New Zealand wildlife holiday

Description of New Zealand wildlife holiday

Isolated for 80 million years before the Polynesians arrived, New Zealand’s wildlife evolved without mammals or large predators, resulting in a high number of endemic flightless bird species. These include various species of penguins, the iconic kiwi (a national symbol of pride) and the infamous giant moa, which was larger than an ostrich and sadly hunted to extinction.

In this tour, you’ll traverse some of the country’s most breath-taking natural landscapes; from serene island oases, to remote alpine peaks, to rich volcanic territories which produce hot springs, as well as providing nutritious soil for wine production.

These diverse environments are home to a plethora of birdlife, including the only mainland colony of royal albatross in the world, the vibrant orange wings of kea (the world’s only alpine parrot), a 9,000-strong colony of migratory gannets, plenty of adorable penguins and many more.

However, New Zealand’s abundant wildlife includes more than birdlife. On this self-drive adventure across the country, you'll encounter sperm whales by boat and helicopter, go dolphin spotting and share the beaches with playful fur seal colonies.

A birder’s dream, this wildlife tour of New Zealand's diverse habitats and endemic creatures offers a truly unique insight into the lessons of Mother Nature.

Day-by-day experiences

Day 1:Arrival in Auckland – Arriving in Auckland, you’ll be met at the airport by a company representative for a private transfer to your hotel, the Hilton Princess Wharf. This luxury property juts right out into the harbour, shaped like a cruise ship, with nautical-themed details, delicious seafood and incredible sea views. A five-minute walk will take you to the Viaduct’s bars and restaurants. Relax and unwind with your first taste of Kiwi cuisine and a sundowner, as your wildlife and birdwatching tour of New Zealand begins.
Day 2:Transfer to Te Anau – Back at Auckland Airport, you’ll take an internal flight down to Queenstown, where you’ll pick up your hire care to start your self-drive adventure. Drive to the charming lakeside town of Te Anau, known as the gateway to Fiordland National Park, part of the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fiordland is New Zealand’s largest national park and noted as a habitat for the kea (the world’s only alpine parrot), as well as the endangered flightless takahe. You’ll be staying at the family-run Prospect Lodge, a luxury bed and breakfast located on a ridge overlooking Lake Te Anau.
Day 3:Seals & Penguins at Martins Bay – Today, you’ll explore Milford Sound by helicopter, flying to Martins Bay and landing on the beach. This remote and unspoilt bay was home to only Maori until 1870 due to its inaccessibility and isolation. Here, you’ll be able to meet the Long Reef Seal Colony and a nesting site for Fiordland crested penguins.
Day 4:Transfer to Stewart Island – From Te Anau, you’ll drive to Invercargill Airport to drop off your hire car and take an internal flight to Stewart Island. Most of the island is made up of Rakiura National Park and provides opportunities for wildlife watching on foot or by boat, as well as water sports such as fishing, kayaking, hunting and diving. You’ll stay at the locally-owned Church Hill Lodge, which boasts beautiful views of the bay and surrounding islets, and is renowned for its homemade cuisine using local-sourced ingredients.
Day 5:Tour of Ulva Island – Take a private guided tour of Ulva Island (known as Te Wharawhara in Maori), which is brimming with birdlife in its rich forest habitats and stunning marine reserve. Walking to Ackers Point Lighthouse in the evening, you’ll be able to see sooty shearwaters returning to their burrows from a day at sea. Other birds to keep an eye open for include little blue penguins and the ubiquitous kiwi.
Day 6:Birding at Port William – You next private guided tour of the area will take you to Port William, where early Maori first settled. Take a walk along the Rakiura Great Walk, one of the best native bush walks, for epic coastal views. You’ll also visit Lee Bay and Little River, where the river pours into the ocean. This area is known for cape pigeons, shags, mutton birds and Buller’s mollymawks, among many others. In the forests, look and listen out for grey warblers, tui, fantails, kaka, parakeets, shining cuckoos, bellbirds and tomtits. At night, you’ll continue your birding tour with a hunt for the tokoeka, the largest species of kiwi, which can only be found on Stewart Island.
Day 7:Transfer to Dunedin – Fly from Stewart Island back to Invercargill, where you’ll pick up your hire car and head to the Scottish-influenced town of Dunedin, known for its rich heritage, rugged coastline and great surf. You’ll stay at Fletcher Lodge, a historic building built by Glaswegian Sir James Fletcher in 1924, hidden within beautiful gardens and located walking distance from the city centre.
Day 8:Dunedin & Otago Peninsula – In the morning, explore “The Edinburgh of the South” at your leisure, looking about for haggis, bagpipes and the Dunedin’s signature tartan. After launch, you’ll take a private guided tour to the Otago Peninsula, where you’ll see fur seals, yellow-eyed penguins, Hooker’s sea lions and the world’s only mainland royal albatross colony.
Day 9:Transfer to Kaikoura – Drop off your hire car at Dunedin Airport and take an internal flight to the city of Christchurch. From here, you’ll pick up a new hire car and drive to Kaikoura, a quiet village nestled between Pacific Ocean blues and the snowy mountaintops of the Seaward Kaikoura Mountain Range. This region is famous for whale watching, dolphin spotting and fur seal encounters. You’ll stay at the five-star eco-retreat of Hapuku Lodge, which features treehouses elevated 30 feet off the ground with gorgeous views of land and sea. Enjoy a three-course dinner at the lodge before getting an early night, ready for whale watching in the morning.
Day 10:Whale Watching in Kaikoura – With an early start, you’ll embark on a whale watching safari, observing sperm whales and other marine life. The whales can be seen all year round and Kaikoura is one of only a few places in the world where you can see them reliably and so close to the coast. Tuck into lunch in Kaikoura, then hop into a helicopter to see whales and dolphins from the sky, as well as spectacular mountain views. The flight includes a stop on Mount Flyffe, for panoramic vistas and photo opportunities.
Day 11:Transfer to Nelson – Drive to the charming city of Nelson, the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. The region is well-known for its delicious food and sumptuous wines, plus outdoor activities such as cycling, hiking (try the Abel Tasman Coast Track) and paddling along the beach. You’ll stay at The Lodge at Bronte, a secluded luxury escape with views of the Waimea Estuary from your private deck, also providing delicious Kiwi cuisine, award-winning wines and pampering massage facilities.
Day 12:Birding & Wildlife Watching at Farewell Spit – Today, you’ll take a helicopter ride to a remote location for a private picnic lunch, then fly to the protected area of Farewell Spit Nature Reserve, a famous wetland park and bird sanctuary, for a private guided tour. You’ll take a specialist vehicle around the park, traversing sand dunes, then walking to the local lighthouse, where you can see up to 9,000 migratory gannets nesting.
Day 13:Departure from New Zealand – Your wildlife and birdwatching tour of New Zealand comes to a close, though you’ll be leaving with plenty of travel stories, fond memories and incredible photos of unique wildlife encounters which can only be found in New Zealand.

If you'd like to chat about this holiday or need help finding one we're very happy to help. The Travel Team.

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Departure information

This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
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Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: New Zealand wildlife holiday

Environment

This itinerary includes trips to some of New Zealand's best national parks and reserves, such as Stewart Island's Raikura National Park. By visiting these sites (all entrance fees are included in your luxury tour), you are supporting the preservation and conservation of these areas, and indicating to authorities that tourists are interested in protecting New Zealand's incredible natural environments, which in turn provides more funding for these regions.

During wildlife encounters in New Zealand, please do not get too close to animals or depart from the usual track. You should be as quiet as possible and do not make any noises to attract or frighten the wildlife. Of course you’ll be excited if you spot a seal or a kiwi, but you should try to express your excitement quietly.

In New Zealand's rural environments, please ensure that you don’t leave any litter – everything you carry in, you must carry out. Aside from the environmental damage, litter can be harmful to the wildlife.

The whale and dolphin watching excursions by boat and air are provided by responsible local companies who hold a Department of Conservation SMART (Sustainable Marine Mammal Actions in Recreation and Tourism) permit, as we can ensure that these local companies are committed to the conservation of New Zealand’s marine mammals.

In New Zealand's rural environments, please ensure that you don’t leave any litter – everything you carry in, you must carry out. Aside from the environmental damage, litter can be harmful to the wildlife.

We also make a special effort to recommend accommodation providers which have responsible and sustainable initiatives. For example, Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses in Kaikoura (Kaikoura was the first local authority in the world be given the status of a Green Globe certified community), an eco-friendly and family-run retreat with initiatives such as organic homegrown produce from their garden, sourcing local products, hand-crafted furniture made by local people, zero waste policies (reduce, recycle and compost), responsibly sourced building materials and energy management policies.

Community

As with all of our luxury holidays, this itinerary has been crafted to ensure that it positively effects the local communities and environments visited. All the local guides referred to in this itinerary are paid a fair wage. We believe that using local guides is important, as it helps generate local incomes and creates jobs, plus it offers a more authentic travel experience.

We recommend independent local hotels, lodges, guesthouses and campsites, rather than international chain hotels, which helps support local communities and allows you to experience true Kiwi hospitality. For example, Prospect Lodge in Te Anau is a family-run property managed by Ross and Joan Cockburn, who provide welcoming homestay-style experience. Ross is the locally-elected representative for local government agency Environment Southland and both are passionate about farming and tourism industries in the area.

This tour also includes insights into the country's rich history with visits to sites of Maori significance, including the historic Port William and Ulva Island; as well as key places such as Dunedin, which has rich Scottish heritage.

There are also plenty of opportunities for trying New Zealand's iconic cuisine, with home-cooked meals at independent boutique hotels and samplings of locally-made wines.

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