An odd topic in itself – where to see New Zealand snow. But coming from a tropical country where the temperature rarely (if ever) strays further than 3 °C from the daily stifling 28 °C, snow is a novelty. Maybe even a miracle.
I actually tried to research for places to see snow for our working holiday in New Zealand. So where do you go if you want to see New Zealand snow?
To start with:
When to go to see New Zealand snow
You should definitely go in winter if you can. Too obvious?
But which months are better? June, July, or August?
If you go in June, you will get the chance to see the winter festival in Queenstown somewhere around mid-June. This event marks the start of the highly anticipated skiing season in New Zealand.
July is the middle of winter and I would recommend that this would be the optimum time to go see snow in New Zealand.
However, you should take into consideration:
More snow also means some roads may be blocked for reasons of safety. There is the risk of avalanches too. Especially for the hikes that are along mountain ranges (e.g. Kepler Track, Mt Cook, etc). The DOC website even recommends having appropriate snow gear like croutons and ice picks as well as experience to do those trails.
We went in August. Close to the end of August, in fact.
There were frosty mornings in Twizel,
And the snow was almost gone in Lindis Pass.
But on some days, we could see a blanket of snow at the tops of the mountains surrounding Queenstown and Wanaka. There are rainy spells and sunny spells so it really depends on your luck.
Now, what about snow in spring?
It doesn’t mean you have absolutely zero chance of seeing snow in New Zealand during September though. There are days where the snow falls continuously and the mountain peaks regain their winter appearance. But these are much rarer as conditions have to be just right.
There is snow in October too but only in the higher regions and even so, it is fleeting. Hail and regular showers become more frequent.
Not everywhere snows in New Zealand, by the way:
Where to see New Zealand snow
Ski resorts is a safe bet to see lots of snow. There are ski resorts in the both the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Skiing season usually begins in June and ends before mid October.
You don’t necessarily have to ski or snowboard there either. Ski resorts may offer visitors passes so you can take the ski lift up to the top and see the snow there. For a fee, of course.
Ski resorts in New Zealand:
- Coronet Peak, South Island – we documented our first time skiing in Coronet Peak, New Zealand
- Cadrona, South Island
- The Remarkables, South Island
- Taranaki, North Island
- Mt Ruapehu, North Island
There is a more complete list of ski fields and resorts over here at Wikipedia.
But wait, you might need snow chains:
Snow chains in New Zealand
Unless you’re planning to take some sort of transport service up to your chosen ski resort, it is a good idea to have snow chains at hand at all times. In your vehicle.
You might be able to get some at your respective car rental company so ask ahead before you collect your car. Some shops in Queenstown offer snow chains for rental but these get costly quickly if you need them for more than a week. For example, one shop we checked out offered a rate of $25/day for snow chains.
We bought brand new snow chains from Roofrack in Auckland for around $110 NZD. By the way, if you’re interested in buying our car, we will start selling it in Jan 2019, complete with BRAND NEW snow chains and other stuff. PM us on Facebook if you want to know more.
More details on our previous post, What winter in New Zealand is like.
You have a better chance of witnessing snow in the South Island than in the North Island of New Zealand. Again, this shouldn’t be surprising since the South Island is closer to the South Pole where the penguins are.
North Island for New Zealand snow
Highly unlikely, even in the middle of winter unless you visit a ski resort. Get your butt down to the South Island instead.
South Island for New Zealand snow
As mentioned before, we went in the end of August where rain is more likely than snow.
We missed the snow in some of these places listed below but we know there’s snow there. Because some of our friends were there. At the right time and place.
Our snow chains accompanied us throughout our exploration of the south island, New Zealand.
But we never got a chance to use them:
There simply wasn’t enough snow to make the road slippery. Still, some places (like Milford Sound) require you to have snow chains during the winter months or face paying a fine that costs more than the snow chains in the first place.AR
And here’s what you came for:
Places to see snow in the South Island, New Zealand
Note: Excluding ski resorts. And mind that our photos were taken at the very end of winter. With the exception of a couple of places, we mostly only saw snow covered mountains in the distance.
- Arthur’s Pass
- Wanaka – you can have a good view of the snow-covered mountain ranges around Wanaka on a relatively clear day from either Roy’s Peak (5-6 hours’ hike) or Mount Iron (1 hour 30 minutes steep hike).
- Hooker Valley (Mt Cook) – go early in the morning and mind your step. The ground may be slippery once the ice starts to melt later in the day.
- Queenstown – You can see the Remarkables from the town itself.
- Lindis Pass – There is one lookout point where you can stop your car to take photos and play in the snow for a bit.
- The road to Milford Sound (near the Homer tunnel) – please don’t feed the Kea (native mountain parrots) if you see them on the side of the road. It’s a bad habit they’ve picked up from tourists. The local councils discourage this too.
- Lake Marian – your best bet if you want to see an alpine lake for free up close. Be warned. The hike is quite strenuous if you’re not fit. More on the Lake Marian Track.
- Glenorchy – The lagoon walk is easy and (1 – 2 hours depending if you do the whole thing) has some great views of the surrounding snowy peaks, as well as being an opportune location for bird watching.
9. Mt Egmont (aka Mt Taranaki) National Park
10. Nelson Lakes National Park – Lake Rotoito is surrounded by snow covered mountains in the winter!
As you can see, the list isn’t very extensive at all:
Compared to some other countries further up north, New Zealand just isn’t the best destination to see lots of snow. The kind you can jump in.
The snow in New Zealand is usually in the mountains which are not easily accessible. You would need alpine climbing gear and experience.
Note: Snow is possible in Dunedin and as far as Invercargill too but very, very rarely. As one of our AirBnB hosts explained to us.
Or unless you pay for it:
There are alpine helicopter rides where they take you to a snow-covered mountain for less than an hour so you can take photos and revel in the snow before they take you back down. A short trip like that can cost you a few hundred NZD already. A sum varies around $500-700 NZD, depending on the company and location.
Note: These tours are different from glacier hikes though the same company may offer both types of trips. You may occasionally find discounts on bookme.nz
So, don’t expect to see too much snow while in New Zealand:
Even in the winter months. You really have to be at the right place at the right time to catch it falling. And for the snow to stay on the ground without melting right away. The safe bet is to go skiing if you’re really adamant on seeing snow.
Personally, I think the mountain ranges of South Island look their best in winter. Winter is also a good opportunity to have some fun in the snow. Thus, in this post, we have narrowed down all the places that have the highest chances of snowfall in New Zealand. Helps to keep a lookout on the weather forecast too.
Are you hoping to see snow in New Zealand? Leave a comment below.
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