Should You Fly Your Drone to New Zealand?
New Zealand’s breathtaking landscapes make the ideal aerial shot for Instagram posts or for your YouTube travel video. However, with drones becoming more and more common in New Zealand, especially in tourist areas, New Zealand aviation authorities and public land managing authorities have had to enforce strict drone restrictions to keep up with the growing drone trend. Restrictions are put in place with people’s safety, wildlife safety and the environment in mind. So before packing your drone for your epic trip in New Zealand, consider if it’s worth bringing to get the shot you want, and if so, what permits you will need. We’ll go through all of that and more in this guide to flying drones in New Zealand.
Note that as drone usage is still relatively new, restrictions are often changing. So use this guide as a rough guide as to what is acceptable when it comes to flying drones in New Zealand. Look up local flying restrictions in each location that you plan to fly your drone throughout New Zealand.
While you’re here, you might also want to know the other New Zealand laws that might affect your trip.
General Drone-flying Rules in New Zealand
In New Zealand, if you are flying a drone you are flying a Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS). Anyone flying an RPAS under 25kg (55lbs), which is most drones out there, must follow the “Part 101” Civil Aviation Rules set out by the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand.
Those general rules of flying drones in New Zealand include:
Height: Fly no higher than 120m (400ft)
Distance: The drone must be flown within line of sight, meaning that you can see the drone with your own eyes (for example, not with the aid of binoculars or a monitor) or have a second person with you as an observer
Weight: Under 25kg (55lbs).
More general drone flying rules include but are not limited to:
- You must fly the drone so it isn’t a hazard to other aircraft, property or people
- You must fly only in daylight
- You need to have consent from people you are flying over
- You need to have landowner consent when flying over private property
- Have knowledge of the airspace and what restrictions apply in the area
- Don’t fly in controlled airspaces (for instance, near airports, helipads, controlled aerodromes, etc.)
Check out the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand website for a full list of official drone flying rules.
Flying in National Parks and DOC Land
National parks and other recreational or conservation areas are managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). Yes, that’s pretty much all the natural landscapes that you want to get drone footage of. However, to legally fly a drone above land managed by the DOC, you need to have a concession or authorisation from the DOC. This means applying for a concession that costs NZ$50 to process.
For more information on applying for a concession, see this page on the DOC website.
You will notice some DOC areas have explicit signs to indicate that flying drones is forbidden. These are especially in areas where drone flying has been a problem in the past. You should always assume it is forbidden to fly a drone above any DOC land.
Flying Over Public Land
When it comes to flying over public land outside of the DOC-managed land like national parks, you will need to follow the rules and regulations set by the local council. For instance, Queenstown Lakes District Council requires drone pilots to get consent from each landowner you plan to fly over, rather than giving out permits themselves.
New Zealand has 15 regions, each split into multiple districts. See the New Zealand Local Government website to find each district council website. Council websites are a good source to find out the local drone flying laws, as well as contact details to find out more.
Drone Flying Over Marine Mammals
Getting an aerial shot above a pod of dolphins or seals would be pretty amazing. However, in order to protect the welfare of these animals, there are strict rules in place when it comes to flying drones over them.
The Department of Conservation enforces that drones should be flown no closer than 150m (492ft) horizontally to a marine mammal. If you want to fly drones closer, you will need to get a DOC permit. More information can be found on this page of the DOC website.
Other Things to Be Aware of When Flying Drones in New Zealand
Avoid Flying Drones Where There are Birds
Protecting the natural environment is often at the forefront of people’s minds in New Zealand, that includes native wildlife. There’s a huge conservation effort to protect birds in New Zealand, so please respect it by avoiding flying in areas where birds are present. Seabirds will likely attack your drone during the breeding season when trying to protect their young. Hawks and falcons are also likely to be interested in flying drones.
Get Permission From Farmers Before Flying Over (or Near) Farms
Some farmers like to play a little game of shooting drones out of the sky, even if you are flying close to their land rather than on it – bad times for your drone. Remember, you need landowner consent before flying a drone over land, otherwise, you could face a NZ$500-$1000 fine. Although it’s illegal for people to shoot drones, that probably will not stop them if it’s near their property.