An island nation isolated for millennia, New Zealand will allow you to interact with wildlife that exists nowhere else on earth.
Go on a whale-watching boat cruise, swim with dolphins or visit a native bird colony to see the famous kiwi and many more New Zealand birds. In zoos and wildlife reserves and in sanctuaries such as ZEALANDIA you can meet a wide range of native and exotic animals, some of which have been brought back from the brink of extinction. Read on for our guide to New Zealand native animals so you know what you’re dealing with when you’re lucky enough to spot one of the local animals or birds!
The kiwi, New Zealand’s national icon, is a flightless, nocturnal bird that sniffs out its diet of worms and insects with nostrils at the end of its beak. There are five kiwi species: the Tokoeka (South Island), the Brown Kiwi (North Island), the Great Spotted Kiwi, the Little Spotted Kiwi and the Rowi.
With unmistakable deep-blue iridescent plumage and bright red beak and legs, the Pukeko (or Purple Swamphen) is often spotted on grassy roadsides. It’s a favourite subject for kitsch Kiwiana objects!
The flightless Takahe is a large, iridescent blue and olive-green bird that looks rather like an oversized Pukeko. It was thought to have become extinct in the 19th Century, but was rediscovered in Fiordland in 1948 and has since been introduced to several island sanctuaries.
The Tuatara is a unique type of reptile that has existed since the age of
the dinosaurs. They are found only on offshore New Zealand islands and in protected wildlife sanctuaries, where they can live to be 100 years old.
The Kea is the world’s only alpine parrot. Curious and playful, these olive green birds are easy to spot in New Zealand’s Southern Alps.
The critically endangered Kakapo is the heaviest parrot in the world: flightless, it climbs trees with its beak and claws. It’s also nocturnal, and its moss-green plumage provides excellent camouflage during daylight.
Common even in urban areas, the little Fantail (Piwakawaka) is an insect-eating bird that’s easily recognised by its fan-shaped tail.
A large and handsome black bird with distinctive white ‘wattles’, the Tui is a nectar-eating with a sweet voice. It’s a clever mimic and in urban areas it may even mimic car alarms and ringing telephones.
The New Zealand Pigeon (Kereru) is a large and beautiful bird with a metallic green back and head, and a perfectly white breast. Listen for its distinctive heavy wing beat in forests or city parks throughout New Zealand.
The greyish-brown Weka is a large, flightless bird with a feisty personality! It may steal food and small objects. Keep an eye out for it on the South Island’s West Coast or on island sanctuaries.
The Black Shag, New Zealand’s largest shag, is commonly found near water. It’s easy to spot when drying its plumage with wings outstretched after diving for fish.
New Zealand’s smallest bird, the Rifleman, is just one-third of the weight of a house mouse! It’s reasonably common throughout New Zealand forest areas.
The world’s smallest penguin, the Little Blue Penguin, comes ashore to its burrow every evening. Watch its nightly journey from the cover of specially constructed hides in Oamaru.
The New Zealand Fur Seal is New Zealand’s most common seal – look for it basking on coastal rocks.
The world’s smallest and rarest dolphin, found only in New Zealand, is the Hector’s Dolphin. Spot them on a dolphin-watching boat trip in Akaroa Harbour.