When talking about wildlife in New Zealand, the first thought that a lot of people might have is Kiwis or even sheep. While these two might be the most popular species of animals found in New Zealand, wildlife in the country has a lot more to offer. Experts suggest that New Zealand pretty much evolved cut-off from the rest of the world, which led to the country being a site for numerous unique and rare species of reptiles, insects, birds and aquatic animals. One incredible statistic that stands out is that this island nation is home to as many as 85 native species of land birds. To put this into perspective, the next best is the British Isles, which is home to just one.
A trip to New Zealand is incomplete without exploring the rich diversity in wildlife that the country has to offer. Here are the best wildlife experiences that you just can’t miss when in New Zealand.
Whale Watching : One of the most popular and possibly one of the most spectacular experiences of wildlife in New Zealand is whale watching. Kaikoura, situated on the east coast of the South Island, is one of the best places in the world if you want to spot whales. The area is home to about one third of the world’s southern hemisphere based marine mammals, with 25 out of 37 species being found in the surroundings.
One of these species is the sperm whale, with Kaikoura being the only place in the world where you can spot them easily. These whales can be witnessed throughout the year with other popular species like Orcas and humpback whales, and these are easy to spot during December to March and June to July, respectively.
How to reach: 2-hour drive from Christchurch, well connected by rail and bus service, and also has a small airport.
Best time to visit: December to March; June and July
Spot Rare Penguins : A visit to Dunedin is a must if you want to witness some of the rarest and most beautiful species of penguins in the world. With firm conservation policies set in place, the area is home to the world’s smallest penguin, called Korora or the Little Blue Penguin. This species is a native of New Zealand and can be found ashore other areas as well including Stewart Island, Oamaru, Akaroa Harbour and more. A widely famous attraction in Dunedin is the rare yellow eyed penguin, or Hoiho. This bird is easily distinguishable by the bright yellow band around its eyes.
Another extremely rare penguin species that you can spot in New Zealand is Tawaki, or Fiordland Crested Penguin. This bird can be found in the areas of Stewart Island, Lake Moeraki and Fiordland.
How to reach: It is well connected to all the major cities in New Zealand by road, rail and air. You can also reach Dunedin via the sea, with several cruises going there.
Best time to visit: December to March
Kayaking with Seals : Visiting the Abel Tasman National Park offers a heavenly experience, not just because of the opportunity to kayak with seals, but also because of the jaw-dropping landscapes and serenity in the air that surrounds you. The New Zealand fur seals are among the most common seals in the country. The species was once considered to be at risk of becoming extinct, but thanks to the conservation efforts, its population has been growing in the recent years. You should definitely set a day aside for interacting with these flipper clad animals, taking a kayaking tour around the gorgeous beaches and bays of Abel Tasman, and searching for the seals. They are not very hard to find, and you are sure to encounter some in a playful mood in the crystal-clear waters, performing their own brand of acrobatics, or just taking lazy naps on the rocks of Tonga Island. If you are fortunate enough, some of the more curious seals may just come up to your kayak to say hi!
How to reach: Nelson is the closest airport to the park, with just 60 kms or a one-hour drive separating the two. You can travel to Abel Tasman by road or even take a car ferry from Wellington.
Best time to visit: Mid December to March
Swim with Dolphins : Dolphins are amongst the happiest and friendliest creatures in the world and getting a chance to swim with dolphins is pure bliss. This is exactly what you get when you visit Akaroa Harbour. You can take a cruise from the township of Akaroa, and get a chance to experience the chuckle of these wonderful creatures first-hand. Among the other dolphins in the area, the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin species, Hector’s Dolphin, can be found in its native habitat at the Akaroa Harbour. Most of these cruise tours offer a guarantee on spotting dolphins, and taking into account the dolphins’ own playful and fun-loving nature, there is a very high chance that you will get to swim and play with the dolphins here. If you are lucky, one of them may even plant a slobbery kiss on you!
How to reach: Akaroa town is roughly 85 kms from Christchurch, and you can drive down or take a bus to reach your destination. You can also sail on a cruise to reach the harbour.
Best time to visit: February and March; June and July
Bird Watching : One extremely popular wildlife experience in New Zealand is bird watching. The country is home to some of the most beautiful and rarest species of birds, with the kiwi being the national pride and a cultural symbol. To get the best chance to spot this endangered bird, a visit to the Zealandia Ecosanctuary should be on the cards. This eco-sanctuary is located in the middle of Wellington and is known to house some of the most beautiful species of kiwis and a number of other birds. For visiting the sanctuary, you might have to take into consideration the fact that kiwis are nocturnal birds and sleeping inside their burrows takes up most of their days. In order to have a chance to spot a kiwi, you should plan a tour to the sanctuary at night. However, if you are a bird enthusiast, a tour to Zealandia during the day should also be on your list, to spot birds from more than 40 native species that are found in this sanctuary.
How to reach: Zealandia is located just 10 minutes away from the centre of Wellington, with free shuttle service available for visitors.
Best time to visit: The sanctuary is open throughout the year except on Christmas day. The summer months between December and March are considered better times for spotting the greatest number of birds.
If you are looking to explore all of these wildlife wonders and a lot more in New Zealand, visit our website to find the perfect package and plan your trip right away!