Burial or Cremation

Burial or Cremation

Making a Choice

If you are planning ahead for your own funeral, or planning the funeral of a family member or friend, a decision will need to be made with regard to burial or cremation. Some people have very strong views about this decision, but to others it can be a difficult choice. Normally people express their wishes verbally to family or via a written pre-arrangement. Their wishes are generally respected and followed. If a choice has not been made clear, what happens, who chooses between burial or cremation? This decision is made by the immediate family or the executor of the estate.

What are the Options?

In New Zealand there are four options available: burial; cremation; burial at sea; or donating a body to medical science.


In the past, burial was the most common choice and it is still favoured by many people. Family members appreciate having a grave to go to, a place to visit to focus on making a connection with the person who has died; thinking of them, crying, talking to them, or tending their grave.

Burial involves buying a plot and paying an interment fee which covers the cost of digging the grave. The purchase of a headstone also needs to be considered. For many people, the unveiling of a headstone is an important part of the grieving process. In New Zealand, apart from a few exceptional circumstances, the place a person can be buried is limited by law to official cemeteries or Maori burial grounds.


Cremation provides greater flexibility when choosing a final resting place. Ashes can be buried in a cemetery, but some families like to scatter them on a family plot or memorial garden, at sea, or in a favourite place. It is important to be careful that the area you have chosen is not close to a traditional Maori food gathering ground. Some people choose to divide the ashes, and have them placed in separate areas. Families often choose to have some sort of memorial in a special place for the person who has died. For many grieving people organising this is a positive way of dealing with their loss, and again we are happy to help with this.

The process of cremation is something people often wonder about. The casket, with the body inside, is put into a cremator. In some instances it is possible for families to watch the casket being put into the cremator. The process of cremation takes place under very high temperatures and generally takes from 2 to 4 hours. There is room for only one casket, and all the ashes are taken from the cremator before it is used again, so it is not possible for ashes to be mixed with others. The whole process is governed by local body by-laws.

After cremation the ashes are crenulated or broken up. They are all put into a simple plastic container which is about 30 cm long and 15 cm deep. This container is designed so it can be placed into a wooden or ceramic urn as chosen by the family.

Burial At Sea

Burial at sea has to take place at a specially designated marine burial location. It is an option that can be chosen by the person when preparing their funeral, or by the family. A special type of casket is required, and this is usually buried at sea from either a boat or a helicopter. There are specially designated areas of the New Zealand coastline for burial at sea. We can give you further information about this and make the necessary arrangements for you.

Donating A Body For Medical Science

New Zealand medical schools do not have a constant requirement for donations. If you are interested in this option it is essential that arrangements are made prior to the death and that the medical school’s requirements and criteria have been met. As an alternative, you may want to be an organ donor. We are able to give you further information on these options.