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New Zealand is no Africa. You’re not going to come across the likes of zebras, elephants and lions unless you take a trip to the zoo.

What you will find though, is an intriguing mix of flightless birds, birds that can fly, marine mammals and even birds that swim: penguins!.

Natural history

In basic terms, there were no humans or animals here until around 800 years ago – so the birds that flew here before then didn’t need to fly. Maori brought dogs and rats with them from Polynesia, while the Europeans who came later brought all sorts of animals – though thankfully no snakes! These introductions had a devastating effect on the wildlife that was here beforehand.

Wildlife hotspots

These days, wildlife watching is a cherished activity. The Otago Peninsula is a hotspot, where you can view albatrosses, seabirds, penguins, seals and sea lions. Kaikoura makes a living out of its whale watching operations, while you’ll want to head to Oamaru to see Little Blue Penguins. Dolphin encounters can be experienced at various spots around the country.


New Zealand has an ambitious plan to be predator-free by 2050. Predator-free islands with burgeoning native bird populations that you can visit include Ulva Island and Tiritiri Matangi. Wellington’s Zealandia is a predator-free urban eco-sanctuary within the capital’s city boundaries.

Royal Albatross Centre

Watch the big birds at Taiaroa Head

Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony

Watch the nightly penguin parade

Cape Palliser

Rugged Wairarapa coast, seals & walk (1.5hr)

Dolphin Encounter

Swim with Dusky dolphins

International Antarctic Centre

Learn about the 'white continent'

Kapiti Island

Predator-free bird sanctuary

Penguin Place

Yellow-eyed penguin spotting

Point Kean Seal Colony

Wildlife up close & personal

Sandfly Bay Walk

Wildlife on Otago Peninsula (1.5-2hrs return)

Te Anau Bird Sanctuary

See a living takahe!

Tiritiri Matangi Island

Predator-free bird sanctuary

Ulva Island (Te Wharawhara)

Predator-free paradise for birds

Whale Watch Kaikoura

Near-guaranteed whale sightings

Zealandia (Te Māra a Tāne)

Predator-fenced urban eco-sanctuary

Text © Craig McLachlan

Image by Tomas Sobek on Unsplash