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
Great article,Liz! Would be even better if your tui and kea photos were closer up, displaying these birds’ amazing coloured plumages….they are beautiful, but your pics here, Liz, don’t do them justice.
Hi Hazel, we love our gorgeous tūi and kea too. We think these these photos are great, we would much prefer our native species to be admired from afar.
So many creatures to spot in NZ. My collection:
Thanks for the post. In our visit to NZ we saw 8 out of 10. Yippee! Really loved the access to wildlife viewing while there which was is very rare in most countries we have visited.
Yes, all good but only available for a minority of New Zealanderers. Many are “locked” in the growing concrete urban landscape of Auckland and if they can afford holidays they possibly are easier and cheaper overseas. The cost of going to Rangitoto and other DOC islands is expensive for many Auckland families. Tui, fantail etc are seen in Auckland but will vanish as little provision is made for habitat in the concentrated urban landscape now forming. The Crown, DOC and Council have neglected one third of NZers by not having national legislation requiring the right of every New Zealander to have easy access to a green nature park within easy access on where they live.
Thanks for the feedback Kit. While there’s more work to do, there are some amazing nature experiences in and around Auckland with kiwi in Shakespear Regional Park, takahē at Tāwharanui and tīeke in the islands of the Hauraki Gulf.
Shakespear and Tawharanui are parks created and funded by Aucklanders not DOC. The regional parks were created because of the Crowns neglect to fund parks for Aucklanders. It still continues today with no long term strategy for future parks for urban wildlife and nature.
What a cynical comment Kit – you complain that there is no green nature park within easy access of Auckland but when some are named for you (which are free and easy to get to) you still complain! DOC do a great job with the funding they get. In January I saw a juvenile tīeke at the summit of Rangitoto following its parent and calling for it. It was a beautiful sight and wouldn’t have been possible without DoC’s work.
Its not cynical but the truth of what’s happening with PAs [ protected areas] in greater Auckland. There is a carrying capacity limit for nature parks.There are reports of Auckland loosing its trees and green cover. Some regional parks have been closed to protect the kauri. All this limits access to nature. I look to the future because parks have to planned generations ahead and it is a Crown as well as a local Government responsibility. Like our housing there is also pressure on the finite area of parks in our fastest growing region. There is no long term public strategy for PAs and conservation parks in greater Auckland.
Nice piece, but let’s be frank – it’s extremely unlikely you’ll spot a tuatara in the wild! Hector’s dolphins…. sheesh! Maybe!?
We would definitely recommend Matiu Somes Island in Wellington Harbour if you are keen to spot a tuatara. We’ve spotted Hector’s dolphins at both Curio Bay and along the Hump Ridge Track.
Great article. I shall look out for these when I arrive!