Sorry (not sorry) to keep harping on about New Zealand and its endless beauty but this country of ours really is a slice of heaven. We’ve covered all the gorgeous Aotearoa goodies—from great walks and nature encounters to beaches, waterfalls and natural hot pools—and now it’s time to dive into the ultimate of ultimate Mother Nature-esque activities.
We’re talking New Zealand’s best wildlife activities. There’s wildlife galore in New Zealand and unlike our cousins over the ditch, none of it wants to kill you. On that note, here are the best wildlife activities in New Zealand. They’ll be some of the best experiences you’ll ever have!
Swim With Dolphins
This is literally your Little Mermaid dreams come true. New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to swim with wild dolphins so it would be rude not to partake in this magical wildlife activity. These wondrous creatures have a serious case of curiosity and are known to swim around and under people, almost like they’re trying to get you to play with them. Kaikoura, Bay of Plenty, Marlborough Sounds and Bay of Islands are all great spots to swim with dolphins in their natural environs—the only way it should be. Pro tip: head to Akaroa for a chance to get acquainted with Hector’s dolphins—the world’s smallest (and cutest) dolphin.
Or With Seals!
These friendly fellas are also known as Dog of the Sea and once you swim with them, you’ll understand why. Seals are a playful bunch who love showing off via endless shows of impressive acrobatics. While they’re often playful under water, they can sometimes get a bit cranky on land. It’s best to lock in a tour with the pros (Seal Swim Kaikoura have got it sussed) so your DIY seal swim doesn’t end with grumpy seals and a disheartened human.
Get Up Close And Personal With Our Native Bird
When in the land of the Kiwis it would make sense to try and lay your eyes on at least one said kiwis. Unlike some other New Zealand bird species, trying to spot a kiwi is easier said than done. And before you even say it—nope, they don’t roam around like pigeons. These little guys tend to only come out at night...in dark bush areas....in remote forests. Let’s just say they like to play hard to get. Your best bet at seeing a kiwi in the wild is by jumping on a tour (Okarito Kiwi Tours and Stewart Island Wild Kiwi Encounter are both great) or you’re likely to end up aimlessly wandering in the dark. There are also five kiwi sanctuaries set up by DOC or several zoos and wildlife parks across the country house and look after kiwi.
On Ya Horse
Giddy up! Whether you’re a LOTR fan or not (if you fall into the latter group then who the hell are ya?), exploring Middle Earth on horseback should go straight on your New Zealand wildlife activity bucket list. Firstly, the scenery is b-e-a-utiful and secondly, horses are really cool. There are horse trekking tours that have you galloping along white sandy beaches, through lush native forest, along pebbly rivers with snow-capped mountains in the background and so much more. For that classic LOTR experience, head to Glenorchy or if it’s the sea breeze you’re after, Pakiri Beach or Wharariki Beach are winners.
Hang Out With Happy Feet
Or Pingu, depending which year you came into this world. Either way, we can all agree that penguins are adorable. ADORABLE. New Zealand is home to three species of penguin—the Fiordland Crested penguin, yellow-eyed penguins and korora or little blue penguin. These charming wee things are mainly found in the South and lower North Islands where they march, waddle and get up to all sorts of mischief.
Experience The Magic Of Whale Watching
Nothing can prepare you for the flurry of excitement when you see the world’s largest mammal swim on past. New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to watch whales with the chance to spot sperm whales, orcas, humpback whales and a handful more. Kaikoura is the go-to spot for whale watching in New Zealand with an almost 100 percent guarantee that you’ll lay eyes on one of the majestic creatures plus the possibility of seeing seals and dolphins, too. Marlborough Sounds and the Hauraki Gulf are also frequented stomping grounds for whales.
Meet “The Most Legendary Of All Birds”
Aka. the albatross. If you’re a lover of birds it might be time to think about a trip to Dunedin. The Royal Albatross Centre is the world’s only mainland breeding ground for these impressive seabirds and works to keep them happy, healthy and in tip-top albatross baby-making condition. It’s in the same area as a 19th-century fort, built in 1885 in case the Russian decided to invade us. The centre is also home to little blue penguins who park up on the beach. Oh, and Sir David Attenborough said: “it is a place every visitor to Dunedin should see.” Off you go, then!
Or Muriwai’s Permanent Tenants
Just an hour’s drive from Auckland and you’ll be able to bare witness to one of the most spectacular bird colonies in New Zealand. From August to March Muriwai comes to life with the hustle and bustle of gannets, who perch on the cliff to nest. How there aren’t more in-flight collisions is beyond us—more than 1000 pairs descend on the colony until their chicks hatch and become fluffy bundles of joy. Eventually, the chicks will take the almighty plunge of the cliff in the hope to return a few years later after spending time in Australia.
Spend Time In A Sanctuary
Us Kiwis (the people, not the bird) take wildlife protection very, very seriously. Entire islands have been eradicated of nasty pests so that birds and the like can live in peace, just as it was before humans BYO’d rabbits, possums and other predators and screwed it for the native species. Tiritiri Matangi, a 75-minute ferry ride from Auckland, is one of New Zealand’s best conservation projects and a must-visit for nature-lovers. Kapiti Island, Moutohora in Bay of Plenty, Ulva Island down South, Zealandia and Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari are a few of the many others doing their bit to keep New Zealand’s wildlife flourishing.
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Image Credit: Kyle Mulinder