New Zealand’s locals are a wild bunch – the ones with wings, feathers, fins or fur, that is. Here are some favourites to familiarise yourself with…
Kaikoura is also one of the country’s best places to go whale-watching. Keep your eyes peeled for giant sperm whales, dusky dolphins and albatross all year round. In winter, you might see humpback whales; other whales that can be spotted (in season) include pilot whales, blue whales and Southern Right whales.
Akaroa Harbour in Canterbury – 75 kilometres from Christchurch – is the only place in the world that Hector dolphins call home. Swim alongside the rarest, smallest dolphin species with Black Cat Cruises, which will also introduce you to local penguins and albatross. Akaroa itself is stunning: a picturesque seaside village with sheer cliffs and volcanic craters. At Paihia in the Bay of Islands, a three-drive from Auckland, you can swim with playful dolphins around the bay. More than 22 different species of dolphin and whale have been spied in the wildlife-rich waters of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, North Island.
New Zealand’s national symbol, the flightless kiwi bird, has always been a cultural heavyweight. Māori believe the bird is under the special protection of Tane Mahuta, the god of the forest. Rainbow Springs Nature Park in Rotorua, North Island, has 22 acres of parkland where you can spy on kiwi foraging along the forest floor. Tickets are valid for 24 hours, meaning you can see the birds at night (when they’re most lively). If you sign up for a Kiwi Encounter Tour, you might also get to see incubating, hatching and nesting chicks. Zealandia Sanctuary in Wellington has prime kiwi-spotting potential; alternatively, try Stewart Island (aka Rakiura), where kiwis live alongside penguins, weka, kākā, albatross and other native birds.
Penguin-boffins will already know that New Zealand is the only place in the world where yellow-eyed penguins live in the wild. Their favoured hangouts include: South Island, Stewart Island, Auckland Islands and Campbell Island. The Penguin Place in Dunedin is equipped with bird-spying hides, trenches and tunnels. A blue penguin colony resides at Oamaru, South Island (one hour north of Dunedin). At dusk, watch them waddling up the beach after a long day spent seafaring.
WILD FUR SEALS
New Zealand came dangerously close to losing its wild fur seas or kekeno in the 1700s, when hungry Polynesians and pelt- and blubber-seeking sealers wiped out seal colonies around the South Island. Thanks to conservation efforts, the population is a healthy size again. Swim with wild fur seals in Kaikoura, a 2.5hr drive north of Christchurch or south of Picton. Set off with Seal Swim Kaikoura between October and May.