Aussies have always loved New Zealand – in a regular year, about 1.5 million Australians make the trip across the Ditch. But now that it is the only overseas destination for Australian holiday-makers – thanks to the recently opened New Zealand travel bubble – it’s shot right to the top of many people’s bucket lists. So, what do you need to know before boarding your flight? This guide covers everything – from health checks, permits and current mask rules to the best time to go and how to drive safely in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
What are the rules of the Australia-New Zealand trans-Tasman bubble?
Since 18 April 2021, travel between Australia and New Zealand has been quarantine-free. If you have been in Australia or New Zealand for at least 14 days prior to your flight, you do not need to apply for an exemption.
COVID-19 outbreaks in either country can lead to changes in the arrangement without much notice. Check Smart Traveller for up-to-date advice and, if you’re planning to travel soon, sign up for the regular email updates.
You’ll also need to fill out the Australia Travel Declaration form online at least 72 hours before your flight back to Australia.
Will I need to quarantine?
If you have been in Australia for at least 14 days immediately prior to your flight to New Zealand, you do not need to isolate before you fly.
At present, you don’t need to quarantine prior to returning to Australia or on arrival. This can change at any time and changes may depend on which state you are flying into so always check the latest updates.
Do I need any health checks or records?
COVID-19 vaccination is not required for travel to New Zealand but if you’re eligible to receive the vaccine, it’s a good idea. Smart Traveller recommends getting a check-up from your doctor eight weeks before you leave. If you have a medical condition that makes you particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the site advises that you reconsider your need to travel.
Wash and sanitise your hands regularly, practise social distancing where appropriate and don’t travel if you feel unwell. If you start to experience cold or flu-like symptoms while you’re in New Zealand, contact Healthline (0800 358 5453) for advice.
Health risks are similar to those in Australia, though Smart Traveller does recommend you “exercise a high degree of caution” when travelling in New Zealand due to COVID-19. Ensure your vaccinations are up to date (including for measles, as there was an outbreak in 2019).
Do I need to wear a mask?
Masks are required only on domestic flights and public transport. However, the New Zealand Government recommends you carry a face mask in case social distancing isn’t possible.
Qantas currently offers direct flights to several New Zealand ports, including:
- Queenstown – Direct flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Flight time from Sydney is about three hours.
- Auckland – Direct flights from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns and the Gold Coast. Flight time from Sydney is about three hours.
- Wellington – Direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne. Flight time from Sydney is just over three hours.
- Christchurch – Direct from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Flight time from Sydney is just over three hours.
Entering New Zealand
Australian citizens don’t need a visa or permit to enter New Zealand, provided you don’t have a criminal record and have not been deported from any country. Permanent residents need to apply for a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority before their trip.
Māori and English are official languages in New Zealand, though the latter has a few regional quirks (jandals? It’s Kiwi for thongs).
At the time of writing, the Australian dollar was buying around NZ$1.07. Check a reliable currency conversion service for up-to-date foreign-exchange rates.
New Zealand can be a place of climate extremes but its long, narrow topography means most towns are close to the coast, where the weather is relatively mild. The further south you go, whatever time of year, the colder it gets.
In summer, you’re looking at long, sunny days with temperatures in the low 20s in Auckland and a little cooler than that in Queenstown.
The climatic difference between the two islands is most obvious in the winter months, with average temperatures between 10°C and 16°C on the North Island and dropping below zero in parts of the South Island, including Central Otago and the Mackenzie Basin. July is generally the coldest month.
When to go
That depends on what kind of holiday you want. Summer is the busiest time, as people take advantage of the incredible outdoor experiences the islands have to offer, such as mountain biking, kayaking and hiking. Skiers and snowboarders wait for winter and head straight for the South Island. If you want to avoid the crowds and can manage some unpredictable weather, the shoulder seasons of autumn and spring are good options. Both are beautiful in their own way; the former offers the chance to spot orcas off the coast of Wellington, while the latter is waterfall season.
An Australian driver’s licence is valid in New Zealand for up to a year. A local licence is required if you stay longer.
New Zealand’s winding roads require drivers to be vigilant about speed limits and road signs. Most roads outside the cities are single-lane in each direction and there are few places to overtake. One-lane bridges are common; slow down on approach to give the correct car the right of way.
If you’re driving in winter, be prepared to deal with hazards such as ice, snow and fog, and be sure to use snow chains.
The most important thing to remember when driving in New Zealand is that it will always take longer than you think to reach your destination, thanks to those narrow, snaking roads. Milford Sound might look close to Queenstown on a map but it’s about a four-hour drive away – and that doesn’t include stops at the picturesque lakes and trails along the way. Always check travel times before you set out.
While we wouldn’t recommend camping in the winter months (after all, it can drop below zero around Queenstown and at other alpine spots), one of the highlights of a New Zealand road trip is freedom camping: the chance to pitch a tent or park your campervan overnight in one of more than 500 stunning public spots (rather than a designated campground) for free. The only rules are environment-related: take your rubbish with you, use a public toilet or the one in your vehicle and empty waste at a designated area. Other than that, you’re good to set up camp – and you might even nab better views than some of the luxury lodges lay claim to. Use this map to check that you’re parked in a place that allows freedom camping or to find a nearby campground.
It’s safe to drink the tap water. If you’re trekking or camping and filling up your drink bottle from water sources along the way, be sure to boil or filter it prior to drinking.
The legal drinking age in New Zealand is 18 and the blood alcohol limit for drivers under the age of 20 is zero. An Australian driver’s licence isn’t a sufficient form of ID; you’ll need your passport to purchase alcohol and to enter licensed premises.
Like Australia, New Zealand has strict biosecurity laws to preserve its pristine natural environment. Read the Passenger Arrival Card carefully before you land to ensure you don’t bring in any illegal goods. Declare anything you’re unsure of or dispose of the item in the marked bins.
New Zealand and Australia have a reciprocal healthcare agreement so Aussies can access public medical facilities by presenting their passport and Medicare card. There are some exclusions, including treatment for pre-existing health conditions, and the agreement doesn’t replace the need for travel insurance.
Comprehensive travel insurance is recommended. If you plan to partake in adrenaline-boosting activities, such as bungee jumping or skydiving, check that your insurance covers these.
Phone calls and mobile data
Turn off data roaming before you land and don’t answer incoming calls if you want to keep your monthly bill in check. Invest in a prepaid international SIM card if keeping in touch with those at home is important.
To call Australia, dial +61 followed by the phone number, including the area code minus the zero. So, to call a landline in Sydney (where the area code is 02), you would dial +61 2 then the phone number. To call a mobile, use the same country code then dial the mobile number minus the first zero.
Power sockets in New Zealand have the same voltage as those in Australia (240 volts) and take the same two- and three-pin plugs so there’s no need to bring an adaptor.