The weather in New Zealand can change in an instant. The largest city in the country, Auckland, can experience all four seasons in the span of 24 hours. Summer in New Zealand is a fantastic time to visit because it rarely gets too warm (30C is death for them) and perfect for a t-shirt and jeans most days in most parts of the country. Layering is key as it can be quite hot under the extra strong sun but chilly in the shade and definitely after the sun sets. And there is of course rain around every corner! It really depends on what part of the country you are in.
I spent two summers in New Zealand, both times traveling around the whole place. I didn’t include amounts below, as it will vary depending on how long you are there. Washing machines and clothes lines to dry (and if you are lucky, even a dryer!) are fairly widespread (nearly all hostels have them), should you need to wash anything. Not super cheap, but not crazy Europe-expensive either. The recommendations below are for those doing a whistle-stop tour around the country, someone who is doing a backpacker bus or driving a car and plans on staying in hostels or hotels and not camping or doing any multi-day hikes.
>> Have a read of this female packing list to New Zealand during winter.
Tank tops and t-shirts – For layering and the beach
Long-sleeve shirts or even turtlenecks – Depends on how easily cold you get
Sweater or sweatshirt – It will get cold, even in the summer! Take one with you everywhere you go (maybe except for the beaches in the north, but hey, you never know. Don’t say I didn’t warn you). Standing in the sun will be hot, but the moment you step into the shade, you will shiver.
Jeans – You’ll pretty much wear these everyday you are not at the beach
Non-denim pants – Linen, cargo, water-proof, whatever tickles your fancy. There are some hot inland (and coastal) areas were the weather might be in-between. Too hot for jeans, but not warm enough for shorts, something you are comfortable will be a good choice. Plus, you never know when the weather might quickly change and it’s good to be prepared for both!
Editor’s note: Read about the best travel pants for women.
Shorts – You’ll pretty much wear these everyday you are at the beach
Underwear, etc – Need I say more?
Socks – Unless you want your feet to smell in your trainers! Also, for night, if your feet get cold easily. The temp drops considerably all over the country.
Going out – New Zealand is an extremely casual country. In the bigger towns like Auckland and Wellington, you can deck yourself out as much as you want for a night on the town and there will still be girls and guys in jeans right next to you so no need to stress about dressing up at all, especially if you are tight for space.
Togs (Swimsuit) – You are never too far from the ocean, no matter were you are in New Zealand. Never know when the road will curve towards the ocean and a burst of sunlight will appear! The water is too cold or too rough to enter in most parts of the country, but still beautiful and great for laying out for a few minutes.
Towel – Laying on, sitting on or drying off – it’s multi purpose!
Editor’s note: As a lighter alternative, try Turkish travel towels.
Hiking shoes – Trainers (normal American sneakers) will work fine in most terrains around New Zealand. Most hikes are pretty short (under an hour) and the trails are really well maintained thanks to DOC, so you most likely won’t need any thing more hardcore then this.
Jandals (Flipflops) – Half the time I hiked in these and I was fine for short hikes, but I would have been more comfortable in trainers. Other then hiking, everyone wears jandals all summer long to every event. Everything is really casual all over the country.
Bare Feet – If you want to go native, just go barefoot. I saw people all year long in central Auckland not wearing shoes. I don’t think the sign “No Shoes. No Shirt. No Service” exists in New Zealand.
New Zealand is a first world country and everything you can get at home, you can buy here. It’s more expensive (but not much if you buy generic, like me) and they sell everything at both pharmacies and supermarkets. No need to go to a special store to buy your products. To help me get acclimated to the country I am visiting, I don’t even bring most of this stuff with me as the perishables weigh me down. Plus, it’s a nice local souvenir to bring home! It varies on person to person. You know what works for you, so who am I to tell you what to bring? The only thing that I normally would not think to buy is:
Suncream – A MUST!!! The sun is way stronger in New Zealand, something to do with the ozone layer. I just bought a generic brand of cream at the pharmacy when I arrived. Hey, if the locals are using it, it must be good.
Protection from Elements:
Rain gear – Whatever works for you as it rains A LOT even in the summer, though umbrellas are pointless because it is so windy most of the time. Your umbrella will just break or poke someone in the eye. Suck it up, you are going to get wet.
Jacket – Must be water proof. Thickness will depend on how cold you get or how well you layer. I am always hot yet I am the worst at layering. A tshirt, jeans, jandals, wool hat and my waterproof down jacket was my official summer in New Zealand outfit.
Hats – Yes, I said hats, plural! A sunhat with a wide brim will save you in the sun. Even with heavy duty suncream, you’ll probably miss a spot on your face (I know I always do). I also jammed a wool beanie in my bag for when it rained though if your jacket comes with a hood, that will work well too.
Sunglasses – The sun will show its face at least once a day. Be prepared, you don’t want to miss a thing!
Camera (Still/video) – Don’t forget your adapters and chargers. You don’t want a dead camera battery at anytime because you never know what kind of spectacular scenery is around the corner! Outside the three major cities (Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch) it will be hard to buy anything electronic that you are missing.
Computer – Internet is pretty crap around the country, both in terms of wifi and computer terminals so don’t count on it too much. But then, get your head out of the screen and enjoy the scenery! That is what you are here for anyway.
New Zealand is the safest country I have ever been to. Just be street smart and you’ll be fine. No need for a money belt, but a padlock is always helpful for your bags or hostel locker. I didn’t have one and I never felt unsafe or had anything stolen. But then, I am pretty anal and carried all my important stuff around with me at all times when I stayed in dorms or didn’t have a car.
Guide book – Your choice but not required. Every single town of note has an I-Centre. Just make it your first stop to check out the local attractions and you’ll be fine. In fact, they’ll have more up to date info on attractions then your guide book. But I read guide books like novels (especially about places I missing) so it’s not a complete waste of space, especially if you want to plan something far in advance. Most I-Centers cover the local area too, so you can grab information on your next stop.
Novel – Paper edition! Every hostel has a book swap and buying books is crazy expensive. Always carry a paper copy so you can trade. There are some pretty decent collections at some hostels.
Pens/Paper – Always helpful.
Passport – Obviously. Doesn’t need to be carried around obsessively as the only place you’ll need it besides entering the county is when you check in at hostels.
Money – There are ATM’s in every single small town and all tourist places take credit cards. Some may require a minimum payment and if an outside fee is charge, they will state it. No place takes USD or AUD (you’d be surprised how many people think New Zealand is a “state” of Australia!) so leave the local cash at home.
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About the author: Rebecca Several works at an office job by day and spends her free time figuring out how to make her limited US vacation days last the longest by night. She originally traveled to New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa back in 2007, parlaying that into a general work permit for an additional few months before discovering the Work and Holiday Visa in Australia where she traveled for an additional 8 months. She only meant to be overseas for one year but whoops! Didn’t make it home for over two years. She writes about her travels on her website Travels at 88mph and can be found on Twitter @purplekat99.