8 native species you could see in the Hauraki Gulf this summer

Department of Conservation —  23/12/2017 — Leave a comment

The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park/Tikapa Moana/Te Moananui a Toi on Auckland’s doorstep is a New Zealand biodiversity hotspot. Established by legislation in 2000, this is New Zealand’s first ‘national park of the sea’. It covers more than one million hectares of sparkling blue waters and is dotted with more than 50 sheltered emerald islands and five marine reserves. If you’re visiting Auckland this summer, a trip to the Gulf can’t be missed.

A quarter of all known dolphin and whale species visit the area. It’s a haven for shorebirds and the pest-free islands are home to some of our rare and unique land species. In particular (and without picking favourites), here are 8 to look out for this summer.

1. Bryde’s whale

Bryde’s whales (pronounced ‘brood-us’) have a Nationally Critical status in New Zealand, and around 50 live in the Gulf year-round (part of a larger population of just less than <200 animals that are thought to use the Gulf). While rare, these whales aren’t migratory, so you’ll be able to see them all year-round (fingers crossed!) Bryde’s whales feed on lots of different prey in the Gulf — watching them feed is pretty impressive!

How to see them

Hop on board Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari (AWADS). AWADS is a family-run business who have supported marine research for the past 17 years. They provide the public with an up-close and personal viewing experience of many of the magnificent marine mammals present in the area. More than 100,000 people have been educated, enlightened and entertained by the fantastic crew. Importantly, they work closely with numerous conservation, research and educational institutions (including DOC) to help us understand and ultimately protect the magnificent marine mammal life found in our waters.

Brydes whale surfacing beside Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari boat. Photo: AWADS.

Brydes whale surfacing beside Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari boat.
Photo: AWADS

2. Tākapu/Australasian gannet

They might be similar in colour, but these birds are much bigger and bolder than an average seagull. The Australasian gannet/takapu is one of three species of gannet belonging to the booby family.Whether you see a solitary gannet or a large congregation of the birds, they’re sure to wow you with their high-speed diving. With a wingspan of 1.8 metres, gannets can dive into the water at speed of up to 140 kph from a height of 30 metres. These birds are spectacular to watch hunt, and terrifying if you’re a fish!

How to see them

Often hundreds of gannets can be seen in the Gulf waters at one time. Not only is a trip with AWADS a good way to see our special marine mammals, but it’s also a great way to see a ‘gannetry’ of gannets!

Diving Australasian gannets. Photo: AWADS.

Diving Australasian gannets. Photo: AWADS

3. Tuatara

Often called ‘living dinosaurs’, tuatara belong to a group of animals called Sphenodontia, many species of which lived with the dinosaurs. Now though, tuatara are the only remaining animals in this group, making them of particular interest to scientists. You can see these slow-growing reptiles on Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island as well as Motuihe Island in the Gulf.

How to see them

Since it was declared pest free in 2004 – with the removal of rats, feral cats, mice and rabbits – Motuihe has become a reptile haven. The island is a recreational reserve and is administered by the Motuihe Trust. It is a popular spot for day trips with Fullers Ferry periodically operating a ferry service from downtown Auckland.

Tuatara. Photo: Bernard Spragg.

Tuatara. Photo: Bernard Spragg

4. Pākaha/Fluttering shearwater

Look out for large flocks of these little birds when you’re visiting the Hauraki Gulf. If you’re lucky you’ll spot a flock in the middle of a feeding-frenzy, diving and fluttering above a school of fish.

How to see them

Keep an eye out when your on the water. Fluttering shearwaters are often seen in flocks, sometimes numbering thousands of birds. They will feed in association with large schools of fish such as kahawai or trevally.

Fluttering shearwater. Photo: JJ Harrison.

Fluttering shearwater. Photo: JJ Harrison

5. Tūturiwhatu/New Zealand Dotterel

Once common throughout the country, New Zealand Dotterel are now considered to be Nationally Vulnerable, with only around 1,700 birds left. You can help us to look after our dotterels by staying out of roped-off areas and following signs on our beaches.

How to see them

Motukorea Island was named after the korea/oystercatcher. It is still an important site for oystercatchers, as well as for threatened New Zealand dotterels. Private boats and sea kayaks are the only means of access to this precious island.

New Zealand dotterel. Photo: Chris Gin.

New Zealand dotterel. Photo: Chris Gin.

6. Takahē

It was once thought that these large flightless birds were extinct, but in 1948 a small population of takahē was found high in the tussock grasslands of Fiordland’s remote Murchison Mountains (in the South Island). Since then they have been carefully looked after and their population has grown to 347 birds. For safety, most takahe are found on predator free islands or within sanctuaries. Rotoroa Island within the Gulf is luckily home to a pair of these cautious tussock-eaters.

How to see them
For more than 65 years years dedicated conservationists have pioneered conservation techniques to bring takahē back from the brink of extinction. Tiritiri Matangi has played its part in this programme and is now home to several of these rare birds. Fullers 360 Discovery Cruises provides transport to Tiritiri Matangi Island throughout the summer.

Takahē. Photo: Harald Selke.

Takahē. Photo: Harald Selke

7. Common dolphins

Common dolphins found in New Zealand waters belong to the species now known as the short-beaked common dolphin. The colouration of this dolphin is very distinctive with a criss-cross or hour-glass type pattern centred on the flanks. It is the most common dolphin species seen in the Hauraki Gulf.

How to see them

They are the most common dolphin seen around Auckland and can be seen all year round playing around the wake created by passing boats.

Common dolphin. Photo: AWADS.

Common dolphin. Photo: AWADS

8. Saddleback/Tīeke

The saddleback/tīeke belongs to New Zealand’s unique wattlebird family, an ancient group which includes the endangered kōkako and the extinct huia. Tīeke were once widespread throughout New Zealand’s mainland and island forests. Their decline began in the mid-nineteenth century, caused by forest clearance and introduced predators such as ship rats, feral cats and stoats.

How to see them

It’s hard to miss these unique black and orange birds flitting between the trees on Rangitoto Island. Look out for them along the Rangitoto Summit Track, one of DOC’s best short walks.

Fullers Ferries provide daily transport (excluding Christmas Day) to Rangitoto Island from the downtown Auckland ferry terminal.

Saddleback/tīeke. Photo: Manaaki Barrett.

Saddleback/tīeke. Photo: Manaaki Barrett


Heading to the Auckland region this summer? Visit the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park and discover this unique area with Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari and Fullers Ferries.

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