The islands of New Zealand, and the surrounding oceans, are home to a diverse range of animals, including many species which are native or rare. As locals ourselves, here at Yourdrive, we're experts on all things New Zealand. Here, we share our 7 of our favourite wildlife encounters in the country.
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1. Seals in Cape Foulwind
One of New Zealand’s most accessible seal colonies can be found on the edge of Tauranga Bay, Westport. From the car park at Tauranga Bay, take a 10-minute walk along the well-formed track to the viewing platform directly overlooking the seal colony. Although the colony is in residence year-round, the best time to visit is between October and March when the bull seals return to mate and the seal pups are the most playful.
While seals can look cute and harmless, they’re powerful creatures that can inflict serious injuries to dogs or people and can carry infectious diseases. The Department of Conservation recommends staying at least 20 metres away. Please don’t disturb seals by making loud noises or throwing things, including food.
2. Bird watching on Tiritiri Matangi
Tiritiri Matangi Island is a wildlife sanctuary located 30km northeast of central Auckland and just 4km from the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. You can get there on a 360 Discovery ferry from downtown Auckland (the journey will take 75 minutes) or from Gulf Harbour (the journey will take 20 minutes).
As soon as you step off the ferry, you’ll hear loud birdsong coming from the bush. This predator-free island is home to an estimated 71 species of birdlife, many of which are rare and endangered native birds. Keep an eye out for Takahe, Kiwi, Kaka, and Kōkako.
3. Whales in Kaikoura
Just off the coast of Kaikōura, a 3km deep canyon creates a rare system of sea currents that sustain an incredibly rich marine food chain. This makes the waters here highly attractive to many species of whale including the Sperm whale, Humpback whale, Blue whale, Southern Right whale, Minke whale, Pygmy Sperm whale, and Beaked whale. Head out on a whale watching cruise to see these huge creatures swimming close to the surface or breaching. The sighting success rates on these cruises are so high that many of the providers will guarantee a substantial refund if your tour does not see a whale.
Sperm whales are visible year-round however, you’ll only see males as the females and the young whales prefer warmer tropical waters. Humpback whales can also frequently be seen during winter months. These whales are very acrobatic and often perform displays of spyhopping, breaching, lobtailing and flipper slapping.
4. Wild pigs in Coromandel
In rural Coromandel, down a windy gravel road you’ll find one of the Coromandel’s most popular, albeit unofficial, tourist attractions - a herd of wild pigs. There are dozens of them, of all different sizes and colours, and that number grows by the day as more adorable tiny piglets are born.
The herd is looked after by Stu, who has been living on the family farm since 1954. Stu is a classic kiwi character and while he looks a little dishevelled, he’s super friendly. He knows all of the pigs and will tell you more about each of the characters as you scratch their bellies and pet them.
To find the pigs, venture down 309 Road between Coromandel town and Whitianga. The herd is located 3km down the road, just before the waterworks. As you approach, drive slowly as they wander around like they own the place.
5. Penguins in Milford Sound
Milford Sound is the northernmost of 14 fiords that make up the spectacular coastline of Fiordland National Park, part of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site. Described by Rudyard Kipling as the 'eighth wonder of the world', Milford Sound is a truly breath-taking place. Mountain peaks scrape the sky and waterfalls cascade down cliffs into the still, glistening waters.
This stunning environment is home to a range of wildlife including the Fiordland Crested Penguin (aka Tawaki). This species is one of New Zealand’s rarest mainland penguins meaning it’s not able to be seen in very many places. In Milford Sound, they can be seen most regularly during breeding season, between July and November.
6. Gannet colony Muriwai
The real attraction here is the large gannet colony which nests on the cliffs. Around 1,200 pairs of Gannets nest on these cliffs every year. With their two metre wingspan and nests only centimetres apart, it's entertaining to watch them darting between each other. Once the fluffy chicks hatch, they prepare for a frightening first jump - right off the cliff. You can see the colony in residence from October to February, it is most spectacular at sunset. Hike the 1km long Muriwai Lookout Track through coastal bush to reach the epic lookout platform.
7. Dolphins in Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands, and wider Northland, are a top spot to see dolphins. The friendly, playful creatures flock to the region for its warm waters and sheltered coastline. In the Bay of Islands, you can take a boat trip with one of the many cruise providers to see the Bottlenose and Common dolphins which are in residence year-round. In the cooler months, you may encounter Orcas too. Watch these majestic creatures in their natural habitat from the boat or, if the conditions are right, hop in and swim with them!
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