Travelling Safely in New Zealand

It’s fair to say New Zealand’s a pretty safe place to travel, we have no poisonous snakes or dangerous animals and are populated by a small group of pretty laid back, genuinely friendly people. Hell our police don’t even carry guns! – We have nothing to worry about! But 'Keeping it Real' there are few things you do need to be aware of, especially if you are planning to get out into the great outdoors. This post is dedicated to travelling safely in New Zealand, the possible problems you may encounter, some practical solutions on how to preempt the unforeseen so you can breath easy and enjoy your time in our wonderful country.  


Like our Rugby Team our Sun is Stronger than Most. Be 'Sunsmart!' New Zealand's clear, unpolluted atmosphere and relatively low latitudes produce sunlight stronger than much of Europe or North America, so be prepared to wear hats and sun block if you plan to be out in the sun for more than 15 minutes.   Pack a sunhat, sunglasses and suntan lotion for protection from the sun. New Zealanders are extremely aware of the dangers of overexposure to their sun and excellent selections of good quality high factor sunscreens are available in New Zealand shops. How to avoid sunburn chart. Just 15 minutes in the New Zealand summer sun can cook you. Temperatures can be low but the ultra-violet rays are vicious due to the hole in the ozone layer. Wear a hat, sunglasses and a high SPF sunscreen. Try to sit in the shade during the hottest hours from 12-4pm. We have a silly little jingle called Slip, Slap, Slop and Slurp to help us remember to- Slip on a shirt. Slap on a hat and sunglasses. Slop on sunscreen. Slurp on water. sunburnt from being over exposed to the New Zealand sun. Oh My God!! It’s an Air Raid Siren!!!!  In New Zealand the local warning signal for a civil defence emergencies is a continuous siren, like that on a police car. If you hear this, you should listen to your local radio station to learn what the emergency is and what to do. In the small towns around New Zealand the local fire departments are run by volunteers, so when there is an emergency, the Volunteer Firemen are summoned by the Civil Defence Siren (Air Raid Siren) so do not worry, New Zealand is not being bombed! However in the unlikely event you should hear one in a larger centre, then it is either a Test, or an actual Emergency is Imminent or has already occurred. Our advice is for you to seek advice from a local as soon as you can. In an emergency the siren would sound if there was a Severe Weather Warning with Expected Flooding or Extreme Winds or an Earthquake and Expected Tsunami. The siren indicates that important information is about to be broadcast on the local radio stations. What should you do in this situation? - Don't panic - Stay indoors (the only action you should take is turn on a radio) Follow the instructions which are broadcast - Stay clam - Keep listening for further information. The civil defence alerting signal is similar in sound to a volunteer fire station siren, however the civil defence signal will rise and fall several times each minute for five minutes or longer if required. captain Kirk shocked in New Zealand Mosquitoes and Sand Flies - Pesky but Harmless In wet, warm areas sand flies and mosquitoes can become pests. Although they are not dangerous, it is best to carry insect repellent, especially in National Parks and marsh lands. The Sand Flies in Fiordland and some parts of the West Coast are infamous and can ruin your experience. The bites may itch for days or weeks — especially for tourists who are not used to them. Repel Them! They are effectively controlled by use of an insect repellent like DEET repellents. But, since they may bite anytime during daylight hours, an even better strategy is to keep skin covered as much as possible in these regions. extended-duration DEET or an equivalent should be applied to all exposed skin surfaces 30 minutes before potential exposure and should be reapplied every four to six hours, especially if there is significant sweating. When using both DEET and sunscreen, DEET should be applied approximately 30 minutes before the sunscreen. DEET decreases the effectiveness of the sunscreen by approximately 35%, therefore, sunscreen with SPF 30 is recommended. A mosquito warning sign. Swimming Safety - This is a 'No Brainer' New Zealand is fringed with superb beaches just waiting to be enjoyed. As with all beaches, it is advisable to follow basic precautions. Popular beaches are usually patrolled by volunteer lifesavers from October to April. Always swim or surf at patrolled beaches between the red and yellow flags which mark the safest area for swimming. Take your time entering the water, and don't swim alone. Also, don't forget to protect yourself from the sun - take your hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and cover up, particularly in the middle of the day. Many surf beaches in New Zealand have strong currents, called rips. These are powerful currents of water that can drag you along. If you find yourself being caught in a rip, do not panic. Stay calm, float with the current and raise your hand, or swim across it, not against it. Read and obey warning signs on beaches, beach access points and at waterways. If you are unsure of the beach surf conditions check with a lifesaver. Always swim with others. Children should always be accompanied in the water by an adult who can swim. Know your health limitations when considering diving, snorkelling, swimming (or other active pursuits). In Short: Only swim between the red and yellow flags at the beach. The red and yellow flags indicate the safest place to swim when lifeguards and lifesavers patrol beaches. People walking between the swimming flags on a NZ beach. Getting off the Beaten Track? – Just Tell Some One! Every year at least a dozen visitors to New Zealand get lost in our wilderness and unfortunately not all cases have a happy ending. If you plan to head “off the beaten track”, always let somebody know where you are going to be and when you expect to return. This is especially important if you plan to do an isolated walk or an unguided activity. If you fail to return by your expected time it will be far easier to locate you if someone knows where to look! If there is a department of conservation (DOC) office in the area, then pop in and log your intention with the staff, these outdoor professionals can give you the latest track and weather information and offer sound advice, more importantly if you don't return they will not only instigate a search but will know where to look -  this service is absolutely free! A help sign as viewed from a helicopter. Weather: You can experience Four Seasons in One Day - So be Prepared! Being a small island nation surrounded by ocean, weather conditions in New Zealand can change rapidly - Even in the peak of Summer. You should always travel prepared for cold wet weather especially if you plan to walk in our National Parks. Our MetService website is a great resource where you can check to see what the weather conditions are expected in the region you are planning to visit. The site has a handy ap you can download and can update you with alerts and weather warnings to help you make an informed decision before embarking on an excursion. See: New Zealand photo showing four seasons in one day. Driving in New Zealand Rolling grassy landscapes, snow-capped alpine regions and pristine lakes. New Zealand is a beautiful country and luckily you can explore by camper-van or car. Yes self-drive holidays are popular with people from all around the world but driving here can be very different to driving at home. Although New Zealand road rules do follow international standards, we drive on the left side of the road (the same as in the UK and Japan, but opposite to the USA and Europe). But some of our roads are narrow, windy and may have loose gravel - it’s not unusual to see sheep or cattle on roads in rural areas - this is the price you pay to get into pristine remote locations, so you need to be careful and take your time to do a little planning. Some Practical Tips

  • Hire a GPS: Trying to read road maps, road signs and looking for street names is distracting not to mention the inevitable argument with your partner so why bother a GPS is relatively cheap to hire - well worth it.
  • Keep it Simple: Choose an automatic car instead of a manual car, we have some of the steep, narrow and windy roads its easier to focus on the road and not a gear change.
  • Time & Distance:  Map out your route and know how long a drive will actually take you before you hit the road. Many people look at the map of New Zealand  and guesstimate the time it will take based on their driving experience at home. The problem is we don't have huge highways or autobahns, this is New Zealand and half the reason you are probably here is to get away from all of that traffic - but the cost of that is a slow average speed which in NZ is only 75 km (46 mi) an hour. If you have a realistic time frame you can plan and don't have to rush.
  • Drive to the Road Conditions: The speed limit on any stretch of road is not a target, if the road conditions change, IE rain/ice/snow change your speed to suit.    Handy Driving Resources: Drive Safely in New Zealand: A very informative site with tips and tricks for safe driving in New Zealand. Test your driving in New Zealand: Put yourself in the driver’s seat using the Automobile Association’s new 'New Zealand Driver Training Programme' and experience what it is like to drive on New Zealand roads. Road Condition Alerts to Email: If you want to know before you hit the state highway whether there’s anything that could delay your arrival at your destination? Then the travel information service On The Move is for you. Find out about driving conditions, incidents and road works - Better still it's free.

A couple enjoying the fantastic roadside views of New Zealand while laying on their car.


Other related reading... 

Driving in New Zealand? Essential Road Code rules you need to know

The Ultimate New Zealand Road Trip - A Self Drive Itinerary

Best New Zealand Itinerary for a Honeymoon

Getting of the the beaten track with a Self-drive holiday in New Zealand

How to plan the perfect New Zealand Self-drive Holiday

The facts on Driving in New Zealand - what you require & what you need to know


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Elizabeth Marshall
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Elizabeth Marshall

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