From the steaming thermal fields and snow-covered craters of the North Island to the massive fjords and crystal-clear lakes of the South Island, New Zealand is a trip of a lifetime for nature lovers. But while New Zealand’s landscape is one of the most beautiful in the world, it’s also one of the most dangerous. The terrain can be unpredictable, and because New Zealand’s human population is outnumbered four to one by its sheep, help can be hard to find should you find yourself severely injured in the wilderness.
While you should always be confident in your wilderness skills before undertaking a expedition on your own or with a guide, travelers can take comfort in knowing that if an accident strikes, they won’t have to pay a penny for medical help—as long as they get it in New Zealand.
The Accident Compensation Act
The first time I heard of the Accident Compensation Act was during a hiking trip in New Zealand’s Tararua Mountains. During the four-hour trek to our hut for the night, one of the hikers in my group twisted her ankle and was unable to make the return trip the next day. The park rangers were notified and she was flown out by helicopter. Because of the Accident Compensation Act, her evacuation and treatment were completely covered, even though she was an American who did not permanently reside in New Zealand.
Especially as an American discovering health coverage on this level, that’s even extended to non-residents, This revelation blew my mind.
How It Works
The ACA is basically an accident insurance fund for the whole country, designed to cover residents and non-residents who are injured in New Zealand. It covers all injuries without taking fault into account. Whether you hurt yourself on a bad stumble after too much wine tasting, got into a car accident of any size, or were injured participating in an extreme activity like paragliding, you won’t have to worry about the medical bill. The ACC covers physical injuries resulting from an accident, such as sprains, wounds, burns, fractures, and even injuries caused by medical treatment.
To learn more about the Accident Compensation Act, click here.
You Still Need Insurance
While it’s a great deal for tourists, especially Americans who face high health costs back at home, travelers should take note that the ACA is not a replacement for travel insurance. It does not cover illness, disrupted travel plans, or any injuries you sustain on your way to or from New Zealand. It strictly covers accidents. So just in case you do get sick, you should still make sure you are traveling with both health and travel insurance.
Why It’s Good to Know About It
You might think you don’t really need to know about the ACA until you need it, but in 2011 one tourist’s misunderstanding cost her a fortune in medical bills. When a Polish woman broke her leg paragliding, she needed to have expensive surgery and opted to return to Poland, where the operation was not covered by her health insurance. If she had stayed in New Zealand for the surgery, it would have been fully covered.
If you are involved in an accident in New Zealand, make sure you understand what is covered before opting to return home for further treatment. Depending on your health insurance, it could be a much better value to stay in New Zealand for surgery or other medical care.
Additionally, uninformed tourists, particularly budget travelers and backpackers, might choose not to seek medical attention for their injuries for fear of high hospital bills, which is why it is important that everyone visiting New Zealand knows that the ACC is not just universal health care for Kiwis. In a country like New Zealand, where adventure and danger are around every beautiful corner, programs like the Accident Compensation Act can be a lifesaver—both literally and financially.
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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer who is always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.