How to survive a winter in New Zealand

Like many people from the Northern hemisphere, or perhaps just the UK. I always thought of places like New Zealand and Australia as a tropical paradise, a place with constant sunshine, or at least nice mild weather in general. I’ve lived through 2 winters in New Zealand, so I feel I am better prepared on how to get through it.


As I write this, I am currently in England, getting a bit of a second summer. It has been lovely to wake up to light streaming through the windows at 5am and have light until 10pm at night. When I arrive back, there will be 2 more weeks of the New Zealand Winter season. I am looking forward to spring; if I could live in a hot climate all the time, I would. 

In New Zealand, most (but not all) houses are made from wood. The house I live in, is beautiful and perfect in summer. In winter, it’s a different story. Our house is wooden with a tin roof, there are no double glazed windows or proper insulation.
Coming from the UK, where I’ve always lived in brick houses or flats and had the luxury of a lovely fire in the winter, this was difficult to get used to. Many houses in New Zealand don’t have central heating, but some do have a wood burner or gas fires. We have a heat pump in one room.
Before I arrived in New Zealand, I had never heard of a heat pump, but it basically looks like an air- conditioning unit, which it doubles up as in summer.
So at winter time, the heat pump goes on at 3/4pm and stays on until the last person goes to bed. If I am staying indoors, I tend to sit under the heat pump wrapped in a blanket. At 7pm, I run to my room and turn on the electric heater in my room, so as to take the edge off the chill when I go to bed. I’ve known it to be colder inside my room than out. Temperatures this winter have dropped below zero at times.
Outside at winter can be variable, in fact weather in New Zealand in any season can vary greatly, always pack a jacket with you!
At times in winter, temperatures have got up to 19/20 degrees with perfect sunshine and blue skies. And in general on the colder days, the sun is still shining and we have blue skies, which puts you in a completely different head space. At the peak of winter, the earliest it gets dark is 5pm, which is so much nicer than the typical 3pm in the UK.
When I lived in the UK, I used to dress in clothes similar to in summer, with the exception of flip flops, and just chuck on a jacket, scarf and hat and still be freezing! I have now learnt to dress better. During freezing weather, I would often go out in a merino woollen top, another base layer, thermal leggings, jeans, thick ski socks and a duck-down jacket – very toasty. I think this is something I quickly learnt from choosing to stand outside and watch the rugby in the middle of winter evening in Christchurch.
If and when I return to the UK in the winter, I will definitely be dressing a lot better.
If you are planning on travelling to New Zealand (in particular the South Island), during Winter (typically June-August, but it can start getting cold in late April, early May to the end of September at times). I’d recommend you pack warm layering clothes, thermals, a hat. Gloves and a good jacket.
Don’t avoid coming over to New Zealand in winter, there are some really beautiful days.

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