If you want to feel New Zealand at its coldest this winter, head to the South Island. The inland alpine regions around Central Otago and the McKenzie Basin in Canterbury are particularly frosty in their welcome, with lows around minus three degrees being common in July, which is New Zealand’s coldest month. Of course, the weather doesn’t like to adhere to average temperatures if it can help it and things can get much, much colder in that part of New Zealand.
For a few extreme temperature lows, check out this list:
- – 25.6C, Ranfurly, Central Otago, July 17, 1903
- – 21.6, Ophir, Central Otago, July 3, 1995
- – 21C, Omarama, 26km south of Twizel, June 24, 2015
- – 19.8, Pukaki Airport, near Twizel, June 23, 2015
- – 19.7C, Ophir, 1943
Yes, that is a minus sign in front of every temperature and is proof that when it gets cold in the South Island, it can get really cold. Icy southerlies coming up from the South Pole are the root cause of these temperature extremes, and when they hit the inner South Island’s topography, things get even frostier. The hills around Central Otago and the McKenzie Basin act as barriers; they stop cold air from going anywhere and it becomes trapped for days on end in the river valleys and basins, making things frostier and frostier with every hour that passes. That explains those super-low temperatures that crop up from time to time. The payoff for all this coldness is a spectacular alpine environment where snow-capped mountains on the horizon can almost make you forget the temperature. Almost.
As you’d expect, even New Zealand at its coldest is pretty tropical when compared to the coldest place on Earth. This has been recorded as being a frozen ice ridge of the East Antarctic Plateau, where researchers measured temperatures that reached -100C.
While New Zealand’s South Island has been at the centre of the country’s lowest temperatures, it has also experienced some of the highest. Rangiora, not far off the Canterbury coast, recorded 42.4 degrees in 1973, with neighbouring Christchurch recording 41.6 in the same year. Even Central Otago and the Mckenzie Basin can become abnormally warm in summer with temperatures in the low 30s being quite common.
If you want to experience New Zealand at its most pleasantly warm, the North Island is the place to be. The further north you go, the more sub-tropical things get, while on the East Coast the climate is described as “Mediterranean” with warm, dry days being the norm in Hawkes Bay and Gisborne. The Hawkes Bay town of Hastings is the warmest city on average with around 25 degrees, followed by neighbouring Gisborne and Napier. It’s little wonder that some of the country’s best wines are made in that grape-friendly climate.
While New Zealand does have a reputation for being a cold country thanks to its southern location, it is actually quite mild year-round. Extreme weather events will happen but as these Auckland installers of Fujitsu heat pumps will tell you, the New Zealand climate is usually temperate and there are very few cold days that their machines can’t handle.