I was warned that New Zealand customs are fierce, not only in demeanor but also in their dogmatic approach to rules. However I still wasn’t quite prepared, after an eleven-hour flight, for what waited for me on arrival.
I do understand immigration being strict and steadfast with their procedures, but it can often be a stressful end to an exhausting flight.
As we boarded the plane in Hong Kong we were given an arrivals sheet we had to fill out just as we were to land. I of course forgot about the document until the very last second and in a blurry-eyed rush, with a clouded head penned in the information. There was a lot to answer and it explicitly targeted what you were bringing into the country. You had to list any food, plants, seeds etc. that you may have on your person. I had been travelling for two months at this point and couldn’t remember exactly what I had on me but was sure I had nothing that would cause a problem.
As an island surrounded by miles of sea and therefore free from many of the pests and diseases, which face other nations, NZ are extremely stringent about what you can bring in. Should these diseases get into the country they would pose a serious threat to the delicate and unique environment.
Do not bring in meat, animals, animal products, plants, honey, fruit and seeds as the biosecurity measures are severe when it comes to breaking the policies.
I read through the leaflet carefully and was aware of the harsh penalties you may face if caught out. I remembered watching a program about NZ customs and on one flight a large proportion of travellers were fined about 200 NZ dollars for bringing an apple into the country. The plane had handed out the apples at the beginning of the flight and most passengers had put them in their bags and then forgotten about them. However, a mistake or not, the customs stuck firmly to the rules and the passengers had to pay for their blunder.
On arrival at Auckland we were greeted by stony-faced security, large energetic sniffer dogs and a ton of other tired passengers. After going through immigration, then a security procedure, then another procedure, we collected our bags and queued again for another security check. I felt as if we were trying to break into the country, the layers upon layers of security were tiring and draining. I had already been told off about the way I had filled out my form; for a minute I thought the unimpressed, irate immigration officer was going to refuse me entry on the grounds of bad handwriting.
We then joined the snaking queue for the last stage of security. It was at this point I made a shocking discovery. As I was riffling through my backpack a packet of what I believed to be sweet dried plums from Thailand, fell out. I had marked my document as not carrying any fruit or dried fruit. It was too late to change it and I began to panic. I was acting as if I was attempting to smuggle drugs into the country and simply could calm down. The security were so overbearing, abrupt and completely unconcerned with what you had to say I was sure I would be detained for hours, fined or worse.
So after working myself up into a state I got out of the ‘nothing to declare’ queue which I had been standing in for 40 minutes and joined the ‘declare’ queue.
An hour later I was seen by the first friendly officer and profusely apologized for my error on the document. Oddly he was sympathetic and seemed unfazed by what I was saying. He eyeballed the packet for sometime and then said that I could take them with me and that they weren’t a threat to NZ. He mumbled something about the fact they had no seeds and weren’t a type of fruit dangerous to the ecosystem. I was relieved and perplexed and couldn’t believe how long I had been in that airport.
So it turned out well for me, and although customs are ferocious and not the most pleasant welcome to country all is soon forgotten when you leave and explore New Zealand. But just keep this in mind and stick to the NZ rules unless you want your holiday curtailed to the inside of the airport.