With its dramatic landscapes and multitude of adventure activities, New Zealand is where adventure junkies can get off the beaten track and spot some elusive native wildlife along the way. From encountering native alpine birds on tramping excursions to swimming with rare dolphins, there is no shortage of wildlife experiences in New Zealand.
The Marlborough region is world-famous for Sauvignon Blanc, fresh seafood, and native species (like kiwi birds), spread across a diverse landscape covering the top of the South Island with numerous bays and 1,500km of winding coastline.
Walk/Cycle Queen Charlotte Track
The Queen Charlotte track stretches 70km from Ship Cove to Anakiwa and is an intermediate to advanced grade. The whole track can be completed in 5 days on foot, or 5 days on a mountain bike with luggage transfers available by water-taxi. You will be rewarded with stunning views of Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds and encounters with native birds such as fantail and weka.
Paddle close to nature
Kayak tours abound in the Marlborough Sounds. Kayaking the beautiful Wairau Lagoon gets you up close to about 90 species of native New Zealand birds, including the unusual-looking Royal Spoonbill, Black Fronted Tern & Bartailed Godwit. Marlborough Sounds are situated along a migratory route between the North and South Island, making it a great place to see whales (like the humpback, southern right, and orcas), several species of dolphins, as well as fur seals on sea kayak tours.
Diving around Kokomohua
The Long Island-Kokomohua Marine Reserve at the entrance to Queen Charlotte Sound houses a huge array of marine life, from fish to penguins and seabirds. At a depth of 15m, scuba divers can explore the reef systems where schools of perch and tarakihi, as well as much large blue cod and visiting predators such as kahawai, can be seen. Rocky crevices shelter crayfish and rock lobster. The reserve is accessible by boat from the port town of Picton.
Inflatable kayak in Pelorus
Tackle the small whitewater rapids and paddle past rock walls, waterfalls and a picturesque ancient native forest along the Pelorus River which was a film location from ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’. The Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve is also home to the long-tailed bat – one of the last remaining populations in Marlborough – and many native birds.
The breathtaking landscape and wild scenery of the Ruapehu region are defined by the three volcanoes that tower over a landscape of tussocked desert, rivers, lakes and native forest. Whanganui National Park is a large lowland forest that are home to various native birds like the brown kiwi; its rivers are also home to native eels, trout and koura (freshwater crayfish).
Hike the best one-day walking trail
Often called the best one-day walk in New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a high-altitude, strenuous 19.4 km hike past Mt. Ngauruhoe and past Mt. Tongariro and takes 5 to 8 hours to complete.
The lunar-like landscape features active volcanic areas, emerald crater lakes and panoramic views, and is best hiked in the summer months (December-February), as snow can still be found at higher altitudes well into the spring.
For a bigger challenge you can add climbs up Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom in “Lord of the Rings”) or Mt. Tongariro to your trek; each will add hours to your schedule. The hike is free, but it’s not a circular track; shuttle services are available for pickup and dropoff.
Home to New Zealand’s highest mountain – Aoraki Mt. Cook – in the heart of the South Island lies the beautiful lakes of Pukaki, Ohau and Tekapo. Soak up alpine grandeur by day and admire starry galaxies by night at this International Dark Sky Reserve – from the observatory on the summit of Mt. John above Tekapo.
Swim with dolphins
Hector’s dolphins – the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin species – are endemic to New Zealand, and the only place you can swim with them is at Akaroa Harbour which is a flooded crater of an extinct volcano. Set within the picturesque Banks Peninsula, this sheltered harbour boasts towering volcanic cliffs where most dolphin encounters in summer take place. You may also spot fur seals, and white-flippered and yellow-eyed penguins.
Interact with seals in Kaikoura
The best place to see (and interact with) curious New Zealand fur seals is crowd-free Kaikoura Peninsula. You can get into the shallow water and swim with these wild seals, or take to a kayak and paddle with seals as they swim around the Peninsula hunting for octopus. There may also be encounters with dusky dolphins and blue penguins.
Whale watching in Kaikoura
As the whale watching capital of New Zealand, you can spot many species of whales, with sperm whales being the most famous. Plenty of boat operators offer whale watching trips; if you prefer to take to the skies, there are helicopter tours that offer a birds-eye view of the Kaikoura Whale Sanctuary where you can also see the spectacular Seaward Kaikoura mountains rising out of the ocean to over 2,500m.
Hike Arthur’s Pass
Arthur’s Pass is the highest pass over the Southern Alps, characterised by a varied landscape ranging from beech forests to deeply-gorged rivers and an alpine landscape of snow-covered peaks and glaciers. Plenty of hikes – ranging from 3-8 hours – originate from the village of Arthur’s Pass, taking you to amazing natural attractions like The Devil’s Punchbowl Falls and the Dobson Nature Walk. Full-day walking tracks like Cons Track and Mount Bealey are connected via huts and shelters.
Hikers may be able to spot the great spotted kiwi and the kea, the only alpine parrot which is a comical giant famous for its inquisitive nature. They have no fear of humans and are out during the day on mountain peaks waiting for hikers. Once abundant across New Zealand, their numbers are now estimated to be less than 5,000.