and February is when you will usually get the “best” weather in New Zealand. Temperatures range between 12-25ºC, with the sunniest regions being Auckland, Northland, Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough. Nevertheless, you can never really predict the weather in New Zealand, so pack some layers just in case.

During New Zealand’s summer, more activities and accommodation are available as some operators only open for the busy summer season. However, you will only find this in more of the “off-the-beaten track” locations, as most operators across the country are open year-round.

If working is part of your backpacking plans in New Zealand, perhaps if you have the working holiday visa, then summer is when you can find a wealth of seasonal jobs, particularly in the horticulture, tourism and hospitality industries. Find out more in 10 Working Holiday Visa Jobs in New Zealand.

There are plenty of summer festivals going on, which you can find out more in 6 Summer Festivals in New Zealand. You may even be able to volunteer at a festival.

The Disadvantages of Backpacking in Summer

Summer is New Zealand’s busy period. An influx of tourists mixed with the New Zealand school holidays means that accommodations and activities are usually fully booked. You will need to plan ahead and are more likely to have to stick to a set itinerary if you are travelling in summer.

In relation to the above point, the main tourist centres of New Zealand feel crowded: the main cities, towns, hiking trails, etc. You can usually avoid the crowds by travelling to some of the 20 Places Off the Beaten Track in the North Island and the 20 Places Off the Beaten Track in the South Island.

Around Christmas time is when flights to New Zealand are most expensive. Find out when is a good time to book a flight in How to Book a Cheap Flight to New Zealand.

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Autumn: March to May

The Advantages of Backpacking New Zealand in Autumn

The weather still tends to be good during autumn in New Zealand, with temperatures being around 11-20ºC and still pretty consistent. That’s comfortable enough to get out and about on the hiking trails and doing many of the outdoor activities available in New Zealand.

The autumn colours make a lot of the country look vibrant. It adds to the scenery and makes your photos look awesome!

Summer crowds will have died down by autumn, giving you more space when visiting the main tourist centres and while on the hiking trails. Accommodation and activities are not likely to be fully-booked giving you more room to be spontaneous while backpacking New Zealand.

Between March and May is considered as one of the “shoulder seasons” in New Zealand, meaning that the price of vehicle rentals, some activities and accommodations will go down in price. Find out more about that in 11 Reasons to Travel in the Shoulder and Off-Season in New Zealand.

March especially is when events are booming in New Zealand! If experiencing the Kiwi culture through events and festivals interests you, then you might want to consider backpacking in New Zealand in autumn. Find out more in Top New Zealand Events in 2018.

The disadvantages of backpacking in autumn

Days are getting shorter and, in comparison to summer, it’s a bit chillier.

The “peak season” in New Zealand is getting longer, therefore, you might find some areas of New Zealand particularly busy in March and April.

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Winter: June to August

The advantages of backpacking in winter in New Zealand

Snow! Snow transforms many of the mountainous regions in New Zealand, giving the scenery a different look for your eyes (and your photos).

Winter is when you can take advantage of the ski fields in New Zealand. If you want to work at a New Zealand ski field or going snowboarding/skiing, then winter is a good time to be in New Zealand.

There are plenty of winter festivals to attend. See more in 5 Winter Festivals in New Zealand.

Except in the ski field towns like Queenstown and Wanaka, winter is New Zealand’s “off-peak” season. Accommodation and activities are never usually fully-booked, prices are at their lowest especially for vehicle rentals, and you often feel like you have the whole country to yourself. Nevertheless, you will still have the company of backpackers who are usually in New Zealand for a whole year’s working holiday. See more advantages of off-peak travel in 11 Reasons to Travel in the Shoulder and Off-Season in New Zealand.

There are many activities you can still do in winter, from white water rafting to hiking to hot pools and more. However, some activities may be cancelled in bad weather – see below.

The disadvantages of backpacking in winter

The weather is usually unpredictable and inconsistent. This can usually throw plans off for activities that rely on the weather like sky diving, canyoning and sailing, for example. Temperatures are around 1-15ºC with the coldest areas being in the South Island. You’ll definitely experience a few rainy days so prepare with our Rainy Day articles.

Packing more winter clothes is usually bulkier and heavier to carry around New Zealand. See what to pack in What to Pack for a Gap Year in New Zealand: Predeparture Checklist.

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Spring: September to November

The Advantages of Backpacking New Zealand in Spring

This is usually the best time to hit the slopes of New Zealand’s ski fields when days are getting sunnier yet there is still plenty of snow around. (Usually until the end of September).

The weather is getting better, with temperatures being around 7-19ºC. That’s a comfortable temperature for doing many outdoor activities in New Zealand.

As it’s the “shoulder season” in New Zealand, accommodation and activities tend to not be fully-booked. Therefore, you can be as spontaneous as you like while backpacking in New Zealand, while prices remain at their lowest up until it gets close to summer. Find more advantages of the shoulder season in 11 Reasons to Travel in the Shoulder and Off-Season in New Zealand.

See some parts of New Zealand where flowers bloom, giving the country a different look, while the snow remains on the mountains up until summer.

Spring is usually a better time to see more of an abundance of wildlife, as well as being a better time for white water rafting where the rivers are fuller from the snow-melt.

The disadvantages of backpacking in Spring

The weather may still be a little inconsistent giving you a few rainy days and crisp chilly days.

There are less events going on.

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