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Travel to New Zealand during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

CNN logo CNN 2/20/2021 CNN Staff
a large waterfall over a body of water with a mountain in the background: New Zealand's landscapes, such as that at Milford Sound, are unforgettable. © Colin Monteath/age fotostock New Zealand's landscapes, such as that at Milford Sound, are unforgettable.

If you're planning a travel to New Zealand, here's what you'll need to know and expect if you want to visit during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The basics

New Zealand has become the poster child for how to deal with Covid-19. Its early lockdown and strict border measures mean it has suppressed the virus to an astonishing degree.

That success also means that it will likely be quite a while before most international travelers are allowed to visit.

What's on offer

New Zealand's landscape is the stuff of legend. Arthur's Pass National Park, with its soaring peaks and deep valleys is ripe for "tramping," the locals' term for a good, long hike. Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach offer vast sea views from the tip of North Island. Meanwhile, indigenous Maori culture permeates every aspect of the country. Pick up an RV and it's easy to find an empty corner of this magical country to explore.

Who can go

The rules are simple. Other than a few exceptions for partners, dependents and critical workers, only New Zealand residents and citizens are allowed into the country without first requesting to travel.

Any other travel into the country must be for a critical purpose and admission must be obtained first. You can find out more about border entry requirements here.

What are the restrictions?

New Zealand has maintained some of the toughest travel guidelines in the world since March 2020. All arrivals, including New Zealand citizens, must undertake 14 days of mandatory quarantine and test negative for Covid-19 at the end of this period before entering the community.

All arrivals must book their place in a managed isolation and quarantine facility prior to travel, and a voucher confirming that a space has been booked must be presented before boarding. Availability is currently extremely limited.

Travelers coming from the United Kingdom or United States must also have a negative Covid-19 test result before boarding their flight.

Australia has temporarily suspended a one-way travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia which allows travelers from New Zealand to fly to the Australian states of New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory without having to quarantine. The suspension is due to be lifted on February 21.

Regardless of the bubble, when it resumes New Zealand travelers still have to spend 14 days isolating in a managed isolation and quarantine facility on their return.

A planned two-way travel bubble between the countries has yet to be finalized and is not expected soon. More details can be found on the Australian and New Zealand government websites.

A one-way travel bubble with the Cook Islands opened on January 21, with passengers from the Cook Islands permitted quarantine-free travel into New Zealand. However, passengers from New Zealand to the Cook Islands are still required to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

What's the Covid situation?

As of February 19, there have been three new locally transmitted cases of Covid-19 -- New Zealand's first Covid-19 cases in the community since November 2020.

The country's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has won plaudits for her handling of the crisis, in which only 26 people have died, with 2,348 cases overall.

On January 26, 2021, Ardern said that New Zealand's borders will remain closed for most of this year, but the country will continue to pursue travel arrangements with neighboring Australia and other Pacific nations.

What can visitors expect?

Those able to enter New Zealand will find life lived much as it was pre-pandemic. The majority of the country is currently at Alert Level 1, which means that the virus is contained. Mass gatherings are limited to 500, but while physical distancing is encouraged, it isn't mandatory. Bars and restaurants are open, but contact tracing measures are in place.

Auckland is at Alert Level 2, which means the virus is contained but there is the risk of community transmission. Mass gatherings are limited to 100 people and face coverings are required on public transport.

The country's Alert Levels go up to 4, at which point a stay-at-home order would be in place and education facilities would be closed.

All visitors and citizens are encouraged to use the NZ COVID Tracer app.

Useful links

Government site on border closures

Booking site for self-isolation facilities

Our latest coverage

Most international travelers might be barred from entering the country, but the New Zealand's tourist board's long-running "Do Something New" campaign continues unabated. Its latest move was a two-minute video urging tourists to think outside the box and not copy other people's clich├ęd social media posts.

Meanwhile, in one of 2021's cutest travel restrictions, a local council in Dunedin closed a road for a month to let sea lions nest safely.

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