Wildlife in New Zealand - Unique Animals and Where To Find Them

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Home to one of the most wonderful species of animals, New Zealand has a variety of native and non-native creatures. From the kiwi bird to the world's smallest dolphins, from mammals to "living dinosaurs", you will be very excited to discover the wildlife of NZ. If you are interested in seeing New Zealand's wildlife on your next vacation, keep on reading this article about the most unique animals and where to spot them.

10 Unique Species of Wildlife in New Zealand and Where You Can Spot Them:

1. Kiwi Bird:

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No list about wildlife in New Zealand is complete without the mention of their national bird - the kiwi. It is synonymous with New Zealand so much so that the NZ people are also called Kiwis. The kiwi bird is nocturnal and has features exclusive to other common birds. It is flightless, has hair-like feathers, no tail and can live up to 25-50 years. Due to its alarming number and extreme cultural importance, its protection is fiercely taken care of. 
Where to See It? 
  1. Rainbow Springs Nature Park, Rotorua.
  2. Kiwi Birdlife Park, Queenstown.
  3. The Moehau Kiwi Sanctuary, Coromandel.
  4. Tongariro Forest Kiwi Sanctuary, Ruapehu.
  5. The Orokonui Ecosanctuary, Dunedin.

2. Yellow-eyed Penguins:

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Also known as Hoiho, yellow-eyed penguins are one of the six subspecies of penguins in New Zealand. They are among the largest penguins in the world and is an endangered species of wildlife in New Zealand due to increased human interference in their habitat. With only 1700 pairs remaining, scientists predict that they could get extinct in the next 10-15 years. 
Where to See It?
  1. Banks Peninsula, Stewart Island.
  2. Otago Peninsula, Dunedin.
  3. Marlborough Sounds, Marlborough.

3. Hooker's Sea Lion:

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Also known as whakahao in Maori, they are the world's rarest lion species around 12,000 in number. Originally found along the whole coast of New Zealand, the population decline has mostly limited them to the Otago Peninsula and Southland region. Sea lions have a lifespan of 25 years and belong to a mammal group called 'pinnipeds'. Walruses, true seals and eared seals all come under this category. All three have different features concerning their ears, fur and flippers. 

Where to See It?
  1. Otago Peninsula near Dunedin.
  2. The Catlins.

    3. Royal Albatross:

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Did you realize that the albatross spend the majority part of their life on earth adrift, here and there flying approximately up to 118,000 miles each year? They have an immense wingspan, coming to up to 10 ten feet across! Albatrosses come ashore only when they have to breed and raise their newborn. These are also among one of those species of wildlife in New Zealand that breed for life and can live up to 60 years. 

Where to See It?
  1. Royal Albatross Centre near Dunedin happens to be the only place where albatrosses breed on the mainland. 
  2. Cost: Adult - NZD 52 - NZD 62
                Child - NZD 15 - NZD 20

4. Little Blue Penguins:

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Only 11 - 13 inches tall and weighing only 1 kilogram, little blue penguins are the smallest penguins in the world. Primarily nocturnal, they come ashore mostly at the time of dusk making it easy to spot them. They are often found near human settlements or nests in burrows, caves, rock crevices and even under buildings. Their population is declining in areas that are not protected by predators. Humans are not their only predator. Dogs, ferrets and stoats are a great threat to little blue penguins. 

Where to See It?

Little Blue Penguins are found mostly in mainland harbours, most common of them being Oamaru and Taiaroa Head.

5. Hamilton's Frog: 

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Did you know there are a species of frogs that do not croak!? Hamilton's frogs are one such species. Named after Harold Hamilton who first discovered the species, these frogs are a critically endangered species with only 300 remaining. They can be difficult to locate because they live in small crevices, can camouflage, are rare and nocturnal and do not croak. Due to their alarming number, they are closely managed by the Department of Conservation(DOC).

Where to See It?

Hamilton's Frogs are found only on Stephens Island, an island on the Cook Strait. 

6. Tuatara:

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Being the only surviving reptile from the dinosaur era, Tuataras are nicknamed as "the living dinosaur". Tuataras are endemic to New Zealand and derive their name from the Maori language, and means "peaks on the back". A fun fact about this species of wildlife in New Zealand is that they have a third eye, although visible only in hatchlings and gets covered in pigments and scales after five months. Tuataras have very slow growth and can live up to 100 years or more. 

Where to See It?

Tuataras can be found in various conservation centres in New Zealand. 

7. Hector's Dolphin:

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Found in the inshore waters of New Zealand, Hector's dolphins are the world's smallest and rarest dolphins with a length of only 1.5 metres. It has two subspecies, namely Maui dolphin and South Island Hector's dolphin. They use a unique technique called Echolocation to find their food and navigate their way. These dolphins can live a maximum of 20 years.

Where to See It?
  1. Akaroa, South Island near Christchurch.
  2. Kaikoura, South Island.

8. Lesser Short-tailed Bat:

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Also known as pekapeka-tou-poto in Maori, the short-tailed bat is the only native land mammal in New Zealand. These species are endemic to New Zealand and are an endangered species. Found only in selected places, it is one of the few bat species who are adapted to ground hunting and use their folded wings as front limbs for moving and crawling and inhabit hollow trees, crevices and caves. Its other species - M Robusta or greater short-tailed bat is believed to be extinct.

Where to See It?

Found primarily on the North Island, there have been no confirmed sightings in a particular area. Other spots include Fiordland, South Island and Little Barrier Island. 

9. Weta Insect:

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This is yet another unique creature that exemplifies the variety of wildlife in New Zealand. The giant weta is the heaviest insect in the world, even heavier than a sparrow! Having a body length of up to 4 inches and weighing 20-30 grams(70 grams if carrying eggs!), these insects are easily recognizable due to their unique features. It has a total of 70 species discovered with the Department of Conservation declaring 16 of them at risk.

Where to See It?
  1. The only natural habitat of the weta is The Little Barrier Island. 
  2. Auckland Zoo also inhabits some species of the insect.

Remember there are tons of other species of wildlife in New Zealand you will spot on your visit. The list names only some of the most unique ones. New Zealand holds a lot of surprises which can be uncovered only when you visit!

This post was published by Vidushi Nigam

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