NZ is not abundant in native mammalian wildlife, with the only native land mammal being the bat! However, there are still many unique and wonderful creatures to see including a number of incredible flightless birds - the most famous being the kiwi of course, and dinosaur age relics - the tuatara, Archey's frog, and giant weta. Some of these are truly difficult to see in the wild, others are not. This list gives any animal lover a few options:
Where to see New Zealand's unique animals in the wild
1. Kiwi – three good places are Stewart Island, Tiritirimatangi Island reserve near Aucklandand Tawharanui Regional Park north of Auckland. Camp out in any of these three and you should get lucky. You do have to go out at night to see them of course as they are nocturnal (apart from this one unusual time - check it out). However, you should hear their distinctive call from your bed if you don’t want to venture out!
2. Glow-worms – of course the Waitomo caves are famous for the glow-worms and a great spot to see them, but being tour-based it doesn’t feel ‘wild.’ However there are caves and dells all over the country with glow-worms so just ask around. A good cave is at Anchorage Beach Nelson, and near Waitomo take the short and beautiful Ruakuri walk in the evening to see plenty of glow-worms for free, or walk down to the Bridal Veil Falls near Raglan. Alternatively a great spot is just outside Hokitika - the glow-worm dell. But definitely ask around as there are local sites all over.
3. Seals – there are plenty of spots where you are far more than likely to see seals hanging around the beach. Start with Abel Tasman, Farewell Spit or Wharariki Beach in Golden Bay, Cape Palliser in the Wairarapa, Tauranga Bay near Cape Foulwind on the West Coast, and of course Ohau waterfall near Kaikoura as well as Kaikoura itself!
4. Eels – unusual – do you get eels in other countries. An easy spot, where the eels have been fed a while (so not really in the wild) is at the Jester-house Cafe near Nelson. Most small, slower flowing rivers have them and you probably don’t want to meet one unawares. Ask locals as they may know a good spot to ‘fish’ for them – smelly meat will do it!
5. Penguins – NZ has a few different species of penguin and you might be lucky to catch a ‘little blue’ in a number of places including Wellington and Auckland beaches. However Oamaru is a great spot to see both yellow-eyed penguins and blue penguins. Go to Bushy Beach in the evening to see the yellow-eyed, but to see the blues there is a fee so I would try elsewhere for a more wild experience. You are also quite likely to see the same penguins at Moeraki (Katiki Point) and yellow-eyed penguins at Sandfly Bay Dunedin or Curio Bay near the Petrified Forest.
6. Albatross – another place to see blue penguins is at the Albatross centre near Dunedin. You also of course get to see the albatross! You can go it alone and see the albatross, but there is a tour in the area and one that I would probably go on again (I really do not like tours so this is saying something!)
7. Tuatara – sadly you are unlikely to see Tuatara in the wild without a lot of effort, as they mostly live on offshore islands, other than one place - Matiu Somes island in Wellington where you have a reasonable chance to see one. One other possibility (with the added bonus of kiwi) is Tiritiri Matangi Island Reserve near Auckland. There are places to see them in reserves and I will mention two good ones – Mt Bruce Wildlife Center in the Wairarapa and also the Karori Sanctuary in Wellington where they are semi-wild.
8. Giant Weta – again, it will be hard to see the giant weta in the wild unless you are dedicated - they live only on Great Barrier Island and then you will have to traipse around at night to locate one. However you may well see its smaller relatives – cave, tree and ground wetas on your trip. Keep your eyes open in caves and the bush, see the weta we found in a cave in the Abel Tasman in the picture. Stay on farms, near the bush, or go hiking and leave your boots outside. Check before you put them on in the morning to see if you have ‘caught’ a weta! Read this article about the largest insect in the world - and this one that likes eating carrots!
9. Kea – famous for its cheek and high level of intelligence, the kea is a favourite of all – until it attacks your car! The large, and only, mountain parrot is usually seen at Arthurs Pass, Mount Cook village, and the Franz Joseph glacier car-park. However, around Milford and all South Islands mountains you may see them at any time. Do be wary, they are estimated to have the intelligence of a five year old (I would say more) and can wreak havoc when they set their mind to it. I have seen a group of them pull the rubber from the rear window in a campervan until the entire large window fell out and shattered. They will also happily steal things from your pack if you leave it lying around when hiking.
10. Dolphins and whales – dolphins can be seen anywhere at any time. However, some places they are regularly seen are Abel Tasman, Kaikoura, and Akaroa. Whales of various kinds are similarly seen in many places and sadly strand themselves every few years in places like Golden Bay. More and more they are returning to the Auckland area as well, and a few weeks ago my cousins were out in their small boat in the Hauraki Gulf when a group of orcas cruised by – right by (see below)! Whale watching trips from Kaikoura, Whakatane, and the Bay of Islands are well known with Kaikoura probably being the best bet as the huge sperm whales are there year round.