New Zealand's best wildlife experiences

March 2, 2016

Isolated at the bottom of the planet, the islands of New Zealand showcase diverse animal species, many unique to the country. A hardy survivor of the mega-continent of Gondwanaland, the tuatara is an ancient reptile closely related to the dinosaurs. New Zealand’s native birds include the country’s national symbol, the kiwi, and the kea, a curiously intelligent alpine parrot. Pelagic birds include the compact hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin), one of the planet’s rarest penguins, and the grand royal albatross. Also sharing New Zealand’s cooler southern waters are marine mammals, and opportunities abound to interact with whales, dolphins and fur seals.

Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park

This bird barn has a nocturnal enclosure where you can see active kiwi energetically digging with their long beaks, searching for food...



Seal Swim Kaikoura

Take a (warmly wet-suited) swim with Kaikoura's healthy population of playful seals – including very cute pups – on two-hour guided snorkelling tours (by boat) run by the Chambers family.




This groundbreaking eco-sanctuary is hidden in the hills about 2km west of town: the Karori bus (No 3) passes nearby, or see the Zealandia website for info on the free shuttle...


Black Cat Cruises

As well as a two-hour nature cruise, Black Cat offers a three-hour 'swimming with dolphins' experience. Wet suits and snorkelling gear are provided, plus hot showers back on dry land...



Blue Penguin Colony

Every evening the little tykes from the Oamaru little-penguin colony surf in and wade ashore, heading to their nests in an old stone quarry near the waterfront. Stands are set up on either side of the waddle route...



Nature’s Wonders Otago Peninsula

What makes the improbably beautiful beaches of this coastal sheep farm different from other important wildlife habitats is that (apart from pest eradication and the like) they're left completely alone...




Royal Albatross Centre & Fort Taiaroa

Taiaroa Head, at the peninsula’s northern tip, has the world’s only mainland royal albatross colony, along with a late 19th-century military fort. The only public access to the area is by guided tour...





The Catlins

Bypassed entirely by SH1, the often-overlooked Catlins coast is tucked away at the southeastern corner of the South Island, straddling Southland and Otago. Named after a 19th-century whaling captain, it's an enchanting region, combining fecund farmland, native forest, lonely lighthouses, empty beaches, bushwalks and wildlife-spotting opportunities.


Stewart Island

If you make the short but extremely rewarding trip to Stewart Island/Rakiura you'll have one up on most New Zealanders, many of whom maintain an active curiosity about the country's 'third island' without ever actually going there. Travellers who make the effort are rewarded with a warm welcome from both the local kiwi and the local Kiwis.


Penguin Place

Situated on private farmland, this reserve protects nesting sites of the yellow-eyed penguin. The 90-minute tours focus on penguin conservation and close-up viewing from a system of hides...




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