What to Pack for New Zealand South Island

If you’re wondering what to pack for New Zealand South Island, we’ve written this packing list for you. We’ve lived between New Zealand and Australia for over 30 years, so we’ve become experts in packing for New Zealand, including packing light and being prepared to ensure a comfortable New Zealand trip. Before you embark on your adventure, read our packing list for New Zealand’s South Island so you are fully prepared and know what to pack. We list your New Zealand packing essentials, which cover both the North Island and South Island and we include an optional list for many situations.

Hikers on a trail with epic mountain views in Aoraki/ Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand

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What to Pack for New Zealand South Island

Before we dive into the specifics, it’s essential to understand that packing for the South Island is a unique experience compared to the North Island. The South Island’s rugged terrain, alpine regions, and ever-changing weather demand a different approach. 

Unlike the warmer temperatures in the North Island, the South Island offers a diverse landscape where you might experience four seasons daily. Areas in the South Island are known as the rainest in New Zealand. Additionally, the Roaring Forties is a westerly wind blasting the South Island; be prepared for this exciting variability in weather and terrain.

So, although there may be similarities, what to pack for New Zealand South Island will be different to what to pack for New Zealand North Island.

Now, let’s start by talking about what to wear in this diverse part of New Zealand.

What to Wear in New Zealand South Island

When dressing for the South Island, layers are your best friend. The weather can be unpredictable, so it’s necessary to be prepared for all seasons in a single day. 

Don’t experiment with new clothes you haven’t worn yet; bring clothes you know are comfortable, quick drying and lightweight. Here’s what to pack for New Zealand South Island trips.

Lightweight Waterproof Jacket

Be ready for those sudden rain showers, especially when exploring Milford Sound or the West Coast. A good-quality, lightweight, waterproof jacket will keep you dry without weighing you down.

Additionally, you may want to pack an umbrella or raincoat if you prefer something more fashionable for the cities.

Comfortable Hiking Boots

Invest in a sturdy pair of hiking boots if you plan to hit the trails. They’ll provide the support and grip you need for those epic hikes. 

New Zealand South Island offers many hiking opportunities, ranging from epic adventures to short walks, so it’s best to be prepared with broken-in boots.

Merino Wool Layers

Hardy hikers swear by merino wool for their trekking adventures in New Zealand. It’s perfect for regulating your body temperature. Pack merino base layers, socks, and even a beanie. 

A Warm Jacket

Make sure to bring a warm jacket. Even in the summer, the nights often get cold enough that you will appreciate the warmth.

Casual Clothing

Casual attire is standard for exploring New Zealand, including towns and cities. Jeans, pants or shorts, t-shirts, shirts, singlets and a cozy sweater should do the trick.

If it’s winter, you will want to add some warm gloves and a scarf or neck warmer.

Underwear and Socks

Make sure to bring quick-drying socks and comfortable underwear.

Sleepwear

Remember to pack your pyjamas, a nightie or a T-shirt to sleep in.

Flip Flops

Pack a pair of comfortable flip-flops. They are perfect for quick trips to the beach, spa visits, or just to let your feet breathe after a day of exploring. Plus, they’re lightweight and easy to slip on, making them a practical addition to your packing list for New Zealand.

Sun Protection

The New Zealand sun can be harsh. Your New Zealand South Island packing list should include a wide-brimmed hat, cap, and sunglasses.

What to Pack for New Zealand in Summer   

Much of what to pack for New Zealand in Summer is already included in this list as things you need for a trip to New Zealand year-round; however, you may like to add these specific summer necessities.   

Swimming Gear

If you are travelling in summer, pack a swimsuit or board shorts. 

In winter, you may still want to visit the hot pools, which New Zealand is famous for.

A Rashie

A rashie will protect you from sunburn during long days at the beach.

Sea Socks/Shoes

If you intend to swim in the freshwater rivers, many have slippery rocks, and sea socks are handy. Additionally, they will be useful for walking on the hot sand and ocean swims.

Man with wide brimmed hat taking photo of water and mountains in Akaroa, NZ

Essentials – What to Pack for New Zealand South Island

Let’s discuss the essential travel items for New Zealand. Though it is a given, please double-check that you have these items before leaving home.

Driver’s License

Make sure to include your international driver’s licence if needed.

Cash and Cards

Make sure to have your credit/debit cards. You can use your credit cards in most instances. However, you’ll need New Zealand dollars in cash for smaller purchases in rural areas or in general stores that may not have other options.  

A Copy of your Travel Insurance Policy

Include contact numbers for emergencies along with your travel insurance policy details.

WiFi Hot Spot, Data or Roaming

If you are coming from overseas, remember to organise your international roaming. However, you can purchase a New Zealand sim card at the airport on arrival (as long as your phone is not locked to your home network) and save costs on calls and data.

Maps or GPS

Some areas in New Zealand do not have network signals, so you may be unable to use Google Maps. Therefore, download maps you can use online or bring your GPS.

Passport, Visas and Flight Tickets

You won’t be going anywhere if you forget these items! Also, verifying if the airline requires a printed copy of your ticket is essential to avoid any inconvenience.

Booking Confirmations

Keeping a printed or downloaded copy of your booking confirmations for cars, transport, hotels, and activities is always a good idea. You can’t always rely on the availability of the internet.

Glasses / Contact Lenses 

Nothing is worse than leaving behind your prescription glasses and having to make do for the trip. Additionally, make sure to pack your contact lenses.

Day Pack

A good day pack is your travel companion. Make sure it’s big enough to carry your essentials.

Camera or Smartphone & Chargers

Remember your camera or smartphone if you want to capture the jaw-dropping scenery and upload it to Instagram straight away. Trust us; the photos will be worth it. Additionally, don’t forget your phone charger and USB car charger.

Power Adapter

New Zealand uses Type I power sockets (the same as Australia), so pack the correct adapter to charge your devices.

First Aid Kit

It’s easy to get many of these items from a supermarket in New Zealand, but if you come prepared beforehand, you won’t need to run around upon arrival. Pack a basic first aid kit rather than be caught out on the go. Here’s what to pack for New Zealand South Island.

  • Paracetamol or ibuprofen.
  • Motion sickness tablets (if you need them).
  • Antiseptic cream.
  • Plasters/bandaids.
  • Pain relievers.
  • Hand sanitiser & face masks for situations where you may need them
  • Any prescription medications. Getting prescription medicines can be difficult in foreign countries as pharmacies often require local prescriptions. In such cases, you will need to visit a doctor or emergency room. (Regardless, make sure to include copies of prescriptions for emergencies and in case customs ask about your medicine.)

Toiletries

Again you can easily find these at the local supermarkets. However, it’s best to come prepared with your essential toiletries, so you have more time for adventure. 

Here’s a list of what to take to New Zealand.   

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss.
  • Soap.
  • Shampoo & conditioner.
  • Moisturiser & lotions.
  • Deodorant.
  • Lip balm.
  • Hairbrush, ties and styling products.
  • Nail file/clippers.
  • Razors and shaving cream.
  • Makeup and makeup remover.
  • Feminine hygiene products.
  • Condoms.
  • Tissues, Body Wipes & Antiseptic Wipes.

Sunscreen

Most importantly, even in winter, pack some high-SPF sunscreen. Due to the hole in the ozone layer, even when the temperature is low, ultraviolet rays can still be harmful.

Insect Repellent

Especially if you’re visiting during the warmer months, insect repellent can be a lifesaver. In the South Island, there are flies and mosquitoes in the summer. At any time of the year, the South Island is home to the notorious sand fly. These tiny critters are more prevalent on the South Island than the North Island. They can be a real nuisance, leaving itchy bites lasting for days.

So, when you ask us what to pack for New Zealand, the first thing we’d suggest is a good quality insect repellent, especially if you plan to explore the Fiordland or West Coast regions. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

A Lightweight Towel

Whether you’re hitting the beach, taking a dip in a pristine lake, or staying in budget accommodations where towels might not be provided, having your own lightweight, quick-drying towel can be a lifesaver. It’s a versatile item useful for your South Island adventures.

Man on platform overlooking bush views at Denniston Plateau

We were originally gifted Tesalate towels a few years ago. Since then, they have become our favourite travel towels, mainly because they are lightweight, compact, super absorbent, quick drying and adaptable for many uses, such as road trips, picnic or yoga mats and beach days. What sets Tesalate towels apart is their sand-free fabric technology, which means sand doesn’t stick to the towel. Most importantly, they come in stylish and stunning designs. You can explore the range at Tesalate.com.

Miscellaneous Items – What to Pack for South Island New Zealand   

These items seem minor but can make your journey more enjoyable and are useful things you need for a trip to New Zealand.  

Reusable Water Bottle

Stay hydrated, and help reduce plastic waste by carrying a reusable water bottle. The water in New Zealand is safe to drink from the tap.

Travel Pillow

A travel pillow can help you catch some much-needed rest for those long drives or flights.

A Bright, Waterproof Flashlight

Invest in a bright, waterproof flashlight. It is essential for exploring New Zealand’s South Island, especially if you plan on venturing into caves, hiking in the evenings, or simply navigating in the evening if you’re staying in campgrounds. 

Reusable Shopping Bags

New Zealand is eco-conscious, so having a reusable shopping bag is handy when buying local products.

Ziplock Bags

Forget the packing cubes. Ziplock bags are cheap, less bulky and our best friend! Bring them in snack pack sizes (for your makeup or liquids for airport security) and large sizes for wet towels, shoes, and dirty laundry.

A Cooler or Travel Mug

The best drinkware keeps cold drinks cold and hot beverages hot so that you can enjoy your favourite glasses at the perfect temperature anytime while on a road trip.

A Picnic Blanket

There will be lots of places to relax and have a picnic. It’s one of our travel must-have indulggences.

Swiss Army Knife or Multi-tool

It’s in the miscellaneous items as not many people travel with them, but we have always been “Team Mulit-tool”. They always come in handy. Ensure it has a can opener, a bottle opener, a screwdriver, a knife and scissors. 

Travel Guidebook

While you can find much information online, a travel guidebook can be a great companion, offering insights you might not discover otherwise. Otherwise, don’t worry about what to pack for New Zealand; you can just bookmark our website, New Zealand South Island Travel Insider Guide instead!

Green campervan at Mt. Cook campground

Additional Packing List for New Zealand Camping Trips

This list is also helpful for what to pack for a hiking trip or backpacking New Zealand packing list. However, for hiking trips, it’s crucial to ensure you are equipped with specialised gear, such as trekking poles, trekking backpacks, and buffs, to enhance hiking comfort, safety, and efficiency.

  • Sleeping bag, liner and mat.
  • Cooking utensils.
  • A dry bag. If it starts raining unexpectedly, this can be useful to safeguard your electronic devices.
  • Luggage lock.
  • Earplugs.

Additional Packing Tips for New Zealand 

Casual wear for evening wear is perfectly acceptable in New Zealand whether you’re going clubbing or to a fancy restaurant. A little black dress or skirt or a nice shirt and long pants are all you need. High heels are not necessary, light sandals are the best option for versatility.

The key to packing for New Zealand South Island is versatility! Make sure your clothing and gear can adapt to the ever-changing conditions.

New Zealand South Island Travel Insider Tips

  • Laundry Facilities: If you’re travelling for an extended period, consider accommodation with laundry facilities. It’ll help you pack lighter.
  • Check the Weather: Before heading out for the day, check the weather forecast. This will help you layer up or down accordingly.
  • Emergency Contacts: Share your travel plans and contacts with someone back home. Also, it is essential to have your emergency contacts written down on a piece of paper and kept in your daypack. This will ensure you have the necessary information readily available in an emergency.

We hope you found “What to pack for New Zealand South Island” useful. Enjoy your trip!

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