Top Wildlife Sanctuaries in Marlborough

Marlborough is home to many rare and unique birds, marine animals and wild creatures.

Marlborough is home to many rare and unique birds, marine animals and wild creatures. See nature up close in its brilliant habitat, a natural paradise just waiting to be explored.

It is about getting out of the urban jungles and back to nature. Immerse yourself in the wildlife by kayaking out io the water, cruising through the sheltered waters of the Marlborough Sounds on a tour, or go for a wander along the trails it's a must do to get up and close.


Blumine Island Sanctuary

Camp on beautiful Blumine Island to hear kiwi at night and wake to a beautiful dawn chorus. When Joseph Banks visited Queen Charlotte Sound during Captain Cook’s first voyage there, he wrote of the being woken by the sound of birds singing from ashore.

“Their numbers were certainly very great. They seemed to strain their throats with emulation, and made, perhaps, the most melodious wild music I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells, but with the most tunable silver imaginable.”

There’s a great walk around the island to the gun emplacement on the Oruawairua Track.

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Wairau Lagoons

The Wairau Lagoons near Blenheim are rich with wildlife, with 90 species of birds. They are also rich with history, with the lagoons first used as a hunting ground by Māori 800 years ago and being the earliest known area in New Zealand to be settled by humans.

In spring, look out for the royal spoonbill showing off their mating plumage and godwits landing from their 12-day, 12,000km (nearly 7,500 mile), annual migration from the Arctic Circle. The best time to spot them is during low tide when they feed on worms, larvae and molluscs.

The lagoons cover 2,000 hectares (nearly 5,000 acres), rest behind an 8km (5 mile) long boulder bank, and feature 19km of canals and channels dug by early Māori to link natural waterways.

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Marlborough Sounds Wildlife Recovery Centre

Join Lochmara Lodge under the sea in their underwater observatory. The vessel is permanently moored at Lochmara Lodge in the sheltered Marlborough Sounds, with plenty of standing room and windows on both sides. A few of the species you may see are carpet sharks, stingrays, crayfish, blue cod, tarakihi, conga eels and diving shags. Feed the stingrays and meet the NZ marine life in their seaside touch tank. The underwater observatory will also be used to research ways to enhance the Marlborough Sounds and increase the dwindling populations of a variety of species.

While there, go for a self guided nature walk behind the lodge to come face to face with kune kune pigs, weta, gecko and eels, or to help feed the kakariki iin the aviary, which are part of a breeding programme.

Lochmara Lodge’s Wildlife Recovery Centre in the Marlborough Sounds near Picton is focused on the rehabilitation of injured wild species, in partnership with the Department of Conservation, as well protection, enhancement and education.

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Motuara Island bird sanctuary

It’s taken an enormous amount of work over decades to return the bush and the birds to islands like Motuara in the Queen Charlotte Sound, which was covered in lush forest when Captain James Cook used it to claim British sovereignty over the South Island in 1770.

The bird sanctuary is now predator free, and visitors can walk to a lookout at the top, via tui, bellbird, cheeky robins and fantails, as well as yellow-crowned parakeets and around 200 South Island saddleback. Cruises depart from Picton daily for trips to the island, which is about an hour by boat.

You’ll see Little Blue Penguins in one of the strategically placed nesting boxes, with downy chicks in residence, but the most important species on the island - the nocturnal Okarito brown kiwi - is hidden from sight to most.

There are just 400 rowi nationwide, and the birds here are part of Project Rowi and Operation Nest Egg, through which eggs are removed from the natural habitat of Okarito on the West Coast, hatched in captivity, and the chicks taken to Motuara to grow through to adolescence, before being returned home.

Spot the king shag, a rare bird with a population of 500-600, which sit off Motuara Island, three other nearby islands, and nowhere else in the world. These birds are shy and precious, so keep at least 100 metres from their nesting and roosting sites.

Plus don't forget about the truly stunning lookout of the Marlborough Sounds which is an added bonus.

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Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve

The Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve is home to one of the last remaining populations of long tailed bats in Marlborough.

On warm evenings, they might be seen flying in the twilight, high in the forest canopy or along the river. Later on, look around streetlights, where they sometimes forage for moths. There is a camping ground at Pelorus, so pack a tent and linger at this beautiful spot.

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Maud Island

Maud island is home to a full array of wildlife including geckos, skinks and frogs.

Birdlife inhabiting the island include keruru (NZ wood pigeon), tui, bellbird, fantail, pipit, silvereye, shining cuckoo, kingfisher, faclon, kahu/harrier and morepork. Around the island's coast you could encounter gulls, king shags, fluttering shearwater, caspian and white-fronted terns, black-fronted terns and arctic skua.

A remnant of 15 hectares in Home Bay is an example of the original native forest that used to cover Maud island. Trees include kohokohe, tawa, pukatea, mahoe and tawa.

Trips to Maud Island only run a few days per year. Contact one of the Marlborough i-SITEs for information on the next excursion, and get yourself a seat before they book out.

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