March is the first month of autumn in New Zealand. Temperatures are likely to be warm in northern and coastal parts of the country, especially earlier in the month, and cooler in the south. Because New Zealand is quite a long country (around 870 miles /1400 km from north to south), surrounded by sea, and with high mountains in the middle, there's a lot of climatic variation.
Average March high temperatures are in the high 60s F (around 19-21° C) in the upper North Island, the low 60s F (17° C) in central parts of the country (including Wellington and the upper South Island), and high 50s F (15° C) further south, including Queenstown and Dunedin. Mountainous and inland areas will generally be colder than coastal places, and it's not unusual to see a sprinkling of snow on the mountains in places like Queenstown and Wanaka in March.
New Zealand summers are generally quite dry, but rain increases from March. New Zealand gets a lot of rain throughout the year, but March isn't a very wet month. The exception, however, is if an ex-tropical cyclone hits New Zealand. The Pacific Islands further north experience numerous cyclones each summer, between November and April.
On average, New Zealand feels the effects of these cyclones once per summer, in February or March, although they don't hit New Zealand every year. These storms lose a significant amount of strength by the time they reach New Zealand, so are usually experienced here as bad storms. If you hear that a cyclone's coming your way while you're traveling in New Zealand in March, cancel any outdoor plans (such as multi-day hikes) and choose indoor activities for a few days. If you're camping, consider getting a room.
Crowds and Costs
March is shoulder season in New Zealand. You won't see the same volume of visitors at popular places as you would in mid-summer, but as temperatures are still quite high and weather conditions good, this isn't yet the low season.
If Easter falls in March, as it often does, schools will be on holiday for some time around it. New Zealanders like to get out and explore their own country, so expect to see an increase in domestic tourists at popular (as well as less well-known!) destinations.
Many travelers like to camp when traveling around New Zealand. As temperatures cool off, campsites will become less busy, although you shouldn't expect to have the campsite to yourself at more popular places. As a lot of travelers use RVs rather than tents, they're less restricted by the weather.
Where to Go
If you want to enjoy some beach time, this is still possible in March, especially earlier in the month. In fact, sea temperatures are often warmer in March than in early summer because they've spent several months warming up, so if you want to swim in the sea there should be plenty of opportunities to. Northland, the wider Auckland area, and the Coromandel Peninsula are the best places for this in March, although the upper South Island (around Nelson, the Marlborough Sounds, and Golden Bay) also experience warm temperatures in March.
On the contrary, if you're seeking crisp mountain conditions, you can also find these in March. Head to Queenstown, Wanaka, or Aoraki Mt. Cook for beautiful mountain views and outdoor activities.
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What to Do
As well as beach time (discussed further above), there are plenty of other outdoor activities that can be enjoyed in March. As conditions are usually not too wet, and warm but not too hot, March is a great time to go hiking. New Zealanders themselves love to hike so you'll never be far from a short or long-distance trail. Very popular places like the Abel Tasman National Park or the Tongariro National Park will probably still be quite busy in March, but you won't have to look too hard for a quieter trail, if that's what you're after.
March is also a good time of year to go mountain biking, for the same reasons. There are short as well as much longer trails, catering to a range of fitness and experience levels. The 93-mile (150 km) Otago Central Rail Trail is a good option for bikers who prefer flatter terrain. The Old Coach Road in the central North Island is a fun 2-3 hour trail that includes culture, history, and beautiful landscapes.
Easter. This Christian holiday sometimes falls in March. Although not everyone observes the holiday from a religious perspective, schools are on vacation and many workplaces, too. The sale of alcohol is prohibited on Easter Sunday and Good Friday, unless you're buying it to drink with a meal in a licensed restaurant.
Wildfoods Festival, Hokitika. At this food festival in the small West Coast (South Island) town, you can try unusual, weird, and cringe-worthy foods like bull testicles and deep-fried insects. There’s more mainstream food, too, as well as plenty of craft beer and fine wine. People come from all over the South Island for this festival, so book accommodation in advance.
Traveling to New Zealand in March? Check out these great itineraries
New Zealand's North Island - 7 Days. Explore the beauty of New Zealand's North Island, from the foodie's haven of Wellington to stunning Tongariro National Park.
New Zealand's Cities, Parks, and Mountains - 12 Days. Explore New Zealand's cities, mountain landscapes, native bush, and beaches, with a perfect mix of adventure and relaxation.
South Island Adventure - 5 Days. On this five-day adventure through the South Island, explore four distinct regions: Christchurch, Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park, Central Otago, and Queenstown.