Fined! Why You Can’t Take Your Dog or Cat Into NZ National Parks


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The summer holidays are upon us, and many pet parents and their fur balls are raring (and barking and meowing) to get out of the house. Excitement and enthusiasm is great, but being a responsible pet parent is being conscious of ‘no pets allowed’ spaces. You don’t want to end up getting a fine for your dog (or your cat) in a national park. You want that money in your pocket for festivities, right?

Though pets simply love the great outdoors (most of them, anyway), it’s important to be conscious of the harm they could do to the ecology and wildlife around them – and themselves!

The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) has been battling to get unaware pet parents to follow the rules. We spoke to DOC Principal Compliance Officer Jeff Hall on what those rules are, and why we should follow them.

fine for a pet in a national park

Where aren’t pets allowed?

Let’s first go over the rules around animals in national parks, tracks, and offshore islands in NZ.

“Different areas have different regulations on whether you can take your pet there or not,” says Hall. “Some areas allow pets, others require a permit, and some don’t allow pets at all.”

Let’s make one thing clear – national parks in New Zealand do not allow pets at all. Most offshore islands don’t allow pets, either. Some walking tracks and campgrounds may allow pets. You should also be aware that car parks in national parks, such as Kerr Bay in the Nelson Lakes NP are also No Pet areas.

Hall says its best to check pet-related regulations BEFORE you go. To do so, navigate to this page, select your activity, and tick the ‘dogs allowed’ box. Now you’re able to search all the pet-friendly areas that allows Fido or Felix to come along:

If you’ve already chosen your destination and you’re not sure whether it’s pet friendly or not, phone the nearest DOC visitor centre to the place you intend to visit.

Why will you get a fine for a dog in a National Park?

In short, fines for bringing pets into a national park are there to protect both wildlife and the pet involved. Dogs and cats have a natural instinct to hunt and predate, which poses a risk to New Zealand’s native animals. National parks often house some of our most vulnerable and endangered species, which dogs or cats can maim or kill.

“A lot of the native species are ground dwelling and therefore easy for a dog to chase down and attack,” says Hall. “The danger to the pets themselves is that they could come across poison intended for pest or predator control, eat it and become seriously ill and/or die.”

 Black-fronted Dotterel
A black-fronted dotterel, one of New Zealand’s endangered birds.

How big is the pets-in-parks problem?

Despite DOC being clear on where pets are and aren’t allowed, the team sees it becoming more commonplace for people to bring dogs and cats into national parks.

“Since 17 December 2020 to 14 November 2022 there have been a total of 467 recorded cases nationally involving dogs either attacking or killing wildlife or being somewhere they shouldn’t be,” says Hall. “The actual instances are thought to be a lot higher as not everyone will have been reported.”

Hall says in one such incident on one of the inner Hauraki Gulf islands (one of New Zealand’s highly protected pest-free offshore islands), an off-leash and unsupervised dog attacked and killed a weka – one of our country’s threatened birds.

A Weka bird. Protecting these birds is why you can can get a fine for a dog in a national park, or a cat!
A weka – threatened, despite being a common sight in some areas.

And dogs aren’t the only ones causing chaos.

“There have also been instances of people bringing cats into national parks,” says Hall. “A person brought one in her bag, which subsequently ran off into the undergrowth. The lady reported it to DOC and the cat wasn’t found until the next day. This could have had serious consequences to the local wildlife, which are susceptible to predation.”

How much is the fine for a cat or dog in a national park?

The fines can be big, and so can the impact on our precious taonga.

In one of the worst cases documented by the DOC, dogs killed at least eight kiwi in the Wharau Road area east of Kerikeri.

Penalties for allowing a dog to kill wildlife in New Zealand can be severe. According to the NZ Dog Control Act, anyone whose dog seriously injures a person or kills protected wildlife can be fined up to $20,000. They can even face a jail sentence of up to three years. In this instance, three dogs were put down and owners were fined.

Lead the way while enjoying our parks

Even in areas where they’re allowed, pets should always be on a leash. A long or short lead is very useful on a walking track or beach, for keeping both your dog and other animals safe. Even more so when it’s colour coded.

PD recently partnered with DOC on its Lead the Way programme.

Part of our campaign is a quiz that teaches pet parents how to become wildlife wise. Once you complete the quiz, it unlocks the ability to purchase a Lead the Way lead for your dog or cat. These high quality, locally-made leads indicate your pet’s temperament to other pet parents. They’re either green, orange, yellow or red, which means the below:

Green – your pet is happy to be around other pets and people.
Orange – your pet isn’t always comfortable around other pets and people.
Red – your pet doesn’t like socialising with unfamiliar pets or people.
Yellow – your pet is disabled or vulnerable to interactions in some way.

You’ll also be very clearly demonstrating your support for the protection of our precious wildlife. Hopefully that encourages others to do the same!

Check our guide on being a responsible pet parent while in the NZ outdoors for more info.

A dog wearing a colour-coded lead. We hope she's not in a national park as your can get a fine for a dog in national park, or a cat!

Keep them covered

Now you know why you’ll get a fine for your dog in a national park, or your cat. Knowing where pets aren’t allowed is all part of being a responsible pet parent. Another part is making sure you have proper pet insurance to cover them in case of an accident or illness.

PD Insurance NZ offers award-winning, value-rich, month-to-month cover to suit your needs. And did you know you’ll get one or more months of free pet insurance when you buy your plan online? Click below to explore. Why not take two minutes to get a quick, free quote?

Header image:
These three pups were found running all over the place in a restricted area. The pet parent says he didn’t see the sign, even though he tied them up there prior to the ranger getting there.
Photo: by Paul Dulieu

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