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The North Island of New Zealand, which is on the Māori lands of Aotearoa, is a wonderfully diverse place. As a travel writer, I’m in awe of its many offerings: On one hand, you can get your fill of city life with amazing restaurants and shopping in Auckland but on the other, there are also quieter landscapes like Waiheke Island and Rotorua for relaxing or mountain biking among gorgeous scenery.
Before my recent assignment there, this half-relaxing, half-energizing spirit inspired me to plan what my friend Wendy calls an “Adrena-Zen” trip. It’s when you spend part of the day doing an activity that will get the adrenaline up like ziplining or bungee jumping and then another part of the day taking it all back down by soaking in a hot tub or geothermal pool. Fortunately in New Zealand, there’s no shortage of opportunities to do it all.
Packing for a trip that includes time in the big city as well as the picturesque countryside like this takes a good amount of planning. I knew I would need a great suitcase, hiking shoes, a phone with enough battery life to document all of my adventures, and a packable puffer for when the sun goes down, but I’m glad my years of travel writing afforded me the experiential wherewithal to pack some other less obvious essentials. Without further ado, here’s everything I vetted and would recommend packing for your “Adrena-Zen” trip to the North Island.
These ABC joggers by Lululemon are my go-to, and I pretty much take them on every trip because they are so versatile. They look smart enough to be paired with a dark blazer for dinner at Ahi in Auckland or for an evening outside at the Redwoods Treewalk in Rotorua. They were even comfortable enough for my 18-hour direct flight from JFK to Auckland on Air New Zealand.
Insider tip: Air New Zealand will be launching Skynest for economy passengers, flat sleeping pods that you can reserve in increments of 4 hours, in September 2024 — but regardless, you’re still going to want some comfy pants to get you through that long journey.
To buy: lululemon.com, $128
During the trip, I went into the Whakarewarewa forest with Mountain Bike Rotorua — and it was a thrilling time. It’s here I learned that if you’re going mountain biking, whether you’re riding a traditional full-suspension bike or an e-bike, you’re going to want shorts with some padding. These Essence cycling shorts by Craft are exactly what I needed. (For women, here’s a similar best-selling padded pair from Amazon.) They just make the riding experience more comfortable and help you last longer out on the trails. We got into some bumpy terrain, and I was grateful for shorts with added cushioning. They’re also moisture-wicking for folks like myself that need it when approaching those big hills and sweating about my choices in life. P.S. I survived and am actually glad I got out of my comfort zone.
To buy: amazon.com, $68 (originally $80)
A lightweight, packable puffer jacket is always a good idea. As soon as the sun sets on the North Island, it’ll be a lifesaver when you’re out and about. I love this Pinion down sweater from Stio, and they have a women’s version, too. It’s called a sweater because you can layer it underneath a shell jacket, but this is a good year-round zip-up insulated jacket. I wore mine while watching the Slopestyle mountain biking competition at Crankworx which lasted long after the sun went down, so I was grateful to have this with me. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option that still offers warmth and durability, check out this lightweight Eddie Bauer packable puffer for a fraction of the price.
To buy:amazon.com, $50 (originally $99)
Need a pair of sneakers that will take you from ziplining to a wine tasting? I know just the shoes. The new Eliot runner by New England-based running brand Tracksmith has an elegant retro vibe. For my New Zealand trip, I found this style perfect for ziplining with award-winning Rotorua Canopy Tours and a leisurely lunch and wine tasting at Batch Winery on Waiheke Island. Not convinced? The brand is so popular these days that actress Cynthia Erivo wore their gear while running the London Marathon, and Tracksmith will be presenting at the biannual fashion tradeshow Pitti Uomo in Florence this summer — as the first running brand to do so. If you like the style but not the price tag, budget-minded travelers can opt for these similarly sleek Adidas Run Swift shoes at Amazon.
To buy: amazon.com, $65 for Adidas (originally $95)
Some of my favorite spots for relaxing in Taupō and Rotorua were the geothermal pools at Wairakei Terraces, the cedar hot tubs at the Secret Spot at the edge of Whakarewarewa Forest and overlooking Puarenga Stream, and the world-renown mineral pools at the Polynesian Spa, where legend has it that in 1878 the Priest Spring cured a priest from his arthritis after resting in its healing waters.
For all of these water activities, a nice pair of swim trunks was essential. I recommend these Charles swim trunks from Onia. Or, for a more cost-conscious option, these are a good alternative from Trunks Surf & Swim Co. at Amazon. Both options look tailored enough to grab a casual lunch in between visits to the spa. Trust me, their 28 pools and cold plunge were enough to make me want to move there and get an annual pass. And while I don’t have arthritis, I did notice that the minerals in the water helped relieve some eczema on my hands and soothed my muscles from a morning of Zorbing.
To buy: amazon.com, $30
When you’re outside, even in cloudy weather, it’s important to wear sunscreen. My friend Irene introduced me to EltaMD‘s UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, a dermatologist-approved sunscreen that I soon learned has a massive following. With a 4.7-star rating at Amazon and more than 36,000 reviews, plus celebrity fans such as Zac Efron and Ashley Graham to boot, this no.1 best-seller is a no-brainer. It also comes in portable sizes that are perfect for traveling.
To buy: amazon.com, $39
I’ve been a fan of Naot for years, and I prefer their Santa Barbara sandals over the leading competitor. I love them so much, I’ve taken them with me on five continents and now have them in three colors. Once they break in, they are the most comfortable things you can slip on your feet, especially after a long day on the Great Lake Trails or thrill-seeking at the adrenaline-packed adventure park Velocity Valley.
To buy: zappos.com, $140
No one wants it to rain while on vacation — and that goes double time if you’re hiking on Rangitoto Island or taking a walk around Lake Taupō, which was formed by the Taupō Volcano. But just like anywhere, the weather in New Zealand can be unpredictable, so it’s good to pack a rain jacket for those just-in-case moments when showers unexpectedly pop up on your Apple Watch. This Active Ocean Bound jacket from Helly Hansen is weatherproof for all of your wilderness adventures. It’s made with Ocean Bound recycled materials which helps to keep plastic out of our oceans. It also has a clean design — and that means you can wear it even to a nice dinner at Mekong Buffalo in Rotorua. (My group enjoyed this spot so much that we went there two nights in a row.)
From mountain biking in Rotorua to a sailing excursion to see the Māori Rock Carvings with Taupō Sailing Adventures, the Arc’teryx Aerios 15 pack was a trusty sidekick. It has a 15-liter capacity, is made from lightweight Cordura nylon for ultimate durability, and it features a suspended mesh back to keep your back from overheating like mine does. It’s perfect to hold a day’s worth of gear and at 1 pound, 4 ounces, it’s adding minimal weight to whatever you need to carry.
To buy: rei.com, $130
It can be a challenge to find a good hiking shoe that also looks appropriate for a wine and tapas dinner at the likes of Poco. But Danner’s Trail 2650 Hiking Shoes manage to pull it off with ease. You can wear them as you step up your pace on the Tongariro River Trail. Paired with dark denim Levi’s, the 2650 trail hiker makes for a sharp look that feels pulled together, but not like you’re trying too hard.
To buy: backcountry.com, $170
For the varied terrain on the North Island, it’s helpful to pack durable and water-repellent hiking pants. Patagonia’s Point Peak trail pants are great for all-day or multiday excursions; they’re even rough and tough enough for a hike on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The Point Peak is designed for mobility. I also love that the body is made from 90 percent recycled nylon and that it’s Fair Trade Certified, so you know the people who put it together are earning good wages for their work.
To buy: patagonia.com, $139
I’ve tested out a lot of different suitcases over the years, and for me the gold standard is Rimowa. Fun fact: they were the first in the world to make a polycarbonate suitcase. For longer trips such as this one to New Zealand, I use the Essential Check-In. Personally, I love that it’s super lightweight and yet very durable. If you have luggage from other brands you’ll notice how the Rimowa just glides across the airport floor in Auckland. You’ll also get excellent customer service from them should anything happen to your suitcase. Not everyone can invest in a Rimowa, so if you’re on a tighter budget, this one from Samsonite provides you with a more affordable option but still offers spinner wheels.
To buy: amazon.com, $196 (originally $270)
Mesh Packing Cubes
Any seasoned traveler will tell you that packing cubes are a great way not only to organize your suitcase but also to help you gain back precious space. This set of Pack-It Reveal packing cubes from Eagle Creek is great; they hold way more than you’d expect and if you use the rolling method since you can squeeze in a lot more. This especially comes in handy when you’re flying back with extra gifts and crafts from places like the Māori art gallery Te Puia because there were too many treasures you couldn’t leave behind, but now you need to make room to fit them all in. If you’re like me, you might want to get two sets just to be safe.
To buy: amazon.com, $36 (originally $44)
I use the four-pack of Apple AirTags to keep track of my suitcase, backpack, Filson carry-on bag, and my keys. I love that the Bluetooth-enabled tracking discs work seamlessly with the Find My app on my iPhone. It’s comforting to know exactly where your bags are, whether they’re just arriving on the luggage carousel or sitting safely in the room at the well-appointed Hotel Britomart in Auckland.
To buy: amazon.com, $90 (originally $99)
iPhone 14 Plus
I had to get a new phone before my trip because I was still using my old iPhone 8 Plus … gasp, I know. I was still trapped in the world of the home button. It was more than time for an upgrade and I wanted to capture the beautiful sights of Aotearoa with a better camera and that sweet OLED technology. So I went for the iPhone 14 Plus in the new yellow color, a bold choice that I love as a pop of color. On this model, my photos and videos are much clearer and sharper. It also features a ceramic shield front cover that is stronger than any other smartphone glass. The 14 Plus also has the longest battery life of any iPhone ever.
In New Zealand, I even dropped my phone briefly, fully submerged, in one of the thermal springs at the Polynesia Spa in Rotorua — did I mention that I love that place? — and I freaked out, but my friend Iona calmed me down. After a little nap in some rice, my iPhone was totally fine. As with all of Apple’s products, the iPhone integrates flawlessly with Apple’s entire suite of products, from the noise-canceling AirPods Pro to the Apple Watch.
To buy: apple.com, from $899
When you’re on a trip filled with adventure, you’re going to want to make sure your valuable electronics are protected. For my MacBook Air, I used this Phoozy laptop case. It’s great because the insulated case uses NASA spacesuit technology which protects from the cold and the heat, plus it offers military-grade shock protection up to four feet, even in inclement weather such as rain, snow, and sleet. I didn’t have to deal with much of that on my trip. The closest experience I had was riding the Hukafalls Jet boat, but I decided to leave the laptop in the car.
To buy: amazon.com, $75
Wall Charger and Cable
Right before this trip, a friend gave me some good advice: “You’re going to want to update your power chargers.” I never really thought to upgrade them, but moving from activity to activity on the North Island offers limited time to charge your devices. This Otterbox Premium Pro Fast Charge wall charger and USB-C to Lightning cable turned out to be the unsung heroes of the trip. New Zealand is on a different voltage, so I had to pair these two with a converter, but they still helped return all of my electronics to full power fast. It’s pretty amazing how much the technology has advanced. Go for the triple port wall charger that has two USB-C and one USB port.
To buy: otterbox.com, $70 wall charger and $35 for Lightning to USB-C Cable
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