If we still lived in a common sense world, New Zealand would’ve leveraged its 2020 success in containing Covid to mount the world’s fastest and most complete vaccination drive in 2021, so that it could fully reopen its border in 2022, and put “lockdown” in the dustbin of history where it belongs. Alas, we—and especially Kiwis—do not still live in a common sense world.
Over the next several paragraphs, I’ll dig into the reasons for New Zealand’s indefinite border closure, before speculating about when and how it might open up again in the future.
The Latest New Zealand Travel Restrictions
When will New Zealand open to tourists? Before we address this question, we should come to terms with New Zealand’s current travel restrictions. As of August 2021, almost no one is able to cross New Zealand’s border. Those who are—New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, plus a limited number of seasonal agriculture workers from the Pacific Islands—must generally spend 14 days in strictly managed isolation.
While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is slated to make an announcement on New Zealand border reopening later in the week I first published this article, observers in the media expect it to be light on dates and details. (Obviously, I’ll update this page if they prove to be wrong). Unfortunately, unless the recently popped “travel bubble” with Australia re-inflates soon, it’s unlikely that foreigners will re-enter New Zealand anytime soon.
Why is New Zealand’s Border Still Closed?
Too much #CovidZero zealotry
New Zealand deserves credit for the extent to which it suppressed Covid-19 in 2020, even if more of that was due to its geographical isolation and low population density than the several draconian lockdowns its government enforced. Unfortunately, months of zero local transmission have convinced many New Zealanders that the “elimination” of the virus they seem to have achieved should be sustained at any/all cost.
Not enough vaccines
By the time we see New Zealand open for tourism, no less than 80% of the country will be fully vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2. As of August 2021, however, just 20% of the country is fully vaccinated. While leaders have attempted to cloak their failure to order adequate supplies in a veneer of altruism, the reality is that self-congratulatory complacency has carrier the country to where it is.
Illusion of self-sufficiency
One of the most shocking things I’ve observed about New Zealand’s border closure is how many people within the tourism industry seem to support it. While New Zealand does have a domestic market, the reality is that international tourism is largely responsible for the prosperity and upward mobility of people in this country, which in spite of its beauty has few natural resources and a small, shrinking native-born population.
Superficial national leadership
International tourism was not only the key to New Zealand’s past prosperity, but will be necessary when the high of New Zealand’s #CovidZero acid trip wears off. Unfortunately, neither Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern nor the weak men she surrounds herself with intend to open New Zealand for tourism again. Rather than setting specific plans, they speak in platitudes, signaling virtue instead of throwing down dollars and sense.
Subservience to China
At the root of New Zealand’s embrace of lockdown, stubborn adherence to the zero-case fantasy and seeming happiness to seal itself off indefinitely is an over-reliance on (and, in my opinion, geopolitical subservience to) China. One could argue that New Zealand’s relative arrogance in going so balls-to-the-wall zero tolerance is reassurances from China that they will support their only alley in the region.
When Will New Zealand Open Borders Again?
If I had to make an educated guess, I would say that New Zealand’s borders will re-open to vaccinated tourists from all but the most Covid-rampant countries in the second half of 2022. Given that most travelers prefer to visit New Zealand during the southern hemisphere summer, this would mean that the 2023 summer season (December 2022-March 2023) will be the next opportunity for tourists to visit New Zealand.
When will New Zealand open to tourists from Australia or other countries the government has deemed “safe”? This is a bit harder to answer, firstly because it’s unclear whether the “travel bubble” that was briefly open will ever re-inflate. Indeed, I’ve always found the notion of establishing bilateral travel corridors to be a bit foolish, given how trigger happy the leaders of #CovidZero countries tend to be.
Other FAQ About Pandemic-era Travel to New Zealand
Can US citizens travel to New Zealand right now?
As of August 2021, only US citizens who also have New Zealand citizenship or residency are able to travel to New Zealand. These travelers will be required to spend two weeks in a Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facility before being allowed to enter the community.
When will NZ borders open to UK?
Although the UK has had one of the fastest and most comprehensive vaccine rollout programs in the world, New Zealand has expressed little desire to reopen travel with Britain. At this time, I imagine Brits will be able to enter New Zealand only after the country’s border opens in a comprehensive way, likely in the second half of 2022.
When will the Australia-New Zealand travel bubble open again?
Australia’s short-lived travel bubble with New Zealand opened for two-way, quarantine-free travel in April 2021 and “popped” in July following a relatively large Covid outbreak in Sydney. Because the bubble closed so many times during its brief life, I believe it’s unlikely ever to be re-inflated.
The Bottom Line
When will New Zealand open to tourists? Some lucky leisure travelers may be able to enter New Zealand again before the end of 2021; a much larger number will be able to visit during the autumn and winter—southern hemisphere, this is—of 2022. However, unless you plan to come in December 2022 to enjoy the beginning of the New Zealand summer season, you probably won’t be looking upon the lupines of Tekapo until 2023.