Climate zones of New Zealand

Dark skies Lake Wakatipu

New Zealand, which consists of two bigger and a large number of smaller islands, falls within the boundaries of the two climate zones.

The North Island, which is the smaller one, falls within the subtropical climate zone, and the South Island, which is bigger, falls within the temperate climate zone.

Because of some general characteristics of the country, such as mild winters, fresh summers, large number of rainy days during the year, changing weather and lush vegetation, New Zealand is often described as a country of eternal spring.

North Island

Landscape South Island, New Zealand
Landscape – South Island, New Zealand by Tom Hall

The North Island of New Zealand falls into the subtropical climate zone.

Unlike Southern Europe or Southern California, however, the subtropical climate you can find here has a typical oceanic character and is very different from the Mediterranean type of clime.

For example, unlike the summer heat in Spain, Italy, Portugal or Southern California, the North Island of New Zealand is characterized by summer daytime temperatures of around 24°C and night temperatures of around 15°C.

At the beginning and at the end of summer the average daytime temperature is even 2 or 3 degrees lower or around 21-22°C.

Although spring and autumn are generally short seasons, they still exist and bring temperatures mostly around 18-20°C.

Typical autumn months are April and May, while spring extends during the months of October and November.

Winters are mild and temperatures are similar of the Southern European countries, ranging between 15-16°C during the day and about 7-9°C during the night.

Usually the weather over the North Island is quite rainy, and the number of days with precipitation is about 14-15 a month during the winter season.

Summer is drier, but it still receives much more rainfall than the areas that fall under the influence of the Mediterranean type of climate in Europe or California.

Even during the driest months of the year, January and February, there are still about 7-8 days with precipitations.

Normally, precipitations in the lower areas fall as a rain throughout the year, but the mountains often experience heavy snowfalls.

South Island

Dark skies Lake Wakatipu
Dark skies Lake Wakatipu by Tom Hall

The South Island of New Zealand falls within the temperate climate zone.

In comparison to the North Island, there are four very different seasons here.

However, the strong influence of the ocean keeps the temperatures relatively mild and pleasant throughout the year.

Summers here last approximately from December to late February.

In the largest city of Christchurch temperatures during the summer months are in the range between 21-22°C, so the season has a rather late-spring character.

Furthermore, the weather is relatively wet with 5 to 7 days with rainfall on average. Summer nights are refreshing and usually bring temperatures of around 11-12°C.

The mild weather with comfortable temperatures during the summer months makes the island a mecca of nature lovers from around the world.

The island attracts people who love to climb mountains, explore the environment and spend time into the wild.

Autumn brings temperatures of between 17 and 20°C during the day and about 7-10°C during the night.

Coastal rainforest, New Zealand
Coastal rainforest, New Zealand by Tez Goodyer

There is a slight increase in the number of days with precipitations, though the difference can remain unnoticed by the locals as they are accustomed to the humid climate and changeable weather.

Usually autumn is short and lasts during the months of March and April. Winters normally last from May till September.

Daytime temperatures remain relatively high and are between 10 and 15°C. The winter nights are cold with temperatures between 0 and 4°C.

Sometimes under the influence of cold air masses from the Antarctic are possible thick snow and blizzards in combination with temperatures of below zero, although extreme cold temperatures are not typical here.

Usually snow falls several times a year, but in some low-lying coastal areas are possible exceptions and some winters are free of snow.

In the high mountain areas, however, there are no exceptions, and the thick and long-lasting snow cover is guaranteed.

Spring is short and lasts during the months of October and November.

It brings temperatures of between 17 and 19°C during the day and about 6-8°C during the night.

Pacific Ocean and its Influence

Mitre Peak, New Zealand
Mitre Peak, New Zealand by Jocelyn Kinghorn

New Zealand is located in the southwest Pacific, which has a very strong influence on the climate of the country.

Whether talking about the North Island and its subtropical climate or the South Island and its temperate climate, the ocean is the most important climate forming factor in New Zealand.

The country is under the strong influence of warm ocean currents.

Actually, they are the main reason for the changing weather, abundant precipitations, large number of cloudy days, fresh summers and mild winters.

The temperature of the ocean water around the North Island ranges between 14-15°C in winter and 21-22°C during the summer months.

Mountain rain, New Zealand
Mountain rain, New Zealand by Tom Hall

The temperature of the ocean water around the South Island of New Zealand is lower.

Usually it is between 8 and 17°C along the shore of Christchurch, which strongly affects the average temperature, making  winters warm and summers relatively cool.

This temperature is normally not suitable for swimming and bathing into the ocean, or at least not according to most people.

Relief and its Influence

Southern Alps, New Zealand
Southern Alps, New Zealand by Corey Leopold

Since it is an island country, all points of New Zealand are located close to the ocean, and the most inland point is less than 120 kilometers from the coast.

This means that the landscape here plays a lesser role, and the wet air masses reach easily all parts of the country.

However, most of the country, especially the South Island, is occupied by high mountain ranges.

They are able to stop part of the moist air masses from the west, which is the reason for the very heavy rainfalls along the west coast of the South Island.

This part of New Zealand is considered one of the rainiest places on the planet.

The relief affects the climate also through the power of the high mountains to attract wet air masses and rain clouds over the islands.

The relief also affects the micro climate of some parts of New Zealand.

It sometimes causes more abundant or scarce rainfalls in some areas, and also may have some impact on winds, temperatures and humidity.