Wild in New Zealand

Na­ture and the curious and fas­ci­nat­ing wildlife that in­habit New Zealand and the seas around it are never far away.

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Na­ture and the curious and fas­ci­nat­ing wildlife that in­habit New Zealand and the seas around it are never far away in this land, even within the busiest ur­ban cen­tres. Some­times re­ferred to as “the youngest coun­try on Earth”, the com­bi­na­tion of New Zealand's rel­a­tive ge­o­log­i­cal youth and iso­la­tion from other great land masses has helped cre­ate a liv­ing “Noah's Ark” of amaz­ing and of­ten unique wildlife species. New Zealan­ders are lucky enough to share their home with many fas­ci­nat­ing crea­tures, and vis­i­tors will find plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to see them year round. You may spot a fam­ily of dol­phins fol­low­ing your boat or ferry, and it’s not un­usual to see whales and orca within sight of Auck­land or lit­tle blue pen­guins on Welling­ton’s city fringe – but there are also many spe­cial places where you can see them up-close. One of the best times to ob­serve any wildlife is dur­ing the breed­ing cycles from spring through to early sum­mer. And - here's a hint - if you go with a guide, you’ll have the best op­por­tu­nity to find them be­cause they know the best places and times to spot the lo­cals at home. Some of the first ex­am­ples of unique wildlife that vis­i­tors are bound to no­tice are the many species of for­est birds found only in New Zealand. The parks and back­yards of Auck­land's ur­ban sprawl and Welling­ton's in­ner sub­urbs are filled with the sound of song­birds such as the bossy green black tui - some­times re­ferred to as the par­son bird for its tuft of white feath­ers un­der the neck - or the per­fectly pitched green bell­bird that’s harder to spot high in the trees. If you’re an early bird, you might wake up to a dawn cho­rus in full swing. That’s likely to hap­pen if you overnight in any one of New Zealand's many and ex­ten­sive con­ser­va­tion do­mains. New Zealand has 14 na­tional parks and one of the high­est rates of pro­tected ar­eas in the world with one third of the coun­try pro­tected. Off­shore, there’s a rich and com­plex marine en­vi­ron­ment that ranges from sub­trop­i­cal to sub-antarc­tic habi­tats home to over 15,000 known species, many unique in the world. One of the first coun­tries to cre­ate ocean re­serves, New Zealand’s ser­pen­tine coast­line has 44 marine re­serves, coastal gems of­fer­ing ac­ces­si­ble div­ing and snorkelling lo­ca­tions.

Pen­guins - Oa­maru

Many dif­fer­ent kinds of pen­guins – com­i­cal and clumsy on land, grace­ful and el­e­gant in the wa­ter – can be found on the cooler fringes of New Zealand, in­clud­ing in Akaroa, Ste­wart Is­land and the Marl­bor­ough Sounds. The South Is­land’s west coast is home to one of the world’s rarest pen­guins – the Fiord­land Crested, which prefers some of the re­motest parts of the coun­try. One of the best pen­guin spots is Oa­maru, where you’ll see both the yel­low-eyed pen­guin and the world’s small­est pen­guin, the lit­tle blue pen­guin. The yel­low-eyed pen­guins are very shy, and are best spot­ted early morn­ing or late af­ter­noon from one of the public hides near the beaches. They gather in the largest num­bers be­tween Septem­ber and Fe­bru­ary.

Dol­phins – Marl­bor­ough Sounds

From the tiny and dis­tinc­tive hec­tor’s dol­phin (a na­tional trea­sure) to the com­pact com­mon dol­phin and the sleek grey bot­tlenose, New Zealand’s coast­lines are home to a wide range of dol­phins. These play­ful and in­quis­i­tive crea­tures are of­ten as in­ter­ested in vis­i­tors as the vis­i­tors are in them, so it’s lucky that both groups have the chance to meet each other through­out the year. All three species are found in the Marl­bor­ough Sounds year round, and in the warmer sum­mer months, there are of­ten orca - the largest of the dol­phin species - chas­ing stingrays around the bays as well.

Whales - Kaik­oura

Whales are gi­ants of the sea but with many qual­i­ties that seem to make them hu­man, some­thing recog­nised in Maori myth and leg­end. Kaik­oura is an iconic des­ti­na­tion for those want­ing to catch a glimpse of these in­cred­i­ble an­i­mals. From here, pods of sperm whales can be seen through­out the year but be­tween June and Au­gust, things get re­ally in­ter­est­ing. Other species of whale, such as the hump­back, make their yearly mi­gra­tion from the Antarc­tic up to warmer climes, and the Kaik­oura coast pro­vides the per­fect stopover for them. On the Kaik­oura Penin­sula, you’ll also find a colony of New Zealand fur seals en­joy­ing the sun­shine on rocky beaches. Now pro­tected, the fur seal is mak­ing a big come­back from the days when they were hunted for their skins.

Al­ba­tross Colony – Otago Penin­sula

No less an author­ity than Bri­tish nat­u­ral­ist Sir David At­ten­bor­ough has de­scribed the Otago Penin­sula as “a very spe­cial place” and it’s not hard to see why. With the world’s only main­land breed­ing al­ba­tross colony at Ta­iaroa Head, it’s pos­si­ble for vis­i­tors to see these ma­jes­tic seabirds with a wing­span of more than three me­tres soar­ing at speeds of up to 120 km per hour. Visit be­tween Septem­ber and Novem­ber to see the breed­ing birds ar­riv­ing at the head­land and build­ing nests. Chicks hatch from late Jan­uary to late Fe­bru­ary and, aided by a strong gust of wind, take their first flight in Septem­ber.

Kiwi – Kapiti Is­land

For such a well-known New Zealand icon, the kiwi can be sur­pris­ingly elu­sive. This small, snuffly bird’s shy­ness and noc­tur­nal habits can make spot­ting one a chal­lenge. They are also en­dan­gered and threat­ened by preda­tors such as dogs, cats and stoats, so see­ing them wild is some­thing only the lucky ex­pe­ri­ence. They can be spot­ted in their na­tive habi­tat at night on Ste­wart Is­land, off the bot­tom of the South Is­land, with the help of the ex­pe­ri­enced guides from Bravo Ad­ven­ture Cruises. To up your chances you might visit a sanc­tu­ary, such as Kapiti Is­land. Here, among a kiwi pop­u­la­tion of 1400, the bird is rou­tinely seen on the is­land’s night tours and there is ac­com­mo­da­tion for overnight stays. Some wildlife parks, such as Christchurch’s Wil­low­bank, have cre­ated ar­ti­fi­cial night-time en­vi­ron­ments, so vis­i­tors can walk (silently) through an en­clo­sure within me­tres of the birds but it is also pos­si­ble to see them in cap­tiv­ity at Auck­land Zoo, Rain­bow Springs in Ro­torua and Kiwi Birdlife Park in Queen­stown. If you want to see cute chicks in the breed­ing fa­cil­i­ties, the best time to visit is Septem­ber to April.

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