New Zealand is a traveller’s paradise. Magnificent landscapes, extreme sports, walking trails, farm stays, and a wide selection of activities makes it an excellent choice for travellers of all ages.
Families and single thrill-seekers alike often take advantage of the short travel time from Australia to enjoy a quick getaway. With such a distinctive character you’ll be wondering why you haven’t visited any sooner!
However, before you travel there are some health and safety precautions you can take to make your holiday to Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand) is as safe and worry-free as possible.
Table of Contents
- When is the best time to travel to New Zealand?
- Do I need a visa and/or passport?
- Do I need any vaccinations?
- Is it safe to drive in New Zealand?
- Is New Zealand a safe destination for families?
- How much money should I bring?
- Will I be able to use my SIM card in New Zealand?
- Travel insurance for New Zealand
- What is the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement?
- What are the risks of travelling to New Zealand?
- New Zealand laws
- Kiwi history and Maori cultural customs
- Diseases and infections
- What to do in a medical emergency
- Road safety in New Zealand
- Adventure and extreme sports
- Tips for safe travel in New Zealand
- Important contact information and resources
When is the best time to travel to New Zealand?
- The short answer is any time!
- The North Island is sub-tropical, enjoying its warmest months between September and April. There is plenty of rainfall during the winter and spring, so if you’re renting a car during this time it pays to take extra care on the roads.
- On the South Island, temperatures can drop to between -10 and -20° C in winter, making it bitterly cold for tourists not used to extreme weather, but exciting for snow lovers.
- The west coast of the South Island also receives plenty of rain, but Milford Sound tops the lot with over 360 inches of rain a year.
Do I need a visa and/or passport?
- If you’re an Australian citizen or resident, you don’t need a visa to visit New Zealand for a holiday.
- Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months.
- If you’re aged between 18 and 30 and are heading to New Zealand to work, you need to apply for a 12 month working holiday visa.
- You’ll also need a return ticket, or proof of enough money to pay for one.
Do I need any vaccinations?
- No vaccinations are required to enter New Zealand, but you may wish to top up on vaccinations such as Tetanus, Diphtheria, Measles, Influenza, and Hepatitis A and B.
- It’s a good idea to visit your doctor for a general health check-up six to eight weeks before you travel. They’ll be able to provide you with advice regarding vaccinations.
- Visit the World Health Organization (WHO) for useful information about staying healthy when travelling.
- While vaccines may help, your behaviour is the most important factor in determining whether or not you catch a disease while travelling.
Is it safe to drive in New Zealand?
- Speed signs are the same as Australia, and in some areas there’s no speed limit – marked by a circle with a diagonal line through it.
- Many suburban areas are 50km/h.
- If travelling between cities, a GPS would be useful as phone coverage can drop out in most country areas.
- As of January 2017, there’s still a lot of building and roadworks in Christchurch due to the earthquake of 2011. Use Google Maps here to be up-to-date with the latest closures.
- There may be long distances (150 kms+) between towns, so plan your breaks and petrol refills ahead of time.
- Many country roads in New Zealand have one-lane bridges where vehicles must stop and wait for vehicles coming from the other direction.
- There are many beautiful views where you may want to stop to photograph, but make sure you use the dedicated view-points (there are many) on the side of the road to stop safely.
Is New Zealand a safe destination for families?
- New Zealand is a great holiday choice for families and travellers of all ages including seniors.
- Whatever your age, there is always plenty to see and do.
- Like Australia, New Zealanders are very welcoming towards travellers, and will often assist if you are lost or need guidance.
- There are many public bathrooms in New Zealand, and they are often unisex, so pay attention to the signs.
How much money should I bring?
- Bring enough cash for the first day or two of your holiday.
- You can safely use your debit card to make ATM withdrawals and EFTPOS purchases all over the country.
- New Zealand’s crime rate is low which means there’s less risk of tourists being mugged than there is in other countries such as Bali.
- You should check with your bank the cost of using your regular ATM card or Credit Card in New Zealand, as a Travel Money card may work out more economical.
Will I be able to use my SIM card in New Zealand?
- It’s wise to take a working mobile phone on holiday. You may need it to call emergency services for help, or text your family at home if something happens to you while travelling.
- A few Australian mobile providers either allow free roaming in New Zealand or roaming at a small daily rate. This allows you to use utilise your same benefits of your phone plan while in New Zealand and works our very economical.
- If you’re travelling or working in New Zealand long-term, purchase a local prepaid SIM card when you arrive.
Travel Insurance for New Zealand
Since New Zealand is so close it almost feels like it’s a part of Australia, so it’s easy to assume you don’t need travel insurance.
New Zealand is a world-renowned destination for skiing, snowboarding and adventure sports. Accidents are common, especially on the slopes and in unfamiliar terrain.
Unexpected illnesses can also strike anywhere, even in a relatively 'safe' first-world country like New Zealand.
Not to mention natural disasters and the various expenses that may come with having your travel plans disrupted, delayed or cancelled altogether.
Travel insurance is a small cost to pay for peace of mind in the event of an emergency.
Why is travel insurance so important?
Accidents happen at any time, even where you least expect it.
Things can go wrong on holiday, or even before you travel, causing you to unexpectedly cancel your trip.
Comprehensive travel insurance may cover you for cancellation fees, lost deposits, luggage and personal belongings, flight delays and travel disruptions.
What type of travel insurance do I need?
The level of cover you may require varies depending on whether you’re planning a city break, hiring a car or campervan, or participating in any adventure sports including skiing or snowboarding.
Read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and speak to your insurer about the types of cover available.
What type of activities are covered?
However, you may need to pay an extra charge for the more risky adventure activities like quad biking, tandem skydiving and trekking at higher altitudes.
If you're thinking of riding a moped, scooter or motorcycle, you may also need to pay an additional premium to be covered in case you're injured in an accident.
Exclusions do apply, so speak to your travel insurer to find out if the activities you want to do are covered.
What is the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement?
New Zealand has a great public healthcare system, similar to Medicare in Australia.
Australian citizens on holiday in New Zealand can receive emergency medical treatment under the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement. The agreement also offers non-emergency healthcare if you need to delay medical care because you’re too ill to travel.
If you need emergency medical care while travelling you’ll need to:
- Provide your Australian passport or another valid passport which shows you are a permanent Australian resident.
- Present a valid Australian Medicare card.
- Tell medical staff that you want to be treated under the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement with Australia.
Visit the Medicare website for more information about the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement and a complete list of what’s covered.
Can I use the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement instead of getting travel insurance?
You may be eligible for free emergency medical treatment and health care under the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement, but there are many things it doesn’t cover. Purchasing a travel insurance policy can help to cover what the agreement doesn’t.
What are the risks of travelling to New Zealand?
New Zealand is generally considered a very safe destination for travellers to visit. In fact, according to the 2017 Global Peace Index, it’s the second safest place to live in the world!
Public transport is considered safe and reliable, and there’s a relatively low crime rate. It has few endemic diseases, and no native predatory or venomous creatures to worry about.
However, you should still take the same care with your personal safety and possessions as you would in any other country.
New Zealand police report at least a third of all recorded offences are committed under the influence of alcohol.
Be careful of areas where a lot of alcohol is consumed (bars, pubs, sports clubs and restaurants), particularly late at night. In the event of a brawl breaking out, keep well away.
The tap water in New Zealand is safe to drink. Tap water is often served at restaurants as an alternative to bottled water.
If you must drink from streams and rivers, make sure to treat or boil the water to kill any bacteria such as giardia (which causes gastroenteritis) that may be present.
Similar to Bali, New Zealand is part of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ which is an area prone to both earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.
Auckland and the surrounding areas on the north island are particularly vulnerable to volcanic activity. Much of the city is built on a volcanic field and there are at least 50 volcanoes spanning an area of 360 square kilometres.
Christchurch on the south island has been struck by several large earthquakes in the last decade, including a magnitude 7.8 quake in 2016 which caused tsunami waves over two metres tall. Two people died and more than 1,000 people were stranded. The closest town, Kaikoura, was cut off after the tsunami triggered landslides and dammed the river.
Christchurch was also badly damaged by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in 2011 which killed 185 people and injured thousands more. The earthquake was considered an aftershock of the one which hit Canterbury six months earlier.
What should I do if there is an earthquake?
- If you’re inside a building, drop to the ground, head for cover (under a table, or next to an interior wall away from windows), and hold the position.
- If you’re at the beach, drop, cover and hold. Move to higher ground immediately in case of a tsunami.
- If you’re outdoors move away from buildings, trees, streetlights and power lines. Drop to the ground, find cover and hold your position. Be on the alert for falling debris or landslides.
- If you’re driving a rental car, pull over to a location out of the way of buildings, trees, streetlights and power lines. Keep your seatbelt on and stay there until the shaking stops before proceeding with caution. Bridges or roads may have been damaged.
- Source: http://www.getthru.govt.nz/disasters/earthquake
New Zealand Laws
- Laws in New Zealand are similar to those in Australia.
- Drugs (including marijuana) are illegal. Importing drugs is punishable by imprisonment.
- If you’re a driver under 20, the blood alcohol limit is zero. For drivers over 20 it’s the same as Australia – 0.05%.
- Physical discipline of children (including smacking) is illegal.
- The minimum drinking age is 18 years old.
Kiwi History and Maori Culture
Kiwis are a patchwork of history blending Maori, Pacific Island, Asian and European cultures, but almost 15% of New Zealanders are known as indigenous Maori – the people of the land.
The first Maori settlers are believed to have arrived in New Zealand more than a thousand years ago from Polynesia, and are central to New Zealand’s identity.
Travellers are advised to observe Maori etiquette when visiting a marae (sacred area) and follow protocol for entering a marae:
- Remove your shoes before entering any building on the marae.
- Younger people should be polite and respectful to Maori elders.
- Avoid walking on land or items that are labelled as ‘tapu’ (meaning sacred or forbidden).
- Don’t take photos of the sacred marae unless you’re advised otherwise.
- Don’t begin eating until a blessing has been said.
What to do in a medical emergency
Keep an emergency contact list in your wallet or phone in case of a medical emergency. It's also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the nearest hospital or medical centre.
If you require emergency medical assistance in New Zealand:
- Call an Ambulance by dialling 111.
- If you can, let the hotel reception know what has happened. They’ll be able to assist you.
- Call or email your travel insurer at your earliest opportunity, they can provide 24 hour emergency assistance.
Keep all receipts for any additional transport, food or accommodation expenses in case you need them for an insurance claim. Also ask for a medical report from the doctor or treating medical practitioner as you may need this for any insurance claims.
If you’re claiming cancellation or additional expenses you’ll need to submit documents showing what your original planned prepaid arrangements were, along with any receipts and documents showing your new arrangements, and advice from the travel provider indicating the non-refundable portion of the journey.
Road safety in New Zealand
New Zealand is a small country, about the same size as Japan or Great Britain. It’s easy to explore, and many travellers choose to hire a car or campervan to tour the islands at their own pace.
Hiring a car
- The minimum age for hiring a car is 21 years.
- You must have a current Australian driver’s licence, or an International Driving Permit with you at all times.
- You can’t drive a rental car on narrow and dangerous roads, beaches and roads that are unmarked.
- Internet coverage for phones is often not available when driving between major cities, so request a GPS unit when you book your rental vehicle.
- If you're planning to drive in icy conditions, you may need to hire snow chains for your tyres.
Road conditions and weather hazards
New Zealand’s scenery changes at every turn. Roads follow the contours of the landscape and highways are generally sealed and of a high standard. If a road is unsealed, it’s usually well graded and regularly maintained.
- Winter roads can be dangerous. The road death toll is higher in New Zealand than in Australia.
- A combination of snow, fog and ice can easily cause accidents if you’re not paying attention.
- When driving through valleys, winds are often quite strong and can push your vehicle. Be alert and lower your speed to the conditions when necessary.
- Be prepared for a change in weather and get clued up on the weather forecast for the area you’re visiting. A hot, sunny day can turn into a cold, damp one in a few short hours.
There are two types of railway crossings in New Zealand to be aware of:
1) Automated Rail Crossings:
Flashing red lights mean a train is approaching. Stop your vehicle and do not drive over the crossing. You can proceed once the lights have stopped flashing.
2) Non-automated Rail Crossings:
You will need to pay special attention to the crossing before you drive over it to ensure no trains are approaching.
Theft on the roads
New Zealand has a relatively low crime rate, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions to secure your vehicle and its contents against theft.
Just like in Australia, it’s better to keep your possessions safe than to make an insurance claim later.
- Lock your vehicle and ensure all windows are completely closed.
- Store your valuables out of sight and in a locked compartment if possible.
- Don’t leave important documents or valuables unattended in parked vehicles.
- Don’t leave luggage, maps and visitor brochures in your vehicle either. These are sure signs that you’re a tourist and that you may have valuables in the car.
- Don't leave valuables in your car overnight.
Motorhomes and campervans
Campervan travel is all the rage in New Zealand. It’s a great alternative to hotel accommodation and there are plenty of pull-in sites available where you can meet travellers from all over the world. You can even take your campervan on the ferry between Wellington and Picton.
There's a few tips to keep in mind to enjoy your self-driving holiday safely:
- Consider how jet lagged you’ll feel before hiring a campervan. Tiredness comes on very quickly and can make driving unsafe.
- Park in designated areas whenever possible.
- Stay in designated campsites to avoid fines for illegal camping.
- Dispose of your waste responsibly at dump stations, otherwise you’ll be fined for illegal dumping.
- Lock up your campervan when you’re not with it.
- Ensure doors, windows and hatches are closed so that animals aren’t attracted to your food supply.
- Inside the campervan, close everything that can be closed and secure cupboards and drawers before driving.
- Don’t travel with appliances such as kettles or toasters plugged in.
- Expect to travel slower in a campervan. Large campervans can be cumbersome to manoeuvre, especially up hills.
- Drive on the left-hand side of the road (just like Australia).
- Keep to below the legal speed limit. There is a higher risk of accident if you speed.
- During winter, drive with your headlights on, even in the day.
- All passengers in the car (including the driver) must wear seat belts or child restraints at all times.
- Follow the same rules as you would in Australia when it comes to green, amber and red lights.
- In winter, travel with a set of snow chains for your front tyres (most rental companies will provide you with chains). Know how to fit them.
- Pack a radio and mobile phone in case you get lost or have an accident.
- Carry warm gloves and a torch (with spare batteries) in case you need to get out of the car and refit the chains.
- Allocate plenty of time to see everything so you don’t get tired. It’s better to just see a few sites per day than try to cram in your entire sightseeing list.
- Visit the New Zealand Transport Authority for complete list of road rules.
- Don’t drive while using a hand-held mobile phone.
- Don’t drink and drive, or take drugs and drive. It’s illegal in New Zealand and is strictly enforced by police.
- Avoid sudden braking and sudden changes in direction.
- Under New Zealand law, all children under seven years of age must use an approved child restraint appropriate for their age and size. Children aged seven must be secured in a restraint if one is available in the vehicle.
- Don’t overtake other cars where there are double yellow lines - these lines indicate areas where it's too dangerous to overtake.
- Avoid shiny, wet patches (black ice) on the road. It’s difficult for drivers to see and can cause you to lose control of the vehicle.
- Don’t panic. If something goes wrong or you get lost, take a deep breath and don't be afraid to ask for help.
Adventure and Extreme Sports
People travel to New Zealand for all sorts of holidays, but it’s best known as the adventure activity capital of the world.
One in three tourists participate in some form of adventure tourism while on holiday. Whether you’re participating or simply spectating, New Zealand offers everything from world-class golf courses to adrenaline-pumping bungee jumping and everything in between.
Before deciding which activity to do first, remember that the more extreme the sport, the greater the risks involved.
New Zealand’s extreme adventure safety standards are higher than in Bali or Thailand. Adventure companies should be registered on the Adventure Activity Register, which is subject to an audit before they’re considered safe by the WorkSafe NZ Registrar.
Some of the most popular adventure activities in New Zealand include:
Even for a healthy person, skydiving places unique stresses on the body.
Before skydiving ensure you’ve had plenty of rest, eaten a light meal and that you're well hydrated. Otherwise, you could get light headed and pass out during your jump!
It's not advisable to skydive if you are pregnant or have any back, limb or joint injuries. If you have medical concerns about your ability to participate safely, discuss your activity plans with your doctor ahead your trip.
Also keep in mind that skydiving companies may have different health and/or weight restrictions, so check with them for their specific requirements.
Jet boating is also a popular and widespread activity in New Zealand. To be safe, look for licensed jet boating operators who:
- Comply with safety standards
- Carry out daily checks
- Have their mechanics assessed regularly
- Carry a set number of passengers and don’t overload the boat
- Use boats constructed of heavy gauge marine aluminium
Before bungee jumping ensure you’ve had plenty of rest, eaten some food and you’re hydrated.
Advise the crew if you have:
- High or low blood pressure
- Heart conditions
- Broken or fractured bones
- Fragile skin
- Panic or anxiety attacks
- Muscular injuries
- Had a recent concussion
It's not advisable to bungee jump if you are pregnant or have photosensitive epilepsy.
Skiing and Snow Sports
New Zealand offers some serious powder for skiers and snowboarders. The Southern Alps, as they are known, are home to a few main ski areas including Treble Cone, Cardona, Coronet Peak, Mt Hutt and The Remarkables. These slopes have seen plenty of visitors including Hollywood’s big guns, professional snowboarders and Olympic athletes.
To stay safe and avoid injury on the slopes, keep these tips in mind:
- Familiarise yourself with the terrain and the most common risks to avoid having to cut your ski trip short.
- Build up your fitness before you travel so that weak joints and muscles don’t play a role in injury.
- Take a group or private lesson from a qualified instructor if you're inexperienced or haven't skied in a while.
- Bring a good set of goggles and gloves with a low-light lens for snowy days, and a UV lens for sunny days so you can see where you’re going.
- Protect yourself from the sun. UV rays reflected off the snow are three times stronger than UV rays at the beach.
- Stay hydrated, eat light meals and don’t ski or snowboard on a heavy stomach.
- Avoid serious injury by steering clear of areas you aren’t familiar with.
- Layer up with thermals to help prevent your body losing heat.
- Protect yourself against wind-chapped skin by using neck and face warmers and lip balm.
- If you’re tired, take a break or call it a day. Your reaction times and judgement are impaired by fatigue, putting you at a higher risk of injury.
Hiking and Trekking
No doubt you’ll want to experience New Zealand’s picturesque outdoors. Trekking is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the environment, but things can go wrong on treks. Prepare before you begin your trek:
- Register with Smartraveller.
- Make a detailed trip plan of your trek, including the date or time you plan to be back. Give one copy to a friend and another to the Department of Conservation. If you don’t turn up within your expected timeframe, they can begin searching for you.
- Don’t underestimate the weather. Check the forecast before setting off and be aware it can change in a few hours.
- Don’t trek through rivers unless they’ve dropped their levels significantly.
- Don’t trek alone. It’s always better to travel with a partner who can help you in an emergency.
- Pack a torch or flashlight so you can attract attention if you’re lost.
If you’re planning to take long hikes in New Zealand, an Emergency Locator Beacon (ELB) should be on the top of your packing list. Simply carrying an ELB could help save your life if you’re injured or lost in New Zealand’s remote alpine areas.
Once activated, the ELB emits a UHF radio signal that can be picked up by satellite or aircraft. Search and rescue teams use the signal to quickly and efficiently locate the beacon.
Before leaving on a trek, check your beacon is in good working order (some have a test function), learn how and when to activate your beacon, and carry spare batteries.
Remember: Emergency Locator Beacons must only be used in life threatening situations.
Tips for safe travel in New Zealand
There are plenty of wonderful things to experience in New Zealand. First-timers often enjoy visiting well-known city sights, while veteran travellers lap up the opportunity to self-explore.
No matter your holiday style, it’s important to look after your health and stay safe while travelling. Things can go wrong anywhere in the world, including in a safe travel destination like New Zealand, so brush up on the potential risks and prepare yourself to deal with them adequately.
Follow these handy tips to keep safe while travelling:
Avoid drinking to excess
Alcohol plays a major role in accidents and injuries. It also makes you an easier target for theft. Pace yourself and have a glass of water between alcoholic drinks.
There will be an abundance of food on offer, but try to avoid overindulging. Choose reputable establishments that are clean and busy or have good online reviews to avoid becoming unwell.
Consider your fitness and abilities
Don't overestimate your abilities and energy levels while on holiday. If you can usually only muster up the energy for a garden stroll at home, it's probably best not to sign up for an extreme hike. Consider your fitness level and don’t bow into peer pressure.
Combat jet lag
New Zealand is only a few hours flight away but you might still feel the effects of jet lag. Get a good night's rest before you travel and plan low-key, relaxing activities for the first day after you arrive. Remember to also rest whenever you feel tired during your holiday to avoid getting rundown and sick.
Slip, slop, slap!
New Zealand is positioned under the ‘hole’ in the ozone layer so it’s easier to get sunburnt. Even if there is cloud cover, remember to wear sensible clothing, a hat, a decent set of sunglasses and apply sunscreen regularly.
Effects of adrenaline and altitude
Enjoying a day zip-lining, bungee jumping or white water rafting can sap the energy from you. Adrenaline rushes are both exhilarating and exhausting, and extreme changes in altitude can wreak havoc on your body. Don’t push yourself and remember to rest up in between activities.
City tap water is safe to drink, but water from streams or rivers should be treated or boiled because of the potential for giardia. To minimise your risk of falling ill, drink bottled water in rural areas.
Important contact information and resources
New Zealand Emergency contact
Dial 111 (to access Police, Fire, Ambulance or Search and Rescue services)
The contact details for local Police stations can be found in telephone books.
Keeping safe via text messaging
Certain carriers in New Zealand offer a text messages for tourists. You’ll be able to text your travel plans to 7223 (SAFE) which can be accessed by police if you’re injured or missing.
The Australian Government provides 24 hour consular assistance
- Smartraveller Emergency Consular Contact
- Australian High Commission
- World Health Organisation (WHO)
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)
- The Travel Doctor
- Australian Passport Information Service: 131 232
- Medicare Australia: 132 011
You should also keep the contact details of your:
- Travel insurer
- Travel agent
- Cruise company