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Ultimate Female Travel Packing List for New Zealand (in Winter)

When it comes to packing, I’m definitely no expert. As a reformed chronic over-packer, I’ve recently been trying different approaches to what I take with me when I travel. I’ve tried to streamline my luggage and greatly reduce the amount of unneeded stuff that I cram into my bags. Do I still slip up? Sure. Even though I only took a 36L backpack and a big purse with me on my last 2-week trip to New Zealand, I’m sure I still “overpacked” according to most frugal backpacking standards. But that’s okay. Because now I can pass some of my NZ packing tips on to you.

amanda with fleece

Amanda in New Zealand wearing a warm fleece.

I have only really ever traveled to New Zealand during chilly months – winter months that are often comfortable in the North, and frigid in the South. So packing, then, becomes a bit complicated. Yes, NZ is an island in the South Pacific. But it couldn’t be more different from fellow Pacific locales like Fiji and Hawaii…

So what should you pack for a trip to New Zealand?

I’ll share with you my packing list from my most recent trip there, which I took in May 2011. I went for only 2 weeks, but my packing list would easily suffice for a longer stay, assuming you can do some laundry along the way.

Here’s what was in my backpack:

Clothing:

2 pairs of jeans. I know many travelers abhor jeans. But, when you’re going somewhere cold, jeans are ideal. And bringing 2 pairs ensured that I would always have 1 extra set in case the ones I was wearing got wet.
1 pair of lighter, non-denim pants. The black cargo pants I took were perfect for Wellington’s warmer climate, and also were required for the glacier trekking I did in Franz Josef. They won’t let you wear denim on the ice, so keep that in mind if you plan to do a glacier hike.

6 solid-color T-shirts that could be layered.
2 tank tops (one black and one white) for layering.
2 zip-up jackets (one fleece) for layering.
1 black cardigan in case I needed to look a bit nicer.
(Clearly there’s a theme here – bring clothing that you can layer! The New Zealand climate can change from sun to snow from one town to the next.)

A sufficient amount of underwear, warm socks and bras.

Slipper socks both for the plane, and to keep my toes warm on those cold NZ nights – this country does not believe in central heating!

slipper socks

Amanda's slipper socks.

Windproof, semi-waterproof jacket. Since I wasn’t planning on taking part in any snow sports, I didn’t want to be wearing a bulky winter coat as I traveled around the country. So my windproof North Face jacket was perfect for the South Island’s chilly autumn temperatures, but still light enough for the North Island’s milder ones.

Good walking shoes. New Zealand has some fantastic hiking trails (arguably some of the best in the world, in fact), and you want to make sure to have a good pair of shoes if you want to tackle any of them. I also knew I planned to do a lot of walking in cities like Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown, so comfy shoes were a must.
Flip-flops for hostels and in case the walking shoes get wet. Pretty self-explanatory, really. I was glad I had these in Franz Josef, as my shoes got soaked walking from the bus drop-off to my hostel.
(And let me just say I was REALLY proud of myself for traveling with only 2 pairs of shoes!)

Swimsuit for the hot pools. While it might seem odd to pack a swimsuit to travel to a country that’s nearing its winter months, don’t forget it when you go to New Zealand. The islands were formed by volcanic eruptions, and thus the country is riddled with geothermal activity. Many cities take advantage of this, and offer natural hot pools for you to soak in year-round.

Hat, scarf and gloves. I was really glad I had all of these on some of the cruises I went on, as well as for jet boating in Queenstown. Even though it wasn’t quite wintertime yet, the wind on the South Island can be freezing in May! (Probably because a lot of that air comes straight up from Antarctica.)

Leave behind: The fancy dresses and stiletto heels. Yes, there are clubs and upscale bars in the larger New Zealand cities. But, if it’s your first time visiting this country, you probably aren’t visiting it for its martinis and art galas. You’re probably visiting it for its stunning scenery, crazy adventure sports, and all the other young backpackers who are also there looking to have a good time. Most places you visit will have a “come as you are” dress code.

Beauty products:

Moisturizer for that cool, dry air.
Hair ties and headbands so your hair doesn’t get tangled in the wind.
Sunblock! Even in the winter, the sun in New Zealand can do some damage. The ozone layer is thinner over this part of the world, so those UV rays are even more dangerous.
Sunglasses. Because when the sun shines in New Zealand, it really can be quite dazzling!
Tampons. Yes, I was lucky enough to have it be “that time of the month” during this trip, and I know from past experience that it’s hard to find tampons that aren’t made of cardboard in NZ. I brought along a little box of U by Kotex plastic tampons.

>> This is one place where stock packing your own tampons might be the better option.

Leave behind: The hair dryer. Just as you won’t find many backpackers in New Zealand wearing high heels out to dinner, you also won’t find many people caring whether you’re perfectly made up in the morning. Plus, if you’re coming from the U.S. like me, your hair dryer won’t work in NZ unless you carry around a bulky voltage converter with you. And who wants to do that?

Gadgets:

iPhone or iTouch for music and to use to pick up wi-fi. (Though, note that New Zealand is about 15 years behind the rest of the world when it comes to Internet access. The ‘net is often slow, and don’t expect to find free wi-fi anywhere. Even in hotels and hostels, you’ll have to pay for it.)
Camera. New Zealand is just as amazing in real life as in all the photos you’ve ever seen of it. This is one part of the world that requires no Photoshopping to make it look amazing. Make sure you have plenty of memory, as well, because you’ll probably be snapping photos literally around every corner.
Video camera. I wanted to capture some of my NZ memories on video this time around, and so carried with me a little waterproof Kodak Playsport camera. It came in great handy during my Franz Josef Glacier hike, when it was pouring down rain half the time and I couldn’t use my regular camera for photos.

Leave behind: The umbrella. People in NZ just don’t seem to use them much, and, in some cities (like Wellington), the rain is often accompanied by such strong winds that it’s useless to even try.

So was there anything I brought with me on this trip that I wish I would have left behind? Not really. I probably could have gotten by with fewer T-shirts, but I’m a girl who likes to have options when she gets dressed in the morning.

And the number 1 thing I’d suggest you pack for a trip to NZ? A sense of adventure, of course! This is one country where you’ll definitely need it.

About the author: Amanda Williams is a 20-something, small-town Ohio girl with a journalism degree under her belt and an unquenchable lust for travel. After studying abroad in New Zealand, Amanda has decided she’d love to move there one day so she can wear jandals, eat hokey pokey ice cream, and continue pretending she understands the rules of rugby. When not working or blogging, Amanda can usually be found dreaming of her next travel adventure, whether around the globe or around the corner. She blogs at A Dangerous Business, and can be found on Twitter @DangerousBiz and also on Facebook.

7 Responses to Ultimate Female Travel Packing List for New Zealand (in Winter)

  1. Nicole February 28, 2013 at 11:49 pm #

    Good list! After living on the South Island for 6 months I learned that it can both be damp and cold. We learned fast why NZ farmers wear wool! Wool and polar fleece are really good for layering. Cotton just soaks up the damp and keeps you cold, so light layers that are not cotton are handy to have. I agree about not worrying about the hair dryer. Powerful ones can blow breakers even with a converter

  2. Lisa Taylor March 12, 2013 at 2:14 am #

    As a Kiwi. I can say one thing – Layers are your friend!

    If you can pack items you can layer on top of one another (while wearing them) you’ll be more likely to be able to use/ wear everything you bring.

    Comfortable shoes outdo the heels every time!

    Cosmetics and other toiletries can be picked up pretty much everywhere. – From corner dairies to supermarkets.

  3. jess April 13, 2013 at 5:18 am #

    This guide was so helpful! I just have to know what kind of windbreaker you have? Would you recommend a windbreaker or rain jacket?

  4. Morgan February 23, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    Hi! Thank you for this list. Especially the encouragement for jeans- I know they are heavy and take forever to dry….but I live in them, and I wear them all winter long! I am moving to NZ in March for a year, and starting off in the Queenstown area. I’m from the northeast, so I think I’m pretty acclimated to frigid winters. To be fair, I am bringing one cute dress that doesn’t wrinkle, can be worn during the day or night with any type of shoes. I think it’ll come in handy for vineyards during the warmer months.
    Question: I was planning on bringing Nike running shoes, converses, flip flops (for showers) and 1 pair of flats.
    I’m also having a little stress because I know I’ll be working, but have no idea what kind of work I’ll end up doing, and I’ll be travelling to south east Asia and Australia after NZ, where it’ll be hot, hot, hot. I have a feeling I’ll end up having to ditch/buy things in the end so I can avoid lugging around clothes for freezing winters on the south island and summer in thailand…..packing requires a lot of brain power!

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