Explore Wellington's nature and wildlife sanctuaries

Wellington offers a variety of nature experiences - walking in forest parks, enjoying native birdlife on nearby islands, and diving into marine reserves.

Visitors to Wellington can experience nature and historic reserves, marine reserves, and a range of walking, cycling and snorkelling trails.

Matiu/Somes, Kapiti, and Mana Islands provide a safe haven for native wildlife and are popular destinations for day trips. 

For marine life, Taputeranga Marine Reserve on the south coast and Kapiti Marine Reserve on the Kapiti Coast are two of the Coastal Gems.

The Rimutaka Forest Park and the Tararua Ranges offer walking and hiking tracks for all ages and abilities. For those wanting to stay overnight, accommodation is available.

Matiu / Somes Island Scientific and Historic Reserve

Located in Te Whanganui-a-Tara / Wellington Harbour, Matiu / Somes Island is the largest of three islands in the harbour, and is a tranquil retreat for wildlife and visitors alike. Access is by ferry from downtown Wellington.

Māori have occupied this island for generations. In more recent times, Matiu / Somes Island has served as a human and animal quarantine station, an internment camp, and a military defence position for both World Wars.

Well-graded walking tracks allow visitors to explore the island. Accommodation is also available.

Taputeranga Marine Reserve

At Taputeranga Marine Reserve, located 6 km from the city centre on Wellington's south coast, over 180 fish species have been recorded. Octopus, rock lobsters, crabs and starfish are common. Anemones, sea sponges and sea squirts thrive.
The Island Bay Snorkel Trail is an ideal place to investigate the marine life in the reserve. A track along the beach allows walkers to enjoy the Marine Reserve.

Fishing and the removal or disturbance of any living or non-living marine resource is prohibited.

Kapiti Island Nature Reserve

Kapiti Island Nature Reserve, situated 5 km off the west coast of the lower North Island, is home to many native species that are either very rare or entirely absent from the mainland.
Kokako,  kaka, weka, brown teal/pateke, saddleback/tieke, stitchbird/hihi, takahe, North Island tomtit/miromiro and little spotted kiwi/kiwi pukupuku plus many others call Kapiti Island home.
There are two areas on the island with tracks open to the public - Rangatira Point, and Waiorua Bay at the Northern end of the island.
Home to over 1400 little spotted kiwi, a night visit to Kapiti Island offers visitors to chance to see the iconic New Zealand bird in their natural habitat. Overnight accommodation is available at the North end.

Waikanae Estuary

The Waikanae Estuary is a nationally-significant reserve which protects a natural mosaic of freshwater lakelets, saltwater lagoons and marshes, tidal sand flats and sandy beach at the mouth of the Waikanae River.
It connects the Kapiti Marine Reserve and Kapiti Island Nature Reserve, providing a rare sequence of protection for animals which move between sea, river and land habitats.

The river and estuary is a tidal home and airport to a variety of waders and sea birds. More than 60 species of birds breed there, including banded dotterel, pukeko, dabchick, and variable oystercatcher.
Wheel chair friendly walking tracks allow people to explore this unique environment.

Mana Island Scientific Reserve

Walking tracks around Mana Island offer impressive views of steep-sided and flat-topped island. A restored Wool Shed houses historic displays of the island’s past. 

Many bird species can be seen on Mana Island including takahe, blue penguin/korora, brown teal/ pateke, fluttering shearwater/pakahā, Australasian gannet/takapu, yellow-crowned parakeet/kakariki, little spotted kiwi/ kiwi pukupuku and North Island robin/toutouwai.

Rimutaka Forest Park

Beech forest dominates much of the Rimutaka Forest Park, joined by podocarps at lower altitudes. These forests support hundreds of indigenous plant species and provide habitat for a range of invertebrates, freshwater fish, reptiles and birds including reintroduced brown kiwi.
The Catchpool Valley entrance and campsite is the most popular entrance to the park. The track into the valley is suitable for family groups. There is also hut accommodation, within two to three hour’s hike into the valley.

Turakirae Head Scientific Reserve

Turakirae Head offers earthquake-raised beaches that record a continuous geological upheaval over the past 7,000 years.
Wellington’s largest fur seal colony is within an easy flat walk from the main car park.

The Wild Coast Track cycle trail passes through Turakirae Head.
This is part of the Rimutaka cycle trail, a trail which cuts through the bush-clad Rimutaka Mountain Range, passing through tunnels on an old rail trail, and skirting around the wild southern coast.

Visiting predator-free islands

Three islands near Wellington - Matiu/Somes, Kapiti, and Mana Islands, which are managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC), provide a protected area for native wildlife.  To keep the islands predator and pest free, visitors must inspect their bags and footwear for ants, rodents, seeds, soil and leaves before landing on the island.

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