New Zealand is preparing to reopen its borders to all travelers this Sunday, three months earlier than originally scheduled, according to Immigration New Zealand.
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CNBC Travel

New Zealand had one of the world's strictest Covid lockdowns. Now its borders are fully reopening

After more than two years, New Zealand is fully reopening its borders and welcoming back all international travelers.

The country is reopening on July 31, some three months earlier than previously announced.

Earlier this year, New Zealand's borders were opened to Australians and citizens of 60 places that do not need visas to enter, including Singapore, the United States and the United Kingdom.

In 2021, New Zealand had some of the world's strictest pandemic restrictions, including lockdowns triggered by a single Covid case, extensive testing and numerous public health mandates.

Its largest city Auckland was on lockdown for 107 days, from August to December 2021, due to outbreaks of the highly infectious delta variant. 

Many curbs have been lifted, but requirements to enter New Zealand remain stringent. Here's what to know before you visit.

The rules 

With the exception of New Zealand citizens and Australians living in the country, visitors are required to provide proof of vaccination to enter, according to the government's Covid information page. 

Both electronic and paper vaccination certificates are acceptable. 

Travelers need to do a rapid antigen test on their arrival date — although not necessary upon arrival at the airport — and a second one on the fifth or sixth day of their trip, according to New Zealand's Ministry of Health. 

Masks aren't required outdoors, but they're required indoors, such as in museums, supermarkets and pharmacies. 

Cheapest time to visit 

Despite inflation in New Zealand hitting a 32-year high of 7.3% earlier this month, Navigate Travel said prices of tours, activities and accommodations are the same price, if not cheaper, than what they were before the pandemic.

"(A holiday in) New Zealand's very cheap at the moment … Other than air travel, there's never been a cheaper time to come," said Daniel Painter, the travel agency's managing director. 

Since it was announced in May that the country's borders would fully reopen at the end of July, there has been strong interest from travelers to visit, said Tourism New Zealand. 

"Online searches for international flights to New Zealand (are) up 39% since the announcement was made, compared to pre-Covid searches," said Gregg Wafelbakker, the tourism body's general manager for Asia. More than 60% of this interest is coming from Australia, he said.

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However, Painter said that travel demand from Asia remains low, with visitors from the region coming mostly from Singapore. 

The Singapore-based travel agency Chan Brothers Travel indicated a shortage of flights may be to blame.

"Travel demand to New Zealand has been healthy ever since the borders [reopened] to Singaporeans in May. However, due to flight availability, we do observe demand outstripping supply," said Jeremiah Wong, the agency's senior marketing communications manager.

Larger spends, longer trips

After years of being locked out of New Zealand, travelers are indicating they are willing to spend more to travel for longer periods in the country, said Wong.

"An eight-day New Zealand tour was a popular choice before the pandemic, but we are currently seeing more interest and bookings for our 11-day tour that allows travelers to take in the sights at a more relaxed pace," Wong said. 

Navigate Travel's Painter shared similar sentiments, saying that travelers "want the ability to be able to relax and not have to worry about things, but they also want to be able to get lots of bang for their buck."

Painter said hikes in the country's national parks, a scenic helicopter ride over Franz Josef Glacier, and whale watching near the town of Kaikoura on New Zealand's South Island are just some of the activities that tourists shouldn't miss.

A helicopter flight above the Franz Josef Glacier.
Peter Kolejak / Eyeem | Eyeem | Getty Images

After remaining in Singapore for more than two years, Lew Moe Kien, 60, and her husband, 62, visited New Zealand for 12 days in May — just two weeks after its borders reopened to Singapore citizens.

They said locals were elated to have tourists back in the country, and that they were welcomed with open arms at restaurants and other establishments. 

"The places we visited in New Zealand were not crowded at all," said Lew. "For many of the places of interest, it was only the two of us there." 

Lew and her husband visited both the North and South Islands of New Zealand, including Hobbiton — a popular destination for "Lord of the Rings" fans — the glow worm caves in Waitomo, and the pancake-shaped rock formations and blowholes at Punakaiki.

Shirleen Tan, 46, a human resources professional from Singapore, is planning a trip to New Zealand with her family in December.

"We were looking for somewhere with warm weather, and New Zealand is one of the few warm countries in December," said Tan.

She said she is looking forward to visiting vineyards for wine tastings, eating fresh oysters at oyster farms, and "enjoying the beautiful scenery that New Zealand is famous for."