Animals are adorable, and New Zealand just happens to have some of the cutest on Earth. Seriously. Luckily, we know the best spots around the island nation to, well, spot them. Here are eight to take your pick from.
1. Penguins and dolphins at Dunedin
The south island city of Dunedin is home to the Penguin Place, a conservation reserve for the endangered yellow-eyed penguin, best seen during the warmer months between October and March. Our pick for a sure-fire look at them? Take the Dunedin Cruise around the Orago Harbour and Larnach Castle (NZ’s only castle!), where dolphins, sea lions and the northern royal albatross often make an appearance.
2. Whale watching in Kaikoura
Kaikoura, near the northern tip of the South Island, is a stellar spot to see sea creatures big and small—whales, dolphins, sea lions and seabirds all regularly visit this coastal spot. Dolphin tours run three times a day in warmer months and twice a day in cooler months. If you’re a morning person, the sunrise tour is the hot ticket for seeing dolphins at their most interactive (they’re early birds 😜). If you have time, head to Nin Bin’s for the crayfish, which has made global top 10 foodie lists.
3. Blue penguins at Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony
This is where you’ll spot New Zealand’s smallest penguin species, standing just 33cm tall. Hang out until sundown for a chance to see penguins closer than you ever thought possible when they make their way to the shoreline after a busy day of fishing. Elsewhere, the city of Oamaru has some serious steampunk vibes with its heritage buildings and, for busy kids, a funky playground featuring a zipline.
4. Sea lions and seals at Kaka Point, Catlins
Nugget Point is where natural wonders and man-made history intersect. From the lookout atop the 150-year-old Tokata lighthouse, you can peer down below to see a wonderful array of animals regularly visiting the beach including leopard, fur and elephant seals, as well as large, lumbering sea lions. As dusk falls, you’ll likely see troupes of penguins scurrying across the sands at Roaring Bay. This is perfect picnic territory.
5. Birds, birds, birds at Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Wellington
Bird lovers must stop into Zealandia, the world’s first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary. Across more than 500 acres, you’ll discover native birds, reptiles, frogs and plants, all protected from extinction within this sprawling reserve. The after-dark tour (for big kids aged 11 and up) is a real treat – it’s a 2.5-hour walking tour by torch light, where visitors follow the bird songs to try to sort the kakas from the kiwis. Young families will love the day or twilight tours. Want to do more? They also have a volunteer program for serious twitchers!
6. Keas at Arthur’s Pass, Canterbury
Keas are such cheeky little creatures, they’re worth the trek out to the Arthur’s Pass National Park, in the south island’s stunning highlands. Watch your lunch closely if you’re near one, though – they may be friendly but they’ll still steal your food! Arthur’s Pass is a dreamy spot for hiking across riverbeds, forests and past waterfalls. Brave adventurers can also ski Temple Base in winter.
7. Seals at Shag Point Scenic Reserve, Otago
Take a slight detour from the coastal highway between Dunedin and Oamaru for the incredible view at Shag Point, a hotspot for flourishing marine life. At dawn, you’ll see the yellow-eyed penguins pass and in mid-afternoon, it’s the fur seals that stop by, posing like Instagram models on the rocks. Add in a trip to the Moeraki Lighthouse for a full day of adventure.
8. Kiwi’s at Raikura National Park, Stewart Island
You didn’t really think we’d forget about our national icon did you? Although there are plenty of spots around NZ to spot a kiwi, we had to go with Stewart Island, where there are more kiwis than people! Take the hiking trails around the Rakiura National Parkand. Want to immerse yourself deeper in nature? Stay at nearby Anchorstone.
PLAN YOUR NEXT LOCAL GETAWAY
Heads up! Due to COVID-19, government restrictions are in constant review and travel guidelines may change between when you make your booking and when you travel. We strongly recommend that all travellers seek further information about destinations and attractions before visiting, take extra care and follow all rules to ensure their own health and safety.