A Guide to Native New Zealand Wildlife

During New Zealand’s creation, with the pair of islands drifting away from the super-continent, the newfound isolation enabled a land full of unusual creatures to thrive.

This isolation before Maori and European settlers meant that some native birds loss the use of their wings, as they didn’t need to fly away from any predators. Large tracts of lush native bush supported an incredible variety of bird life; it would have been a rather noisy place! There is a wonderous collection of New Zealand wildlife still to see, even if some creatures are vulnerable or endangered.


New Zealand’s famous icon. These fluffy little ungainly birds are about the size of a football with a long narrow beak. Their beak has nostrils, which is quite unusual, and allows these birds to smell out food even before they see it. Pretty handy considering they are nocturnal birds. They are flightless, and all five of the different species are at risk of becoming extinct.

It is pretty rare to see a Kiwi in the wild, but you might be a lucky one that does. My husband has seen them in the South Island. They stopped their camper van for a cup of tea and sitting by the road as they wandered out in broad daylight. If you do spot them, take care as the Kiwi can be considerably fierce when it wants to be.

Otherwise, there are many ‘Kiwi houses’ in nature parks and reserves to see these elusive birds.

A hidden Kiwi at National Aquarium at Napier
Can you spot this kiwi? She is pretty much right in the centre of the image


An ancient relic of the past, the tuatara, is the only beak-headed reptile that remains from a reptile family that flourished during the age of dinosaurs. Their family became extinct over 60 million years ago, but the little tuataras are thriving in New Zealand.

They can grow up to 30cm long and weigh about 3lbs. With the introduction through settlers of pest species (rats, weasels, stoats, etc.) the tuatara is now extinct in the wild mainland of New Zealand. Currently only found on 32 offshore islands, until 2005, when they slowly reintroduced back into well protected and fenced reserves in New Zealand.

Something that the Tuatara shares with other lizards, is the ability to shed its tail to escape from predators. Unlike other lizard’s though, the Tuatara’s tail takes a very long time to repair, so is not something they would do lightly.

A Tuatara
Zealandia in Wellington has reintroduced Tuatara like this little fella here


These cheeky chaps are most similar to a parrot and it is not surprising that a flock of Kea is known as a circus. These naughty birds will peel the rubber off your window wipers, windscreens and even tyres.

Keas are mainly found in the alpine regions of the South Island, so on your way to Milford Sound, you will likely see them or hear them. They have a high pitched squeak of a caw, almost sounds like they are hiccuping.

Kea are listed as vulnerable. Up until the 1970 Kea hunting was permitted as Kea represented a threat to livestock, especially sheep. Now the species is protected, but possums and stoats still remain a threat to the eggs and young.

a Kea at Rainbow Springs Nature Reserve
An example of a Kea at Rainbow Springs in Rotorua


Closely related to the Kea, is the Kaka. A bit smaller, darker and more agile, the Kaka are highly social birds, with their constant chattering. Also very intelligent, the Kaka are known to mimic the calls of other birds.

In Wellington, a number of Kaka ‘escaped’ from the nature reserve Zealandia and took to nestling in the roofs of Wellington homes. Locals would then take to feeding the Kaka but actually caused metabolic bone disease in chicks, resulting in premature deaths. Public awareness has now been raised and this good natured begavioru has stopped.

an excitable kaka
This cheeky Kaka (named Howard) was too busy showing off!


A Tui is a species of honeyeater, with narrow curved beaks that are found all over New Zealand. One of the few native species that are not endangered

Recognisable by its distinctive white tuft of feathers on neck, like a cute bowtie. DOn’t be put decived by their dapper appearance, Tui are

a tui bird
A very stern looking Tui


We discussed the elusive yellow-eyed penguin when visiting Dunedin in another post here and the best way to see them.

yellow eyed penguin
Yellow-eyed penguin on a beach on Otago Pennisula

Korora (Blue Penguin)

As I said (too many times before) I love penguins. One of my favourites is the Korora, also known as the blue penguin or fairy penguin. The smallest of the penguin species, they only grow up to 30cm tall. They are not listed as vulnerable but numbers have been in decline.

They are found along coastal regions of New Zealand, especially the Otago regions, with a large colony at Oamaru.

blue penguin

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