Dealing with New Zealand’s mosquitoes and sandflies: A traveller’s guide

Ah, New Zealand!

A land of breathtaking landscapes, thrilling adventures and… pesky insects?

Unfortunately, it’s true.

While exploring the great outdoors in our beautiful country, you might encounter some uninvited guests – specifically mosquitoes and sandflies.

But don’t let them put you off!

With the right knowledge and preparation, you can enjoy everything New Zealand has to offer, bite-free.

New Zealand’s Mosquitoes and Sandflies – Our peskiest pests

Many travellers worry about our mosquitoes and sandflies – we know because they ask questions in our Facebook group.

Though they’re both relatively common in New Zealand, they shouldn’t be a big consideration when travelling here.

With a few precautions, your trip can be bug-free and lots of fun…

Short on time? Here’s how to avoid bug bites in NZ 🦟

Prevention is the best way to deal with sandfly and mosquito bites.

We recommend you:

  • apply a high-quality insect repellant
  • wear light-coloured clothing
  • cover your ankles, feet, arms, wrists and fingers when possible – long sleeves and pants are helpful
  • keep moving
  • if sitting, burn a citronella candle/burner/spiral
  • use a net or screen at night if sleeping with windows open.

Understanding New Zealand’s mosquitoes and sandflies

New Zealand is home to various insects, but mosquitoes and sandflies are the ones most likely to impact your travel experience.

These tiny creatures thrive in a number of the beautiful places you’ll probably want to explore – rainforests, lakes, beaches, rivers and more.

And while they play a crucial role in our local ecosystem, their bites can be a nuisance.

Mosquitoes in New Zealand are less of a health concern compared to other parts of the world, as they don’t carry diseases like malaria.

However, their bites can still cause itching and discomfort.

Sandflies, on the other hand, are notorious for their persistent biting, especially in the Fiordland and West Coast regions (both of which are in the South Island).

A mosquito sucking blood on the skin.

Where you’re likely to encounter them in NZ

Sandflies and mosquitoes can be found right across the country at any time of year, but there are places and times when you’re more likely to see them.

Mosquitoes are often found near stagnant water (water with little or no flow) because this is where they reproduce.

They are particularly prevalent when the weather is warmer, and as such are more likely to be a bother in the North Island and in the summer season. Heavy rain can drive them away (temporarily) too, as can high winds.

By comparison, sandflies are found in significant numbers on the West Coast and in Fiordland. They still like to be around water, but it doesn’t need to be still – you’ll often find them by sandy banks and braided river deltas.

They are year-round pests but are normally more active when it’s cloudy, shady or about to rain.

Both are most active at dawn and dusk but remember, they can be found anywhere at any time.

The rule I live by is keep moving or cover up. especially feet and ankles. If you get bitten use all your will power not to scratch and they usually just go down in a few minutes. We live on the West Coast [where they can be bad’. If its clear and sunny [sandflies] are not too bad. if its going to rain or its cloudy then they come out.

Wendy Jepson, NZTT member

How to avoid mosquito and sandfly bites

Timing is everything when it comes to avoiding these insects – and of course, it’s better to avoid being bitten than to try to deal with the bites afterwards.

Mosquitoes and sandflies are most active during dawn and dusk, so plan your outdoor activities accordingly.

Wearing protective clothing, such as long sleeves and pants, can provide a physical barrier against bites. Covering ankles, feet, hands and fingers is particularly helpful, but you can be bitten anywhere.

Smother your exposed flesh in repellent, especially ankles, wrists and fingers (they seem to LOVE fingers – especially between the fingers!)

Terri Hygate, NZTT member

Opting for light-coloured fabrics can also help, as sandflies are attracted to dark colours.

Though covering up is a great way to keep the bugs at bay, this isn’t always possible (or comfortable) in warmer weather.

At times like this, insect repellent will be your best friend in the battle against bites.

Products containing DEET are highly effective, but if you’re looking for a more natural approach, there are eco-friendly alternatives available.

We recommend:

  • Bushman Repellent (with DEET)
  • Goodbye Sandfly (natural)
  • Okarito Sandfly Repellent (natural)
  • Skin So Soft Original Dry Oil Spray (natural)
  • Maxcare Insect Repellent Band for Wrist or Ankle (for multi-day protection)
  • Antimos (for room-wide coverage)
  • making your own repellent – 50/50 Dettol and baby oil (but stay out of the sun as baby oil can cause sunburn).

Pro tip: If you choose to use DEET, we recommend showering at night to wash it off and following these other precautions.

I’m from Florida so mosquitoes don’t faze me but I definitely underestimated those sandflies! Went on a Glenorchy tour and they were everywhere on the farmland we went to. Definitely put repellant on and cover as much skin as possible, especially your ankles!

Sheryl JP, NZTT member

Applying repellent liberally to exposed skin and clothing can significantly reduce your chances of being bitten.

Moving around, rather than standing or sitting can help too.

Of, if you’re staying put, we recommend lighting a citronella candle/burner near your feet.

Insect screens on windows and doors can be helpful too (though they’re not particularly common in New Zealand). Mosquito nets, hung over your bed, can also be useful if you need to sleep with windows open – again though, very few people in New Zealand feel the need to do so.

Keep your bedroom/campervan windows closed between sunset & bedtime. Sandflies don’t fly after dark so you can open the windows when you have turned off the lights.

Vicki Steven, NZTT member
Lots of mosquitoes on the outside of a green and blue tent in Abel Tasman.
Mosquitoes galore at Anapai Bay, Abel Tasman. Photo: Jo Faulkner, NZTT member.

Dealing with bites: Treatment and relief

Despite your best efforts, you might still end up with a few bites. Has hard as it is, try not to scratch as this can lead to infection.

Over-the-counter products, such as antihistamines and topical creams, can help reduce itching and inflammation.

Or for a more natural approach, consider applying aloe vera or a cold pack to the affected area.

Some essential oils, like tea tree and lavender, are also known for their soothing properties.

All of these products are readily available from local pharmacies and sometimes from supermarkets.

We particularly recommend:

  • ItchFix (containing aloe vera, witch hazel and chamomile)
  • Bonjela (teething gel)
  • Tiger Balm
  • Goodbye Sandfly (both a repellent and a soother)
  • hand sanitiser
  • manuka balm
  • antihistamine tablets

Additional tips and tricks

For those planning to camp or hike, there are additional strategies to keep insects at bay.

Choosing your campsite wisely can make a significant difference; avoid setting up near stagnant water or in dense bush where mosquitoes and sandflies are most active.

Being aware of the peak seasons for these insects can also help you plan your trip.

Generally, the warmer months see higher activity levels, so if you’re particularly sensitive to bites, consider visiting during the cooler parts of the year.

With that said though, we’ve been bitten right through the year, so you’ll always want to be ready to take precautions.

Keeping your luggage and tent zipped up is a simple yet effective way to prevent these critters from making themselves at home among your belongings.

A little vigilance goes a long way in keeping your living spaces insect-free and your vacation that little bit more comfortable.

Fun facts about mozzies and sandflies

Though we’ve focused on the negatives here (and let’s face it, there’s not much positive to be said for these creatures), there are some interesting points you might like to know…

Only females bite people and animals as they need to drink blood to produce eggs.

Female mosquitoes are also the only ones to make that annoying buzzing noise too – the males are quiet.

A beautiful spot, but watch out for sandflies at Sandyfly Bay! Photo: Thomas CUELHO.

Conclusion

Preparation and prevention are key to enjoying New Zealand’s stunning natural beauty without the annoyance of mosquito and sandfly bites.

By understanding these insects and taking the right precautions, you can focus on making unforgettable memories in our equally unforgettable country.

We’d love to hear from you…

If you have your own tips or experiences dealing with mosquitoes and sandflies, please share them in our Facebook group.

Your insights could help fellow travellers enjoy their adventures to the fullest.

Happy travels… here’s to exploring New Zealand with confidence and comfort!

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