Before you go exploring NZs wildlife you should prepare yourself with a couple of basics. First of all, ask some locals and guides for the best places to go and pick hikes that you will be comfortable with. You should also invest in a good hunting spotter scope as many of the animals you can encounter are very shy.
Hunting spotters are ideal for observing animals from a distance and their design is such that will give you the best possible magnifications. You can spend anywhere from $50 to hundreds of Dollars, but even a basic one will be better than none at all. Check out scopesandspotters.net for some recommendations.
Forget the images of snakes, scorpions or alligators that you could have seen in wildlife documentaries about Australian wildlife. In New Zealand you have hardly any unpleasant encounter to dread apart except may be the mosquito bites and its small but vicious cousin ‘sandfly’. Certainly, the country houses an insect whose bite is poisonous. It is a small red and black spider called katipo which often live hidden under stones, exclusively in the dunes of the seaside. However, it is rare to meet them in urban areas and even more to get stung. In parts of the bush, one can possibly see wild pigs and deer, but needless to say they will probably be more frightened by your presence than the reverse. Wild boars, deer, rats and mustelids (weasels, martens) arrived with the Maori and then European settlers will be the first mammals present on New Zealand soil, except for a native bat.
This upheaval has decimated the fragile balance of certain species, now almost extinct as the prehistoric tuatara lizard or gecko.
Opossums are the most famous animals that were introduced in the bush. Imported in the 19th century from Australia for their fur, and released into the wild, their number quickly proliferated before the absence of native predators. At nightfall, it is so very common to encounter one of them, especially on the road. Many end up flattened on the road … Little nocturnal animal little fierce, malicious and noisy, its population estimated at 40 million makes a not insignificant dent on the local flora of which it is fond. The opossum is the country’s number one enemy. It is the subject to hunt without mercy.
But it was the introduction of rats, weasels, martens and other predators of the forest floor, which destroyed a large scale of the ecosystem based on the reign of birds. It is because of this that the ‘bush’ New Zealand is now so silent all over the country. Efforts to reduce these pests are bearing fruit in identified islands and nature reserves, but the struggle is long and the outcome is more than uncertain!
Among the remarkable insects, the weta, huge grasshopper, with a weight of 70 grams, is the heaviest of all insects. It is seen regularly even in the city, when it leaves the wet and dark areas where it is at ease.
Before man set foot in New Zealand, the birds reigned supreme over the country, from the tops of trees to the forest floor. Thus best representation of the wealth of the New Zealand fauna is undoubtedly the bird world, starting with the famous kiwi, a unique species in the world and a national emblem so strong that the people of New Zealand are more commonly referred to as “Kiwis” than “New Zealanders”.
As big as a hen, kiwi (Asperyx australis) has small eyes and a long nose and has neither wings nor tail, unnecessary, since it does not fly but trot. Unfortunately, living at night and naturally shy, your chances of seeing one are practically nil. And besides, the bird is disappearing in most parts of the country, due to the introduction of multiple predators and massive deforestation. You can see in the zoos or, if you are very lucky and silent, in nature, mainly in some protected reserves or islands.
Not to be outdone, you will see anywhere other remarkable birds such as the paradise shelduck, a kind of colorful duck who chose his life partner, the Pukeko, a marsh bird with an orange beak, the weka that can be easily confused with a kiwi and other native parrots that are kaka and kea. …
Among the noisiest, we must mention the Morepork, small brown gray owl whose night cry evokes his own name ( “mo’-po’k”), the bellbird and tui, dark blue color, very recognizable bowls of white feathers he wears around his neck and his surreal and incessant singing (think R2D2 in the film “star Wars”).
Finally, when you stroll in the bush you will surely be followed by the graceful fantail. Hardly as big as a robin, he plays his fan-tail during his frenzied and disorderly flight. If he flies so, it is actually to catch the tens of tiny insects you disturb on your way!
In the maritime field, you will find the best known birds, such as terns, austral mad, the gulls. On the Otago Peninsula, you’ll get to see the royal albatross who nest all year
The waters of New Zealand are very fishy. At sea we fish for example snappers (sea bream), kahawais (sea salmon), crayfish (lobster) and blue cods (cod). In rivers, brown trout and rainbow trout, which are abound.
Lovers of marine mammals will love the country, and numerous species of cetaceans (whales, sperm whales or dolphins) and pinnipeds (seals). Species of dolphins are numerous, and some specimens sometimes approach very close to the coasts. It is mainly the Hector’s dolphins, which live only in New Zealand, and averages just 1.5 meters long, acrobatic dusky dolphins, and bottlenose dolphins, which include “Flipper” (bottled-nose dolphins) . Killer whales (orcas, Orcinus orca) also frequent these shores.
A little further off, at certain times of the year, we see whales, especially humpback whale (15m) in its migration between north and south, the southern right whale, the great blue whale. But the sperm whale is the most frequently observed cetacean and treats throughout the year visitors to Kaikoura.
The ribs are frequented by sharks, but no panic, no lethal attack has been detected in New Zealand waters since 1963! If you are surfing, beware above all the currents, they are much more dangerous!
You will not fail to observe the coast New Zealand fur seals, and bigger, sea lions (New Zealand sea lions).
The New Zealand Sea Lion is up to 2m long and weighs nearly 200kg. She prefers rocks to sand. A male can have a dozen females on a territory he defends against other males. The young are born in December after nine months of gestation. The sea lion feeds on squid and fish at night. Unlike the majority of animals in New Zealand, the population of sea lions increases each year, and there are more than 60,000 individuals.
The sea lion is twice as heavy as the sea lion. The male is recognizable by its dark color and its mane (hence its name) and the female by its cream color. It lives in the extreme south of the country, but 95% of individuals are in Auckland Islands. Like the fur seal, the male forms its harem (12 to 25 females) during the breeding season. Children are also born in December. These animals are mostly settled on a beach near dunes in order to shelter from the wind. They feed on fish, crabs and squid. There are about 15,000 individuals.
You may find in the Catlins, at certain times of the year, the leopard seal and the largest pinnipeds, the southern elephant seal (Southern elephant seal).
Always fun when traveling and often caught by casual observers for mammals, penguins are undoubtedly other featured birds of the South Island. Beware of their English name. “Penguin” is a false friend!
In New Zealand you will see penguins, ie birds that do not fly (unlike penguins). They are the best swimmers in the world, and they live in the southern hemisphere only. So forget the cartoons that feature penguins next to polar bears! The South Island is home to three species. The blue penguin, or little penguin (blue penguin), 40cm tall and 1kg on average, is the smallest species of penguin in the world.
Larger (65cm), yellow eye penguin or penguin the antipodes is on the list of the most endangered penguin species and is the only one with yellow eyes. Very rare Also, the crested penguin (Fiordland crested penguin) only lives on the southwest coast of the South Island and offers pretty “eyebrows” yellow shaped crest.