By Liz Carlson, Young Adventuress
New Zealand is known worldwide for having some of the most pristine and untouched natural landscapes, from its stunning alpine views, to ancient forests to beaches of every shape and size, it’s no wonder that millions of visitors flock here each year to get a glimpse of this beauty. But those incredible environments are also home to some very unique and often endangered creatures, and of course, dominated by birds. Here are 10 native New Zealand species you might encounter on a walk here.
The pīwakawaka or fantail is one of the most common and well-known birds in New Zealand, and one you’ll likely encounter on many walks around the country. Curious and unafraid, they often fly right up to you and greet you with a chipper call that’s unmistakable and sometimes they’ll even follow you on walks in the forest.
2. Fur seals
New Zealand fur seals are now abundant and can be found along many of the rocky coastlines around both islands, though it can be hard to imagine that not that long ago they were hunted for their fur and quickly disappearing from our shores. There are plenty of coastal walks that take you to fur seal colonies, though it’s important to keep your distance. The Cape Foulwind Walkway meanders past a large fur seal colony that’s worth visiting.
Tuatara are modern-day dinosaurs, a rare and endangered reptile that can live over 100 years. Growing up to a half meter in length as an adult, they are sadly now confined only to some of the protected predator-free offshore islands around New Zealand like Matiu/Somes and Tiritiri Matangi. You can see them both on walks on these islands, many of which are open to visitors, but also in eco-sanctuaries around the country, like Orokonui and Zealandia.
4. Little blue penguins
While not completely unique to New Zealand, little blue penguins are probably the most common penguin you’ll find on a coastal walk here, though they are declining in areas. Best seen at sunset or just after dark after they return from a day at sea hunting, they are loud and noisy and fairly unmistakable. The smallest penguin in the world, you have a good chance of seeing a lot of them in places like Dunedin or Oamaru, where they have specific spots to observe them in the evenings.
The wētā is perhaps one of the most unique and weirdest species found in New Zealand, a bug that has been around since before the dinosaurs and can even survive being frozen alive. Spiky and fairly intimidating in looks, these generally gentle creatures come in 70 variations that can be found around New Zealand and can be seen on many walks here.
New Zealand’s cheeky alpine parrot, the kea is a crowd favorite and can be found loitering and causing mischief in alpine environments. Beautiful green birds that are too smart for their own good, they are threatened from various including predation, car accidents and even lead poisoning. A great treat is to see one at the top of a mountain or after a hike on the South Island, and they are very inquisitive towards people; you might see one on the Hooker Valley Walk at Mount Cook.
A local New Zealand favorite, the tūī is a stunning bird that can be found in many of New Zealand’s native forest. You often hear their distinctive calls and singsong voice before you see them, and they are easily recognisable with the white feather on their chest.
8. Hector’s dolphin
Hector’s dolphins are the world’s smallest dolphins and can be found roaming along New Zealand’s shores, if you know where to look. Recognisable with their unique curved dorsal fin, they haunt the shores of the Bank’s Peninsula, the Catlins and along the southern coast of the South Island, and are very threatened.
Rated as one of New Zealand’s best Day Hikes, the 19 kilometre return track out to the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers is worth every step. These beautiful and unique birds call the stunning coastal cliffs in the Hawke’s Bay home for part of the year, and is the most accessible colony of gannets in the world.
A collection of New Zealand creatures would be incomplete without mentioning the iconic kiwi. Nowadays, between being nocturnal and rather rare, it’s often hard to spot them on your average hike or walk in the bush, but there are plenty of places where you might hear them at night, like in Northland, or have a higher chance of seeing them on a nighttime walk at predator-free ecosanctuary or on an offshore island, like Kapiti Island.
Short Walks and Day Hikes
Discover you next adventure in nature on one of our Short Walks or Day Hikes. These walking experiences are being promoted to encourage more New Zealanders to get out and explore some of our natural wonders.
From native bush, to glaciers, urban volcanoes, lakes and coastlines, no matter where you are, or how long you’ve got, there’s a walk for everyone: www.doc.govt.nz/walks