Extraordinary wildlife encounters in New Zealand

From the fjords to beaches, and the forests in between, there are plenty of opportunities for your clients to get up close with extraordinary wildlife in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Piki - the great spotted kiwi - at Willowbank, Christchurch
New Zealanders are lucky enough to share their home with some fascinating and diverse creatures, and for visitors there are plenty of opportunities to spot them year-round.

Watch for pods of dolphins following a boat or a ferry, and it’s not unusual to see whales and orca within sight of Auckland’s shores or little blue penguins on Wellington’s city fringe – but there are also many special places to see them up-close.

One of the best times to observe any wildlife is during the breeding cycles from spring through to early summer (August - January). Some experiences are more seasonal but there’s always something to see and a guided tour is the best way to find wildlife at home, like Wellington's Zealandia twilight and night-time tours. 

Penguins - Oamaru

Many different species of these comical birds – clumsy on land, graceful in the water – can be found on the cooler fringes of New Zealand’s South Island, from the Marlborough Sounds to Otago Peninsula and Fiordland. One of the best penguin visitor attractions is at Oamaru, which has a resident population of the little blue penguin. Watch the little blues come home from the sea each night at the Oamaru Blue Penguins colony on the edge of town.

Read more about New Zealand - the penguin kingdom

Dolphins – Marlborough Sounds

From the tiny and rare Hector’s dolphin to the compact common dolphin and the sleek grey bottlenose, New Zealand’s coastlines are home to several dolphin species. These playful marine creatures seem to love visitors as much as visitors love them. Dolphin viewing is a year-round activity in the Bay of Islands, Marlborough Sounds, Kaikoura and Akaroa on Banks Peninsula, where in season it’s possible to swim with the Hector’s dolphins. 

Whales - Kaikoura

Whales are giants of the sea but with many qualities that seem to make them human, something recognised in Māori myth and legend. Kaikoura is an iconic destination for those wanting to catch a glimpse of these incredible animals. 

Pods of sperm whales can be seen year-round off Kaikōura but between June and August, things get really interesting with the arrival of other species, such as the humpback on their yearly migration from the Antarctic up to warmer climes. Go whale watching by boat or, for a different perspective, experience these majestic creatures from above with Wings Over Whales Kaikoura

Albatross Colony – Otago Peninsula

Famed British naturalist Sir David Attenborough has described the Otago Peninsula as “a very special place” and it’s not hard to see why. With the world’s only mainland breeding albatross colony at Taiaroa Head, it’s possible to see these majestic seabirds with a wingspan of more than three metres soaring at speeds of up to 120 km per hour. Visit between September and November to see the breeding birds arriving at the headland and building nests. Chicks hatch from late January to late February and, aided by a strong gust of wind, take their first flight in September.

Kiwi sanctuaries

For such a well-known New Zealand icon, the kiwi can be surprisingly elusive. This bird’s shyness and nocturnal habits can make spotting one a challenge and, as they are endangered, seeing one in the wild is something only the lucky experience. They can be spotted in their native habitat at night on Stewart Island, off the bottom of the South Island, with the help of the experienced guides at Real Journeys.
Some wildlife parks, such as Christchurch’s Willowbank, have created artificial night-time environments, so visitors can walk (silently) through an enclosure within metres of the birds. It is also possible to see them in captivity at Auckland Zoo, Rainbow Springs in Rotorua, and Kiwi Birdlife Park in Queenstown. Pukaha Mt Bruce near Masterton is home to a rare white kiwi, and Zealandia in Wellington offers night time tours into the forest. If you want to see cute chicks in the breeding facilities, the best time to visit is September to April.

Download this handy Wildlife map to remind you of where to find Aotearoa’s prolific wildlife – just about anywhere.