September is the first month of spring in New Zealand, which means rising temperatures, melting snow, blooming flowers, and bouncing lambs everywhere.
Temperatures earlier in the month lean towards wintry, but as the month progresses, the mercury rises. Average daytime high temperatures in spring range from 59° F (15° C) in Wellington and 61° F (16° C) in Queenstown, to 66° F (19° C) in Northland, and 64° F (18° C) in Auckland. Lows are unlikely to get below freezing, apart from high in the mountains.
Rainfall throughout New Zealand differs according to latitude and proximity to the sea and mountains, but September is quite a wet month in most parts of the country. The North Island is very wet in the winter, but rainfall tapers off a bit in September, although you should still expect rain. The South Island sees much less rain in the winter, but this increases throughout the spring, especially in places like Queenstown that got very little rain in winter.
Crowds and Costs
September, and spring in general (September to November), is shoulder season in New Zealand. Good weather can't be relied upon everywhere, but it's generally warm and sunny enough that visitors can enjoy outdoor activities. So, September is a good time to visit if you want to avoid the thickest crowds, and don't mind less-than-summery weather. In many places you can expect to pay low or shoulder-season prices for accommodation, domestic flights shouldn't be hard to get at reasonable prices, and rental cars might be cheaper.
The exception to this is if you're heading to the mountains to ski. The ski season generally lasts until early-mid October, so September is still right in the middle of the ski season. Places like Queenstown, Wanaka, Methven (Canterbury), and the Tongariro National Park still attract a lot of ski tourists, including domestic travelers, in September.
Where to Go
Nowhere in New Zealand is 'bad' in September, so where you go should be determined by your interests and preferences. Wherever you go you can expect a mix of cool and warmer temperatures, and a bit of rain.
If you're traveling around the country, or parts of the country, by car, September can be a good time to head to the South Island. Through the winter, some mountain roads are blocked or challenging to drive because of snow and ice, but this begins to ease in September. You may still get cold snaps of weather that affect your plans, but less so than in winter.
The top of the South Island is a great place to head in spring, as it offers a diverse range of experiences. Within a couple of hours' drive of the small city of Nelson you can find ski fields (the Rainbow Ski Area), alpine lakes (Nelson Lakes National Park), pristine beaches and marine reserves (Abel Tasman National Park), short and long-distance hikes (Abel Tasman, Nelson Lakes, and the Kahurangi National Park), and the many attractions of Golden Bay and the Marlborough Sounds.
Nelson regularly takes the title of sunniest city in New Zealand, and although it experiences the same changeable temperatures and chance of rain as the rest of the country in spring, it's a perfect place to base yourself if you want to experience a range of classic New Zealand sights and activities.
What to Do
If you're into adventure sports, September can be a good time to try whitewater rafting. You'll definitely need to don a wetsuit as the rivers will be cold, but they're also very fun in spring because melting snow in the mountains increases the volume of water. There are rivers suitable for whitewater rafting on both islands.
If you're into skiing, get in quick in September, as the season comes to an end in early-mid October. September is the last month of relatively reliable snow. There are three ski fields in the North Island, around the Tongariro National Park area, and many more in the South Island, especially around Queenstown, Wanaka, and Methven.
Only very experienced hikers will want to embark on a long-distance trek in September, especially in the mountains, as snowy or wet conditions can make these challenging. But, September is a great time for day hikes. New Zealanders themselves love to hike, so wherever you go in the country you'll be near a scenic trail or four.
World of Wearable Art, Wellington. This creative art-meets-fashion show exhibits local and international fashion design with a creative twist. The WOW Museum in Nelson can be visited at any time of year, and rotates their exhibits after the show in Wellington.
Whitianga Scallop Festival. Seafood lovers are generally in luck in New Zealand, but shouldn’t miss this festival in the small town on the Coromandel Peninsula.
Traveling to New Zealand in September? Check out these great itineraries
New Zealand's North Island Adventure - 7 Days. This self-drive itinerary hits the highlights of New Zealand's North Island with a wide array of activities and landscapes, from Auckland to Rotorua.
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, including turquoise Lake Tekapo, the highest mountain in the country, Aoraki Mt. Cook, the peaks of Mt. Aspiring National Park, and magnificent fiords.
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.