7 Dec 2023

From drop-off to delivery: What you need to know about NZ Post's Christmas deadlines

12:39 pm on 7 December 2023
An unidentified NZ Post worker is delivering two parcels onto a doorstep.

NZ Post brings on more people and more vans each year to help with the heavy Christmas workload. Photo: NZ Post

In this day and age, why do we have to post presents mid-November, to give them any chance of arriving a month later? RNZ asks NZ Post what's involved in delivering Christmas for Aotearoa New Zealand.

An American import, Black Friday on November 27 for many marks the start of Christmas shopping. But if you're hoping to make the most of discounted prices before posting presents that will arrive by December 25, you might be pushing your luck.

To have the best chance of arriving by Christmas Day, overseas-bound items via NZ Post's economy service needed to have been sent by November 29, at the latest.

If you're posting within Aotearoa New Zealand, you have a bit more time. The cut-off date for domestic economy items is December 18 and December 20 for courier.

And for international courier services? The deadlines are December 11 for Australia, December 8 for Asia, Europe, North America, the South Pacific and the United Kingdom, and November 29 for the rest of the world. (Note, some international destinations aren't reachable by NZ Post's courier service.)

If you're willing to pay for express services, sit back and relax: you don't need to have your items in the post until December 18 for Australia, December 15 for Asia, Europe, and so on, and December 13 for everywhere else.

Of course, NZ Post acknowledges the cut-off dates are "targets only".

But why does it take a box of Marmite and Whittaker's chocolate a month to get from Dunedin to London? RNZ asked NZ Post general manager export and international solutions Jared Handcock and South Island regional manager James Purdie to explain.

Domestic deliveries

Let's say I've just dropped off an Auckland-bound parcel at my local post shop in Dunedin. From there, Purdie says, a courier collects it and others and takes them to the local depot where they are consolidated with other freight. That evening, they are trucked to Christchurch.

If I've paid for courier service, my parcel is loaded at Christchurch Airport onto a freight plane to Auckland. But if it's travelling via economy service, it's loaded onto another truck and driven to the top of the South Island, ferried to Wellington and driven the rest of the way to Auckland.

The parcels are unloaded at the operation centre there and sorted, Purdie continues. The final step is being loaded onto a van for delivery to the Auckland address.

Sorting, sorting

NZ Post has three main automated sorting centres, in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Sorting at other centres is done manually, based on the item's destination and how quickly it needs to arrive.

On average, NZ Post delivers 1.5 million items domestically per week. For the week of November 20, that number increased to almost two million. The week following Black Friday is typically NZ Post's busiest of the year. This year, roughly 2.3m items were delivered nation-wide.

"A lot of Kiwis take advantage of Black Friday [sales] for Christmas shopping," Purdie says. In response, NZ Post brings on extra people and extra vans.

International deliveries

Actually, let's pretend my parcel is going to London. This is where Handcock comes in.

My parcel arrives at the gateway in the early hours of the morning. (All items leaving the country via NZ Post fly out of Auckland.) It's screened and X-rayed to check it doesn't contain any dangerous or prohibited substances. Only a small number of items are turned away at this point, Handcock says. A common culprit is perfume.

My parcel - which doesn't contain perfume - is scanned into a mail bag which in turn is scanned into an airline container. Within 12 to 24 hours, it's flown to its destination country. In this example, first to San Francisco and then to London directly.

"We service 130 destinations directly," Handcock says. "We do have other hubs; some smaller European destinations will be reached by truck from London." (Australia is the most popular, international destination, followed by the United States, the United Kingdom and then China.)

After landing in London, all the items are handed over from the airline to NZ Post delivery partners, who facilitate customs clearance into the country and enter the items into their delivery network.

A tip: When sending internationally, make sure you're really clear on the customs declaration about what you're sending. You need to list every item in the parcel, Handcock says.

International express

The international express network is NZ Post's fastest - and most expensive - service, sending parcels, letters and documents to 220 destinations within one to five days. From Auckland, express items are handed over to logistics company, DHL, who take care of the rest of the delivery process.

Post shop in Johnsonville

Post shop in Johnsonville Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Calculating cut-offs

During busy times of the year, NZ Post does a lot of planning based on updates from overseas delivery partners.

"We ask our partners when they need product, and work backwards from there," Handcock says. "The closer [the destination] to New Zealand, the more confident we are about the timeframes, as there are fewer touch points."

When items are sent to the other side of the world, NZ Post is typically allowing three to four days of additional transit time. The rest of the time is a buffer for customs and handling prior to entering the delivery network in the destination country.

Buying from overseas

If I've bought an item from an overseas retailer, how do I know if it'll arrive on time?

NZ Post also brings forward cut-off dates for inbound mail, Handcock says. To have any chance of landing on your doorstep by December 25, international items need to arrive at NZ Post's international gateway and have received border clearance by December 8 for bulk mail and letters, December 11 for courier economy service, and December 15 for courier service.

Obviously, you need to buy your items well before those dates.

Australia Post, for example, has a Christmas cut-off date for parcels to New Zealand, sent via its standard service, of December 7.

Christmas gifts wrapped under tree.

Photo: 123RF

Final destination

Let's go back to Auckland, for a moment, where my friend is awaiting her gift. Perhaps my parcel was processed at the Auckland centre on November 28, along with 230,000 other items. That's right: 230,000. The highest volume ever recorded at the centre.

I've given my friend a tracking number, so she can see when the parcel reaches the depot. After it's been allocated to the right courier, depending on where she lives, she'll see an update saying it's out for delivery. What she might not realise is that it's one of more than 420,000 parcels out for delivery that day across the country.

The final scan shows it has been left in a safe location, because my friend provided NZ Post "authority to leave" the parcel on her doorstep.

The parcel's final movement? From the threshold to under the Christmas tree.

"It's a pretty cool feeling," Purdie says, "delivering Christmas for New Zealand".

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs