Guide to Flying your Drone in New Zealand
New Zealand may be tucked away in the corner of the world, sometimes it doesn’t even make it onto the world map, but that doesn’t mean it should be easily forgotten.
Whether you’re drawn to vast layers of snow-capped mountains, towering volcanoes roaring out of the ground, or endless coastline filled with secluded beaches. New Zealand really does have it all.
Thanks to these breath-taking landscapes, New Zealand is almost irresistible to anyone with a drone. However, before taking off, there are many factors to consider.
Consider others and stay a safe distance away from people and buildings.
Be aware of No-Fly Zones
Always fly below 120m and within line of sight!
Be responsible and check if you’re allowed to fly on public lands.
We’ve all felt the frustration when you can almost visualise the incredible view your drone might see from above. Whether it’s pristine lakes brimming with icebergs, or dolphins showing off just metres from the shore, only to find out it’s not possible to fly there.
Despite the frustration you may feel, it’s key to always stick to the rules. They have been put in place not just for the welfare of others, but guaranteeing a safe flight will ensure the opportunity for us all to participate in the future of the UAV industry, ever-growing with challenges and limitations.
New Zealand is a country full of vibrant yet vulnerable native wildlife, especially birds, that need to be protected. Whilst you might be desperate to get “the shot”, you always need to consider the local species, making sure that your actions do not endanger them. As well as the native animals, there are many small airports in New Zealand that are often hidden from view and conducting frequent flights, so it’s always worth checking the local area for any controlled airspaces.
When it comes to flying your drone in New Zealand, the best resources are:
During my time in New Zealand, I have mainly used Airshare to plan my shoots, find new locations, and most importantly: check if it is safe to fly before taking off. It has a great interactive map with all the information about ‘No-Fly Zones’ near airports and where you can fly without needing a permit.
Whilst we should consider ourselves very lucky that the majority of New Zealand is open to drones, there are multiple locations that form part of conservation projects, or are managed by local authorities that do not allow drone use. Often this means that drones are completely forbidden in these areas. However, if you do want to fly over conservation land, you can apply for a permit with the Department of Conservation (DOC) by either visiting the DOC website or by visiting a local DOC office. They can let you know if your proposal for a permit is likely to be approved.
You generally need a permit to fly over any of the National Parks or DOC Conservation Areas, as well as if you want to fly over any marine life, such as over the whales at Kaikoura.
Also, many popular tourist locations and hikes don’t allow drones to be flown nearby, which means you have to get more creative with where you want to fly.
In a way, this challenge opens up the opportunity to create something unique. A trick I’ve learned during my time navigating the strict drone rules in New Zealand is to utilise Air Share alongside satellite images on Google Maps, which allows you to search and discover some unique locations.
Some of my favourite places for beautiful aerial landscapes whilst exploring New Zealand are:
The Road to Mount Cook
The road to Mount Taranaki
The Braided Rivers near Mount Cook
Only certain areas of these locations are safe to fly, whether it’s 4km or more from the airports near the road to Mount Cook National Park, or a small section of Lake Wakitipu. Nonetheless, every pilot should always do their own research prior to flying to ensure the safety of their UAV.
No matter where you fly in New Zealand, remember to always stay below 120 metres and keep your drone within direct line of sight. Never fly within 4km of an airport and respect people’s privacy.
You are flying an unmanned aircraft, which makes you the pilot and the safety of the people around you is your responsibility. It takes one careless flight for drones to potentially be banned, so if you’re ever unsure, don’t fly and let’s all make sure the future of the drone industry is as accessible as it is now.
I am born in Sweden and raised in the UK. My love of the outdoors inspired me to fly across the world to live in a van in New Zealand, allowing me to spend as much time as possible outdoors and exploring new environments. This was my first real experience of working & travelling on the road full-time, and now this alternative way of living is the drive behind everything I do.
Being a drone pilot has allowed me to further my photographic projects to a level that previously felt unachievable. I’ve fallen in love with the new perspective that aerial photography can bring to a landscape, especially being able to reveal hidden shapes and textures in nature that can only be seen from above.
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