South Island Weather

South Island Weather

South Island Weather

Wedged between the Tasman and Pacific oceans with a temperate climate, New Zealand’s South Island weather can provide dramatic contrasts. You can be sheltering from freezing sleet in the morning and then putting on sunscreen and shorts that afternoon. Driving for an hour can bring you to an area with two to three times more annual rainfall than your starting-off point with an arid landscape transforming to rainforest in only a few kilometres.

The autumn colours and cooler temperatures from April through to June will give you milder temperatures from 12°C to 18°C with shorter days as will October and November.  Multi-day hikes and cycling can often be preferable during this time of year.

Be prepared for short weather events that defy the odds however! Part of the natural charms of New Zealand’s unique geographic nature are its microclimates within close proximity to each other.

Keeping ahead of the weather can help make the most of your travels, so we advise getting New Zealand weather forecasts in your bookmarks from day one.

For touring purposes, The Good South has divided the lower half of the South Island into four areas:  the Inland or Central Otago and Mackenzie region of South Canterbury, the East coast, West Coast and Southland.

Inland lower South Island:

Mckenzie Country and Central Otago areas including Tekapo, Wanaka and Queenstown.

Some of the countries driest landscapes are found here, with four distinct seasons. From December through to March you can expect temperatures from 20°C to 26°C sometimes rising above 30°C especially in January and February. Rainfall averages about 60 to 80mm of rain a month with some random fast moving weather systems able to double that in a weekend. Summer afternoons can be very warm especially with prevailing northwesterly foehn winds.

It’s recommended to get a very early start for day walks and bike rides to avoid the afternoon heat.

Winters are usually very cold with frequent frosts and snowfalls above 1000 metres and sometimes down to sea level especially in June and July with a southerly storm system. Typical maximum daytime temperatures are from 3°C to 11°C.

East coast:

Christchurch, Oamaru and Dunedin

Much of this area is influenced by cool coastal breezes, especially from the south with northeasterlies north of Dunedin. A hot northwesterly in summer can raise temperatures to the high 20 s C with them typically staying in the 16°C to 23°C range.

Winters are usually cold with a typical range between 8°C to 12°C and frosts occurring with infrequent snowfalls during strong southerly storm systems.  Typical winter daytime maximum air temperatures range from 8°C to 12°C.

Annual rainfalls for the three centres are 615mm for Christchurch,  590mm for Oamaru and 750mm for Dunedin.

South Island Weather

The West Coast and Fiordland are the wettest places to visit, but often the most spectacular.

West Coast:

Hokitika, Franz Josef, Fox Glacier and Milford Sound

The West Coast has the highest rainfall of these areas with 2000 to 3000mm annually near the coast due to its exposure to weather systems from the Tasman Sea and nearby Southern Alps to the east. Although it can rain a lot, dry spells do occur, especially in late summer and during winter. Heavy rainfall systems generally come in from the northwest. Summers are mild. Typical summer daytime maximum air temperatures range from 17°C to 22°C and seldom exceed 25°C. Winter can often bring morning frosts with daytime temperatures averaging from 10°C to 14°C. Northeast winds prevail along the coast up by Hokitika with south westerly the dominant breeze further south.


The Catlins, Invercargill and South Coast

The summer weather can be warm, occasionally reaching 30°C but usually remaining between 16°C and 24°C.  Winter weather is milder than further inland with some frosts but generally staying within 8°C to 14°C. There can be some wild, dramatic weather on the southern coast with storm patterns originating from the sub Antarctic ocean. An average annual rainfall of 1500mm  means that like the West Coast, you should have a coat handy as well as a cover for your camera and expect waterfalls and rainbows!