New Zealand is a unicorn destination. It literally has it all – culture, nightlife, nature, beaches, mountains, forests, skiing, sustainable initiatives, and amazing photography opportunities. This makes packing for a trip to New Zealand pretty dang hard, you need activewear, summer clothing, colder weather layers, sustainable and eco-friendly products, and photography gear. It seems like an impossible feat, but I just returned from a 10 day responsible trip to New Zealand with Traverse Journeys spanning the North and South Island during a shoulder season and I managed to be prepared for all types of weather and activities and I still had room for all my zero waste and eco-products as well. As New Zealand moves toward banning plastic and promoting sustainable travel this last aspect is key, so support this movement and don’t add to the country’s waste. So, let’s dig into the best sustainable and eco-friendly products, clothing, outdoor gear, and camera gear to pack for your trip to New Zealand
Traverse Journeys invited me to New Zealand, but they did not influence this packing list in any way and all these items are things I personally used to reduce my waste and be an ethical traveler all while taking awesome photos.
Visa. Always check to see if you need a visa prior to arriving in New Zealand. American citizens can gain a visa on entry and go through security gates without even talking to border control, but every country is different.
Credit Card/Debit Card – most places take card and you do not need to take cash out.
Packing for the Climate & Weather in New Zealand
New Zealand climate ranges from the sub-tropical rainforest in the North Island to temperate alpine in the South Island. Winter can be snowy, cold and rainy, while summers can be hot and the shoulder season is just about everything in between. Pack according to the time of year you’re going and keep an eye on the 10-day forecast. I was traveling the shoulder season, so cooler temps and a lot of rain. I was prepared as I checked the forecast before I left and packed according.
When traveling New Zealand always pack layers, quick dry, breathable and multi-use items to get the best out of your trip.
Wearing a Mandala V-neck and PrAna “On the Road Pants”, in Akaroa, New Zealand heading out on an eco Penguin tour.
New Zealand is a green country both literally and figuratively. The entire country is committed to a sustainable movement, shifting toward banning single use-plastics and supporting eco-tourism initiatives. I think in order to respect this movement and be an ethical traveler, you should take a look at what is in your suitcase and ensure you’re packing clothing that is organic, breathable, fair-trade, and will last you several days on the trip and many years in the long run.
I always suggest having 5-7 days worth of outfits and packing items that can be worn at least twice before you need to wash them. Higher quality products that wick sweat and moisture are great items to have in your bag and I’ve fallen in love with some sustainable yoga and outdoor brands that create clothing that is comfortable and practical for travel.
So, without further ado, here are the clothing essentials I packed for 10 days in New Zealand during the shoulder season. You can buy all these brands direct online using the links I provide, or often local sports store like REI will carry these brands.
3-4 basic T-shirts that go with a variety of bottoms and can easily be layered underneath with a thermal or over top with a jacket or hoodie.
1-2 Long sleeve, if traveling in colder weather without layers.
2 Tank Tops for hotter days/weather, but also layer well for chilly nights.
1 flannel or button down shirt – great for a more on-the-go layering for active excursions.
1 cardigan – great for layering or dressing up for an evening out.
Dresses are a great way to have an all in one outfit. I always choose dresses that can accommodate leggings or a jacket for colder days and are breathable for hotter days.
1 “Fun Dress” for a more classy night out. I usually stick to basics, but dresses are a great place to add color and pattern to your wardrobe as you can layer with plain leggings and a plain jacket.
1 Little Black Dress
My fun dress comes from Mistral, an organic and sustainable company with fun flirty patterns for all seasons. They great for layering and really comfortable. My little black dress comes from IceBreaker and it is a classic breathable dress. Synergy is also a great place to find a sustainable travel dress.
Optional Maxy Dress. Organic and Breathable, great for non-active days. Paired with bamboo cardigan
Synergy dress, great for lightly active hot days.
Mistral organic dress, paired with a blazer for nice dinners.
The amount of shorts/vs pants you bring should relate to the weather. Obviously, if you’re traveling during a colder period bring more pants and fewer shorts. I love skirts and dresses because they can work as hot or cold weather options when layered, but pants are great too.
1-2 sets of “travel pants.” Loose fitting breathable organic pants with elastic waist.
1-2 pairs of plain black leggings.
2 pairs of shorts.
(Optional) 1 pair of Jeans if you’re a jeans person.
I never leave home without one of these four pants: From PrAna… The Mantra Pants, On The Road Pants (Looove these for long-haul flights), the Summit Capri Pants or Mandala Golden Day Pants. Life is too short to wear jeans and these types of pants are great essentials to pack for New Zealand as they are versatile, comfortable and transition from outdoor activities, to city exploration. I wore these types of pants for a late night penguin viewing activity and chiller days in the city. Everyone has their favorite pair of leggings, so I won’t recommend any, I suggest coordinating the number of leggings to the number of skirts or dresses you plan on pairing them with. My shorts are PrAna and double as hiking shorts or city walking shorts. I literally have these shorts in all three colors, and packed 1 of them with me in New Zealand, since the weather forecast was cooler. IceBreaker has a great skirt and my favorite travel skirt is long, breathable and has a zippered pock and can literally be worn for days.
PrAna T paired with Mistral Skirt. All organic.
PrAna “On the Road Pants” paired with Mandala V-neck
Great way to pair leggings with a basic T, flannel, and dress for layering.
Eco Outdoor & Activewear to Pack for New Zealand
As I mentioned before, New Zealand is hard to pack for as the weather is changing and the North Island is so different than the South Island. That is why base layers and good outdoor gear is essential.
Patagonia waterproof/windproof rainjacket. This is a lifesaver, even if you didn’t pack warm enough clothing, blocking out the wind is essential for keeping you warm enough. It also rains a lot in NZ, so you want to stay dry.
Patagonia is an incredibly ethical company committed to minimizing their impact on the environment. If you ever need a repair or an exchange they will help you repair your product or donate your old clothing. This Patagonia rain jacket gets me through heavy downpours and windy days. Columbia is a great brand for Vegan down jackets and they are the perfect stuffable addition to your New Zealand packing essentials.
Patagonia Rainproof jacket
Vegan micro light weight down.
Merino Wool Layers
These are handy because they don’t take up a lot of room and keep you super warm, especially if you go to the south island and do late night activities at the Dark Sky Reserve. Merino provides heat in the cold and keeps you cool in the heat without the itch of regular wool. I used both layers several times.
Merino first layer long sleeve.
Merino first layer pants.
IceBreaker is your best bet for comfortable, breathable and warm – but not too hot, base layers. I used these so much on my trip to New Zealand. We went on several hikes where I threw the pants on underneath my running or hiking shorts and I used the first layers for an after-hours outdoor penguin excursion and while visiting the Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve.
Icebreaker first layer long-sleeve short and first layer pants.
First layer pants paired with running shorts for a chilly sunrise hike at Queenstown Hill.
Hiking and Activewear
New Zealand is an amazing place for a serious hiking. It is also great for soft-core adventure. I assume you know what you enjoy and can pack based on the activities you have planned. I’ll give you some soft adventure options and some more serious hiking options. Unfortunately, with only 10 days in New Zealand, I didn’t get to do the hardcore hiking I wanted to, but I was able to hike Queenstown Hill and Hooker Valley, so I packed the soft-core adventure set.
1 long sleeve hiking shirt.
1 short sleeve hiking shirt.
1 pair of zip-off pants that turn into shorts.
My favorite hiking shirts are REI Co-Op shirts. It is important to buy the Co-Op shirts as they help your local community by giving back to environmental causes and hosting safety classes. I personally hike with this shirt for a long sleeve option and basically the same shirt for the short sleeve option. If you’re tight on space, or just have one big hike planned you can easily just pack the long sleeve and roll-up feature to convert to a short sleeve. For the pants, I’ve tried a lot of hiking pants over the years and have become faithful to Kuhl. They are the most comfortable pants and don’t chafe on longer hikes. The boots I recommend are Vasque. We’re going on 6 years and they are stronger than ever and I have weak ankles and they provide a lot of support.
Kuhl hiking pants and REI co-op button down.
Light Hiking and Adventure Activities:
If you’re not going to be doing serious hiking you can get by with some basics. In fact, for the Hooker Valley Track, I combined my Icebreaker first layer pants and my PrAna shorts with my flannel and Patagonia Jacket, so I didn’t even need to bring anything extra.
1 pair of hiking or running shorts (pair with your first layer Icebreaker if it is cold out)
Running shoes or hiking shoes.
Athletic T-shirt (any of the ones suggested above).
Flannel (already recommended).
I already recommended almost everything for this section. If you’re looking for some great running shorts I love my Brooks running shorts and they are great for layering.
Hiking Hooker Valley, New Zealand. PrAna shorts, Icebreaker first layer pants, Patagonia rain jacket, Mandala shirt and PrAna flannel.
Hiking Queenstown Hill
If traveling during the shoulder or winter season you might want to consider packing these items.
If you’re not prepared with your own to-go containers you’re going to get hit with a hefty fine for using takeaway products from the store. We ate breakfast on the road a lot, stopping at small cafes and everyone charged at least 1 New Zealand dollar for using their take away items. So, make sure you pack your reusable coffee mug, water bottle, and lunch box if you can or give yourself enough time to sit and enjoy your food and beverage at the cafe. Additionally, having some toiletries that don’t harm the fragile ecosystem in New Zealand will ensure you’re doing your best to leave no trace.
Intimates, Shoes, and Misc Things to Pack for New Zealand
I always have the hardest time narrowing down shoes when it comes to traveling, especially a place like New Zealand where you’re outdoors a lot, but still want to stay stylish, but I narrowed it down to shoes that I actually wore while in New Zealand and left out the ones I packed but didn’t wear.
New Zealand is seriously one of the most gorgeous places I’ve been. You don’t want to miss out on the photos of a lifetime because you didn’t pack the right gear. You don’t need to be a professional photography to ensure you pack the right gear to take the best photos of your life. One of the great things about traveling with Traverse Journeys is that we had a local guide on the trip with us. He happened to be a professional photographer and gave me some packing tips before I left. I also got some on-location coaching to help me take the best photos. Here is professional photographer and New Zealand local Maxy’s recommended packing list for optimizing your photos in New Zealand.
Travel Tripod. Essential if you want to photograph the stars at Lake Tekapo or any waterfalls.
* Please note that these items are what I use to fit my camera my gear, that does not mean they will fit your camera. You will need to ensure you buy the proper lenses and sizes for your set up.
Olympus OM-D-10 Camera with Olympus M Zuiko Lens and ND filter
Google Pixel Phone in Portrait mode
Olympus OM-D-10 Camera with Olympus M Zuiko Lens and ND filter
The Tripod I recommended, Rollei Carbon, is lightweight, turns into a monopod, is great for traveling- but still stable, and easy to use. Maxy, our photography guide recommended the ND variable filter, and I am so glad he did as my best photos were taken with this filter, see waterfall photos. Using this type of filter allows you to create that smooth water look even in the brightest of light. Sadly it was cloudy and rainy the day we were in Lake Tekapo for the Dark Sky Reserve, so I didn’t get any photos with my lens, but I’ve used it before for star photography and using a lens like this is crucial to get those stunning shots of the milky way. If you get one, learn to use the infinity focus or your photos will not be clear. I suggest a large SD card, as you will be taking so many photos you don’t want to run out of space. I used the GoPro for my dolphin swim and I was thankful I had it! Again, we encountered bad weather during our whale safari out of Auckland, so I didn’t get to use my telephoto, but I’ve used it on wildlife cruise in Alaska and got some amazing shots. The camera bag I recommended is functional and carries my wallet, a water bottle, and a charging pack, plus it is super comfortable. A lot of people skip on a good camera bag, and it is the only thing I need to take out with me for the day and having this camera bag has been life changing for the way I travel. I bought a Pixel phone several years ago and I will never go back. The camera on this thing is amazing and it is great for on the go photos when you don’t have a lot of time for editing.
Well rounded travel lens Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12-40mm
Panasonic Lumix telephoto lens.
Rokinon lens for star photography
All my photography gear. I did not take the bulky GoPro case, or the portrait lens.
I cried sad tears just now when I realized Osprey doesn’t make my backpacking bag anymore. I dunno’ I guess they though 80l was too large for any one woman to carry? It’s served me well over the years. The most comparable option they have is a 70l bag. The gear thing about this style of bag is it is a 2-1 backpack. Meaning you can detach a smaller backpack and take it as a carry on or bring it hiking. The straps also fold in and turning it into a duffel bag. If you’re looking for more room, check the entire set as one piece and bring another small carry on, but you should be able to fit everything in here comfortably, if you pack smart and utilize packing cubes.
Osprey 2 in one backpack duffel
Before You Go
Is New Zealand on your bucket list? Are you planning a trip there? Have you already been there? Let me know in the comments what your essentials were, or if you have any questions. Remember that if you forget anything behind New Zealand is a modern country and you should be able to find all your New Zealand packing essentials there, just in case.
Make sure you pin this to your New Zealand board for quick reference.