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Wildlife Locations

New Zealand is a haven for wildlife, and highlights include whale watching off the shores of Kaikoura, visiting a blue penguin colony at Oamaru, looking for Hector’s dolphins at Akaroa, or birdwatching to see the striking royal spoonbill in Blenheim and Marlborough. 

15 recommended locations:

Abel Tasman National Park

Located at the north end of the South Island is Abel Tasman National Park. Despite being New Zealand’s smallest national park, Abel Tasman offers turquoise seas, golden beaches framed by rocky headlands where fur seals can be found, and rich green native forests filled with native birdlife.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: New Zealand fur seal, common dolphin, little blue penguin, tūī, purple swamphen
  • Excellent for: Walking with wildlife, Penguin watching

Akaroa & Banks Peninsula

Nestled in the heart of the South Island’s most prominent volcanic feature, Banks Peninsula, Akaroa is located around 82 kilometres from Christchurch. New Zealand’s only French settlement, Akaroa offers fascinating coastal excursions to see white-flippered (blue) penguin and the rare Hector’s dolphin.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: Hector’s dolphin, New Zealand fur seal, yellow-eyed penguin, Buller’s albatross, white-flippered penguin

Arthur’s Pass National Park

Arthur’s Pass National Park lies in the heart of the Southern Alps. Divided by the high mountain range that forms the backbone of South Island, the park is split into the drier eastern side and the wetter western side, providing diverse habitat for a wealth of native birds, including the comical kea.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: kea, rock wren, great spotted kiwi, New Zealand falcon, New Zealand pigeon

Blenheim & Marlborough

Situated in the heart of the wine-growing region of Marlborough, in the north east of South Island, Blenheim is one of the sunniest towns in New Zealand. The region is rich in birdlife, particularly at Wairau Lagoon, where more than 90 species, including the elegant royal spoonbill, can be seen.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: Hector’s dolphin, New Zealand falcon, long-tailed wattled bat, royal spoonbill, New Zealand fur seal

Doubtful Sound

The deepest of New Zealand’s fjords, Doubtful Sound is rich in flora and fauna, where New Zealand fur seals and Fiordland crested penguins bask on many of the small islets at the fjord’s entrance. A place of power and tranquility the fjord also has a number of magnificent waterfalls.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: New Zealand fur seal, Fiordland crested penguin, bottlenose dolphin, southern right whale, minke whale

Fiordland National Park

The World Heritage area of Fiordland offers some of the most dramatic and iconic scenery of New Zealand’s South Island. The west coast is indented with 14 fjords and over 215 kilometres of rugged coastline including Milford and Doubtful Sounds, both of which are rich in flora and fauna.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: Fiordland crested penguin, New Zealand fur seal, bottlenose dolphin, kea, yellow-crowned parakeet
  • Excellent for: Self-drive

Kaikoura

Picturesque Kaikoura is the ideal base for wildlife encounters - especially of the marine variety – with permanently resident sperm whales, several species of dolphin and New Zealand fur seals. It is also a fantastic place to enjoy crayfish: in Maori 'kai' means food and 'koura' means crayfish.

  • Ideal for viewing: sperm whale, dusky dolphin, Gibson’s albatross, Cape petrel, New Zealand fur seal
  • Excellent for: Whale watching

Milford Sound

Situated on the west coast of the South Island is breathtaking Milford Sound, celebrated as New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination. Here lush rainforests cling to cliffs, providing a haven for many endangered bird and insect species, including the charming blue duck, takehe, mohua and kea.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: Hector’s dolphin, Fiordland crested penguin, little blue penguin, New Zealand fur seal, blue duck

Oamaru

Historic Oamaru contains some of New Zealand’s best-preserved Victorian streets and buildings. Along with galleries, shops and museums, including steampunk exhibits, there are fabulous rock formations to see, beautiful public gardens to stroll through and the fabled blue penguin colony to visit.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: little blue penguin, yellow-eyed penguin, New Zealand fur seal, royal albatross, New Zealand sealion

Otago Peninsula

With a 20-kilometre long harbour situated on the east coast of the South Island, the Otago Peninsula is a spectacular spot for marine wildlife. The New Zealand sealion – one of the rarest sealion species – as well as the royal albatross, yellow-eyed penguin and blue penguin can be seen here.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: yellow-eyed penguin, royal albatross, New Zealand sealion, little blue penguin, New Zealand fur seal
  • Excellent for: Penguin watching, Birdwatching

Stewart & Ulva Islands

Stewart Island/Rakiura is New Zealand’s third largest island. Largely untouched by humans, the island provides a haven for native and endangered birds, particularly the southern brown kiwi. Ulva Island is part of Stewart Island and its predator free status makes it an important sanctuary for birds.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: southern brown kiwi, yellow-eyed penguin, saddleback, bottlenose dolphin, red-fronted parakeet

The Catlins

The Catlins is a sparsely populated area of rugged beauty with wide deserted beaches, podocarp forests, rolling hills, scenic landscapes and a host of marine wildlife, including New Zealand fur seal and Hooker’s sealions, and endangered birds such as the yellowhead and the rare yellow-eyed penguin.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: yellow-eyed penguin, New Zealand fur seal, New Zealand sealion, New Zealand pigeon, yellowhead

Nelson

One of the New Zealand's sunniest cities, and the gateway to three of its stunning national parks, Nelson offers the chance to indulge in the Kiwi lifestyle with a mix of art galleries, wineries and outdoor activities.

  • Where: South Island
  • Excellent for: Activity & adventure, City stopover, History & culture

Queenstown

With four distinctive seasons, dramatic mountains, a crystal-clear lake and a host of activities on offer, from the adventurous to the more leisurely, Queenstown is a popular year-round destination.

  • Where: South Island
  • Excellent for: Activity & adventure, City stopover, Hiking

Te Anau & Manapouri

The small, Southland towns of Te Anau and Manapouri are situated on the shores of beautiful lakes. Te Anau is the closest town to Milford Sound, whilst Manapouri is the departure point for Doubtful Sound.

  • Where: South Island
  • Excellent for: Hiking, Wildlife

View trips to these locations

Wildlife trips

New Zealand comprises two main land masses; the South Island, Te Waipounamu, and the North Island, Te Ika-a-Māui, offering spectacular rural scenery. The country's remote islands are home to a unique biodiversity of animal, fungal and plant life. 

1 recommended trip. Our trip ideas are offered to inspire you and can be tailored to suit your requirements.

Kiwis & Whales Galore: South Island Self-drive

This self-drive of New Zealand’s South Island showcases dramatic scenery, from sandy beaches to picturesque snow-capped mountains. Highlights include cetacean-rich Kaikoura, the Otago Peninsula - home to the endangered yellow-eyed penguin - and Stewart Island for southern brown kiwis.

  • When to go: Sep-May
  • Duration inc. flights: 23 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £6,495 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea

When to go

New Zealand is year-round destination, offering spectacular scenery and a plethora of wildlife, however the peak time to visit is during the spring and summer months, when the weather is at its finest. 

Seasons

  • Spring

    Sep to Nov: Spring in New Zealand can vary between cold and frosty to warm and hot, with average temperatures of between 10 – 20 degrees
  • Summer

    Dec to Feb: Long days, sunshine and high temperatures epitomises summer in New Zealand.
  • Autumn

    Mar to May: With temperatures a little cooler than summer, autumn provides sunshine and colourful scenery.
  • Winter

    Jun to Aug: Winter in New Zealand brings cooler temperatures, and is an excellent time to enjoy the glacial and mountain scenery in the s

Wildlife events

  • Nov to Jan:

    New Zealand fur seal breeding season

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