New Zealand in May: A Guide to Travelling to New Zealand in May

This time of year is when it gets truly chilly and the need for warm clothes and lots and lots of layers becomes apparent. During May the transition from autumn to winter is evident and as is the case with transition periods in relation to weather, it results in highly unpredictable and erratic weather patterns.

Daytime temperatures are still fairly moderate and comfortable and average high recordings of 16 °C in most regions while nights around the country get considerably cooler. Since New Zealand is stretched lengthwise, climatic conditions vary quite surprisingly as you run the length of the country. 

The more interior and mountainous area of both the North and South Island tend to be considerably cooler than the coastal cities and regions. May is a bit of an odd-time to visit New Zealand, with the lively fall colours of April just gone, with hardly many sunny days, and just before heavy snowfall makes the mountains an attractive destination, but there are still plenty of great things to see!

Weather in New Zealand in May

  • In the upper reaches of New Zealand’s North Island, in regions such as Northland and Auckland, the temperatures may still reach upwards of 18°C, with nights being significantly colder. These cool daytime temperatures also make going on treks and walks along the national parks or the beaches a perfect activity.

  • While further South, towards Queenstown and Wanaka, while the mountain’s ski fields may not be open yet to skiers and snowboarders, snowfall in these towns can be expected towards the end of May.

Where to Go in New Zealand in May

  • The cold crisp air without the heat of the sun makes it perfect to sightsee and take in the breathtaking beauty of the country. This makes the South Island the perfect destination for those travellers that adore the mountains but aren’t too keen on skiing them, and make for the ideal sweeping mountain views without any of the crowds. 
Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo
  • Historic towns like Arrowtown and Lake Tekapo are also thriving hubs of activity just as the autumn colours draw to a close. While May is not known for its large number of sunny days, on the occasion of such a day, it would make for the perfect day to go on a leisurely sightseeing cruise of the Marlborough Sounds.

  • Sun-kissed Nelson, sitting pretty at the ‘Top of the South’, referring to its location at the northern end of the South Island, is also sure to be a lovely destination this time of year. 

  • Regions like Northland, colloquially known as the Winterless North are known for the mild winters and are still perfect tourist destinations. Golden Bay and the Abel Tasman National Park also benefit from increased exposure to sunlight and become great places to visit during the month of May.

  • When the weather is suitably good, whale watching tours from around the Bay of Islands is a popular activity amongst tourists and locals alike.
     
    Te Papa Tongarewa Museum
    Te Papa Tongarewa Musuem

  • This would also be the ideal time to visit Te Papa Museum and have a long gander at the myriad of exhibitions on show at the gallery.

  • The gloomy weather might also be the perfect time to go visit Hobbiton in Matamata as most of the set can be seen even during torrid weather conditions as it is sheltered from it. 

  • It would be wise to factor in some indoor sightseeing and visiting the vast array of art galleries, museums, and exhibitions on show at most of the cities in the North Island including Wellington, Auckland, Dunedin, and Rotorua. The cool weather also makes it ideal to enjoy the bubbling hot pools that are found predominantly around Rotorua and Tauro and is a favourite pastime amongst locals for good reason. 

  • Adventure sports like bungee jumping and to a certain degree jet boating might also be available, weather permitting and Queenstown would still be a buzzing, vibrant travel destination.
The Shotover Jet
Shotover Jet

What to Pack for New Zealand in May

Since New Zealand experiences such finicky weather during May, it would be wise to pack a few warm and comfortable articles of thermally-insulating clothes. Summer tees and shorts may still be able to make a cameo appearance during your trip but it should be by no means, the only things you pack.

  • Raingear like waterproof hooded ponchos or a raincoat and wellington boots would be prudent additions to your luggage if you plan to go trekking or hiking, especially in the notoriously humid North Island, where rain is to be expected. 

  • Rain-protective clothing like ponchos or a raincoat will be especially helpful in the more humid parts of the North Island, where fall showers are a regular feature. 

  • Bug spray and insect repellent would also be a wise thing to pack. While New Zealand may be famous for its lack of predators or most types of creepy-crawlies that can be found, sandflies and bothersome variants are common inhabitants of lakes, rivers, and other water bodies. The repellants will be a very handy addition and will go far in keeping your skin insect-bite free.

  • Hiking shoes will be an important addition to your luggage if at all you plan on taking advantage of the beautiful scenery and want to step out for a hike or a multi-day tramp. Ensure that they are waterproof and well-cleaned of all debris underneath as they will be thoroughly checked at customs to make sure you are not bringing foreign contaminants through the border. 

  • For those that plan on doing a bit of hiking or tramping, woollen wear will be particularly appreciated during the colder nights. Beanies or skullcaps, raincoats with hoods, thick woolen socks and warm gloves will all go a long way in making the difference between a miserable cold night in the bush and a truly terrific one!

  • Thermal wear can be bought at most adventure stores and they work terrifically at keeping body heat insulated. 

Events in New Zealand in May

  • While the weather may be cooler during the month of May, this does not deter most outdoor activities, and in fact may be helpful. Adventure activities such as bungy jumping, white water rafting, mountain biking, and fly fishing are all popular activities that happen during May.

  • Bungy jumping and jet boating can be done in Queenstown or Wanaka while the central Otago region is famous for its mountain biking trails.

  • The Auckland Comedy Festival takes place in May and brings together local talents from the booming New Zealand comedy scene to seasoned international veterans that want to cut their teeth with the best of the best. Taking place across Auckland from venues ranging from rinky-dink comedy stages to elaborate dramatic theatres, this is the place to be if you’re a fan of great comedy and are looking for a good laugh!  

  • For the slightly more serious and austere traveller, May also offers the Auckland Writers Festival. This festival promises a more nuanced and subtle approach as it gathers the country’s most notable philosophers, thinkers, writers, musicians, and more, and invites them to speak about their experiences.
    Auckland Art Gallery
    Auckland Art Gallery


  • For the more intellectually inclined traveller, the Auckland Writers Festival promises to be well worth the journey.

This post was published by Ken Chiramel

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