A guide to where to see wildlife in New Zealand

New Zealand is home to some incredible species, with a wildlife encounter around every corner. Housing few predators, but wildlife-rich, New Zealand is a hotspot for bird enthusiasts, whale watchers and dolphin lovers. A number of endemic species live in this beautiful country so it’s important to keep them protected in protected areas where possible.

Here are some of our top picks for where to see New Zealand wildlife.

Where to see whales in New Zealand?

Kaikoura is the South Islands hidden gem. Walled by mountains and ocean, and two hours north of Christchurch, the coastal town features dramatic landscapes and an abundance of wildlife. Kaikoura is widely recognised as the best place to watch whales in New Zealand and home to a wealth of sperm whales all year round. Other species including humpback and pilot whales can be spotted seasonally, so there are plenty of whale watching opportunities, whether it’s from the deck of a boat or in a private helicopter.

Where to stay: Hapuku Lodge

Cross over into Auckland on the North Island and visit the amazing Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, where you’ll be lucky enough to lay eyes on the beautiful, but critically endangered, Bryde whale. Bryde whales can be seen in the warm water all year round, along with various dolphin species, and back on the park’s mainland, it’s a great place to see kiwi birds in New Zealand too.  

Where to stay: Marino Ridge

Where to swim with dolphins in New Zealand?

It’s no surprise that swimming with dolphins is considered the most unique New Zealand experience by so many, and what better way to witness their true behaviour than swimming alongside these majestic animals in their natural habitat?

Lying in the northernmost tip of New Zealand are the Bay of Islands, an isolated area home to 140 beautiful islands rich in wildlife, forest and sandy beaches, with many opportunities to explore. Its pristine, sheltered water makes it the perfect destination to swim with bottlenose dolphins in New Zealand, whilst spotting other marine species including the common dolphin and migrating whale.

Where to stay: Eagles Nest Villa

The picturesque town of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula, just south of Christchurch is home to the world’s rarest and smallest dolphins, the Hector’s dolphin. Akaroa Harbour is at the centre of the extinct Banks Peninsula Volcano, so the sheltered water makes it a perfect place to swim with these friendly creatures. Endemic to New Zealand and particularly distinctive due to their round dorsal fin and monochrome markings, meeting the curious Hector’s dolphin will be an unforgettable experience.

Where to stay: Annandale

Where to see penguins in New Zealand?

New Zealand’s main penguin species include the world’s smallest but the country’s most common, the little blue penguin, one of the rarest penguin species the Hoihoi, or more commonly known as the the yellow-eyed penguin, and the Fjordland-crested penguin. Although these are among the only penguin species that breed here, it’s likely you’ll encounter others including the snares penguin and endangered white-flippered penguin.

Often referred to as New Zealand’s wildlife capital, Dunedin boasts an array of exciting wildlife and unique landscapes. Across Dunedin’s coastline at Otago Peninsula, you’ll discover breeding colonies of yellow-eyed and little blue penguins. Seeing these cute birds in broad daylight is sure to be a highlight of your trip, and you may even spot a royal albatross or fur seal too.

Stewart Island, or translated from its Maori name Raikoura, ‘land of glowing skies’ is New Zealand’s third largest island. Fjordland crested penguins have made their home here, along with yellow-eyed, little blue and snares penguins. Several other bird species also reside on the island, including the Stewart Island brown kiwi which outnumbers humans here, making it one of the best places to see kiwi birds in New Zealand.

Where to see birds in New Zealand?

Named by Captain Cook after an attempt was made by the Māori to kidnap one of his crew members in 1769, Cape Kidnappers peninsula jutting out into North Island’s Hawkes Bay is a haven for birds. Visit between early November and late February to see the most accessible, and one of the largest, gannet colonies in the world. During this time, you’ll also have the opportunity to discover the rare kiwi bird.

Where to stay: The Farm

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