North Island best of: nature

Poor Knights Island Marine Reserve. Image: David Kirkland

Image: Bay of Plenty NZ

Kākā in flight at Zealandia. Image: Bridget Sloane

Goat Island Marine Reserve. Image: Camilla Rutherford

Waitomo Adventures. Image: Shaun Jeffers

North Island best of: nature

Lush rainforests harbour a wide variety of native animals, and the warmer waters around the North Island’s coast are home to some of the world’s best sea life. Nature lovers need only walk off the side of the road in many places around Te Ika-a-Māui to find world-class natural experiences.

Poor Knights Island Marine Reserve

Dive, snorkel, or simply hold your breath to check out the many underwater marvels here, from huge sea caves to thick kelp forests and countless species of fish, sea sponges, shellfish, urchins and anenomes. World-renowned diver Jacques Cousteau considered this gloriously scenic marine reserve one of the top ten dive sites in the world, with its geological features and crystal-clear waters creating a rich and fascinating marine environment.

Swim with dolphins in the Bay of Plenty

The balmy waters of the Bay of Plenty are home to dolphins a-plenty. It’s one of the best places in the North Island to see and swim with dolphins, and Orca Wild Adventures can take you on a full day adventure where you have a 99% chance of seeing dolphins and an 80% chance of getting in the water with them, depending on the conditions. Your trip includes a stop to explore and snorkel around one of the bay’s beautiful isolated islands.

Gannet colonies at Cape Kidnappers and Muriwai Beach

Two of New Zealand’s three resident gannet colonies are in the North Island, one at Cape Kidnappers and one at Muriwai Beach just outside of Auckland. The colony at Cape Kidnappers is one of the largest in the world, and while the Muriwai colony is smaller, it’s easily accessible, meaning you can get close enough to hear the birds arguing, see them feeding their chicks, and watch them swooping and diving for fish.

Up-close bird encounters at ZEALANDIA ecosanctuary

This full-on nature experience is a forest smack in the middle of Wellington. ZELANDIA is a unique, fully fenced urban ecosanctuary, where you can encounter with New Zealand’s native wildlife up close. Living wild within 225 hectares of regenerating native bush are over 40 species of birds including kākā, takahē, karearea and kiwi, as well as other rare native animals such as tuatara. Take a night tour for your best chance at spotting a kiwi.

Titiri Matangi, island wildlife reserve

A walk on this island – just an hour’s ferry ride from downtown Auckland – can bring you in close proximity with kokako, tīeke, takahē, giant weta, tuatara, ruru, hihi, and kiwi. Titiri Matangi is a protected island sanctuary home to an incredible range of New Zealand’s wildlife that aren’t easily seen anywhere else in the Auckland region. Some of the species here arrived on their own, others relocated from places like Little Barrier Island.

Undersea encounters at Goat Island Marine Reserve

Bring your snorkel to enjoy a good long session of underwater wildlife spotting at this marine reserve, where the clear, warm water and rocky island shores provide an excellent observation spot. Goat Island, or Okakari Point Marine Reserve, was the first marine reserve in New Zealand and is teeming with all sorts of life, from crayfish and manta rays to sea sponges and many species of fish.

Glow-worms in a cave near you

These little wrigglers light up cave roofs and riverbanks like starry skies at night. You can spot them all over the show if you know where to look, but for a guaranteed spectacle you should take a tour with the pros. Waitomo Caves is the most famous glow-worm haunt, and some others well worth visiting include Lake McLaren in Tauranga, Kawiti Caves in Northland, Lake Karapiro in the Waikato, and for a cost-free and totally uncrowded encounter, try Northland’s Waipu Caves.

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