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 Last Words.

It is important to note that, in most cases, a burial will be more expensive than a cremation. This is because there are three charges involved.

  • plot purchase,
  • an interment (or digging) fee which also covers maintenance
  • 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.

Funerals New Zealand
PO Box 10888
Wellington, New Zealand
Phone: 04 4737475
Fax: 04 4737478
Email: info@fdanz.org.nz