Crime in New Zealand: What You Need To Know

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New Zealand's rates of violence are very low – you're more likely to injure yourself on the slopes. But, here are a few things to know before you go.


A man walks past Queens Wharf in Auckland, New Zealand Photo © iStock/chameleonseye

New Zealand is a very safe country to visit, the fourth safest in the world, according to the Global Peace Index. With its borders naturally protected by its isolation, geographically 1,000 mi from any other country, New Zealand has a relatively small population for its landmass (5M) with very low gun crime, mugging and violent crime.

Despite all that good news, New Zealand does have some issues with poverty and crime.

Since the pandemic, three areas of reported crime have increased: throughout the country, theft has increased by 25.2%, Acts intended to cause injury (assaults) have increased by 19.7%, and sexual assaults and related offenses have increased 8.5%.

The frequency of thefts has risen the most in the Waikato and Nelson regions and Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.

Theft in New Zealand

Petty crime and theft are the most common types of crime in New Zealand, so wherever you are – particularly in the busier cities such as Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington – it’s wise to keep your valuables and important documents stored in a safe at your accommodation.

If you are carrying valuables around with you in a bag – wallet, camera, phone, cash, laptop/tablets – be especially vigilant in busy public places where thieves and pickpockets are most active. If you have cash or cards on you, ideally keep these stored close to your body where they can’t easily be snatched. When using ATM machines, shield your credit card number and PIN from being captured by a person or mobile phone/camera. And if you’re traveling by car, the safest option is to lock valuables in the boot.

Pickpocketing isn’t common but is more likely to occur in busy public places such as bus/ferry/train stations, popular scenic spots, urban shopping streets and busy bar and restaurant centers. The usual common sense applies: be aware, keep your belongings on your person at all times and do not leave anything unattended or out of sight.

Car and campervan theft in New Zealand

New Zealand is an ideal place to explore by road. Self-drive holidays are very popular, and campervans and hire cars are the most common way visitors get around, but they are also conspicuous and susceptible to crime.

To keep your belongings safe, never leave them on view in a campervan, or hire car. Campervans are an easy target and when parked in remote places where thieves suspect you’ll be out hiking or biking the trails, they can be pretty sure vehicles are left unattended for long periods. If you are leaving your campervan or car outside of a holiday park or campground, try to park somewhere it can be seen, and that is well-lit, or even better if in the city, in a secure car park or within view of a CCTV camera. 

I live in a busy South Island ski resort town, and I know some locals, when parking at trailheads or similar remote places, try to protect their cars from being broken into by leaving the glove compartment empty and open so that thieves can see there is nothing worth breaking in for.

Bike hire is common everywhere in New Zealand and you’ll generally be fine to leave your bike propped up outside small cafes on rail trails but be sure to lock your bike when leaving it in larger towns or cities. It is not uncommon for bikes to get stolen at night by drunk people making bad decisions about how to get home. 

Solo travel

You can be confident that it’s very safe to travel solo in New Zealand; just exercise all the usual safe practices you would anywhere in the world.

Take taxis if you’re out late at night, and particularly if you’re heading into/out of busy nightlife areas. New Zealand has a binge-drinking culture which can lead to many undesirable late-night disturbances and behavior that rarely end well.

Uber (where your taxi journey is GPS tracked) is expanding within New Zealand and currently operates extensively in and around all the main cities and many smaller towns. Research before you travel. And depending on where you are in the country, local taxi firms will likely be bookable online or by phone. Taxi ranks exist in some busy city areas but are few.

Trust your instincts when it comes to whether you feel safe or not. If you are in danger, call 111 for the police. If you’re out and about and for any reason feel unsafe, talk to a friendly local; most Kiwis will be willing to try and help if asked.

For women travelers, many backpackers and hostels have women-only dormitories/shared rooms if this is a preferred option – ensure you do your research and book what you feel comfortable with.

There are no issues for LGBTQ+ travelers – all people are welcome. 

If you’re heading out into the backcountry, tell someone locally where you’re going and when you plan to return. When going on solo hikes or bike touring, this could be your accommodation provider or the local DOC (Dept of Conservation) office.

You can send a free text with your location and travel plans to 7233 [SAFE]. Your information will be stored on a database that police can access if requested to help find you.

Hitchhiking in New Zealand

Hitchhiking is not illegal in New Zealand but is not recommended. Although most of the time you’d be unlucky to get picked up by someone untrustworthy, it’s not impossible.

It’s not uncommon to see people thumbing a lift but it carries a considerable amount of risk. As an alternative, you could find cost-effective ways of traveling via many hop-on/hop-off bus services with networks around the country. New Zealand is lacking when it comes to widespread public transport, but it pays to find out what’s available for the regions you plan to visit, as many areas, and popular routes, are well-catered for.

Alcohol and drug-related crime

Violent crime statistics are low in New Zealand, but if it’s going to happen, it will usually be late at night in a public place and alcohol, or drug-related. New Zealand has a binge drinking culture and associated alcohol and drug-related bad behavior, violence, and criminal activity is not uncommon, especially if you’re out past 10 pm during the weekend.

If you’re planning on going out for drinks, don’t accept drinks from strangers and never leave your drink unattended. Make a plan to get back to your accommodation safely that doesn’t involve waiting around for late-night public transport and don’t walk through parks, unlit areas or small streets or alleyways.

Avoid the high-density bar areas in the main cities if you want to keep away from alcohol-fueled arguments or fights. If you want to have a quiet drink after dinner, maybe consider your/a hotel bar and get the hotel to call you a taxi if you need to travel late.

Gang crime is a problem in some parts of New Zealand. Avoid groups of people wearing the same gang patch jackets or colors.

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