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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.
Use packing cubes to keep your clothing nice and tidy. We recommend the Eagle Creek Compressible Packing Cubes as they’re lightweight and can reduce the space your clothing takes up in your luggage.
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.
Book a Viator Tour for Your Trip to New Zealand
Wellington Sightseeing Tour ↗
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Small Group, Award Winning, Full Day Milford Sound Experience from Queenstown ↗
Travel with a small group by coach from Queenstown to Fiordland National Park to explore this lush wilderness, including a boat cruise on the Milford Sound.
Book Your Viator Tour Before You Go
Far North New Zealand Tour including 90 Mile Beach and Cape Reinga from Paihia – $109.90
Enjoy this full-day tour visiting the best of the Far North in a unique Dune Rider vehicle. Let our drivers immerse you in the culture and history of the Far North while taking in the amazing scenery of places like the 90 Mile Beach and Cape Reinga.
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.
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Lisa Taylor says
As a Kiwi I can tell you – Every town (no matter how small) will always have one thing – a Petrol Station. At such a place you can fill up with petrol (the vehicle not you!)
and they will always have food/ drink and other small items available. (I’ve been to some which sell sanitary items, toilet paper and news papers!)
The small towns (New Plymouth, Tauranga, Hamilton, Queenstown etc) to name a few all have proper supermarkets, petrol stations etc. You’re not likely to be going far without seeing civilisation! (Unless you’re in the wop-wops in the South Island!)
I would actually go as far to say 80-90% of NZ has cellphone & internet coverage. So you’re not cut off!
As a kiwi, I must warn you that a simple SPF 15 will not do ANYTHING in the harsh NZ sun!!!! I will put SPF 70-100 on my face and atleast a 30 on my body, and I am from italian heritage!!! There is a hole in the ozone layer above NZ and it is very common for tourists to get burnt to a crisp on their first day– even if it’s cloudy! Just a warning 🙂 Be extra cautious!
Also, NZ is the safest place in the entire world, so get to know the locals and have an amazing time with no worries.
Anna - PiwiWiwi Campervans says
Great list with great tips – I reckon you’ve got it spot on! From personal experience (Brit now living in NZ), here are a few more tips…
If you plan to explore the West Coast of the South Island, beware of the sandflies! They are more attracted to dark colours, so long trousers and a long sleeve shirt in light colours are the best protection. You can get some great (natural) sandfly repellant over here, so don’t bother bringing anything from home.
A sarong is my summer travel essential – beach towel, scarf, skirt, you can even use it to carry your laundry to the laundromat!
Sunscreen – cheap and very very good over here – SPF 30 minimum (you rarely see anything lower for sale). Buy a sport or waterproof version if you’re going to be doing l
making the most of the beach / wilderness.
Wifi – there’s more and more of it here in NZ. Most hostels have it (sometimes free, sometimes not), and many cafes (a good excuse to buy a coffee). Libraries often have free wifi spots too.
Bare feet and shorts – Roll on the summer 🙂
Kiwi Kayla says
I love this site!
i am young. But i have lived in new zealand my whole life. Here a few extra items to bring:
-aloe vera gel: for the days you do get sunburnt
-insect repelent: once night time falls and your still exploring outside, the mozzies will bite you! Haha, dont worry. Itcy bites dont hurt but well, itch! The stuff smell strong, bjt its worth it!
-sun glasses: yes ladies, your eyes can get burnt to! Espeacialy if you have light eyes like me. The ‘whites’ around your eyes may go red-ish proably will sting a bit. Bjt with your sunnies youll be just fine. (THIS DOSENT HAPPEN TO EVERYONE!)
Thats all i can think of at the moment. Brooke, i love this post. Please keep posting!
This list is helpful in general, but as a New Zealander I’m a bit surprised by a few of these tips …
1) It does get cold here but on a warm/hot day in summer you’re pretty unlikely to be shivering the second you step into the shade – please do bring jerseys/sweatshirts, long pants, etc, and do plan for the weather to deteriorate if you’re out hiking for more than an hour or so, but don’t panic about it being freezing here!
2) “Most hikes are pretty short (under an hour)” … this might be true in a pure numbers sense, but the kinds of hikes people come to NZ for (eg the Tongariro crossing, the Milford track, etc) are generally full-day or multi-day ones – where you might get sick of wearing substandard shoes. You CAN probably manage Tongariro or Taranaki in sneakers, so if space is at a real premium for your luggage then go for it, but if you possibly can then I’d advise wearing decent hiking boots for those kinds of longer tramps.
3) “Outside the three major cities (Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch) it will be hard to buy anything electronic that you are missing.” … this seems pretty unlikely too. There are decent electronic shops in most cities (New Plymouth, Dunedin, Palmerston North …) – so again, don’t panic about this one.