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I lived in Australia for 5 years. So, prior to my trip to New Zealand, I did not look up any packing lists, or research what I needed to pack because I thought “Meh, New Zealand’s just gonna be pretty much the same as Australia.” I thought “hiking” was just going to be a few hours of a slow stroll in a nature reserve or park. I’m not sure what universe I was living in then thinking that but, NOPE. So, I just packed my usual–jeans, t-shirts and denim jacket. Boy, was I in for a ride.
New Zealand’s climate is pretty crazy. We got rained out almost every day on our 10-day road trip around the South Island, and were 100% not prepared. We had 30°C sunny days in Christchurch, and then heavy downpours of 7°C in Te Anau. So it’s safe to say, that you’re gonna need to prepare yourself for an all-season packing list. And if you’re going to be hiking, which you probably will since it is New Zealand, you probably won’t have shelter for the many hours you’re out in the wilderness, so you’re gonna need the proper gear.
Well, my loss is your gain, as I can now tell you what to pack for New Zealand road trip, and not be a fool like me.
Here’s everything you’ll need for your wonderful self-drive road trip down New Zealand’s South Island!
PS. I’ve handcrafted a super handy printable checklist to help you pack for your New Zealand South Island road trip! Just pop in your email below and you’ll get it sent straight to your inbox!
Btw, I’ve got a few other resources here to help you in your New Zealand South Island road trip planning!
Psst, FYI – this post may contain affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission (at absolutely no extra cost to you). Thanks for supporting the free content on this site (and for sponsoring more doggy treats for little Albus!)
What should I bring on my New Zealand road trip?
This was the single most important thing we needed but did not have. New Zealand can get pretty chilly even in Summer, and it does rain quite a bit, so it’s ideal to have a jacket that is waterproof and warm. Don’t be fooled by a sunny morning, as it may suddenly start pouring in the afternoon. You’ll also want something light and compact that you can keep in your daypack for this reason.
You’ll definitely need a light backpack you can carry around, especially on your hikes, to hold your essentials such as your water bottle, passport, rain jacket, camera, etc. I love my Marmot Kompressor Plus that weighs next to nothing, so I can pack all of my stuff in it and it still doesn’t weigh me down. There’s also a laptop compartment where I can safely stow my Macbook away.
Whether you’ve heard of packing cubes before or not, it’s something that most seasoned travelers swear by. It’s the easiest way to organize your things, especially if you’re gonna be on the move every other night, and this is something you will definitely do on your South Island road trip. You’ll be able to separate your things into different packing cubes according to your needs, and it makes it much easier to find in your luggage as well.
Depending on where you’re coming from, you’ll likely need a power adapter so your devices can be safely plugged into New Zealand power sockets. You can get this international adaptor that you can use worldwide, and this nifty little gadget also lets you charge up to 5 devices at the same time! I love that there are 4 USB ports so you won’t need to carry your bulky power heads.
New Zealand is filled with postcard views at every turn, so you’ll want to capture them the best way possible, and immortalize those wonderful memories. I personally like Sony’s range of mirrorless cameras, because you get excellent photo quality without the bulk and weight of a DSLR. I currently use the Sony A6000, but am currently drooling over its successor, the A6500 or the full frame A7S II.
If you’re looking to get your adrenaline pumping, which you really should while in New Zealand, you’ll want to bring a handy action camera that you can attach to any surface to capture your action shots. My handy GoPro has been with me on every single trip around the world, and was super useful when I went swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura as it’s waterproof up to 33 meters!
I never travel without my portable charger because I am a heavy mobile user, especially as I use a lot of Google Maps when navigating on our road trip. And that drains my phone quite quickly. I usually go for a portable charger with at least 10,000mAh so that it holds multiple charges. My smartphone supports Fast Charging as well, so I always look out for a Fast Charging portable charger.
New Zealand is all about the outdoors, so you’ll be doing a considerable amount of walking, on and off-track. Plus, as we’ve established, it does rain quite a bit, so you would do well with a good pair of waterproof hiking shoes. I made the mistake of wearing my Nike Roshe Runs, which are extremely absorbent. Bad move!
It can get rather quiet when you’re out in the country where there’s pretty much no nightlife, so my MacBook Pro was really handy during the trip. When we were winding down at night, I would use it to research on our next day’s itinerary and also catch up on my Real Housewives series. It’s really slim and light which makes bringing it around on my travels a breeze.
Again with the rain, you’re gonna want quick-drying pants. I fully regretted wearing jeans–torn jeans, no less–because fashion. <insert eyerolls here> So I ended up falling on one of our hikes, and scraped my knees–WHERE THE TORN PART WAS. Smart one, Steph. You wouldn’t want to be walking around in drenched pants too once the rain hits. Just pack a good pair of quick-drying pants (that are not torn)!
Other items you might need
Toothbrush Cover – I love this cause it fits even my electric toothbrush and tongue cleaner!
Travel Pillow – the memory foam ones are the bestest
Car Charger – you’ll need this when you’re on the road for many hours and need to juice up your devices!
Travel Umbrella – this is super handy when it rains. And when I say handy, I mean it fits in your hand. So you can conveniently throw it into your daypack. Whoo!
Noise-canceling Earphones – unless you want to be serenaded by the lovely lullabies of screaming babies on your long-haul flight, I full recommend this. It also helps me sleep when you’re bunking in with snorers (super handy in hostels cause well, you never know)
Flashlight – for those night walks, and when you’re hunting for glowworms in the forest!
Gorillapod – to mount your camera on just about anything for those awesome self-timer selfie shots.
Free Printable New Zealand Packing Checklist
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Have better packing tips? Leave me a comment below!