What is the weather like in the South Island in January?

Sailing Family in the Abel Tasman

January is a wonderful time to visit the South Island of New Zealand, with warm temperatures, long days, and plenty of sunshine hours. Depending where you want to go on your South Island itinerary, here’s everything you need to know about what to expect from the weather.

Cleopatras pool Abel Tasman National Park

January is typically one of the hottest, driest and sunniest months in the South Island. Combined with the extended New Year holiday period, this makes it a popular time for water sports like swimming, boating, surfing, sailing and kayaking, as well as just relaxing with a good book.

Average Temperatures in the South Island in January

The overall average temperature in the South Island during January, across the entire island, is around 15°C (59°F). However, this varies depending on where you plan to visit:

Queenstown: A far cry from its freezing, ski-friendly winters, Queenstown enjoys warm summer temperatures in January, with an average high temperature of 21.8°C (71°F) and low of 9.8°C, balancing out to an average temperature of 15.8°C across the whole month.

TSS Earnslaw Wakitipu

Christchurch: The Canterbury Plains can get scorching during January, and Christchurch is no exception. Temperatures regularly top 30°C (86°F), with an average daily high for January in Christchurch of 22.8°C. However, prevailing northeasterly sea breezes usually cool things off, with average lows around 12.8°C and overall temperatures of 17.5°C across January.   

Nelson: Things heat up in Nelson and Marlborough during January – and that includes the weather. Enjoy average daily temperatures of 17.8°C (64°F), with daytime highs averaging 22.4°C and lows not dipping below around 13.2°C. It’s an ideal time for barbecues and outdoor dining – particularly the fresh local seafood!

Dunedin: Dunedin’s famous wildlife enjoy some warm days in January, with Little Blue Penguin waddles reaching some of their biggest flock numbers of the year. Daytime highs average 18.9°C (66°F), with lows of 11.6°C and an overall average of 15.3°C throughout the month.

Daily Sunshine Hours in the South Island in January

Looking for some golden rays? January is a great time to get your fix of sunshine in the South Island.

Nelson: Regularly taking out the “Sunniest Place in New Zealand” award, Nelson gets more sunshine hours per day than any other place in New Zealand – and more sun in January than any other month, with 267.5 hours of sunshine on average across the month, meaning 8.63 hours of sunshine per day.

Christchurch: Although you may still get a few clouds, January is typically a very sunny month in Christchurch, with 7.67 hours per day.

Queenstown: Together with its warm weather, Queenstown’s 7.43 hours of sunshine per day during January make it a great time to take in the stunning alpine views.

Dunedin: Although still prone to some shifting clouds, January is a time when Dunedin empties of its many university students and turns on its quiet charm with 5.8 hours of sunlight per day.

Otago Rail Trail

Average rainfall in the South Island in January

The average rainfall across the entire South Island for the month of January is about 74 mm, or around 2.5 mm per day. However, this really depends on where you plan to go. The South Island has incredibly diverse geographic landscapes – and with it come dramatic differences in rainfall.

For example: the West Coast of the South Island is, by far, the wettest place in New Zealand – and January is often its wettest month of the year, with Westport and Hokitika averaging nearly 200 mm rainfall in January, Invercargill nearly 120 mm, and Milford Sound getting an astounding 722 mm average rainfall in January. However, just over the mountains to the east – barely 100 km away in many places – January is the driest time of year, with Dunedin, Queenstown and Nelson averaging around 78 mm rainfall throughout January, and Christchurch, Canterbury and the Marlborough region even drier, with barely 40 mm rainfall throughout the whole of January.

Best Things to do in the South Island in January 

From kayaking and lakeside lounging to watching waterfalls, there are plenty of wonderful things to do on South Island trips during January. 

Here are a few highlights:

Visit Milford Sound in Full Flight

If you think bucket loads of rain during January sounds like a bad thing – think again! New Zealand’s world-famous Milford Sound is at its absolute best in January. Heavy downpours and often sunny days make it the best time for experiencing Milford Sound’s jaw-dropping waterfalls at full flow.

Kayak & Walk the Abel Tasman Coast Track

Under an hour’s drive north of Nelson, the entrance to Abel Tasman National Park and start of the Coast Track at Kaiteriteri/Mārahau is a popular option during the hot January days. Enjoy walking between secluded coves, taking in hilltop viewpoints, and jumping in at many beautiful swimming spots along the way.

Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park

Go Boating

Whether posing for a picture at Lake Tekapo’s historic church, hitting inland Canterbury’s Lake Benmore and Aviemore for superb water-skiing and picnic spots, or taking Queenstown’s famous TSS Earnslaw historic scenic boat cruise on Lake Wakatipu, January brings dry days and warm weather to the South Island lake regions.

kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds

The Best Way to Plan a South Island Travel Itinerary

If you like the sound of visiting the South Island in January, you’re in the right place. First Light Travel have a team of expert South Island travel experts on hand to help you plan your own customised South Island road trip. Or, check out their great range of pre-planned South Island self-drive itineraries. For any other queries about visiting the South Island, you can find answers to most questions on FLT’s dedicated New Zealand travel blog.


Alexandra Diethelm
Alexandra Diethelm
: 8 Nov 2022 (Last updated: 9 Nov 2022)

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