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Marlborough is a natural paradise of birds, marine animals and wildlife just waiting to be explored.
Rare species that call Marlborough home include the New Zealand falcon, king shag, Ōkarito rowi kiwi, South Island saddleback, longtailed bat, the giant Mount Augustus snail and Hector’s dolphin; and, there are many more unique creatures to be seen in the region that are unusual to be so accessible in the wild.
One of the rarest birds in the world, the King Shag, is found only in the Marlborough Sounds. Spotted by Captain Cook in 1773, the population has remained at around 600 for the past 100 years. Tours can take you right near their nesting grounds and a good zoom lens can get you a stunning close up of this amazing species.
The Ōkarito rowi kiwi, with a population of just 400 nationwide, is another rare bird in the region. As part of a project to increase the population, eggs are taken from the kiwi’s natural habitat on the South Island’s West Coast, hatched in captivity, then the chicks are taken to Motuara Island in the Queen Charlotte Sound to grow to adolescence, before being returned home.
The New Zealand falcon, the karearea, is the country’s only native falcon and has been a protected species since 1970. Marlborough has a breeding programme to attempt to boost numbers in the area, and you can see the karearea up close at Brancott Estate Heritage Centre's onsite aviary and Living Land Falcon Encounter.
Keep your binoculars handy as there are also many other native bird species to spot around Marlborough including the kakariki, South Island saddle back and blue penguin. The Wairau Lagoons, the earliest settled area by humans in New Zealand, has 90 species of birds, including the unusual looking royal spoonbill.
The Marlborough Sounds is home to a number of native bird sanctuaries that are accessible for visitors including Motuara Island and Kaipupu Point Sounds Wildlife Sanctuary - a mainland island community project located near Picton and accessible by a short boat trip, providing a safe haven for wildlife including fantail, kereru, weka, silvereye, grey warbler, tui, bellbird, and kingfisher.
The nutrient-rich Marlborough Sounds is one of the few places in the world where you can view five different types of dolphins – bottlenose, common, dusky, orca and the rare Hector’s’ dolphin. These friendly marine mammals often covet attention, riding in the bow and wake of boats and doing amazing acrobatic feats to cheers and claps.
You can often see dolphins on a cruise in the Marlborough Sounds, or head out on a specialised tour to view or swim with dolphins.
Fur seals are also regularly seen around the Marlborough Sounds and along Marlborough's east coast.
Rare sightings – usually in the Cook Strait – can also be seen of whales, including the humpback, southern right and pygmy blue whale.
If you’re interested in delving deeper, visit the Long Island - Kokomohua Marine Reserve at the entrance to Queen Charlotte Sound - a New Zealand Department of Conservation Coastal Gem. Islands are attached by a largely submerged reef, where you can see schools of fish such as perch and tarakihi, plenty of rock lobster, as well as many large and bold blue cod in the reserve.
Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve, an ancient native forest, is home to the long tailed bat – one of the last remaining populations in Marlborough. Also a location for the Hobbit movie and featuring many native birds, this is a beautiful spot to visit and a great campsite to spend a night or two.
One of New Zealand’s most threatened invertebrates, the Giant Mount Augustus snail, can be found in the Marlborough Sounds. Living up to 20 years and growing to the size of a fist, these are no ordinary garden snails and shouldn’t be picked up.
There are a range of tour options for you to experience some of Marlborough’s amazing species, or you can do your research and go on your own hunt.
For more about Marlborough bird life, marine life and wildlife, and how to experience them, head to MarlboroughNZ.com
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