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.
What to consider when planning your trip to New Zealand
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 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.
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 utlise 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 pre-paid SIM card when you arrive.
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.
Do I need a visa/passport?
- If you’re an Australian citizen or resident, you don’t need a visa to visit New Zealand for a holiday. Just 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 enough money to pay for one.
Do I need any vaccinations?
No vaccinations are required to enter New Zealand, but it’s a good idea to visit your doctor and top up on vaccinations such as Tetanus, Diphtheria, Measles, Influenza, or Hepatitis A and B.
Driving 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 Jan 2017 there’s still a lot of building and road works 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 (150kms+) 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.
- Useful Link - https://www.nzta.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/Driving-in-NZ-MULTILINGUAL.pdf
- 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.
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 think you don’t need travel insurance. But the most important thing you should do before you travel anywhere is to cover yourself in case anything goes wrong.
New Zealand is a world-renowned destination for adventure sports. Accidents are common, especially on the slopes and in unfamiliar terrain. 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 your holiday, or you could even fall ill before you travel and have to cancel your trip. Travel insurance may cover you for cancellation fees, lost luggage, flight delays, and medical costs.
What type of travel insurance do I need?
Cover 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. Most insurers will cover you for unexpected disasters such as severe earthquakes. Speak to your insurer about the types of cover available.
What type of activities are covered?
Travel insurance may cover you for adventure sports and activities such as hot air ballooning, horse riding, white water rafting, trekking, and parasailing. You may need to pay an extra charge for the more risky activities, and exclusions do apply, so speak to your travel insurer to find out if the activities you want to do are covered.
Can I just 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 a few things it doesn’t cover. Taking out travel insurance can help cover what the agreement doesn’t.
Don’t let travel insurance be an afterthought.
If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.
New Zealand law and cultural customs
- Laws in New Zealand are similar to 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
What can I bring into the country?
New Zealand is very strict when it comes to its biosecurity. There are restrictions on items such as certain foods, plants, animal products and recreation equipment in order to protect its environment. Just like Australia, there are certain things you can’t bring into the country.
Familiarise yourself with the guidelines before you travel. Visit the Ministry for Primary Industries for further information about what you can and can’t bring into the country.
Visitors 18 years of age or older can purchase alcohol, tobacco and cigarettes duty free. Visit New Zealand Customs for an explanation about concessions and allowances for tourists.
Kiwi history, Maori customs and societal norms
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 are the risks of travelling to New Zealand?
New Zealand is a safe destination for travellers to visit. According to the 2013 Global Peace Index, it’s the third 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 real worries for travellers.
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 (especially at night) of areas where a lot of alcohol is consumed (bars, pubs, sports clubs and restaurants). In the event of a brawl breaking out you want to keep well away.
Can I drink the water?
- The 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, boil the water as giardia (which can cause gastroenteritis) may be present.
Similar to Bali, New Zealand is part of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, an area most prone to both earthquakes 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.
What is the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement?
New Zealand has a great health care system. Australian citizens on holiday can receive emergency medical treatment under the Reciprocal Health 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 Medicare card
- Tell medical staff that you want to be treated under the Reciprocal Health Agreement with Australia.
- Basic emergency cover
- Emergency Medical Care
- Non-subsidised pharmaceutical medicines
- Repatriation and medical evacuation
- Doctor’s fees and lab diagnostics
Visit Medicare for a complete list of what’s covered.
Don’t forgo private health insurance in favour of the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement.
The agreement doesn’t replace personal cover. You’ll need private health insurance if you want to claim for specialty pharmaceutical medicines, doctor’s visits, lab diagnostics, and private in-patient care.
Road trip safety
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.
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 easily push your vehicle to the other side of the road, or off the road, if you’re not paying attention. 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.
Only half of the rail crossings in New Zealand have automatic alarms. The rest of the rail corssing in New Zealand have 'stop' or 'give way' signs.
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.
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 any precautions when driving. Just like in Australia, it’s better to keep your possessions safe than to make an insurance claim later.
- Lock your vehicle.
- Store your valuables securely.
- 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.
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.
- 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 at dump stations, otherwise you’ll be fined for illegal dumping.
- Lock up your campervan when you’re not with it.
- Ensure doors 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.
- 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.
Self drive tips
- 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.
- Choose an automatic car to make it easier to self-navigate and drive at the same time.
- Allocate enough time to see everything so you don’t get tired. It’s better to see two sites a day than try to cram in your entire sightseeing list.
- 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.
- Don’t panic. If something goes wrong or you get lost, take a deep breath, leave the car and ask for help.
Skiing and snowboarding safety tips
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 (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. The scenery will blow your mind and raise your selfie-game a few notches too.
Before you pack your skis and selfie stick, 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.
- 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 because you’re at a higher altitude in the Southern Alps.
- 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.
- 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 tips
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, 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.
- Hire an emergency locator beacon. It’s inexpensive and will alert authorities to your whereabouts if you’re lost.
- Pack a torch or flashlight so you can attract attention if you’re lost.
Adventure and extreme sports safety
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 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.
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.
Look for 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.
Don’t bungee jump if you:
- Are pregnant
- Have photo-sensitive epilepsy
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
Provide doctor’s permission to jump if you have:
- Had a recent concussion
Families and seniors travelling in New Zealand
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.
Top tips for staying healthy while travelling in New Zealand
New Zealand is a lot like Australia when it comes to staying healthy, and follow similar safety practices to us. Follow these top 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.
- Avoid over-eating: There’ll be an abundance of food on offer, but choose to eat only when you’re hungry so that you don’t become unwell.
- Remember your abilities: Don’t sign up for an extreme hike if you can only muster up the energy for a garden stroll. Remember your fitness level and don’t bow to peer pressure.
- Combat jet lag: New Zealand is only a few hours away but you might still feel the effects of jet lag. Rest before you travel, after you arrive, and whenever you feel tired.
- Slip, slop, slap: New Zealand is positioned under the ‘hole’ in the ozone layer so it’s easier to get sunburnt. Even if there’s cloud cover, wear sensible clothing, a decent set of sunglasses and apply sunscreen regularly.
- Effects of adrenaline: Enjoying a day zip-lining, bungee jumping or white water rafting can sap the energy from you. Adrenaline rushes are both exhilarating and exhausting. Don’t push yourself and remember to rest in between activities.
- Drink bottled water in rural areas: City water is safe to drink, but water from streams or rivers should be boiled because of the potential for giardia.
What to do in a medical emergency
Keep a contact list in your wallet or phone in case of a medical emergency. Familiarise yourself with the quickest route to the nearest hospital.
- Call an Ambulance by dialling 111
- If you can, let the hotel reception know what has happened. They’ll be able to help you.
- Ask for a medical report from the doctor – you’ll need this for your insurance claim.
- Call or email your travel insurer as they can provide 24-hour emergency assistance.
Keep all receipts for any additional transport, food or accommodation expenses:
If you’re claiming cancellation or additional expenses you’ll need to submit documents showing what your original planned pre-paid 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.
Important contact information and resources
- Smartraveller Emergency Consular Contact
- Australian High Commission
- New Zealand Emergency: 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:
- +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas
- +61 421 269 080f or SMS
- 1300 555 135 from within Australia
- World Health Organization
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)
- The Travel Doctor
- Australian Passport Information Service: 131 232
- Medicare Australia: 132 011
You should also bring the contact details of your:
- Travel insurer
- Travel agent
- Cruise company
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 use this handy guide to brush up on the potential risks and prepare yourself to deal with them adequately. And don’t forget, taking out travel insurance is one of the best ways to help you do just that.
Kia Ora! (Good health)