Tips for a South Island Motorhome Holiday in Winter

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Winter in the South Island of New Zealand really kicks in officially from June 1 and runs through to the end of August. We often get visitors travelling here from the northern hemisphere or more tropical climates who might not know how to be well prepared for travelling here in the winter months. 

So we have compiled some useful tips and information to help make your winter holiday as safe and enjoyable as possible!

1. Be prepared!

Like a good scout, it pays to be well prepared for your trip. Download a weather app for your phone like MetService and keep an eye on the long term and short term weather forecasts. If you remember that New Zealand is made up of two long skinny islands, you might understand that the weather here can be very changeable, even in the course of a day. Just because it's sunny in the morning doesn't mean it will stay fine all day, and just because it is raining in the morning doesn't mean it will keep raining all day or even longer. 

So keeping an eye on that app/website is very important, especially if you are planning activities for the next day or week. You can also check AA Roadwatch site for specific road closures or warnings especially if you are heading towards one of the mountain passes, and the NZ Transport Association site for more information. 

2. Snow isn't very common apart from the mountain ranges.

Over the course of any winter it is likely that the top half of the South Island, i.e. Christchurch and above may not get any snow fall at all. Or sometimes it may snow once or twice in a season, depending on what weather is coming up from Antarctica. Usually you will get plenty of warning though if snow is on its way, so once again, keep an eye on the weather apps and take the time to listen to the news and weather (usually at the top of the hour, eg 6pm or just before 7pm).

South of Christchurch, it is possible it may snow a few times over the winter, but it is very unusual for it to be like Northerm Hemisphere snow where it forms deep snow banks and lasts for weeks at a time. If you are heading right to the bottom of the South Island, around Queenstown or even further south, you might find the coldest, deepest snow or icy conditions - especially in the centre of the island and nearly as far south as you can go.

3. Take Chains

If you are planning to do some skiing, snowboarding or want to enjoy some time playing in the snow with your family, make sure you have snow chains to put on your vehicle, and practice putting them on somewhere safe - like at the holiday park, before you head off to the cold and icy conditions up a mountain!

Most mountains won't allow vehicles to drive up to a ski field without chains, plus if you want to go through the mountain passes of the South Island - Lewis Pass, Arthur's Pass and Haast Pass, if the weather has been bad, often only vehicles using chains will be allowed through. The chains help your tyres get grip on icey or snowy roads. Also make sure you have the correct size chains for the tyres on your car or campervan - they come in a range of different sizes and you need them to be correct. Chains that are too large for your tyres can cause damage to the vehicle, and chains that are too small simply won't fit.

Find out more about putting chains on your vehicle on the video right here

4. Bring - or Buy, the Right Clothing

Ensuring you have the right clothing to wear in New Zealand weather is a very good idea. We recommend you buy warm, lightweight merino clothing (tops, long underwear, gloves, hats) that can be worn in layers. Often you will find the weather is cold in the mornings but warms up from mid morning onwards, so you need to be ready to peel off a layer or two so you don't overheat.

If you prefer to buy your warm clothing once you get here, there are several outdoor wear shops close to the park, in the shopping centre across from the park on Cranford Street and in Northlands Mall which is just five minutes drive away. NZ brands to look out for are Macpac, Kathmandu and Icebreaker, plus you will find some at the airport if you are flying into Christchurch.  

If you are heading to the snow for a day, make sure you are all well clothed, including warm, waterproof gloves; jackets; ski pants or waterproof overpants, with warm layers underneath. Again it can also get quite hot on a sunny day up on the ski slopes, so layers work well if you can take off a few items but still keep the windproof and waterproof layer on top. You'll also need sunglasses or tinted ski goggles if you are in the snow to protect your eyes from glare.

5. What sort of weather can you expect?

On average, temperatures in the South Island over winter can go as high as 7–12 °C (45–54 °F) while they can go below 0 °C (freezing point) in many locations. Generally in mid winter, if the sky is clear at night (no clouds) and you are at sea level, there is a high chance of a frost in the morning. The further south you go, the more frosty it gets. 

6. Learn the NZ Road Rules

The New Zealand Automobile Association have recently added a new tool to their website specifically for overseas drivers visiting New Zealand. Take some time to visit the site and practice your skills before you arrive in the country so you feel confident driving on New Zealand roads. Perhaps the most important thing to be aware of is that we drive on the left hand side of the road! 

7. Don't Start Driving Too Early in the Day

We recommend on days where there is heavy frost, that you don't start your trip until mid or even late morning once any ice has had a chance to melt. If you have to leave earlier, look out for any black ice on the roads - this is normally something that happens if there has been rain the day before which has then frozen overnight. Usually this would be a problem on a day where there is little sun to melt the ice, so if it is a cold grey day, with little sun and no rain, look out for any patches on the road that might cause you problems. 

If you arrive in New Zealand later at night in winter, we advise against hitting the road immediately to drive down to somewhere like Queenstown. Book your accommodation for the night, get a good sleep then set off in the morning well rested and once the roads have warmed up a little.

8. Keep Warm in the Park

We like all our guests to be warm and cosy during their stay with us. Make sure you have booked a powered site so you can run your heater at night. Our shared facilities block (bathrooms and kitchen) have underfloor heating to keep you warm, and our large reception area is warm and has seating if you want somewhere cosy to retreat to or stretch out a bit from your motorhome. Your family can also enjoy our kids games room if the weather is wet or cold and our swimming pool is heated and indoors so you can enjoy it year round.

Your motorhome or campervan will also include a heater, and we recommend you bring or buy hot water bottles to warm up your bed at night (don't forget to get hot water bottle covers as well to keep your bottle warm longer and make sure no-one gets burned), and merino blankets or good quality sleeping bags, especially if you are heading south. If you don't have any extra blankets, they are easy to buy from the nearby Warehouse (at Northlands Mall). If you are cold and not sure how or where to warm up, please come and see us in reception and our friendly staff can help you out.