Sea Kayak in Milford Sound, New Zealand

Unique Places for Wildlife Spotting on Your New Zealand Vacation

Travel to the “Land of the Long White Cloud’ to see the world’s largest gannet colony, the only mainland albatross breeding colony on the planet, and the world’s smallest penguin. A New Zealand vacation is often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts. The country’s diverse landscapes and isolation from the rest of the world has resulted in an abundance of rare and unique bird and wildlife from the tip of the North Island to the very bottom of the South.

Read on to discover our favourite places to spot wildlife in New Zealand. Don’t forget your binoculars!

Cape Kidnappers

Start your New Zealand vacation at Cape Kidnappers, so named by the British explorer, Captain James Cook, after an attempt by local Maori to abduct a member of his crew in the late 1760s. Set over 13 hectares on the east coast of the North Island, in the Hawkes Bay region, Cape Kidnappers is home to the world’s largest and most accessible gannet colony, with numbers nearing 20,000 over four separate sites.

A member of the booby family, gannets are easily identified by a blue rim around their eyes and a pale gold crown. Travellers can tour the Cape on foot or by tractor rides along the beach, viewing adults and their young nesting, preening each other, and rubbing heads and beaks together during courtships. Just remember to only leave footprints in the sand and take your litter with you!

Best time to visit: September to early May

Suggested Itinerary:
3-Day Farm at Cape Kidnappers – Stay of Distinction

Gannet Colony at Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand
Gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers

Otago Peninsula

Pass over Cook Strait by plane or ferry and head to the east coast of the South Island and the “wildlife capital of New Zealand” – the Otago Peninsula. Head to the Albatross Centre, located at the foot of Taiaroa Head, to witness first-hand, the only mainland albatross breeding colony in the world. These impressive birds, with a wingspan of around 10 feet, come here to build their nests and raise their young.

For a chance to see the endangered yellow-eyed penguin (or hoiho in Maori) make your way to Penguin Place where a series of tunnels, tracks, and hiding spots allow visitors to view the penguins without disturbing them. A short drive to Pilots Beach takes you to one of the best places to see the blue penguin – the world’s smallest at just 11 inches tall!

Best time to visit: December to March

Suggested Itinerary:
3-Day Dunedin & Otago Peninsula

Yellow-Eyed Penguin, Otago Peninsula, New Zealand
Yellow-eyed penguin at Otago Peninsula

Milford Sound

Want to combine stunning scenery with excellent wildlife spotting? Head past Queenstown to Milford Sound, on the west coast of the South Island. Spend a few nights on a special New Zealand cruise aboard the Milford Mariner, sailing the full length of the Sound to the Tasman Sea. You’ll have the chance to see the cheeky and curious New Zealand fur seals basking themselves on rocky outcrops, and if you take to the water in a kayak, you may just be joined by a couple of the area’s 60 bottlenose dolphins.

The real draw to Milford Sound, on your New Zealand vacation, is the opportunity to spot the timid Fiordland crested penguin (distinguished by their yellow eyebrow strip) or the native and incredibly rare blue duck; most New Zealanders haven’t even seen one of these birds, so you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled! Easier to spot is the intelligent (and sometimes naughty) kea – the world’s only alpine parrot with a penchant for rubber, shoelaces, and picnics – make sure to keep an eye on your sandwiches!

Best time to visit: July to November

Suggested Itinerary:
2-Day Milford Mariner Overnight Cruise

Motorcoach and Milford Mariner at Milford Sound, New Zealand
Motorcoach and Milford Mariner at Milford Sound

Stewart Island

The last stop on your New Zealand tour should be Stewart Island, on the southern tip of the country and 18 miles from the South Island. With less than 400 people, only 17 miles of road, and nearly no predators, this is one of the best places to see some of New Zealand’s most unique and rare birds.

In fact, Half Moon Bay is the only place on Earth where you’ll have a chance to get up close to New Zealand’s most iconic (and elusive) bird in the daylight – the kiwi. Outnumbering the human population on the island by 50 to 1, the brown kiwi can sometimes be found walking through the bush, making for a truly incredible wildlife experience. Be sure to have your camera ready!

Best time to visit: Year-round

Suggested Itinerary:
4-Day Stewart Island

Ocean Beach Near Half Moon Bay on Stewart Island, South Island, New Zealand
Ocean beach near Half Moon Bay on Stewart Island

Fly With Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand - Couple Dining in Economy on Boeing 7879_0156509_1Connecting travellers for 75 years, Air New Zealand is committed to delivering world-class flight service to every customer. With daily non-stop flights to New Zealand from North America (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Honolulu, and Vancouver B.C.), Air New Zealand offers an array of seating options to meet the needs of every passenger – transporting them all in comfort, offering great cuisine, and providing state-of-the-art entertainment.

To begin planning your New Zealand vacation, visit our website at or call our friendly travel experts at 1-888-423-9160.

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Meg Boyd
Meg Boyd

Downunder Product and Marketing Manager - Melbourne-born Meg arrived in Canada in January with no winter coat, one suitcase, a one week booking at a youth hostel, and a sight-unseen job offer at Goway Travel. She thought she’d stay for a year – that was 12 years ago! Never one to shy away from adventure, Meg has been in the industry for 23 years and has journeyed extensively through Europe, Asia and North America. Meg’s heart however belongs to the South Pacific, including New Zealand, Fiji, and her native Australia.

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