Winter is a great time to visit New Zealand. Most people think of visiting New Zealand in the summer, and the summer is a great time to visit in New Zealand. Even though the summer is great, it does not mean that winter is not also a good time to visit. There are a lot of positives about visiting New Zealand in the winter.
Visit Lord of the Rings Sites Without Crowds
The summer in New Zealand is full of crowds. The trailheads for popular hikes fill up very early in the day, and so do the Lord of the Rings sites. In the winter there are still people at Hobbiton, but there are a lot fewer. There is a lot of domestic tourism to the ski resorts, but outside of them, tourist numbers are low.
Visit Less Busy Wineries
There are many great wine regions, including Hawkes Bay, Otago, Martinborough, and Marlborough that can be visited in New Zealand. During the summer the cellar doors tend to be jammed with tourists trying to get their fill of wine tastings in a day. Most wineries are still open in the winter, and you often get the entire cellar door to yourself. It is also a lot easier to get lunch at a winery without a reservation.
Stay at the Milford Sound at a Lower Price
Milford Sound has one lodging establishment that is open to the public, the Milford Sound Lodge. The Milford Sound Lodge books out months in advance during high season and is expensive. During shoulder and high season the cheapest room at the lodge is $615, but during winter the prices drop down to $311. It is not cheap, but a lot more affordable. Driving down the Milford Sound Road in the afternoon with almost no other cards and being able to stop at your leisure is awesome.
Avoid Campervans on the Roads
Campervans and caravans become your nemesis driving on roads in New Zealand during the summer, especially on the south island. It often takes an additional 20% to get to your destination during high season due to the obscene number of slow-moving campervans and caravans that need to be passed. During the winter there are very very few caravans and campervans on the road making driving a lot faster.
Tongariro Crossing Without the Crowds
The Tongariro Crossing is the most popular hike on the north island for a good reason but is next to impossible to avoid crowds on the crossing in the summer. The crossing is a technical climb in the winter, and it is best to go with a guide if you are not experienced in the backcountry.
Cheap Car, Campervan, and Caravan Rentals
During high season vehicle rentals in New Zealand can be expensive. It is not rare for cars to over $75 a day and campervans over $150. It is not uncommon in the winter to be able to get SUVs for under $40 per day and economy cards for less than $20. I have rented campervans in the winter for less than $40 per day. Depending on where you plan on going you might want to rent a set of snow chains which will increase the rental price $20-40 for the rental.
Sandflies are miserable creatures. They rarely hurt when they bite, but the next day they itch something fierce. The problem is that they can continue itching for several weeks after the fact. They are still there in the winter, but in a lot smaller numbers than in the summer. Some places in the summer, it is impossible to be outside due to the number of sandflies around.
Go Skiing in July, August, and September
There are not many places in the world that you can go skiing in July, August, and September. New Zealand is one of those places. The best skiing is on the south island near Queenstown at Treble Cone, The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and Cardrona.
New Zealand has scenic views around every corner. It is one of the most beautiful countries all year rounds, but during the winter the views are even better because the mountains are snow-capped. The snow tends to keep to higher elevations, which means that the landscape is more dramatic with snow not covering the entire landscape.
Reasons Not to Visit New Zealand in the Winter
I cannot say that visiting New Zealand in the winter does not come with downsides. The amount of daylight is one of the main disadvantages of visiting New Zealand in the winter. Sunset in Queenstown ranges from ~5:00 pm to ~6:30 pm during winter. This means that you have fewer hours to be outside and enjoy the outdoors.
A second downside is the weather. You can hit a great weather spell with moderate temperatures, sun, and little rain. You can also run into a rainy and overcast period that makes the temperature seem a lot colder. Unfortunately cloudy and rainy days are more common in the winter than in the summer.
A third reason that winter might not be the best time to visit is if you are into hiking. Many of the popular hiking trails involve elevation gain into avalanche risk areas, which means that they are not viable options for hiking in the winter. Most of the Great Walks except for the coastal walks are not good winter options due to avalanche danger.