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Is New Zealand Dangerous?

To give you the briefest of answers – New Zealand is not particularly dangerous and is much safer for visitors than many other countries around the world. It isn’t completely danger-free but generally, New Zealand is very safe for visitors.

I lived in Auckland for a year and have travelled around New Zealand extensively during that year and in visits since then. My only safety concern in all my New Zealand experience was when I nervously signed a waiver form for skydiving…

For a more detailed answer, there are hazards and dangers that visitors to New Zealand should be aware of, and I go through the main ones below. I’ll set aside the exaggerated fears and focus on providing a balanced perspective.

I’ll take you through natural hazards like earthquakes and unpredictable weather, dive into the safety aspects of popular outdoor activities, and even discuss urban safety in cities like Auckland, Wellington, and Queenstown.

I aim to give you essential information and practical tips to make your experience in New Zealand not just thrilling, but safe too. Whether you’re planning an exhilarating skydive in Queenstown or a peaceful hike along scenic trails, understanding the safety landscape of this beautiful country is key.

Milford Sound with peaks reflected in mirror waters. One of the best places to visit in South Island New Zealand

1. Natural Hazards in New Zealand

New Zealand is an absolutely stunning country, but some of the causes of that natural beauty are also safety risk factors. This is primarily due to the geological activity which over the ages has created mountain ranges and hot springs, but also causes earthquakes and volcanoes. 

As a traveller, it’s important to be aware of the natural hazards that exist and how to navigate them safely.

When I was living in New Zealand, I worked for 6 months as an Administrative Assistant in an Auckland Prison. One of my tasks was to monitor the schedule for emergency drills and ensure that each unit went through the range of drills regularly. 

The difference in seismic activity compared to my UK home was particularly apparent once I saw that regular prison emergency drills had to include not just riot and hostage events, but also earthquake, volcano and tsunami scenarios! Coming from a country where the only thing we ever practice is for fires, this was quite a change. 

I don’t say this to put you off, but more to illustrate that New Zealand is well-prepared and aware of potential natural hazards and puts procedures in place to mitigate these risks.

Earthquakes

New Zealand is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, which means it experiences a fair amount of seismic activity. While the thought of earthquakes might be daunting, it’s worth noting that the country is well-prepared for such events. Buildings are constructed to stringent seismic standards, and there are comprehensive emergency response plans in place. 

In my year in New Zealand and during the time I have spent visiting since then, I never experienced a noticeable earthquake. I’m sure they did occur, but not to the extent that I could feel it.

In fact, the only earthquake I have ever noticed happening was when I was at university in Nottingham – and the UK’s Midlands is not exactly known for its geological instability!

Tsunamis are a hazard that goes hand in hand with earthquakes, but again these are rare. Many of New Zealand’s towns and cities are near the coast but tsunami warning systems are well-organised.

The guidance for virtually everywhere in the world that is prone to earthquakes is the same – Drop, Cover and Hold. If you are in a tsunami evacuation zone, move to higher ground or further inland as soon as the earthquake is over. 

Mount Taranaki - a dormant volcano on a cloudy day, with hills and trees in front of the cone
Mount Taranaki in the North Island of New Zealand is a dormant volcano.

Volcanoes

Along with earthquakes, New Zealand has its share of volcanic areas, particularly on the North Island. The good news is that these volcanoes are closely monitored and don’t generally pose a high risk of danger.

For those planning to visit volcanic sites like the Tongariro National Park, it’s essential to check the latest updates from GeoNet, New Zealand’s geological hazard information centre. They provide real-time data and advice on volcanic alert levels.

New Zealand is much stricter these days around which volcanoes can be visited after an eruption on White Island in 2019. Although the idea of a volcanic eruption is scary, the likelihood of it happening while you visit is very low. 

Milford Sound

Weather

The weather in New Zealand can be quite variable, and it’s wise to be prepared for rapid changes, especially if you’re going into the outdoors. In regions like Fiordland and the West Coast, heavy rainfall can lead to flooding and landslides. On the other hand, areas in the east can be quite dry, and there’s a risk of wildfires during summer. 

If you are going to be hiking somewhere more remote, make sure you check the weather in advance.

New Zealand does have a very high UV index so it is particularly important to pack good sunscreen and minimise exposure. You may find that you burn far quicker than you would in an equivalent temperature elsewhere in the world. 

Being aware of these natural hazards is crucial, but don’t let them deter you. The chances of you encountering a severe earthquake or volcanic eruption are very low. 

With the right preparation and respect for nature’s power, you can safely enjoy all the incredible experiences New Zealand has to offer. Remember, the locals live with these realities and have adapted accordingly, and as a visitor, you can too.

Stay informed, be prepared, and embrace the adventure with a sense of awareness and respect for the natural environment.

Queenstown with mountains in the background and a person paragliding with a yellow parachute. Is New Zealand dangerous - activities like these come with some element of risk, but overall the country is very safe.

2: Outdoor Activities and Safety

New Zealand is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering various activities from serene to extreme. While these experiences can be exhilarating, they also come with their own set of safety considerations. Here’s what you need to know to enjoy them safely.

Adventure Sports

Queenstown, often hailed as the adventure capital of the world, was a highlight of my time in New Zealand. Activities like skydiving, skiing, jet boating, and paragliding are not only thrilling but also well-regulated. 

New Zealand has stringent safety standards for adventure sports operators, and they are regularly audited for compliance. Of course, Queenstown isn’t the only New Zealand location for these activities, you can find some form of adventure activity almost anywhere you’ll visit in New Zealand. 

During my skydiving experience in Queenstown, I was impressed by the thorough safety briefing and the professionalism of the instructors. Signing the waiver was a little intimidating, and these aren’t completely risk-free activities, but there are tens of thousands of skydives every year, and very few safety incidents.

If you plan to partake in these activities, make sure you go with reputable operators who prioritize safety. Don’t hesitate to ask about their safety records and the qualifications of their staff.

Also, be aware of the exclusions of your travel insurance. I always recommend getting travel insurance, but some of these activities will be excluded from coverage or require a higher level of insurance.

Ben Lomond Track near Queenstown. Green hills in the foreground with a path leading from the bottom right corner up to a peak. A lake and town can be seen behind the hills with mountains in the background
Ben Lomond Track – a popular hiking trail near Queenstown

Hiking and Trekking

Hiking in New Zealand can take you through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world. However, the country’s rugged terrain and changeable weather call for careful planning. There are many trails which will not be suitable for inexperienced hikers, so research which ones are appropriate for your skill and fitness level. 

Always check the weather forecast before setting out and let someone know your plans, especially if you’re venturing into remote areas. It’s also crucial to pack appropriately – bring enough food, water, and clothing to handle sudden weather changes. Staying on marked trails is vital for your safety on the Great Walks, such as the Milford Track.

Picton Habour with boats in the water, a town on the waterfront and hills behind the town

Water Safety

With its extensive coastline and numerous lakes and rivers, water-based activities are hugely popular in New Zealand. When swimming, surfing, or boating, it’s important to be aware of local conditions and water safety information

Beaches in New Zealand can have strong riptides, so look out for safety signs and swim only at patrolled beaches. If you’re heading out on a boat, make sure to wear a life jacket and be aware of the maritime rules.

Some swimmers are nervous about the possibility of shark attacks, but these are very rare and New Zealand has lower numbers of attacks than the US and Australia. Drowning is a much greater risk, so swimmers should take care, especially in unpatrolled water. 

If you want to take a dip in a lake or river, be extremely cautious. I wouldn’t recommend swimming in a body of water that you don’t know and isn’t patrolled.

A pod of dolphins jumping through bright blue water in Kaikoura bay

3: Wildlife and Environmental Concerns

Australia is famous for its variety of dangerous animals, so many people considering New Zealand as a destination are concerned that it might be the same, but New Zealand’s wildlife is very different to its neighbour.

Native Wildlife

One of the remarkable things about New Zealand is its lack of dangerous predators. There are no snakes or large wild mammals that pose a threat to humans. However, there are a few things to be mindful of. 

The country is home to some species of spiders like the katipo and the redback, which are rare but can be harmful. It’s very unlikely you’ll encounter them, but it’s always wise to check your shoes and clothing if left outside.

Insects like sandflies can be a nuisance, especially in Fiordland and the West Coast. I found insect repellent to be an essential item when exploring away from populated areas. Also, if you’re hiking in areas with dense bush, it’s a good idea to protect yourself against potential insect bites.

Fox Glacier - blue tinted ice down through a valley between mountains

Climate and Environmental Changes

Climate change is impacting New Zealand, like the rest of the world. Glaciers are retreating, and weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable.

When planning activities, especially in alpine or coastal areas, it’s important to be aware of how these changes might affect your plans. For instance, some hiking trails may be more prone to washouts or erosion.

Check the official Department for Conservation website before setting out to see if any routes you plan to take are closed. 

In summary, while New Zealand’s wildlife poses minimal danger, it’s the respect and care for the environment that should take precedence in your travels. Be prepared for insects, and more importantly, be a responsible visitor.

Auckland skyline at sunset. The sky is tinted orange, the  spire of the Sky Tower rises above the buildings, and a boat sails on the water by the harbour in the foreground.

4: Urban Safety

While much of New Zealand’s allure lies in its landscapes and outdoor adventures, its urban centres like Auckland, Wellington, and Queenstown also attract many visitors. Understanding urban safety is key to a worry-free experience in these vibrant cities.

Crime Rates

New Zealand is generally considered a safe country with relatively low crime rates. In fact, it ranks 4th on the Global Peace Index, far better than the USA (131st) or the UK (37th).

 During my time in cities like Auckland and Wellington, I felt quite safe walking around, even in the evenings. However, like any urban area, it’s wise to stay alert and aware of your surroundings.

Petty crimes like pickpocketing or opportunistic theft can happen, especially in crowded areas or tourist hotspots. Keep your belongings secure and be cautious with valuables.

Ultimately, New Zealand’s crime rates are very low but you should exercise the same caution and common sense as you would in any other country. New Zealand is no more dangerous in this respect as any other country you might visit.

Woman in red top standing in front of rows of grape vines. Behind the vineyard there is a light blue area of water with several boats.

Solo Travel

New Zealand is one of the safest countries for solo travel, especially for women travelling alone. I’ve travelled extensively across the United States and through New Zealand. I’ve not had any troubles in either country, but I would say that New Zealand is the safer of the two. 

There is plenty of safe budget accommodation – many hostels have female-only dorms, and solo travel is not uncommon. Hitchhiking is not recommended, but there are plenty of coaches and flights to get around the country if you aren’t able to drive.

Night Safety

The nightlife in New Zealand’s towns and cities is lively and generally safe. In places like Queenstown in the South Island, where the night scene is vibrant, always plan your way back to your accommodation. It’s advisable to use reputable taxi services or public transport.

If walking late at night, stick to well-lit and populated areas. Most importantly, if you’re going out for drinks, know your limits and stay in control.

Again, New Zealand will generally be as safe or safer than your home, so just exercise the same precautions as you would anywhere else. You don’t need to be overly concerned. 

Health and Medical Services

New Zealand has a high standard of healthcare. Medical services are easily accessible in cities and larger towns, and emergency services are efficient. Travellers need to have travel insurance that covers health care costs, as medical treatment can be expensive for non-residents. In case of a medical emergency, dialling 111 will connect you to immediate assistance.

Although I’ve not needed medical care for any major issues in New Zealand, I did once fall off a horse onto a small rock when I was there and was very happy with the medical care I received. 

Local Laws and Regulations

It’s also important to be aware of local laws and regulations. New Zealand has strict laws regarding drinking and driving, and they are rigorously enforced. The legal drinking age is 18. Smoking is banned in all indoor public places, workplaces, and on public transport. When it comes to environmental protection, littering can result in hefty fines.

People walking along a pathway by a lake shore. There are mountains in the background, bushes and trees to the left and a few clouds in the sky

5: Practical Tips for Safe Travel in New Zealand

To ensure a safe and enjoyable trip to New Zealand, there are several practical tips and essential information you should keep in mind. These are based on my experiences and learnings from my time spent exploring this beautiful country.

Emergency Numbers and Contacts

It’s vital to know the emergency numbers in New Zealand. In any emergency, dial 111 for police, fire, or ambulance services. It’s a free call, accessible from any phone. I also recommend saving the contact details of your country’s embassy or consulate in New Zealand on your phone.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is a must when visiting New Zealand (or in fact whenever you leave the country that you live in). Make sure your policy covers medical expenses, as well as potential adventure activities like bungee jumping or skiing if you plan on participating in these. Check the fine print for any exclusions and understand how to make a claim if needed.

If you have free travel insurance with your bank or credit card provider, this may not always be sufficient for big trips. Check the terms of that insurance to see what it covers, and if there are restrictions on how many trips or how many days a trip can be for it to be covered.

People do get caught out by assuming their bank’s insurance will cover them, but then find the terms are fairly strict and when they need insurance it isn’t valid. 

A camper van parked by a gravel road, with trees lining the road and rocky peaks in the background.

Local Laws and Regulations

Familiarize yourself with New Zealand’s local laws and regulations. For example, New Zealand drives on the left-hand side of the road, and there are strict laws against drinking and driving. Familiarising yourself with road rules, especially if you plan to rent a car, is crucial for your safety.

Health Precautions

While New Zealand does not have major health risks, it’s advisable to be up-to-date with routine vaccinations. Also, sun protection is essential, especially in the summer months, as the UV levels can be quite high. Always carry sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.

Environmentally Responsible Behaviour

New Zealand is renowned for its pristine natural environment. To help keep it that way, always dispose of rubbish correctly, stick to marked trails while hiking, and avoid disturbing wildlife. If you’re camping, use designated camping areas and follow the ‘Leave No Trace’ principles.

Staying Connected

Having a local SIM card or a mobile plan with international coverage can be very useful for navigation and in case of emergencies, especially if you are venturing outside of towns and cities. Free Wi-Fi is available in many cafes and public areas, but having your own data can be more reliable.

Be Prepared for Weather Changes

The weather in New Zealand can be unpredictable, so it’s wise to be prepared for all conditions, especially if you’re going hiking or engaging in outdoor activities. Layered clothing, rain gear, and sturdy footwear are advisable.

Ultimately, a safe and enjoyable trip to New Zealand is largely about preparation and respect. By familiarizing yourself with these practical tips, you can navigate the country with ease and confidence. Remember, being well-informed and prepared allows you to focus on New Zealand’s incredible experiences.

Wai o Tapu Thermal Wonderland is a definite highlight for your 14 day New Zealand itinerary

Conclusion: Is New Zealand Dangerous?

Apart from the UK as my home country, New Zealand is my favourite country in the world. I’ve never felt unsafe there and it is a fantastic place to visit, especially for solo travellers.

Safety, whether in the wild outdoors or bustling urban centres, is about being informed, prepared, and mindful of your surroundings. By understanding and respecting the natural hazards, engaging responsibly in outdoor activities, and being considerate of the local wildlife and environment, you can ensure a safe and enriching experience.

Violent crime rates are very low, the chances of encountering severe natural disasters are fairly low, and there aren’t any poisonous snakes to worry about!

With the right preparation and mindset, your New Zealand adventure can be as safe as it is unforgettable. Go forth and explore this magnificent country, but do so with care and consideration, ensuring that your footprints leave only positive impacts.

Additional Resources

Department of Conservation – advice and information for hiking and weather alerts.

New Zealand Tourism – official website with safety guidance as well as information on activities.

Drive Safe – road rules and safety information for visitors driving in New Zealand.

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