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Kingfisher | © timoschluter/Pixabay
Kingfisher | © timoschluter/Pixabay

New Zealand's Incredible Wildlife in 19 Photos

Picture of Thalita Alves
Updated: 16 February 2017
New Zealand is a paradise for nature lovers. The Pacific country is home to many native birds, fish, insects, mammals, reptiles and frogs. Here’s a visual peek at some of the wonderful wildlife you’ll encounter within its diverse ecosystem.

New Zealand’s Native Birds

With so many unique avian species residing in the country’s forests, mountains and seas, New Zealand is a birdwatcher’s sanctuary. Remarkably, the majority of these native birds are flightless. Here are some of the best renowned of the flock:


A New Zealand icon, and a very curious creature: the kiwi is nocturnal, it can’t fly, and has hair-like feathers. It is also the only bird with nostrils at the end of their bill. Sadly there are only five species of kiwi, all of which run the risk of extinction – in fact, there are only 68,000 of them left in the entire country.

Kiwi bird | © denisbin/Flickr

Kiwi bird | © denisbin/Flickr

Kingfisher (kōtare)

The kingfisher is a characteristically green-and-blue bird with a large black bill. Females tend to have a greener coating to their feathers than males. You can find kingfishers in both coastal and inland habitats across the country. Their call is interestingly short and unmusical – they emit a ‘tek-tek-tek’ sound whenever making a territorial claim.


The New Zealand Kea is an alpine bird from the South Island. A native protected species, Kea are the world’s only alpine parrots. These inquisitive birds are nomadic by nature, and usually make their nests on the ground. They are also renowned for having a strong beak and a knack for mischief.


The kōkako is New Zealand’s only surviving species of endemic wattlebird. Of its sub-species, the North Island kōkako is found within tall, native forest, while the South Island kōkako is currently presumed to be extinct. Along with its characteristically blue-grey plumage, kōkako are famed for their melodic, resounding birdsong.


Probably one of the most recognisable bird species in New Zealand, pūkeko is the local name for the purple swamphen – a bird that is believed to have migrated from Australia several thousand years ago. You’ll find these birds throughout the country, especially within marshy roadsides, swamps, and grassed paddocks.


Tui are very unique New Zealand birds that are part of the honeyeater family. You’ll find them just about anywhere that houses their favourite flower blooms. Their melodic calls can be heard from a far-reaching distance, and the birds are easily recognized by a distinct tuft under their throat.

Yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho)

One of the world’s rarest penguin species, the yellow-eyed penguin is named after its distinct iris and feathers. Its Māori name, hoiho, means ‘noise shouter’ – a reference to this bird’s shrill mating call. You’ll find these penguins on the South Island’s Banks Peninsula, the Stewart Island, Campbell Island, and the Auckland Islands.

Yellow eyed penguin | © Bernard Spragg/Flickr

Yellow eyed penguin | © Bernard Spragg/Flickr

Marine life

New Zealand’s coastlines and oceans house an array of marine mammals, as well as a trove of endemic fish. Take a look at some of the most compelling:

Hector’s Dolphin

These little dolphins are renowned for being some of the smallest in the world. Hector’s dolphins grow up to 1.5 metres (approximately 4 feet and 11 inches) in length and have very recognisable black and white markings running along their bodies. They are only found in New Zealand’s inland waters, usually scattered around the South Island.

Hector's Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori) | © Gregory "Slobirdr" Smith/Flickr

Hector’s Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori) | © Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith/Flickr

Basking Shark

Historically, basking sharks have been greatly abundant along New Zealand waters – especially around Kaikoura and the Bank’s Peninsula. Their astonishing jaws are quite deceiving, given the fact that these sharks feed primarily of zooplankton.

Basking Shark | © tpdsdave/Pixabay

Basking Shark | © tpdsdave/Pixabay

Māui Dolphin

Māui are actually a sub-species of Hector’s dolphins – and they are very much endangered. There are fewer than 100 of these animals left in New Zealand, making them one of the rarest dolphins in the world. The few remaining Māui dolphins can be found on the North Island’s West Coast.

Longfin Eel

Longfin eels are found throughout the country – mostly in rivers, but also inland and on the ocean. The average lifespan of these eels is usually around 23 years for males and 34 for females. They breed at the latter years of their lives, making a 5000-kilometre (3107-mile) journey to Tonga to lay their eggs and spend their final moments.

New Zealand Longfin Eel (Anguilla dieffenbachii) | © Tony Foster/Flickr

New Zealand Longfin Eel (Anguilla dieffenbachii) | © Tony Foster/Flickr

New Zealand Sea Lion

This rare sea lion species primarily congregates around New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands – though some colonies can also be found in the mainland Otago and Southland Regions. Because of their declining population, and highly restricted breeding range, these blunt-nosed sea lions are at risk of becoming endangered.

New Zealand Sea Lion | © Phillip Capper/Flickr

New Zealand Sea Lion | © Phillip Capper/Flickr

New Zealand Fur Seal (kekeno)

Unlike the New Zealand Sea Lion, kekeno are actually growing in numbers. In fact, they are the most common seals you’ll find in the country, and some have even been known to travel as far ashore as Australia. Along with being great swimmers, native fur seals are easily distinguished by their pointy noses, pale whiskers, dark fur, and an affinity for rocky shores.

Southern New Zealand Fur Seal | © Bernard Spragg/Flickr

Southern New Zealand Fur Seal | © Bernard Spragg/Flickr

Arthropods, amphibians, insects and reptiles

All animal niches, big or small, have a special kind of beauty to them. These unusual wildlife natives prove this point perfectly.


The tuatara are of huge interest to biologists from the world over. They are the only surviving members of the Sphedontia order – a prehistoric family of animals that became extinct more than 60 million years ago. While they used to reside in the mainland, tuatara are now most commonly found on New Zealand’s offshore islands.

New Zealand Gecko

Admittedly, New Zealand has very few reptiles (and no snakes, unlike its neighbouring Australia). Geckos and skinks are the only native lizards around. There are 39 different species of New Zealand geckos, some of which are nocturnal. Geckos are able to produce a chirping sound – the green ones are particularly loud, making a noise very similar to a shrill bark.

New Zealand Gecko | © Francisco Anzola/Flickr

New Zealand Gecko | © Francisco Anzola/Flickr

Tree Wētā

Wētā are another native creature with prehistorical origins. Tree wētās are among the five broad groups encompassing this invertebrate’s 70 known species. They are nocturnal and often live in a variety of habitats – it’s not too uncommon to find some of in your own backyard.

Tree Weta | © Sid Mosdell/Flickr

Tree Weta | © Sid Mosdell/Flickr

New Zealand Crayfish (koura)

New Zealand crayfish are a bit of a rare sight – they camouflage themselves during the day, and only really move around freely at night. Some of their noticeable traits include a hard, shell-like, skin and beady black eyes. You’ll find different species of koura on both islands, usually in freshwater lakes and streams.

Archey’s Frog

These teeny frogs are a bit of a rarity. They primarily reside in the Coromandel region, though some have been previously spotted around Te Kuiti. Archey’s frogs prefer moist areas with plenty of mist and high altitudes. They usually grow to 37 millimetres (1.5 inches) in length and are New Zealand’s smallest frog species.

Archey's Frog (Leiopelma archeyi) | © Wikimedia Commons

Archey’s Frog (Leiopelma archeyi) | © Wikimedia Commons

Powelliphanta Snail

The world’s largest carnivorous snails crawl within New Zealand’s native forests. They can reach up to 90 millimetres (3.5 inches) in length – or, in other words, about the size of a man’s clenched fist. Their shells are their most remarkable feature: they often come in various patterns and colours, from browns and reds to yellow and black.