Burial is the most traditional form of disposal used in New
Zealand, and in the past was the most common choice. Many families
appreciate having a grave to visit and tend.
Generally, a burial will follow a funeral service in another
location, such as a chapel, church, or marae. The traditional
practice is that, following the service, mourners and family
members will follow the hearse in a cortege. This is a slow moving
procession that allows people to accompany the deceased on their
final journey. In some larger cities, it is becoming normal
practice to meet at the cemetery at a specified time rather than
form a cortege. This is due to the higher traffic volumes and the
fact that many motorists do not seem to show due respect to a
funeral procession. If there is a cortege, the hearse and following
vehicles will travel with their headlights on, to alert other road
users to the nature of the procession.
As with cremation, there are cultural and faith based reasons
why burial is the only choice for some people. A lot of these
reasons centre around the belief that the body needs to be whole in
order to be ready for the afterlife. The beliefs and practice of
many of the cultures and faiths in New Zealand are described in
It is important to note that, in most cases, a burial will be
more expensive than a cremation. This is because there are three
- plot purchase,
- an interment (or digging) fee which also covers
- a memorial stone or plaque, in most cases.
Under the terms of the Burial and Cremation Act, every local
authority in New Zealand is compelled to provide an appropriate
burial ground for those dying within its district.
The cemetery must be available for the use of all citizens. Other
than public cemeteries and Maori burial grounds, there are still
some churches that have an attached cemetery. Some of these are now
run by local cemetery boards or councils.
Many councils have delegated the running and maintenance of
their cemeteries to private contractors, but the law and local
bylaws still apply. In New Zealand, burial may only take place in
officially designated cemeteries or Maori burial grounds. In
special circumstances, it is possible that a burial may take place
in another location such as a family property. However, there are
very strict regulations surrounding this, and you should seek
advice from your funeral director.
In some cases, there will be a family plot available with space
for several interments, however, many local authorities are now
restricting the sale of such plots due to space constraints. Your
funeral director will be able to advise you of the availability and
cost of local cemeteries.
It is often possible for families to meet with the sexton
(cemetery caretaker) and choose a specific site for the burial.
Some cemeteries in New Zealand provide areas for different
denominations, returned service people, or religious groups such as
Moslem or Jewish communities.
Depending on the age and location of the cemetery there are
several different layouts and styles in use today.
Older cemeteries will often contain large and elaborate
memorials and head stones. Some of these are fine examples of the
monumental masons' craft, with beautiful statues or figures. In
some parts of New Zealand, there are vaults or mausoleum type
structures. These are used for above ground interment, with the
casket resting on a shelf rather than being covered with earth.
Possibly the best examples of grave vaults in New Zealand can be
found at Auckland's Waikemete Cemetery.
Modern cemeteries are often called lawn cemeteries. In these,
the graves are dug against a concrete beam and a flat or reclining
plaque or tablet is used in place of a larger headstone. Most local
authorities have strict bylaws covering the size and style of
memorials that may be used.
The traditional practice in most older cemeteries was for the
grave to be dug so that the body would be laid facing east. This
meant that, in some cases, the headstone was actually at the foot
of the casket. This practice has now largely disappeared, with most
people preferring the head to be against the beam, but graves for
Moslem people are still aligned with Mecca.
Some families like to cater for more than one burial in a grave,
and in some cemeteries, it is possible to have either double or
triple depth plots. There will be different interment fees for
deeper graves, and in some locations, they will not be available
due to issues such as the groundwater level.
Due to space limitations, many cemeteries have now restricted or
eliminated the provision to pre-purchase plots. When arranging or
pre-arranging a funeral, you should seek advice about plot
availability from your funeral director.
The RSA have plots in at least one cemetery per region for
ex-servicemen and women. Your funeral director will be able to tell
you which cemetery in your region has an RSA section.