Learn where you can go in New Zealand to get the least amount of rain and the most amount of sunshine, and when.
Short answer: Blenheim in February.
I’d like to start by saying that I’m not a meteorologist.
Everything I’ve written here is based on a combination of experience living and traveling in New Zealand, and research using scientific and non-scientific data and charts.
I’ve already talked about the temperatures in New Zealand, and because wind is usually not interesting for someone who wants to visit New Zealand, I’ll primarily focus on rainfall and sunshine in this article.
You want to stay warm and dry during your vacation, right?
So let’s have a look at where you can go and when you should go there when planning a trip to New Zealand to maximize your chances of getting lots of sun with a minimal amount of rain.
When and where to go in New Zealand to avoid rain
To find the places that receive the least amount of rain in New Zealand, we have to look for places on the South Island, because almost everywhere on the North Island receives 800 mm or more rain annually, especially in winter.
There are three main areas on the South Island that do not get a lot of rain:
- A small area just southeast of Blenheim at the top of the South Island.
- A long area running from Christchurch down south till Balclutha on the northern tip of the Catlins.
- An area running from Lake Tekapo in southwestern direction till Alexandra and covering mainly Mackenzie Country (Lake Tekapo going south), Waitaki Valley (where Lake Benmore is located), the Southern Lakes district (Queenstown and Wanaka), and northern parts of Central Otago.
But just knowing what these locations are is not enough. You also need to know what season to visit to get the least amount of rain.
[Photo: Rain over Lake Pukaki in summer (35 KB)]
Blenheim seems to follow the weather patterns of the North Island, so the most rain falls in winter and spring. Summer or autumn would be the best time to visit Blenheim with February looking the best.
Note that this pattern is shared with places like Abel Tasman National Park and Golden Bay where lots of beaches are located. This is good news for beachgoers who flock to beaches in summer.
The view from the shore in Queentown (South Island)
For Christchurch, winter is the wettest season, and spring or summer is the best time to visit Christchurch to avoid a lot of rain. January, March, and September bring the least amount of rain to Christchurch.
For places in Mackenzie Country – where Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, and Mount Cook are located – the best time to visit would be sometime during winter or autumn because summer and spring are the wettest seasons.
For Central Otago where Alexandra is located, much of the rain tends to fall in autumn with also some in summer. So winter would be the best time to visit this region because neighboring areas also get rain in spring.
For the Southern Lakes District where Wanaka and Queenstown are located, spring tends to be the wettest season and in some parts also autumn, which is bad news if you want to visit this region to see autumn colors.
If you are looking for dry places on the North Island, I can tell you that there aren’t many although some parts of the North Island can experience extreme droughts from time to time.
The highest amount of rain falls where there are mountains and in the top half of the North Island, which tends to get convective showers, thunderstorms, and remnants of tropical cyclones.
The driest part of the North Island is the bottom half starting on a line south of Mount Taranaki and Tongariro National Park down to Wellington, excluding parts where there are mountain ranges.
[Chart: Rainfall in New Zealand (27 KB)]
Where does the most rain fall in New Zealand?
The West Coast on the South Island of New Zealand receives the most rain in the entire country. It is mainly the area that runs from the top of the South Island to the bottom of the South Island on the western side of the mountain ranges that gets the most rain.
The most rain tends to fall during spring, and July is the month when the least amount of rain is expected to fall on the West Coast.
The West Coast is a difficult part of New Zealand to get to during winter because you typically have to drive through mountain passes, which can get snowed-in. So it is very hazardous to reach, especially when driving from Christchurch.
You can get to the West Coast by road by following three highways:
- Highway 6 from the north from, for example, Nelson.
- Highway 73 from the east via Arthur’s Pass from, for example, Christchurch.
- Highway 6 from the south from, for example, Wanaka.
If you want to visit the West Coast in winter, you may want to drive, for example, from Picton to Greymouth via State Highway 6 instead of from Christchurch. So catch a ferry from Wellington to Picton and then drive or fly to, for example, Nelson and then drive.
[Photo: Red sunrise over Lake Wanaka (28 KB)]
The sunniest places in New Zealand
The places that receive the most amount of sun in New Zealand depend largely on their latitude (southern locations have shorter days in winter and longer days in summer) and how much cloud cover there is (the more clouds there are, the less sunnier a place is).
Kapiti Island seen from Queen Elizabeth Park (North Island)
The sunniest areas in New Zealand can be found in Nelson and Marlborough so at the top of the South Island. Again this is good news for people who want to visit the beaches of Abel Tasman National Park or Golden Bay.
Note that the same area southeast of Blenheim that receives the least amount of rain, is also one of the areas that has the most hours of sunshine during the year.
Another area on the South Island that gets a lot of sun runs from just north of Christchurch in southwestern direction toward Lake Tekapo and includes Ashburton, Geraldine, and Fairlie.
The North Island of New Zealand also has a couple of sunny areas:
- The top of the North Island north of Kerikeri.
- The area around Auckland and Coromandel Peninsula.
- The Bay of Plenty inland toward Taupo.
- The entire east coast.
So good places to visit for sun on the North Island would be Auckland, Coromandel Peninsula, Tauranga, Rotorua, Taupo, Whakatane, Opotiki, Gisborne, Napier, and Hastings.
Just remember that the North Island is not a very good place to visit in winter or early spring due to the amount of rain that falls. Summer would be the best season because you’ll then also experience the highest temperatures.
If you are interested in knowing what the cloudiest place is in New Zealand, that would be the southernmost parts of the South Island so the area around Invercargill.
[Photo: Crepuscular rays over Lake Wanaka in autumn (23 KB)]
The best place to visit in New Zealand for sun minus rain
From all of the data I’ve gathered and analyzed, the top of the South Island comes out as the winner with lots of sun, a moderate amount of rain, and above average temperatures. Summer would be the best time to visit this region with February being the best month to get the least amount of rain.
The area around Christchurch comes in a good second being relatively very dry and moderately sunny with above average temperatures. January would give you the best combination of sun, heat, and rain.
This article falls under Travel Guide.
Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details
directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.