First off, sandflies in New Zealand are not actually sandflies. Rather, these pesky little bugs are female black flies more thirsty for blood than a dehydrated vampire. If you plan on going outside or opening a window, in the Westland region (i.e. the whole West Coast) of New Zealand’s South Island, you will encounter sandflies. Getting bitten by sandflies is not fun and sand flies are extremely annoying but fortunately getting bitten by a sandfly is not a health risk. The species you find in New Zealand don’t carry any infectious or transmittable diseases.
Where will you come across sandflies in New Zealand?
Sandflies are found wherever there is flowing water and bush. They are often found at beaches, and at the edges of lakes or swamps. The New Zealand blackfly occurs in the North Island and around the coasts of the South Island. The West Coast blackfly is confined to the South Island, where it is a nuisance.
The West Coast and Fiordland are infamous for their sandflies. The terminus of the Milford Track, where trampers board the ferry to Milford Sound, is called Sandfly Point.
True, they are more prevalent in the bush (read: woods) than in the cities but contact with these annoying pests is inevitable.
Facts About Sandflies
1. Sandflies Travel in Swarms
You will rarely be attacked by one sandfly as they seem to hunt in packs. If you see one, the rest of its friends are busy stealing your blood.
2. Sandflies Are Not Fast
If you are walking in the bush or kayaking on a river, the sandflies will leave you alone as they cannot keep up. Problematically, when you stop for that well earned water break a whole cloud of sandflies will quickly find you and start feasting. On a positive note, you won’t have a problem killing them as they are too slow to avoid a solid slap. Keep in mind though that in the time it takes to kill one, three more will leech onto your foot.
3. Sandflies cannot tolerate either wind or rain
So, if you can brave the elements, you will avoid the majority of these swarming little blood suckers.
Develop a “Sandfly Strategy” that works for you. Every person is affected by sandflies in a different manner and how you protect yourself from them will likely be determined by how much they like you.
How to repel sandflies and avoid sandfly bites
1. Buy local repellent
When you get to the Westland area, every tour operator and outdoor adventure store will have locally made sandfly repellent at the checkout counter. Buy it. The repellent from other places in the world doesn’t work as effectively as the local formula. The locals had 100 years to figure out a way to keep sandflies from stealing litres of their blood so you can trust them to concoct an effective solution. If you do not like DEET, good luck. DEET is the main active ingredient and is far more effective than the natural products. In fact, if you don’t like DEET, just avoid the South Island’s west coast all together.
2. Apply repellent BEFORE you get out of the car
Many people park at a trail head, slowly get out of the car, and begin applying sandfly repellent. You are already too late! The sandflies are trapped in your car and they will feast on you when you return. While the sandflies are colonizing your car, their friends are latching onto your major arteries as you frantically attempt to apply repellent and kill sandflies simultaneously. To be kind, this is usually ineffective and is a poor start to your hike. Put the repellent on before you get out of the car to avoid this cyclical problem.
3. Go out in the middle of the day
Sandflies tend to be at their most active at dusk and dawn, so although you’ll probably still encounter them, you won’t see quite as many!
4. Cover up
It does not get very hot and, if you are hiking, chances are you will be under the canopy. Long pants and sleeves provide effective protection from swarming sandflies.
5. Go out when it’s wet and windy!
As stated above sandflies just can’t tolerate the wind and the rain, so if it’s a less than perfect day weatherwise it’ll certainly help you in your quest to avoid getting bitten by them.
6. Drive away…
If you are sleeping in your campervan or car you will often park for the night in high sandfly areas. Close your van up as soon as you finish cooking to keep the majority of the sandflies outside. In the morning, try to drive away from the campsite to a location not surrounded by the bush. This should prevent the sandflies from swarming into your van while you re-arrange your belongings for the days drive. Otherwise, the sandflies will feast on your feet as you scramble to get your car onto the road. Getting eaten by sandflies while operating a vehicle leads to dangerous driving.
7. Don’t complain about sandflies
Complaining will not attract sandflies but it will not help you make friends either. In the Westland Region, sandflies are a way of life. If you cannot handle them go somewhere else. Your fellow travellers and the locals will have little patience for your complaints.
If you follow all of the above listed advice, you probably will still get bitten by sandflies but just not as much! When this occurs, do not scratch the bite. Scratching simply spreads the itch and extends the amount of time it takes the wound to heal. Plus, scratching leads to more scratching and that simply escalates the problem. Instead, apply hydrocortisone cream. This will cut down (but not eliminate) the itching and will also help your skin heal more quickly.
In a nutshell if you want to know how to avoid being bitten by sandflies, don’t go to places where sandflies are prevalent, same goes for mosquitoes! Have you found a successful method to repel pesky sandflies? Please, please share it with us all in the comments below!
Head to Bushmans Centre to see the massive sandfly seen in the main article image!