By Karen Shelford

Rotorua Weather

Layers, Layers, Layers...

Packing for Rotorua weather conditions is easy. Come prepared for all four seasons. No, I'm not joking. Read on and you'll see why.

Rotorua nestles snugly in the basin of a sunken caldera on the shores of Lake Rotorua - one of the oldest permanent lakes in New Zealand. We're totally surrounded by hills, but not like the huge ones you find in, say, the likes of Switzerland. The highest  would be Mt Ngongotaha at 757m above sea-level. Rotorua itself sits about 280m above sea level.

Spring daffodils at Kuirau Park, Rotorua, NZ.Kuirau Park spring daffodils

It doesn't feel claustrophobic though. To give you an idea of the size, the Rotorua Marathon course is around the lake so that's roughly 42km (26mi).

Because the city is enclosed like this, I have to wonder if that's why the Rotorua weather isn't as extreme as a lot of other places in New Zealand. Sure it gets windy and extremely wet at times but we don't get cyclones, major floods or snowstorms, etc. Touch wood for luck.


During summer the weather is usually hot and dry with the odd humid day/s thrown in. It can get up to around 29℃ (84℉) briefly so it's not too uncomfortable.

View of Lake Rotorua.Rotorua summer weather

One thing I will stress is that you have to be sun smart in New Zealand, because the UV rays are deadly. And that's whether the sun is behind clouds or not.

Visitors, especially from the Northern hemisphere, sometimes wind up in the emergency department because of sunburn. It blisters and turns into weeping, ulcerated sores. Extremely painful and often requiring medication. Talk about spoiling a trip.

Nowadays, just being in a car with the sun's rays landing on exposed skin burns like hell. It even burns through denim.

Tip: Covering your lap with a sunshade works to block it.

When I went to Europe some years ago, I was amazed at how I could go out without a hat and the sun felt gentle on my skin. That's so not the case in NZ.

Make sure you have plenty of sunscreen, hats, glasses, long-sleeved light tops etc. Anywhere that skin is exposed to UV rays pretty much needs covering. The tops of the feet are a good place for getting sunburnt as well… ouch.

Early summer is prone to changeable weather. That means layers. It's been known for the Christmas period to have the odd frosts, but usually the days heat up nicely.

Spring & Autumn

Rotorua Autumn weather.Autumn colours in Rotorua

In Spring and Autumn we can have lovely mild/warm days but once the sun goes down or behind a cloud, brrr, there can be a real nip in the air.

If you're looking at visiting this time of year, include warm clothing and I mean warm. It's best to have lots of layers for the Rotorua weather, as you can be stripping on and off at different times throughout the day. Mind you, that can happen in summer as well.

I'm a wuss when it comes to the cold anyway but when my four large, burly brothers are throwing on layers I know that it's cold for everyone else as well.


Winter is freezing full-stop. When the days are fine it can be invigorating and crisp but when overcast, it's bitter. At the southern end of the city, icy winds blast up from the Antarctic through the Hemo Gorge into the city basin - I probably exaggerate on the description but that's me. Told you I'm a wuss.

A common local newspaper report in winter reads, "23 crashes in 4 days... crashes were a good example of the hazards of hitting black ice on frosty mornings and the importance of driving to conditions".

That's Rotorua weather for you.

Hard Frosts & Black Ice

Often, hard frosts make some of the roads treacherous with black ice. These are usually the roads climbing out of Rotorua, like SH5 heading north towards Auckland, or SH30 in the easterly direction of Whakatane. SH30 heading west towards Tokoroa is another one to watch out for as well.

Rotorua weather is quite often unpredictable - snow on Mt Tarawera.A snow-capped Mount Tarawera

Other roads I would recommend being careful driving on in winter include Tarawera Rd going out towards Lakes Tarawera, Lake Okareka, Tikitapu (Blue Lake) & Rotokakahi (Green Lake). Also Hamurana Rd around the back of Lake Rotorua. Both these roads are extremely winding and get icy.

We sometimes get hard frosts on roads and footpaths in the central city itself making it slippery for both cars and pedestrians.

Once in a while the surrounding hills get a light sprinkle of snow but that's about the extent of it. Back in the late 60's, early 70's it snowed up on Mt Ngongotaha and practically everyone made their way up there to play because it was such a novelty. 

Rotorua Weather - Breaking News 15/08/11

It snowed here today. Big, fat, flakes of snow. People were running out of buildings to take photos and there was such an air of excitement in the city. I was amazed at how happy people were.

If you come from a country where you get a lot of snow, your question will be, "what's the big deal?" Well, it's huge for us. It's been five decades since we last had snow in the CBD (central business district) the local paper reported.

Snow even spread up north to Auckland and further, although there were arguments over whether it was snow or hail. That report led the news on national TV, which demonstrates how big a deal it was.

You'll need warm clothing including layers. Standard items in winter, especially if you're an outdoors person, are woollen, polypropylene (polyprops), or merino base clothing. Outdoor gear shops like Kathmandu will know what you're talking about. They can also be purchased at Farmers and The Warehouse (not as good a quality fabric but fine just the same) - look out for sales because they can be expensive.

Polyprops are cheaper than Merino, but also more breathable, hug your body better (do get looser as you move), and quicker to dry. A girlfriend always buys Merino because she's got sensitive skin.

Weather Links

Want to find out what the Rotorua weather is doing today? Click this link  go to the Met Service site for more indepth information.

If you plan on travelling throughout the country, click the following link to find out about NZ weather in general.

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