In New Zealand, 70% of people choose cremation. Cremation is the process of reducing a body to fine bone fragments using high heat.  Some religious denominations require cremation to happen as soon as possible after death. Most crematoriums request 24 hours notice, but urgent cremations are possible.

Booking a cremation

You’ll need to make a booking and pay a fee. Some people arrange for cremation to happen on the same day as the funeral, but there’s no requirement to hold a service in order to book a cremation.

Crematoriums are usually run by local councils so rules may vary, in particular around what sort of materials are permitted for the coffin. It’s worth checking their requirements first if you’re wanting to make or provide your own coffin.

Cremations are highly regulated, there are forms to fill out and certain documentation and information will be requested from you. Some of this is to match the nameplate on the coffin to verify the identity of the deceased.

Generally these forms include:

  • Medical practitioner’s certificate
  • Application for cremation
  • Certificate in relation to pacemakers and implants
  • Permission to cremate (this must be signed by a medical referee)
  • Cremation register (this is done after cremation, when the ashes are being returned).

Cremating someone with medical implants

Pacemakers and any other battery powered medical devices, such as spinal cord stimulators and nerve stimulators must be removed before cremation. Either a doctor, someone working in the hospital morgue or the mortician working at the funeral home will be able to remove the pacemaker from your loved one’s body.

Cochlear implants, metal plates or screws, artificial hips and other implants without internal batteries are not required to be removed.

Coffins for cremations

The coffin used for a cremation must have a firmly fixed nameplate and be made of materials that are combustible. There are rules around what can be placed inside a coffin for a cremation, not all funeral decorations can be cremated with your loved one. Anything metal, glass or plastic will need to be removed. Read more about what you can put in a coffin.

What happens a during cremation?

Cremations are performed individually, one at a time. A body must be in a coffin but this can be plain, even cardboard. Some crematoria allow burial shrouds to be used.

Inside their coffin/casket, the body is placed in the cremator, a special chamber designed to withstand the very high heat produced. After approximately 2 hours, the remains are reduced to bone fragments. You can request to be present when the casket is placed into the cremator. There is a charge for this and as the space available for viewing is usually small, only a few people will be able to attend.

Once the cremation process is complete, the operator then removes any metal objects, like implants, fillings and parts of the casket or cremation container. The bone fragments are crushed in a piece of equipment called a cremulator and the processed remains placed in a named, sealed container ready for collection. Most crematoria require that the cremation remains are collected within a certain timeframe, often 28 days.

Direct Cremation Option

A ‘direct cremation’ is simply, transfer of the deceased into the care of a funeral home, with no other family involvement or ceremony when there. The funeral home obtains of all medical documentation such as death certificate and transfers the body directly to the crematorium, later returning the ashes to the family. The body is not embalmed and there is no option for the family to view the body.  This is a more affordable option with some families then choosing to remember their loved one at a simple memorial celebration at home or at a local club.

What happens after a cremation?

Within 3 days of a cremation, the office of Births, Deaths and Marriage must be informed. If you’re using the services of a funeral director, they’ll do this for you. It’s free to register a death, but there’s a fee to order a death certificate.

What can I do with the ashes?

Once you’ve collected the ashes, you can choose to keep the cremated remains at home, bury them, place them in a special location or scatter them. Read more about what to do with ashes.


Cremation not in a crematorium

If it is noted in the application for cremation that the deceased belonged to a religious denomination whose beliefs require the burning of the body to be carried out as a religious rite somewhere other than in an approved crematorium, the Medical Officer of Health may permit the cremation to be carried out in the requested location.

Once you’ve collected the ashes, you can choose to keep the cremated remains at home, choose to bury them, place them in a special location or scatter them.