Winter’s Backpacking Guide for New Zealand

by | Dec 10, 2022 | Travel Guides | 0 comments

Winter backpacker’s guide New Zealand edition

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Backpacking is a classic pastime for people who want to get out and explore the great outdoors, especially during the winter. It can be a very rewarding experience for those who want to travel around on their own two feet and do some exciting activities. Due to its natural beauty, backpacking New Zealand is popular, especially where the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed. It also happens to have breathtaking sights to see while being comparatively safer and friendlier to backpackers from around the world.

On top of that, New Zealand has a lot of ways to accommodate backpackers since it is such a popular thing to do there. Follow this article to learn everything you need to backpack in New Zealand.  

Getting To New Zealand

If you don’t live in New Zealand, the first step is getting travel-ready! Not only will you need to make sure you have a valid passport, but you also need to know what planes can get you there and what to take with you.

If you are in the U.S., there are flights you can take such as Hawaiian Airlines and Air New Zealand. There are also international flights you can take. Be sure to check the prices on these flights. Usually, though, Air New Zealand is the most popular way to get there.

What You Need

Let’s get started with what to pack for a backpacking trip. If you’re familiar with backpacking, feel free to skip ahead to get to the good stuff, but for beginner backpackers, here is a list for your backpacking adventures in New Zealand!

10 essential items you will need to backpack New Zealand

1. Map or Compass 

A map or compass is essential when backpacking. One of the most important parts of the journey is knowing where you are headed. Getting lost can be frustrating and dangerous, which is why you should always bring something like a reliable navigation method to help you navigate on hikes.  

Do yourself a favor and try not to rely too much on anything that relies on electricity. Always make sure to have some other form of navigation handy. If you do want to use electronic items to a certain degree, you are going to need an external battery pack for when you are in the great outdoors. After all, trees don’t come with outlets. 

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2. Headlamp/Light Source 

Get yourself a good light source like a headlamp or flashlight. There will be times when you’re backpacking in the dark due to weather or lack of daylight, but no matter what the reason is, you’re going to want an extra light source. You can’t rely on fire either since situations where the weather is bad can prevent it from being a viable option.  

A headlamp is a good option because you can wear it hands-free without it interfering with your travels. 

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3. Sun Protection 

Sunglasses and sunscreen are vital for sun protection. 

You should also consider getting insect repellant for when you hike through heavily wooded areas. It will definitely save you some hassle. 

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4. Survival Knife and Other Tools 

Certain survival tools like a knife, utensils, and food-storage items are essential for a backcountry hike and you’ll want to take them with you.

A knife can be very useful in certain situations, and don’t get just any old knife–get one suited for travel and one that is lightweight and can be easily packed.

Kitchen utensils are important for hiking long trails, so make sure you have what you need to eat, including food containers and utensils. Try to have some easy finger foods, like trail mix or bars, to save space.

5. Lighter 

Earlier, I said that fire shouldn’t be relied on as a light source. However, I never said that you shouldn’t ever start one. After all, a fire has a more important function than being a light source, especially during the winter. Staying warm during the winter, especially during the night is something that will be very important for backpacking New Zealand and your other travels. So, ensure you have the supplies and know-how to start a fire.  

Also, make sure to put it out properly after you’re done. That should go without saying, but if you still manage to forget, then don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

6. Shelter

The beautiful part about backpacking is that you get to sleep under the stars! Be sure to pack a warm sleeping bag, a lightweight tent, or a hammock if you prefer. 

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7. Bandages/ First Aid Kit 

Accidents happen. I could probably leave it at that, but you should be prepared for anything. Even if you’re a veteran backpacker, make sure to have some emergency treatment supplies. It would also be good to have some sort of emergency signal as well. 

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8. Emergency Rations 

I doubt you plan on going hungry while walking through New Zealand, so always make sure to bring extra food with you. Preferably food that can be preserved for long periods. 

However, I have to advise against just going to a convenience store and stocking up on whatever junk you need to keep yourself from feeling hungry. Backpacking through New Zealand is going to require a fair amount of energy on your part, so it’s a good idea to stock up on freeze-dried food made for backpacking and to learn beforehand how to cook your own food on long travels.

9. Accessible Drinking Water 

You’re going to need to bring or gather water, so make sure to bring some sturdy containers. It’s also a good idea to know how to procure clean drinking water from the wilderness. There are plenty of compact water filtering options for backpacking, so be sure to get one because when you’re backpacking, bringing the adequate volume of water you need for expending that much energy is impossible to take without weighing your pack down excessively. Plus, water filters are handy in emergencies. This is one that we at Travel Vibes love using when backpacking because t’s compact and easy to use.

10. Extra Set of Clothes/Appropriate Clothing 

Winter is naturally the coldest time of year. So, when planning your New Zealand backpacking trip, pack multiple layers to help you keep warm. Even if you’re going at a different time, it would still be advised to pack an extra layer anyways. Preferably bring waterproof clothing like a rain jacket so you don’t have to worry about drying clothes outside in the middle of winter. 

Other Things of Note

In New Zealand, you’ll need to make sure you have a valid form of identification if you want to make travel less of a hassle. I recommend that you look up how to get a proper New Zealand identification card as a part of trip planning.

Considerations for Travel in New Zealand

In addition to all of the things listed above, it is a good idea to consider obtaining a consistent means of travel before and after you backpack through New Zealand.  

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Car Rental

You can consider renting a vehicle to head to certain areas that may be more difficult to access on foot. Car rental is one of the most popular options when backpacking across New Zealand, so it’s worth keeping in mind. Just remember to research valid licenses in New Zealand before you consider car rental. You can also take trains or buses to try to get to these places if you don’t have a valid license.


Alternatively, you can try hitchhiking, which is a nice way to save money. Do note that despite New Zealand being safe and the odds of something happening being unlikely, it is not risk-free. So use good judgment when asking for a ride and try not to hitchhike alone.

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Backpacker Buses

There is also a feature known as a backpacker bus. These backpacker buses are an affordable way for backpacking New Zealand without needing to worry about having a license or flagging down a hitchhiker.

Backpacker buses also have the appeal of being able to travel to many different destinations while giving you the freedom to choose how long you want to travel. Also, I would like to reiterate that it is a good way to save money. Just know that other travelers will likely also use this mode of transportation, so the buses can get a little crowded. On a positive note, it’s a great way to meet other travelers and make new friends who are also backpacking New Zealand.

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Should you travel to the North or South Island first?

One thing that should be noted is that New Zealand is broken up into two islands. That isn’t to say that you won’t be able to access both, but it’s good to consider beforehand if you would prefer to start at the North Island or the South Island. In this case, since our main focus is winter in New Zealand, it would be best to start from the South Island and work your way up north. The reason for starting at the South Island and then heading north is that many popular winter activities in New Zealand such as skiing and snowboarding start their seasons at the South Island first.

Best accommodations for backpackers and travelers 

Outside of hotels in the city or straight-up camping, there are a few other options for accommodations.

DOC huts

There are some huts run by the DOC situated throughout many parts of New Zealand that backpackers can use as a form of temporary housing on their backpacking trips. You can purchase a DOC hut pass in advance to take advantage of these accommodations. However, do be aware that these types of accommodations are first-come-first served. However, there are other travelers you can meet that can potentially provide you with useful information, so don’t be afraid to check these places out. 

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Alternatively, backpackers also tend to stay in some of the amazing hostels scattered throughout New Zealand. Not only can they be a great place to stay, but they even have work-trade programs where they give you temporary work to pay for your stay.

Since backpacking in New Zealand is such a popular pastime, many hostels share similar customs to encourage backpackers to visit them. This can be a good way to keep up a consistent budget as you travel through New Zealand.

Another good way to save money if you want to stay in a hostel is by booking a reservation in advance directly with the hostel itself as opposed with the advertising company. These companies usually charge extra since they get paid commission, so it never hurts to try and look at the hostels’ accommodation prices directly to see if they match what the advertiser is selling.

Now that we have gone over the always-important information on how to plan the trip, let’s focus on your New Zealand itinerary.

Here are some places you absolutely must visit as you backpack through New Zealand  

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National Parks

One of the first things on your New Zealand backpacking itinerary should be the national parks. There are plenty of national parks that you can visit no matter the season. If you’re backpacking through New Zealand, then why not stop at a few of these sites and use their hiking trails to witness some of the finest natural wonders of New Zealand? Here is some information on some of their national parks.

Egmont National Park

You can hike up Mount Taranaki (Mount Egmont), located on the North Island, for some spectacular views if you’re up to the challenge.

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Kahurangi National Park

Located on New Zealand’s South Island, it is the second-largest national park in New Zealand. It also happens to feature some of the rarest birds in the country and many strange rocks and plants.

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Westland Tai Poutini National Park

Located on New Zealand’s South Island, this is a glacier country, so if you’re looking for accessible glaciers and want to experience seeing the Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier, then you’ve come to the right place.

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Nelson Lakes National Park

Located on New Zealand’s South Island, this park is a gateway to the northern tip of the Southern Alps. One of its most noteworthy features is the beautiful alpine lakes that you can walk next to on your backpacking journey.

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Mount Cook National Park

Located on New Zealand’s South Island, this national park has a variety of things to grab your interest. Are you interested in New Zealand’s largest glacier, or maybe the highest mountain in New Zealand, or maybe even exceptional views for stargazing during your travels? Don’t worry, this national park has got all three. The Hooker Valley track is a great way to get started when navigating this scenic park.

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Arthur’s Pass National Park

Located on New Zealand’s South Island, it is a very diverse national park with one of its noteworthy features being that it can be accessed by the Tranz Alpine train system.

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Whanganui National Park

Located on the North Island, this national park is one of the premier destinations if you are looking for an exciting rafting experience.

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Whale Watching 

Now you can do this as a summer activity as well, but I feel that it can be a great winter pastime. For one thing, there is less traffic during the winter months so it’s a great time to check out such a popular activity. Also, this is around the time that many whales are migrating to warmer waters so you are bound to see many whales traveling all at once.

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Maori Culture 

This can be another useful addition to your backpacking New Zealand itinerary. If you’re interested in cultures from different parts of the world, then you could not pick a better time to come to New Zealand. The winter season is the time for the Maori people to celebrate the Maori New Year. There will be plenty of celebrations and festivals around this time, and I don’t know about you, but I love a good festival.  

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Southern Alps 

The Southern Alps are a must-see if you’re backpacking New Zealand. Not only do they present a fabulous hike, but they are home to some beautiful natural sights, such as the pristine snowcapped mountains available during the winter season. However, I should warn that many of these trails can be a considerable challenge for those who do not have much experience with backpacking. Be advised not to take things too lightly. 

Hot Springs 

Winter can be cold. It isn’t as bad in New Zealand as it is in other parts of the world, but there is no denying that it does get a lot colder. So, what better way to beat the freezing cold chill that comes with spending so much time outdoors during winter than unwinding by soaking and rejuvenating yourself in some New Zealand hot springs? 

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A place that has some great hot springs is Rotorua, a city on the North Island. It is one of the warmer areas of the north due to its abundance of mud pools and hot springs. They even have a geyser that erupts several times a day called the Pohutu Geyser. If hot pools are what you’re looking for, consider making this a stop on your New Zealand itinerary.

However, if you are looking for some hot springs in the South Island, then head on over to Hanmer Springs, a town famous for its hot springs, though you probably figured that out just by the name. These hot pools are a great way to unwind after some strenuous activity. 

Lord of the Rings Locations 

I mean, it would be remiss of me to bring this up in the intro and never address it afterward. What better way to enjoy a winter backpacking New Zealand trip than seeing some of the filming locations for The Lord of the Rings movies at their finest? As an example, you can explore the wonders of Middle Earth by heading off to the Green Dragon Inn. You can also visit some other famous areas as well. Consider booking a tour to find out how best to plan your New Zealand itinerary.

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Skiing and Snowboarding 

Don’t worry. They also have classic places for winter sports should you want to get the most out of the winter season. In particular, Queenstown is one of the major cities to visit if you want to check out the slopes. Skiing and snowboarding are one of the most popular activities during the winter season, but there are plenty of other activities that take place year-round and they can be just as exciting to try out. Because Queenstown is the central hub for so many adventure activities, it’s known as the adventure capital of the world.

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However, there is plenty of skiing and snowboarding that you can do on the North Island. You just have to wait until a bit later in the season.


Wellington, the actual capital of New Zealand, is located on the southernmost part of the North Island, situated by the Cook Strait. New Zealand’s capital isn’t known for being a particular landmark of activity like Queenstown, but it’s known for having a lot of cultural-based activities so if that is more up your alley, then add it to your New Zealand itinerary.

Final Thoughts 

Thank you for joining me on Backpacking New Zealand Part One. As you can see, New Zealand is a great place to visit. However, all of the fantastic things to do that I have listed are actually not in season. That’s right, the New Zealand itinerary I have given you will not be as useful at this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. December is actually the peak season for New Zealand since it is the height of summer for them. That means the most popular time of year to go is right now.

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Don’t worry that you may have read this all for nothing. I would not be so cruel as to leave you with a faulty New Zealand itinerary. That’s why I have created part two. After all, New Zealand is the kind of country you can’t cover in just one article.

In the next part, I’ll cover some of the big activities you can do during your New Zealand trip during the summer as well as cover some things I left out for next time such as New Zealand’s Great Walks or the wonders of Milford Sound. Check out part two to find out what you can be doing right now. 

Check out backpacking New Zealand pt 2 – Summer addition.


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