Backpacking in New Zealand: TOP 5 Multi-Day 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 offers outdoor enthusiasts a breathtaking array of landscapes, from the towering peaks of the Southern Alps to the pristine beaches and fjords of the coast, including iconic destinations like the Milford Track and Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

And that’s what this post is all about – backpacking in New Zealand. We’ll provide tips to help you prepare for backpacking in this diverse country as well as showcase the best multi-day trails in New Zealand’s stunning natural scenery.

Intrigued? Let’s get started.

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 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 are 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 Backpacking Trails in New Zealand

Discover the most stunning long trails in New Zealand for incredible backpacking adventures:

1. Milford Track

Breathtaking view of Milford Sound's serene waters perfectly reflecting the towering mountains and blue sky

Length: 33.9 mi / 54.5 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 6430 ft / 1960 m
Location: Fiordland National Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 7300 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Hike the tough 33.9-mile Milford Track in New Zealand. This famous trail goes through ancient glacial landscapes, thundering waterfalls, and rainforests in Fiordland National Park. The best time is from October to April. You’ll stay in three huts along the way since camping isn’t allowed. Be ready for possible floods, avalanches, and fast weather changes as you follow in the footsteps of early explorers. It’s a demanding multi-day challenge for experienced backpackers.

2. Abel Tasman Coast Track (North to South)

Idyllic cove with pristine turquoise waters, golden sandy beach and picturesque wooden boat in Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

Length: 37.4 mi / 60.2 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 6515 ft / 1986 m
Location: Abel Tasman National Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 9100 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Tackle the 37.4-mile Abel Tasman Coast Track, a challenging trail along New Zealand’s golden beaches and coastal scenery in Nelson-Tasman. Stay at designated campsites or huts with basic facilities. Check tide times for beach sections. Though no big peaks, the constant elevation changes make it demanding with a backpack. A popular but strenuous multi-day trek rewarded by stunning ocean views year-round.

3. Kepler Track

Stunning mirror-like reflection of towering mountains and lush forests on the glassy surface of Lake Manapouri in Fiordland, New Zealand

Length: 36.4 mi / 58.6 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 6955 ft / 2120 m
Location: Fiordland National Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 9300 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Hike the challenging 36.4-mile Kepler Track loop in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park near Te Anau. This very popular Great Walk is best from October-May. Expect alpine views, lake beaches, steep rocky sections and quickly changing mountain weather. Be prepared for potential snow, ice and avalanche dangers. Stay at serviced huts or designated campsites with facilities during the main season (bookings required). Check conditions before your multi-day trek through breathtaking but hazardous wilderness. Parts can be muddy with sandfly swarms – plan campsites carefully.

4. Queen Charlotte Track

Serene view from a grassy ridge overlooking a tranquil lake surrounded by lush green hills in New Zealand's Queen Charlotte Track

Length: 45 mi / 72.4 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 9022 ft / 2750 m
Location: Picton
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 11 700 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Tackle the challenging 45-mile Queen Charlotte Track through New Zealand’s scenic Marlborough Sounds region. This popular point-to-point trail runs from historic Ship Cove to Anakiwa along serene coastal landscapes. Plan on 3-4 demanding days with tiring uphills, especially at the end. Proper gear advised, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning waterway views and potential wildlife sightings on this multi-day adventure.

5. Gillespie Pass Circuit

Idyllic meadow with vibrant grass foreground and stunning lake and mountain landscape in the distance at Mount Aspiring, New Zealand

Length: 34.3 mi / 55.2 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 7480 ft / 2280 m
Location: Mount Aspiring National Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 9400 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Test your backcountry skills on the demanding 34.3-mile Gillespie Pass Circuit loop in Mount Aspiring National Park. This strenuous multi-day trek through remote wilderness features treacherous river crossings, steep sections and unstable terrain, but incredible mountain scenery payoff for experienced hikers. Huts available.

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):

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

Alternative Backpacking Destinations

Not sure if Washington is right for you?

Don’t forget to check out our backpacking guide for Australia.


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.

Do U.S. citizens need a visa to visit New Zealand?

No, U.S. citizens do not need a visa to visit New Zealand for tourism or business purposes for stays of up to 90 days. However, they do need to obtain an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) prior to their travel. The ETA can be requested online.

Spread the word →

Why you should trust us

At Hikinglite, we're all about helping you hit the trails with lightweight and ultralight outdoor gear that won't weigh you down. Our crew of content creators? Real outdoor enthusiasts who've logged countless miles on the trails.

Leading the pack is our editor-in-chief, Alex Jardine – an ultralight evangelist who's hiked over 10,000 trail miles across the globe. He's basically a walking outdoor encyclopedia. This dude loves testing out the latest and greatest products, so you can trust his recommendations are always well-informed and reliable.

We treat all our suggestions like advice from close trail buddies. No fluff, just real insights from folks who live and breathe the outdoor life.

Have any questions?

More Insights

Suscribe to Our Newsletter

Stay smartly informed with our weekly newsletter

Follow us

hikinglite logo white
© 2024 Hikinglite - All rights reserved

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe now to stay ahead of the pack with the most up-to-date outdoor content.