Backpacking in New Zealand: Tips & Trails

Backpacking in New Zealand: An ultralight backpacker on a well-marked trail between scenic mountains

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Backpacking in New Zealand is a must for your bucket list, providing a diverse range of adventures. Explore lush forests, ascend volcanic mountains, and enjoy leisurely walks by glaciers, lakes, and wild coastlines.

The country’s stunning landscapes offer a variety of outdoor experiences that cater to all types of adventurers. Numerous trails in the country’s 13 National Parks are well-kept and easy to navigate.

In this post, we’re diving into the world of ultralight backpacking in New Zealand. We’ll give you the essential information you need for your upcoming adventure.

We’ll also highlight the TOP 5 trails in two categories: day hikes (less than 30 miles) and multi-day trips that provide resupply options every two days.

Key Tips for Backpacking in New Zealand

  • What to expect: Expect well-maintained trails catering to all levels, allowing exploration of lush forests, volcanic peaks, and picturesque coastlines. It’s worth noting that some locations may have limited card acceptance, so carrying some cash is advisable for small purchases and remote areas.
  • Essential gear: Given New Zealand’s variable weather, it’s wise to check local forecasts and trail conditions before setting out, and it’s essential to have some form of rain gear on hand.
  • Wildlife: Unlike Australia, New Zealand’s wildlife is mostly safe, with just a few spiders, like the white-tailed, redback, and katipo spiders, that can give a rare painful bite. The biggest concern in New Zealand’s waters is the presence of several shark species.
  • Wild camping: In New Zealand, wild camping is allowed, meaning you can establish your camp in any local authority area unless there are explicit restrictions or prohibitions in effect. Nevertheless, it’s crucial for campers to uphold fundamental “leave no trace” principles and follow the rules when staying overnight. If you want to remain sneaky, check out our post on stealth camping.
  • Best times to go: For prime backpacking conditions in New Zealand, target the period from late spring to early autumn, spanning November to April. Late spring brings blossoms and mild weather, while summer (January to February) offers warmth and full outdoor accessibility, though it can be busier with tourists. Early autumn (March to April) strikes a balance with pleasant temperatures and changing foliage, minimizing crowds.

Top 5 Day Hikes (Under 30 Miles)

Here are top day hikes for enhanced experiences with ultralight gear:

  1. Tongariro Alpine Crossing (12.3 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Roys Peak Track (10.1 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Mount John Walkway (5.1 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Isthmus Peak Track (9.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Tama Lakes Track via Taranaki Falls (10.8 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Top 5 Multi-Day Trips

New Zealand’s finest multi-day trails offering resupply points every two days:

  1. Milford Track (33.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Abel Tasman Coast Track (North to South) (37.4 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Kepler Track (36.4 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Queen Charlotte Track (45 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Gillespie Pass Circuit (34.3 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Annual Weather Averages

New Zealand experiences a varied climate, and the weather can differ significantly depending on the season and region. In general:

  • Summer (December to February): Warmer temperatures ranging from approximately 68 to 86°F make this the peak backpacking season. It’s ideal for exploring various trails, but popular areas can be busier.
  • Autumn (March to May): Mild temperatures ranging from approximately 50 to 68°F. Autumn brings changing foliage, making it a visually appealing time for backpacking. Crowds tend to thin out compared to summer.
  • Winter (June to August): Cooler temperatures ranging from approximately 23 to 59°F, with snowfall in some regions, especially in higher altitudes. Winter is less popular for backpacking, but some areas are still accessible.
  • Spring (September to November): Mild temperatures ranging from approximately 50 to 68°F. Spring showcases blooming landscapes and is a good time for backpacking before the peak summer season.

Prior to choosing your gear, review the weather data for New Zealand (Queenstown):

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High °F727268615446465055616470
Low °F505048433732323437434548
Rainy days131315161716151517191617
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.

FAQ

Can I have a campfire while backpacking in New Zealand?

When backpacking in New Zealand, building campfires requires planning due to fire risk. Fires are only allowed in existing fire pits at designated campgrounds, and never during total fire bans which are common during dry summer months. Use only dead fallen wood and fully contain the fire. Completely douse all embers, ashes, and sticks with water until cold to the touch before departing. Exercise great caution, as wildfires can spread rapidly in New Zealand’s forests and pastures. With responsible practices like approved fire sites, proper materials, total control and extinguishment, campers can still enjoy this classic activity.

What are some safety tips for backpacking in New Zealand?

When exploring New Zealand’s backcountry, plan your route carefully and register your plans to stay safe. Carry sufficient supplies, tell others where you are going, and be prepared for rapidly changing mountain weather. Avoid avalanche-prone areas in winter. Swim only at patrolled beaches to stay clear of rips and sharks. Keep away from cliff edges and fast flowing rivers. Watch for falling rocks in alpine areas. Stay on marked tracks as landslides are possible. Don’t disturb farm animals and avoid poisonous plants. Beware of hypothermia in cold mountain conditions. Following these tips will allow you to safely enjoy New Zealand’s scenic hiking trails and natural beauty. Registering your intentions, packing properly, and respecting the environment are keys to safe backcountry travel in New Zealand.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while backpacking in New Zealand?

When hiking in New Zealand, be aware of your surroundings and make noise to avoid surprising wildlife. Give seals, kea parrots, and other animals plenty of space. Do not approach or attempt to touch or feed wild animals. Wear insect repellent and check for ticks after hiking to prevent disease. Watch for wētā insects around huts and campsites. Carry antihistamines if you have allergies to beestings. Back away carefully if you encounter aggressive wildlife like wild boar or stags during mating season. Avoid areas with poisonous spiders and plants like the katipo. Promptly seek medical attention for any bites or stings. Staying alert, keeping your distance, and respecting wildlife is the best approach for safe encounters while trekking in New Zealand’s beautiful wilderness.

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