Stay safe in New Zealand
The main emergency number in New Zealand is 111 and can be used to contact ambulance, fire, police, coastguard and rescue services. 112 works from mobile phones; 911 and 999 can work but are not dependent on them. You can call *555 from your mobile phone to report non-urgent traffic incidents.
Due to their remoteness, the Chatham Islands are not connected to the 111 network and have their own local emergency number: +64 3 305-0111. You can dial this number from your mobile phone, but it will not work as the Chatham Islands do not have mobile phone reception. Deaf people can contact the emergency services by fax on 0800 16 16 10 and by SMS/TTY on 0800 161 616. It is possible to send a text message to 111, but you must first register with the police.
Complete instructions can be found on the inside cover of each phone book. Further emergency and personal crisis numbers can be found on pages 2 to 4 of the “White Pages”.
Crime and security
Although it is difficult to make international comparisons, the level of crime in New Zealand is similar to other Western countries. Dishonesty crimes, such as theft, are by far the most common. Most of these crimes are opportunistic in nature, so travellers should take simple and sensible precautions, such as keeping valuables out of sight or in a safe place and locking vehicle doors, even in remote areas.
Violent crimes in public places are related to the consumption of alcohol or illegal drugs. It is best to avoid speakeasies or drunken crowds in city centres or youth groups in the suburbs, especially late at night and early in the morning. New Zealanders may not have a sense of humour when their country or sports teams are mocked by noisy or drunken tourists.
There are sometimes disturbing and high-profile reports in the media about tourists being the target of violent robberies and/or sexual crimes. These crimes usually occur in remote locations where the likelihood of the perpetrator being observed by others is low. However, the chances of becoming a victim of such a mishap are slim; statistics show that it is more likely that you will be attacked by a member of your travel group than by a complete stranger.
The New Zealand Police is the national police force and police officers are generally polite, helpful and trustworthy. Unlike most other countries, New Zealand police officers do not routinely carry firearms; officers on duty generally only carry batons, pepper spray to control offenders and tasers. Incidents involving firearms are usually referred to the Armed Offender Specialist Team (AOS, similar to SWAT in the United States). Armed police or a call for AOS is usually mentioned in the media.
Police regularly set up checkpoints in an area, including on all motorway lanes, to check for drink driving, seat belt use, child seat use, expired tickets and registrations, etc. If you fail the roadside breathalyser test, you must accompany the officer to a police station or roadside “alcohol bus” for a probationary breathalyser test, a blood test, or both. If you are found impaired or refuse to submit to a test, you will be arrested, appear in court and face imprisonment, a heavy fine and a driving ban if you repeat the offence.
Stationary and mobile radar units as well as hand-held and motor vehicle speed measuring devices are often used. The police have no official discretion regarding speeding and will issue tickets for any vehicle caught speeding over 10 km/h. In some places, even a speed limit as low as 5 km/h will result in a fine. In some places, e.g. near schools, even a speed limit of only 5 km/h will result in a ticket.
Police fees can be paid online by credit card or internet banking, by cheque or in person at a Westpac Bank branch. Do not attempt to pay the police officer directly as this is considered bribery, which is illegal and punishable by up to seven years in prison.
New Zealand is generally a fairly tolerant country in terms of race and most visitors to New Zealand do not experience any incidents. Although it is not particularly difficult to encounter someone with racist views in a pub, it is generally rare to experience an overt racial attack on the street. Current legislation prohibits hate speech as well as racial discrimination in many public areas such as education and employment.
Severe weather is by far the most common natural hazard. Although New Zealand is not directly affected by tropical cyclones, storms from the tropics and polar regions can hit New Zealand at different times of the year. There is usually a seven to ten day cycle of a few days of wet or stormy weather, followed by calmer and drier days as weather systems move across the country. The phrase “four seasons in one day” is a good description of New Zealand’s weather, which has a reputation for being both changeable and unpredictable. This phrase is also a popular Kiwi song.
Weather forecasts are generally reliable in terms of general trends and severe weather warnings should be taken into account in the output. However, the timing and intensity of a weather event should be assessed from your own location.
When hiking in alpine areas, always seek advice from the Ministry of Conservation. Every year there are deaths of foreign nationals and New Zealanders caught in the weather.
There are other natural hazards that you can encounter, although much less frequently:
- Strong earthquakes – New Zealand, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, lies on the edge of a tectonic plate and experiences a large number of earthquakes each year (about 14,000 per year), although only about 200 are strong enough to be felt by humans and cause only one or two property damages. Only two recorded earthquakes in New Zealand have resulted in serious loss of life: the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake (magnitude 7.8, 256 deaths) and the 2011 Christchurch earthquake (magnitude 6.3, 185 deaths). The latest earthquake news is reported by GeoNet. In an earthquake, it is generally more dangerous to run out of a building than to stay inside and seek shelter. In New Zealand, buildings are built to a high standard and although they can be damaged in an earthquake, they must remain standing.
If you feel a strong earthquake, remember the “Drop, Cover, Hold” operation: drop to the floor, cover yourself under a table or desk (or cover your head and neck with your hands if no table or desk is available), and hold on until the shaking stops.
- Tsunami is a potential hazard in coastal regions of New Zealand. The warning of a tsunami caused by an earthquake overseas is widely publicised through the media. However, if you experience a very strong earthquake (lasting longer than a minute or so strong that you cannot easily stand upright), you should take the precaution of moving over high ground (35 m or more) or at least 1 km inland until the coast is clear.
- Volcanic eruptions – New Zealand has a number of volcanoes classified as active or dormant. Only Mount Ruapehu, Tongariro, White Island and the remote islands of Kermadec have been active recently. Volcanic activity is also monitored by GeoNet.
- There are almost no poisonous or very dangerous animals. The katipo and the redback are the only two venomous spiders and bites from these two species are extremely rare. Serious reactions are rare and are unlikely to occur within three hours, but you should always visit a hospital, medical centre or the nearest doctor. The white-tailed spider can also inflict painful bites, but is not considered dangerous to humans. There are no predators of large mammals or large predatory reptiles. Some species of weta (an insect that looks a bit like a grasshopper or cricket) can inflict a painful but harmless bite.
Fire and civil defence sirens
Outside the major cities, New Zealanders rely on volunteer firefighters to protect their communities. As pagers are scarce, sirens are still regularly used day and night to call the fire brigade; they resemble the British air-raid sirens of World War II and emit a groaning sound (from top to bottom). Some tourists were caught off guard and panicked when they heard the fire siren, thinking that New Zealand was about to be attacked with nuclear weapons.
Some areas, especially on the coast, have a civil defence siren system. Sound signals vary from zone to zone – a continuous tone in one zone may mean evacuation, while in another zone it means all clear. The best advice is that if you hear a siren go off and it sounds something other than a moan, tune into Radio New Zealand National, Newstalk ZB, Radio Live, More FM or Classic Hits for more information. You’ll know you’ve hit one of these places (and that it’s a civil defence emergency) when you hear the civil defence tone, which sounds like a chorus of several different sirens.
Stay healthy in New Zealand
New Zealand has very high ultraviolet radiation, about 40% more intense than that found in the Mediterranean in summer, and therefore has a high rate of skin cancer. Sun hats, sunglasses and sunscreen are highly recommended, especially if you have white skin and/or red hair!
Smog is a persistent winter problem in many South Island cities, particularly Alexandra, Christchurch and Timaru. Like Los Angeles and Vancouver, these areas are affected by temperature inversion, where a layer of warm air traps cold, pollutant-laden air near the ground from vehicles and wood fires. Be careful in these areas if you have respiratory problems (including asthma).
New Zealand has high and fair standards of professional health care, comparable to Sweden or Australia. Tap water is safe to drink. Precautions should be taken against giardia: Do not drink water from rural streams without boiling it first. The risk may be lower in the highlands of the South Island, especially where streams are strong and come directly from melting snow in the mountains.
You do not need any special vaccinations before travelling to New Zealand. However, it is recommended that you check that your whooping cough and measles vaccinations are up to date, as sporadic outbreaks have been reported in recent years, particularly among children and young people. It may be worth getting a flu vaccination if you are travelling to New Zealand during the winter season.
A visit to the doctor costs around $60-70, but varies depending on the practice and location. Appointments outside regular office hours may cost more. With the exception of accidental injuries (see below), New Zealand’s public hospital system is free for citizens and permanent residents of Australia or New Zealand, British citizens and holders of a work visa who have been in New Zealand for at least two years, but all others are charged a fee for the treatment received. International students are usually required to take out private health insurance as part of their visa requirement. It is strongly recommended that visitors take out travel insurance.
New Zealand is the only country in the world that has a universal, no-fault compensation system for accidents, administered by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). Even if you’re just visiting and get injured in New Zealand, the ACC will pay for your treatment and, if you’re working, cover up to 80% of the loss of New Zealand earnings. To apply for CCA, simply go to your doctor’s surgery or emergency room. They will give you an application form to fill in and send to CCA on your behalf. You may have to pay part of the cost of treatment at a doctor’s surgery. You cannot sue any party in connection with a claim covered by CCA, whether they are liable or not.
ACC does not cover incidental costs you incur, such as the cost of changing your itinerary or relatives travelling to New Zealand to assist you with your care, as you will need to take out travel insurance to cover these costs. CCA cover is limited to New Zealand. Therefore, you will be responsible for any medical expenses related to an injury once you leave the country. Property damaged or lost in an accident is also not covered by CCA, but if someone else is at fault, you can make a claim through their insurance or directly if they are not insured (although you may need to take a claim to court if they refuse to pay).
Land ambulance services are provided by Wellington Free Ambulance in Greater Wellington and by St. John’s Ambulance in other areas. St. John’s charges for calls outside the service area (about $80 for New Zealand and British citizens and $770 for others). Wellington Free Ambulance is free (as the name suggests), but you can donate in return.
In New Zealand, prescription medicines are generally referred to by their international non-proprietary name (INN) rather than a brand name. In New Zealand, there is a single national purchaser of medicines, Pharmac, whose main aim is to keep medicine prices low. This means that subsidised medicines change brands every five years (hence the reason why medicines are known by their INN), but it also means that prescription medicine prices on the shelf are among the cheapest in the OECD. On average, subsidised prescription drugs in New Zealand cost two-thirds of what they cost in the UK and Australia, and one-third of what they cost in the US. Subsidised medicines are available to New Zealand, Australian and UK citizens; a $15 deductible applies to occasional patients ($5 for registered patients). For people from other countries and those who need non-subsidised medicines, you will have to pay the full retail price.
When you arrive at a public hospital’s accident and emergency department, you are treated in order of priority, not order of arrival. In a moderately busy emergency room, you usually have to wait 30 to 60 minutes for a simple fracture, but if victims of a heart attack or a car accident keep coming in, it can easily take several hours. Children with an injury similar to yours are likely to be treated before adults. If your illness or accident is minor, you may be advised to go to a clinic or medical centre that is open after hours. This may cost you more than $100, but it will save you waiting up to a whole day for treatment.
Healthline, a free 24-hour telephone helpline run by registered nurses, is available if you need advice about a medical problem. The number is 0800 611 116.