New Zealand’s Sunshine

Where should you go to catch plenty of New Zealand sunshine and how wise is it soaking up those golden rays in the Southern Hemisphere?


New Zealand is sunnier than North-Western Europe but is less sunny than the Mediterranean and much of the U.S.A.

New Zealand’s sunshine is fairly well spread throughout the year so winters tend to be brighter than you might expect.

Sunshine Comes With Shelter

• The sunniest places lie in sheltered spots at the northern tips of both islands – Blenheim and Nelson in the South Island and Tauranga and other coastal locations in the North Island’s Bay of Plenty.

• The least sunny places lie in the far south and on the west coast.

• New Zealand’s three major cities – Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington all receive over two thousand hours of bright sunshine each year.

Annual Sunshine Hours Compared

NZ LocationAnnual Sunshine Hours
Dunedin 1,600
Palmerston North1,700
New Plymouth2,150
Overseas LocationAnnual Sunshine Hours
London (UK)1,500
Freiburg (Germany)1,700
Toronto (Cananda)2,050
Melbourne (Australia)2,100
Florence (Italy)2,500
Brisbane (Australia)2,750
San Diego (California)3,000

But How Pleasant Is The Sunshine?

sun glasses

• In high summer, the sunshine in New Zealand is really strong. You’ll burn more easily here in New Zealand than anywhere in the Mediterranean.

• For our scientifically minded readers, there are three reasons why the sun in the Southern Hemisphere is so strong.

      • There is less ozone here to block the UV rays that cause sunburn.
      • Earth’s orbit takes it closer to the sun during the southern summer than during the northern summer.
      • There is less pollution in the southern-hemisphere to block the UV rays.

• The sun’s burning strength is measured by the UV index. The highest possible UV index at sea-level is about 20. This can occur at midday in equatorial regions. Any reading higher than 10 is extreme in terms of skin-damage.

• The UV Index in the Mediterranean in high-summer reaches 9 or 10.
• The people in Florida are fried on a just a few days each summer when the index reaches 12.
• In New Zealand the summer index often exceeds 12. In the far North, 14 is reached – risky even for people with naturally brown skin.

Daily predictions of New Zealand’s UV levels are available from NIWA. NIWA’s site is particularly useful because you can also find out what the sun’s strength will be at different times of the day.

Unless you’re keen to look like toasted lobster, you need to take precautions with New Zealand’s climate. If you arrive in summer, you’ll notice that a surprising number of New Zealanders look like they’re taking none – most people don’t wear hats. Many New Zealanders are very slack about sun precautions, so it’s not surprising that there are high skin cancer rates here.

In fact New Zealand has the highest rate of skin cancers in the world, with almost 50,000 new cases diagnosed each year!! Thankfully most of these cases are not serious, but the reality is that about 200 New Zealanders die each year of skin cancer.

If you’re worried about skin-cancer you can have your skin checked by skin-scans or mole-maps; there are newspaper-ads in New Zealand for this type of check-up.

The common message is slip, slop, slap and wrap:

• Slip on a shirt.
• Slop on the sun cream.
• Slap on a hat.
• Wrap around sunglasses.

And there’s a lot of sense in that.

Return to the New Zealand Climate Guide.

6 thoughts on “New Zealand’s Sunshine”

  1. You say that there are almost 50000 new cases of skin cancer in NZ each year when the real figure is 2000. Where do you get your facts from???

    1. Hi Ryan,

      Thanks for your question. When you quote 2,000, you’re probably talking about the number of melanoma cases. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer, but also less common that others.

      “Skin cancer is by far the most common cancer affecting New Zealanders. There
      were 18,610 new cancer registrations in 2005. Of these 2,017 were ‘Malignant
      melanoma of skin’; 10.8 percent of all cancer registrations. Non-melanoma skin
      cancers are not registered. If, however, an estimated 67,000 new non-melanoma
      skin cancers per year are added, new skin cancer cases each year total about

      Quoted from:
      Des O’Dea
      Health Economist
      Lecturer, Department of Public Health,
      Wellington School of Medicine, University of Otago
      October 2009

      Your comment is a reminder that we should bring this page up to date with more recent data, if any is available.

  2. Where do you get your sunshine figures from? The average annual sunshine for Nelson over the last 20 years is 2,676.22 hours, and for Blenheim, 2,622.80 hours. Your figures of 2,400 and 2,500 respectively for Nelson and Blenheim are not only incorrect, they are the wrong way around. Nelson has beaten Blenheim in 15 of the last 20 years, and of the 5 years in which Blenheim won, the maximum difference is 66.9 hours and the minimum 6.25 – and that in a year in which the calculation is questionable as Blenheim’s sunshine was not recorded over July and half of August 2001, so the sunshine figures for this period are based on radiation records. I’m happy to email you my schedule should you wish.

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