August is the final month of winter in New Zealand, and although it's officially marginally warmer than July, there's not much to distinguish them. August is also slightly drier than July, which sees the highest rainfall of the year in most parts of the North Island, but there's still a lot of rain in Auckland and nearby areas. The South Island is much drier, as here the rain manifests as snow in the mountains.
In general, the further south you travel in New Zealand, the colder the average temperatures in August, as well as the rest of the year, although there are some exceptions. Northland, the northernmost province, is nicknamed the 'winterless north' because it has a subtropical climate.
August temperatures here are warmer than the rest of the country, although are about the same as Auckland and other parts of the upper North Island. On a good day you can expect daytime highs to reach 59° F (15° C), even in mid-winter. But, the North Island in general also gets a lot of rain between June and August. It may be the 'winterless north' when it comes to temperatures, but the weather is wet, so is not ideal for getting out and about.
Temperatures are colder further south. Average maximum August temperatures in the coastal cities of Wellington and Christchurch are around 53° F (12° C), but much colder overnight. Inland towns are generally much colder, on both islands. For instance, Taupo will be colder than Auckland, even though it's not so far south, because it's inland and nearer the mountains (its average high temperature in August is 53° F/12° C). Queenstown in the lower South Island gets maximum highs in winter of 50° F (10° C), although with snow on the surrounding mountains it will usually feel much colder.
If you're seeking milder temperatures in the South Island, the 'top of the south' gets warmer, sunnier conditions than most of the South Island. Nelson regularly wins the title of sunniest city in New Zealand, and while its average August high is just 55° F (13° C), it's drier than many places in the North Island or coastal South Island, meaning you can expect sunny winter skies here a lot of the time.
Crowds and Costs
August is low tourism season in many parts of New Zealand, except for places where you can ski—there are many more ski fields in the South Island than the North. In general, August is low season in the north, although very popular places like Rotorua get a constant stream of visitors, especially package tourists on buses, throughout the year. August is much busier in the south. Accommodation and vehicle rental costs increase accordingly.
Where to Go
Keen skiers and snowboarders will want to head to the mountains of the South Island, or of the central North Island. There are three ski fields in the North Island, around the Tongariro National Park, but many more in the south, especially around Queenstown, Wanaka, and the Canterbury town of Methven. Driving conditions can be challenging at this time of year though, so stay informed about local conditions before embarking on any road trip through the mountains, especially the roads between Queenstown and the West Coast.
As mentioned above, the 'top of the south' is a pleasant place to travel to in winter. The small city of Nelson is ideally situated for exploring other fantastic places, like the Abel Tasman National Park, Golden Bay, the Nelson Lakes National Park, the Kahurangi National Park, and the Marlborough Sounds.You'll need a warm jacket, but rainfall is lower here than in the North Island, making it a great winter destination.
Unless you enjoy rain and grey skies, avoid most of the North Island in August. Although it doesn't rain all day every day, you could be caught in a cold shower at any time, which isn't ideal for many of the outdoor attractions that are the reason many travelers come to New Zealand. If you do find yourself in the north, a hot spring spa in Taupo or Rotorua is actually better in winter than in the warmer months.
What to Do
New Zealand's ski season normally starts in June and continues into October, so by August most ski fields will have a healthy layer of snow and will be at their best.
General sightseeing is more enjoyable in August than extensive outdoor activities, unless you're seriously committed to outdoor adventures and have the experience and fitness to do these. Check out the museums, galleries, and museums in the big cities (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin), or cultural shows in Rotorua and Taupo. Natural hot springs are great on a cold day, and can be found all over the country but in large numbers in Rotorua, Taupo, and Hanmer Springs. Dolphin or whale-watching cruises in the Bay of Islands and Kaikoura run at any time of year (although may be canceled if the sea is very rough). Sightseeing cruises in Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are arguably better in winter, with rain cascading down the mountains as waterfalls.
Only experienced trekkers will want to go on long-distance or higher-altitude hikes in August, as conditions can be challenging. Higher-altitude treks, such as in the Tongariro National Park, will require climbing equipment and snow skills. If you stick to lower altitudes, there are great day walks all over the country that you can fit into your schedule when the weather is good. Wherever you go in New Zealand you won't be far from a well-maintained trail.
Winter Games, Queenstown/Wanaka. This winter sporting festival focuses on skiing, snowboarding, ice hockey, and curling. Even if you don't participate in these sports yourself, this can be fun to watch.
Beervana, Wellington. New Zealand has a thriving craft beer scene, celebrated during Beervana in Wellington. A good reason to hibernate indoors in Wellington in August.
Traveling to New Zealand in August? Check out these great itineraries
Highlights of New Zealand: From North to South - 15 Days. Traverse New Zealand on this two-week adventure-packed trip, covering the highlights of the North and South Islands.
Best of New Zealand's South Island - 10 Days. This 10-day road trip through the South Island combines the best of New Zealand. Discover jaw-dropping scenery at Lake Tekapo, Aoraki Mt. Cook, Mt. Aspiring National Park, and the magnificent fiords.
New Zealand Cities, Parks and Mountains - 12 Days. This 12-day tour features a perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. Explore New Zealand's cities, mountain landscapes, native bush, and beaches.