About New Zealand
New Zealand’s Natural Environment
Situated in the South Pacific Ocean, between latitude 34'S and 47'S, lies New Zealand running roughly north-south with mountain ranges down much of its length. Its two main islands cover 266,200 sq km (103,735 sq miles), about the size of Japan or California and slightly larger than Great Britain.
New Zealand's separation from other land masses for more than 100 million years has allowed many ancient plants and animals to survive and evolve in isolation. Complementing our unique flora and fauna is a landscape that contains an unrivalled variety of land forms. You will find that in just a few days' drive it is possible to see everything from mountain ranges to sandy beaches, lush rainforests, glaciers and fiords and active volcanoes.
New Zealand's climate is dominated by two main geographical features, the mountains and the sea, meaning that it varies from warm subtropical in the far north to cool temperate climates in the far south, with severe alpine conditions in the mountainous areas.
Mountain chains extend the length of New Zealand, providing a barrier for the prevailing westerly winds and dividing the country into dramatically different climate regions. The West Coast of the South Island is the wettest area of New Zealand, whereas the area to the east of the mountains, just over 100 km away, is the driest.
Sunshine hours are relatively high in areas that are sheltered from the west and most of New Zealand would have at least 2000 hours annually. The midday summer solar radiation index (UVI) is often very high in most places and can be extreme in northern New Zealand and in mountainous areas. Autumn and spring UVI values can be high in most areas.
Most snow in New Zealand falls in the mountain areas. Snow rarely falls in the coastal areas of the North Island and west of the South Island, although the east and south of the South Island may experience some snow in winter. Frosts can occur anywhere in New Zealand and usually form on cold nights with clear skies and little wind.
New Zealand Seasons
New Zealand does not have a large temperature range, lacking the extremes found in most continental climates. However, New Zealand weather can change unexpectedly as cold fronts or tropical cyclones quickly blow in. Because of this, you should be prepared for sudden changes in weather and temperature if you're going hiking or doing other outdoor activities.
SPRING - September, October, November
SUMMER - December, January, February
AUTUMN - March, April, May
WINTER - June, July, August
New Zealand Temperatures
New Zealand has a largely temperate climate. While the far north has subtropical weather during summer, and inland alpine areas of the South Island can be as cold as -10 C in winter, most of the country lies close to the coast, which means mild temperatures, moderate rainfall, and abundant sunshine.
Because New Zealand lies in the Southern Hemisphere, the average temperature decreases as you travel south. The north of New Zealand is subtropical and the south temperate. The warmest months are December, January and February, and the coldest June, July and August. In summer, the average maximum temperature ranges between 20 - 30ºC and in winter between 10 - 15ºC.
You can check New Zealand weather conditions on the New Zealand Met Service web site.
In spite of around 1000 years of native bush clearance by humans, about a quarter of the country, mostly in high country areas, still remains forested. Most of these remaining areas are protected from exploitation in National and Forest Parks, where they can be enjoyed by all.
The characteristic New Zealand forest is a temperate, evergreen rain forest with giant tree ferns, vines and epiphytes - looking a bit like the popular image of a jungle. The giant kauri, one of the largest trees in the world, is now restricted to relatively small forest pockets in Northland and on the Coromandel Peninsula. We suggest a visit to Waipoua Forest in Northland to view magnificent Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest), New Zealand’s largest known living kauri tree.
Click here for more information on Tane Mahuta
New Zealand is a land of unique birds, mostly of the feathered variety! The best known of these is the flightless, nocturnal kiwi, New Zealand's unofficial national symbol. Also flightless are the weka and the endangered kakapo, the world's largest parrot which, at a pinch, is just able to scramble up into shrubs and small trees.
Another unique bird, and one capable of flight, is the inquisitive kea, which is renowned for its fearlessness of humans and its cheeky personality, making it a favourite with tourists and locals alike.
New Zealand's Natural Heritage
What makes New Zealand's natural heritage so special? Underlying the country’s physical attractions - its dramatic mountains, unpolluted beaches and green countryside - is an epic survival story of unique plants and animals.
Cast adrift from the ancient super-continent of Gondwanaland, these ancient species evolved in isolation and struggled to survive in what renowned naturalist David Bellamy has called "Moa's Ark" (named after New Zealand's native, but now extinct, giant flightless bird, the Moa).
After only 1000 years of human settlement New Zealand has lost many native species. But impressive gains have been made in recent times to protect and enhance what is left. These include removing introduced pests from island wildlife sanctuaries, the establishment of 13 national parks, three maritime parks, two world heritage areas, hundreds of nature reserves and ecological areas, a network of marine reserves and wetlands, and protection for special rivers and lakes.
In total, around 30 percent of New Zealand's land area is protected conservation land. In addition, research and management programmes have been introduced to aid the recovery of rare and endangered species like kakapo, kokako, kiwi and tuatara.
You can learn more about these programmes on the Department of Conservation website:
We welcome everyone to experience and discover our unique and precious natural heritage. We ask only that you make as little impact as possible so that future generations can continue to enjoy their natural heritage.