New Zealand’s relative isolation has meant that for millions of years the wildlife on the islands has been able to flourish without too much interference, Maori hunters aside. The result is an abundant and diverse array of plant and bird life, with many species found nowhere else in the world but here. Some of the country’s most unique inhabitants include the Hector’s dolphin, the tuatara and of course the iconic kiwi.  

Sea Life

Wildlife in New Zealand

Thanks to an extensive system of protected marine parks, New Zealand’s sea life has flourished. The rare yellow-eyed penguin can be seen on the Otago peninsular, alongside sea lions and fur seals. The peninsular is just south of Dunedin on the South Island, in an area famed for its wildlife tours.

The Fiordland National Park is also a fantastic place to spot sea life. In Doubtful Sound you can kayak amongst the local bottlenose dolphin population, whilst the area is also home to the Fiordland Crested Penguin- a comical, endearing bird with a great rockstar haircut. These penguins can also be seen further north at Lake Moeraki, where they breed from July until December. 

The rarest marine life you can see is New Zealand’s native Hector’s dolphin. The species are the smallest type of dolphin in the world, and are easily recognisable from their curved dorsal fins. For a chance to see these endangered mammals, a great place to go is Akaroa, just south of Christchurch, where you can jump on a scenic wildlife cruise.    

Wildlife in New Zealand

If you’d rather see something a little bigger, then New Zealand’s coastal waters are also home to a number of different whales. The best place to spot marine mammals is the Hauraki Gulf, to the north of Auckland. The gulf is made up of five marine reserves and over fifty islands, and scenic cruises from Auckland give you a great chance to spot a whopping 25 of the known 37 southern hemisphere marine mammals, including the endangered Bryde’s whale.

Wildlife in New Zealand

Another place to visit if you’re looking for a sea life encounter is the coastal town of Kaikoura. Whales, seals and dolphins reside all year round in the surrounding waters, and trips from the harbour leave several times a day.  

Scuba Diving

Poor Knights Islands

If you want to seal New Zealand’s sea life on a smaller scale, then there are plenty of diving opportunities in the pristine waters and many protected marine parks. A hugely popular choice is the Poor Knights Marine Reserve, just off the North Island’s east coast. New Zealand’s underwater worlds are vast and diverse, teeming with sub-tropical reefs and colourful fish, the occasional shipwreck and a guarantee of an incredible scuba experience.


Wildlife in New Zealand

There are quite a few birds native to New Zealand who have developed reputations for mischief and intelligence. These include the playful kea, the world’s only alpine parrot, which can be seen in the South Island’s mountainous areas as well as Fiordland. Other well-known natives to look out for are the weka, a flightless bird with a reputation for curiosity, as well as the iconic kiwi, which is characterised by its long beak and plumage which resembles hair more than it does feathers. The kiwi is now endangered, but can be seen in the wild on Stewart Island, as well as in many bird sanctuaries throughout New Zealand.


Wildlife in New Zealand

The Tuatara is famous for its ancestry, which dates back to when dinosaurs walked the earth. These unique creatures look like lizards, but they are in fact quite different, and are the only beak-headed reptile left on the planet. Incredibly, they can live for over 100 years, and since being driven toward extinction by humans and pests, are now found on protected offshore islands such as those in the Marlborough Sounds, Fiordland.