New Zealand starts opening up November 8

New Zealand is preparing for the day after, "so it can safely reconnect with the world," according to a statement by Chris Hipkins, the country's COVID-19 Response Minister.

Much like Israel, New Zealand has been a fortress since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Yet, the country that was hailed as safest in the world, and the first to come out of lockdown, is now having a hard time dealing with the Delta variant, especially in Aukland.

Perhaps that is why New Zealand decided to abandon its current zero-tolerance strategy and switch to living with the virus so that it can open its borders to inbound tourism.

According to the statement issued by Minister Hipkins, and reported on CNN, quarantine-free travel will open from November 8, but only from smaller Pacific countries like Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Tokelau. “It’s time we re-opened to the world,” said Hipkins. “We cannot remain shut behind the walls of Fortress New Zealand.”

Samoa, one of the Pacific countries included in the quarantine-free travel plan. Photo: Liat Lavi

So what does this mean for the rest of us?   

I stopped counting the number of times New Zealand has issued a local lockdown due to isolated cases of COVID-19. The country has also re-opened and closed the trans-Tasma/South Pacific bubble, and how about those harsh restrictions imposed upon the oh-so-patient citizens?

As someone who has lived and traveled there extensively, I learned to take the news with a grain of salt, as New Zealand was in turmoil, much like the rest of the world. However, as an island nation with modern yet limited resources, New Zealand was quick to respond with quarantines, so that travelers wishing to leave the country got stuck and had to apply a lot of pressure on the government.

I’m sure everyone still remembers the rescue flights sent to New Zealand from around the world, as well as the first-ever El Al flight to the land down under. I for one felt the need to utilize my experience and help travelers stuck on the other side of the world, so I found myself liaising directly with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Office.

Air New Zealand waiting for take-off. Photo: Liat Lavi

Why does New Zealand act this way?

The country has a “lean” health system with minimal resources. Therefore, quite understandably, the government feared that incoming tourists might bring hundreds or even thousands of corona cases and collapse the country’s healthcare.

This is why borders are now opening gradually and very carefully, with clear guidelines regarding the number of vaccines, isolation days, PCR tests, and additional restrictions.

According to Reuters, as of November 14, vaccinated arrivals from other countries will still have to quarantine, but only for seven days instead of the mandatory 14. In the first quarter of 2022, home isolation will also be introduced, as Minister Hipkins said in his statement, while Prime Minister Ardern said last week that New Zealand would end its strict measures when 90% of the population is fully vaccinated.

With such measured steps being taken, I have reason to hope it is only a matter of months before Israelis will also be allowed entry into New Zealand.

We can only hope it will happen sometime in the first half of 2022, but I sincerely believe the guidelines will also take into consideration direct flights vs. connecting flights, and the length of stay at the airport or in other countries along the way.

At any rate, if you’re planning a trip from Israel, don’t hold your breath just yet. And if you choose to purchase a flight ticket, I strongly recommend taking out insurance coverage and checking the terms in advance, both for cancellation and for any changes if you choose not to fly.

That being said, the Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain will have a beneficial impact, as flight times will be significantly reduced. All we can do now is hope that New Zealand will deem these connections safe.

Aukland. Photo: Liat Lavi

So when is the best time to travel to New Zealand?

Many find the best time of year to visit New Zealand is between December and February, which are considered the hotter summer months. Pre-corona, this was high season, the country teemed with tourists, and prices soared accordingly. But is it really the best time to visit?

Let’s just say that New Zealand summer is nothing like the Israeli summer. Of course, global warming hasn’t skipped the island country. Still, due to its location, New Zealand is subject to frequent weather changes even during the seemingly hotter summer months, so it is always advisable to bring suitable winter clothes.

Most visitors would rather have as few rainy days as possible during their limited 3-month visa. In that case, I highly recommend touring the country between November and March, although I visited between March and May, and once even in August. The weather might be fickle, but one thing’s for sure: New Zealand is unique any time of year, even out of season.

Before you book your flights

Routine guidelines
1. You must issue a digital visa – as of October 2019, every tourist is required to submit an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA).
2. You must show a return ticket.
3. Upon request, you must present a trip itinerary.

At times of Corona

  1. Entry is restricted to vaccinated travelers, otherwise a special approval is required. Before entering the country, do check the latest guidelines.
  2. Even if vaccinated, you must present a negative PCR test carried out within 72 hours of your first international flight.
  3. During COVID-19, you must also fill a travel declaration form, providing personal and flight details, the PCR details and contact details while in New Zealand.
  4. As mentioned above, the isolation policy is also here to stay, with only 4 Pacific countries in the quarantine-free travel plan. Vaccinated travelers are not exempt, although the isolation period will be reduced to only seven days instead of the mandatory 14 so far.
  5. Important! During check-in and prior to boarding the plane, you must present a reservation confirmation for a state-run isolation facility.  At the time of writing, isolation in New Zealand is still at the expense of the visitor.
    And here’s the thing: 14 days of would cost NZ$3,100 for the first person, and an additional NZ$950 for each adult or NZ$475 for each child over three years old. Let’s hope that quarantine is shortened, so the price is reduced accordingly.

Liat Lavie is a travel consultant and blogger. You can follow her on Instagram.


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