Popular wildlife experiences in New Zealand

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From swimming with dolphins and whale watching to encounters with kiwi birds and penguins, here's a list of popular wildlife experiences in New Zealand.

Swim with the seals

Seal Swim Kaikoura

Where: Kaikoura, which is a 2.5 hour drive north from Christchurch or 2.5 hours south of Picton.

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New Zealand
Seal comes to investigate, New Zealand

By Seal Swim Kaikoura

Seal comes to investigate

Swimming with wild New Zealand Fur Seals, in the shallow waters of the Kaikoura Peninsula, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It's one of those simple natural experiences that opens your mind to the sheer magnificence of New Zealand's natural environment and its amazing inhabitants. 

A unique natural activity, Seal Swim Kaikoura is locally owned and operated and has won the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence two years running. All equipment is provided and no experience is necessary. Generally suitable for those aged 5 years and over, this is a New Zealand experience you do not want to miss. Operates from October through to May. 

Seal Swim Kaikoura

Swimming with dolphins

Dolphin Eco Experience – AwesomeNZ

Where: Paihia in the Bay of Islands, North Island. Pahia is 30 minutes from the Kerikeri airport or a 3 ½ hour drive north of Auckland.

Swimming with dolphins can be a life changing experience - take this incredible opportunity to swim with dolphins in their natural environment. This intimate half day cruise seeks out the many playful dolphins within the sheltered waters of the Bay. Join the AwesomeNZ crew in searching for those tell tale splashes as Tutunui (their wee boat) gets in really close; jump into the warmest waters in New Zealand and snorkel with these majestic and inquisitive creatures – an experience you will never forget!

Dolphin Eco Experience

Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruises (Black Cat Cruises)

Where: Akaroa, South Island, 1 ½ hours north of Christchurch (airport CHC)

New Zealand
AD245_WEB_LOW_RES, New Zealand

By David Wall

Swim with the Hector's dolphins in the sheltered waters of Akaroa Harbour

Akaroa Harbour is the only place on the entire planet where you can get up close and personal with New Zealand’s playful Hector’s dolphin – the world’s smallest and rarest species.  Explore the stunning scenery of this picturesque seaside village with its majestic sheer sea cliffs and rock formations as you cruise around an extinct volcanic crater. Depart the historic French township of Akaroa aboard one of the Black Cat Cruises to swim with dolphins and view penguins and albatross from aboard too.

Black Cat Cruises

Kiwi bird encounters

Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park, Rotorua

Where: Rotorua, North Island, 3 hour drive southeast of Auckland (airport ROT)

New Zealand
Kiwi George Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park, Rotorua, New Zealand

By Rainbow Springs

Meet little 'George' at Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park, Rotorua

Rainbow Springs is spread over 22 acres of parkland, and offers a truly unique experience for anyone who wants to get to know New Zealand’s wonderful environment and animals, both during the day and at night. Your ticket is valid for 24 hours so visit the nocturnal animals like the kiwi, a shy nocturnal bird as it frollicks on the forest floor. Learn more about kiwi conservation by adding on a Behind the Scenes tour of Kiwi Encounter, which includes a visit to see the Incubation, Hatching and Nursery Rooms where the kiwi chicks are.

Rainbow Springs

Zealandia: The Karori Sanctuary Experience

Where: Wellington, North Island (airport WLG)

New Zealand
Sirocco meets his adoring fans, New Zealand

By © Jo Moore ZEALANDIA, Wellington, NZ

Besides kiwi birds, you can also meet other wildlife at Zealandia like this kakapo named Sirocco.

A self-contained mainland island; ZEALANDIA a unique eco-sanctuary for New Zealand’s native wildlife. Rare species are living wild within one square mile of regenerating forest surrounded by a ground-breaking pest-proof fence. Choose from 32 kilometers of tracks to spot kākā (the playful forest parrot), tuatara (a reptilian living fossil), saddleback, hihi, falcon, takahē, wētā, tūī, robin and many more. Book a night tour to seek out the iconic little spotted kiwi and other nocturnal creatures.


Kiwi Discovery Walks, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers

Where: Hawke’s Bay, North Island, 30 minutes from Napier (airport NPE)

New Zealand
Gannet-Colony, New Zealand

By Cape Kidnappers

Cape Kidnappers also has one of the largest mainland gannet colonies in the world

Kiwi Discovery Walks are now part of the Cape Kidnappers Guest Activity Program at this boutique luxury lodge. Lodge guests are able to take part in a very special activity with Kiwi expert Dr. John McLennan and his team. Dr. McLennan and team offer small groups of guests guided tours, using their radio tracking and monitoring devices. Guests get the chance to get up-close to one of New Zealand’s most endangered and rare birds.

Kiwi Discovery Walks


Whale Watch Kaikoura

Where: Kaikoura, 1 ½ hours north of Christchurch (airport CHC)

New Zealand
whale watch kaikoura, New Zealand

By Whale Watch Kaikoura

Enjoy a spectacular afternoon whale watching in Kaikoura

New Zealand's leading marine based whale watching company offers an exciting up-close encounter with the world's largest toothed predator, the Giant Sperm Whale, in their natural environment at all times of the year. On a typical encounter you’ll see New Zealand Fur Seals, pods of Dusky dolphins and the endangered Wandering Albatross. Depending on the season you may also see migrating Humpback Whales, Pilot Whales, Blue Whales and Southern Right Whales.

Whale Watch Kaikoura

Auckland's Whale & Dolphin Safari

Where: Auckland (airport AKL)

New Zealand
Auckland whale and dolphin safari, New Zealand

By Auckland Tourism

Auckland's Whale and Dolphin Safari in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park

Encounter dolphins and whales in their natural environment right in the heart of Auckland. Daily departures from the Auckland Viaduct. Auckland's Whale & Dolphin Safari takes you out on the beautiful Hauraki Gulf Marine Park which is considered one the most biologically and geographically diverse marine parks in the world. Over 22 species of dolphins and whales have been seen in the Gulf, and we have encounter marine mammals on well over 90% of our trips, the highest success rate of any marine mammal operation in New Zealand.

Auckland's Whale & Dolphin Safari


Penguin Place – The Yellow-Eyed Penguin Conservation Reserve

Where: Dunedin (airport DUD), South Island, 3 hour drive southeast of Queenstown (airport ZQN)

New Zealand
NA03_WEB_LOW_RES Yellow Eyed Penguin, New Zealand

By Chris McLennan

Yellow-Eyed Penguin at Penguin Place, Otago Peninsula

Visitors have the opportunity to visit a working conservation program and to experience and photograph undisturbed penguin activity at close range through a unique system of hides and covered tunnels. The reserve is a private conservation effort to save one of the world’s most endangered penguins, the yellow-eyed penguin, from extinction.  The reserve is funded entirely through the profits from the Penguin Place tour operation.

Penguin Place

Blue Penguin Colony

Where: Oamaru, South Island, 1 hour north of Dunedin (DUD)

New Zealand
NZ - Road to Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, New Zealand

By j-imaging

Road to Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony

See the world's smallest penguins in their natural environment. Blue penguins are found right around the coast of New Zealand and southern Australia, but none closer to human activity than in Oamaru. The birds nest right around the harbour area and the colony offers a unique opportunity for you to observe them at dusk, arriving home from their day at sea and returning to their nests. During the day, you can see the breeding colony and walk around and learn about the penguin’s life cycle and protection/conservation policies.

Blue Penguin Colony