New Zealand is not a dangerous a place, with few worries for travellers. Furthermore, New Zealanders are trusting people who are ready to help you if you get into trouble. In fact, many visitors are so overwhelmed by the peaceful scenery that they drop all guards and behave differently from where they live. There are certain risks which are relevant for travellers and good to know about. And there’s always the danger that you might want to emigrate to New Zealand after your holiday...
The beautiful landscape has not yet been tamed in every respect, dangerous places are not all fenced off like in other countries. Being allowed so close to nature is a privilege that needs to be enjoyed with responsibility, as it involves certain risks and dangers to get out into the wild. Tourists cause a third of all bush rescues, mostly in the alps of the South Island, often underestimating the risks of being active outdoors. Even short excursions can get dangerous if you get hurt and on your own.
- Climate conditions can change many times a day. Check the weather forecasts, for example MetService New Zealand. Your own forecast is probably reliable for 15 minutes only.
- Carry a mobile, but don’t count on reception outside of populated areas. Call 111 for help or the rescue helicopter. Telecom or Vodafone customers can use the free ‘SAFE’ (7233) text message service to record their travel intentions within New Zealand. The database can then be accessed by police during a search.
- Mountaineers should enquire about a distress locator beacon. Download free pamphlets about mountain safety from the Mountain Safety Council (see under 'Resources').
- Avoid to cross a river with high water level (e.g. muddy colour and flowing debris) if you don’t feel safe. Turn back or wait until the level drops, which can happen quickly. Keep your boots on, otherwise minimise resistance from clothes to the current.
- Enquire about an adequate survival kit (whistle, matches, painkillers etc.) before you go on a long hike.
- When you get lost in the dark or in bad conditions stay in a shelter. Try to signal for help with colours or light.
- Keep the will to survive! You can live approximately 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without body shelter in bad conditions, 3 days without water and 30 days without food. Don’t give up too soon.
Other natural dangers:
- Avoid sunburn, always slip slop slap & wrap! Slip into a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap on a pair of sunglasses. New Zealand has a very high rate of skin cancer. Between 11am and 3pm the UV levels are highest. In summer UV levels rise much more than in comparable world regions. This is due to lower ozone in the stratosphere, a clearer atmosphere, and being a bit closer to the sun than Europe or North America. Especially children are at risk: most of the lifetime melanoma risk is set in childhood.
- Pest number 1: Sandflies! Not really dangerous animals as they don’t carry diseases but their bite can provoke allergic reactions. Cover up or use a DEET based repellent. They like to bite at the beginning and end of day. Never scratch, it will make symptoms far worse. The New Zealand blackfly can seasonally appear all over the country, the West Coast blackfly acquired fame in the South Island West Coast and Fiordland. They breed in fast-flowing streams or rivers.
- Pest number 2: Mosquitoes! There are less species than in Europe, only 16 (out of 3,000 worldwide), and most of these are endemic (they appear only in New Zealand). Nonetheless they like to bite - mostly birds though - and the use of a repellent is recommended. Campers should stay away from swampy places and use mesh nets in their tents. The most common mosquito in the North Island is an introduced species, the Striped Mosquito.
- Other land animals that bite are probably rather dogs than typically New Zealand ones. Many people hear about the rare White Tail spider (dark grey with a white tail end, 2 introduced species - 61 in Australia....) whose bite can be painful and also the big Weta insect could bite a finger if provoked, but chances for this to happen to a traveller are practically zero. Bee and wasp stings are no worse than in other places, be careful if you’re allergic.
- Poisonous plants do exist, but unless you intend to forage in the bush and dine on native New Zealand plants there really is no risk other than brushing against rare nettles or get entangled in the thorny branches of a 'bush lawyer'. If you do forage then you need to research about the 'tutu tree' that often grows near rivers, which when ingested can be lethal - it can even kill elephants (it really did once)!
- In the water be aware of rip currents who can sweep you out into the open ocean. Indicators can be rippled and discouloured water, calm areas between otherwise breaking waves or debris flowing out. When caught don’t panic, swim sideaways parallel to the beach and not against the current, try to come back with the waves. Also tidal currents can be very strong when you bathe in river estuaries and harbours. While you can safely drink tap water avoid untreated river water that can carry giardia parasites and don’t put your nose and ears under water in geothermal pools which can carry amoebic meningitis.
- Shark attacks are very rare, less than 50 unprovoked ones were ever recorded, with just over 10 of them fatal. Most shark incidents took place in the colder waters of the South Island.
- 15,000 recorded earthquakes each year sounds quite impressive, but only 50-250 of these can be felt at all. New Zealand’s worst disaster happened on 22nd of February 2011. A terrible 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch has destroyed the heritage city centre and surrounding suburbs, around 200 people have lost their lives in horrible circumstances, countless have suffered injuries, damaged homes, job losses, business closures and highly uncomfortable living conditions. The earthquake struck 6 months after a first big shake and hundreds of aftershocks, people in Christchurch live in constant fear of another disaster - it will take years to heal. The biggest death toll ever was caused in 1931 when 258 people were killed in Napier. The Wellington, Nelson, Hawke’s Bay and North Canterbury areas so far suffered from damaging, the Alps from the largest quakes. No surprise, as the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates collide right under both the South and North Islands, with a speed of 4cm per year. As a protection against tsunami waves pre-warning instruments are set up along the coast and on offshore islands.
- Volcanoes are a major attraction in New Zealand. Chances for a traveller to be surprised by an eruption are tiny, nevertheless volcanic activity is among the highest in the world. The most active region is between Mt. Ruapehu and White Island, especially with these two being frequently active. In 1953 a mudflow (lahar) from a bursting crater lake on Mt. Ruapehu killed 151 people in a train crash. Mount Tarawera near Rotorua had the most damaging eruption, killing over 120 people in 1886. Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s biggest lake, is nothing but a huge crater lake. Even its last eruption less than 2000 years ago was bigger than Krakatoa and has been recorded in China and Rome. Also Taranaki erupted regularly until 1755, and Rangitoto Island near Auckland was formed around 600 years ago.
- Tropical cyclones and tornadoes (rotating twisters) are not a regular sight. In 1948 a tornado killed 3 people in Hamilton, otherwise they are rare and weak. New Zealand only gets hit by the remainders of tropical cyclones from the pacific, usually between spring to early summer. They rarely come in full force: cyclone Bola in 1988 killed 3 people in the East Cape area, cyclone Gisele led to 52 casualties in 1968, by sinking the interisland ferry Wahine. Cyclones are partly responsible for the most often occurring disaster, the flooding of roads, farmland, houses and towns.
New Zealand has a reputation of being a good and safe driving destination. However there are always risks involved when driving.
- Travellers should take care of a few special rules and try to avoid typical dangers: driving on the wrong side of the road, looking the wrong way when pulling out of an intersection, failing to give way, losing control of the car on gravel roads, driving too fast for the conditions or not giving way on one-lane-bridges.
- 14% of all fatal crashes involve driver fatigue, so take stops every 2 hours, eat an apple rather than drink coffee and have power naps.
- The public’s greatest fears is drunk drivers, drink-driving is the second most common contributing factor in road injuries after speeding. Police are often stopping cars for quick breath tests, especially on evenings and weekends.
- Choose a safe speed for yourself and let others pass. The open road speed limit of 100 km/h should not be regarded as a goal, this speed is too fast in rainy or dark conditions and for many curves. Speed is controlled all over the country with radar cameras and mobile radar guns. The maximum fine for exceeding a speed limit is 1,000 NZD.
It’s very comforting to know that New Zealand enjoys a consistently very high rank in the overall Global Peace Index, a ranking taking into account many indicators from homicides to life expectancy. But crime rates do slowly increase and there have been rare violent attacks on tourists.
- Be especially careful at night and anywhere near where a lot of alcohol is consumed.
- Don’t carry large amounts of cash.
- Don’t accept drinks from strangers in a suspicious environment.
- Don’t hitchhike or accept rides from strangers.
- Before free camping enquire at the local i-SITE about safety issues.
- Take a mobile phone and when in trouble call 111.
- Also see our travel checklist for useful planning of your trip.
Especially theft from cars can be a worry of travellers:
- Don’t leave visible valuables or things identifying you as a tourist in your car.
- Whenever you leave your car lock it!
- Park in busy, open and well-lit areas.
- Remove stereo faceplates, navigation and mobile devices.
- Don't hide a spare key in the car.
There is no need for vaccinations for visitors and tap water is safe to drink. The modern health care system should be able to treat any incidents that might occur to visitors. If you need a consultation visit a General Practitioner (GP), any hospital emergency ward, or even a pharmacy which might be able to give initial health advice. The public hospital system is free of charge for Australian, British (urgent treatment) and, of course, New Zealand citizens. Accidents are covered for all nationalities.
|New Zealanders spend the same percentage of GDP on health as the average OECD nation but enjoy a higher life expectancy.
Private travel insurance is essential to cover medical treatment (except urgent treatment for Australian and British citizens), theft, cancellations with incurring costs, extreme adventure, special equipment etc. Ask your health insurance provider or book travel insurance online. Fees can vary depending on excess levels, nationality and travel destinations.
If you have an accident in New Zealand the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) will cover your treatment at least partially during your stay. Your treatment provider will fill out an ACC claim form for you. Thanks to this valuable insurance it is not possible to sue third parties for accident damage.
In case of any emergency there is a network of services to assist and help you.
- Call 111 for any police, fire, ambulance or rescue emergency.
- Ask for the nearest hospital or look for hospital road signs to visit an emergency ward. There are around 150 hospitals in New Zealand.
- There are also 185 St. John ambulance stations with over 500 vehicles.
- Every region has its own search and rescue helicopter service with very skilled pilots.