• The Curious Traveler

A Nature Lover’s Paradise: New Zealand’s South Island Flora & Fauna

A long, long time ago—about 80 million years—the islands that make up present-day New Zealand separated from the Gondwana supercontinent. That left the wildlife on board a few dozen millennia to do their own thing, resulting in an ecosystem like nowhere else in the world.

 That’s the main reason a trip to New Zealand feels so different, even from nearby Australia. Aussie wildlife includes unique marsupials like kangaroos, saltwater crocodiles, and some of the world’s deadliest snakes. Evolution in New Zealand took such a different tack, there are virtually no native land mammals, and no snakes at all. Before the arrival of humanity, birds ruled the roost.

 The sub-tropical splendor of New Zealand should appeal to anyone who likes being outside, but there’s an added thrill for birders and wildlife enthusiasts. On a New Zealand hiking tour you will traverse many diverse landscapes where unique and interesting wildlife call home. The flora and fauna on the south island truly make it a nature lover’s paradise.

Wild Kea bird in mountains new zealand    Pod of dolphins new zealand    Weka bird new nealand

Abel Tasman National Park is a wilderness reserve at the north end of New Zealand’s South Island. It is 87 square miles of sheer beauty founded through the efforts of ornithologist Perrine Moncrieff and is known for the Abel Tasman Coast Track. This trail was declared one of the great walks by the Department of Conservation. Pods of common dolphins are regular visitors to the warm waters along the Abel Tasman in the summer month. They head further offshore in the winter. 

It is worth it to bring along a birding checklist to Abel Tasman as you will witness rare birds amongst the lush vegetation and dramatic landscapes that make up this region. Commonly mistaken for the Kiwi, the Weka are flightless birds found in the park. These brown birds have quite a humorous way of walking with their heads bobbing forward as they walk. The Shags (Cormorants) can be found along the beaches and rocky shore of the park. These birds are often mistaken for penguins. Fantails are another bird found in the park, they have a unique call and are easily recognized by their long tail which opens to look like a fan.

You don’t need to worry about confusing birds on tour with Boundless Journeys. Our extremely knowledgeable New Zealand guide, Nicky Snoyink, is somewhat of a bird expert to put it lightly. Her research for her Master’s of Environmental Policy lead her to her current work as an advocate for New Zealand’s largest environmental non-government organization, the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society of New Zealand (Forest & Bird for short).   

Two boats on a beach in Abel Tasman National Park

Another great birding location is Arthur’s Pass National Park. The landscape of the park is divided in half by the main divide of the South Island. On the eastern side, you’ll find beech forests and wide river beds. In contrast, the western side has lush dense rainforest. The Kea parrot can be found in this region. It is the world’s only alpine parrot and is a protected species as there are fewer than 7000 remaining in the wild. 

Unique to New Zealand and one of the rarest penguin species is the Tawaki Penguin (Fiordland Crested Penguin) found in the Lake Moeraki area on the West coast. This region is known for superlative landscapes and rare wildlife. Lake Moeraki is set within a protected rainforest in the mountainous southern Alps. The Tawaki penguins enjoy this area as they prefer to nest in caves, rock crevasses, and under tree logs. A lot of the sea area they inhabit is hard to reach so we are still learning about these rare birds. Guided tours to see the penguins are sometimes possible from the Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge. This stunning lodge is one of our hand picked accommodations on on our New Zealand: Alpine & Coastal Hiking adventure. 

Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge
Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge

We couldn’t end a blog about the diverse and unique wildlife in New Zealand without mentioning the Kiwi Bird. The Kiwi is so iconic its name became shorthand for “New Zealander.” Unlike some slang terms for different nationalities, “Kiwi” isn’t seen as offensive—most people on the island view the term as a point of pride. The Okarito Kiwi is one of over 70 native birds that the Okartio wetlands support. There are not many left of these flightless birds.The kiwi may be the most famous New Zealand bird but as fascinating as they are, kiwi is one species among many thanks to New Zealand’s impressive diversity.

Birds occupy a place of honor in New Zealand, but they’re hardly the only animals of note. We haven’t yet touched on the wild dusky dolphin, fur seal, or other aquatic creatures—but of course, there’s no substitute for coming to see them yourself.

landscape new zealand A brown kiwi with its head raised, photographed against a neutral background kayakers New Zealand Okarito wetlands    


Experience this adventure on the New Zealand: Alpine & Coastal Hiking tour.
If you’ve enjoyed reading and are inspired to join us or have questions about the adventure featured in this post, please give us a call at 1-800-941-8010 or send us an email at info@boundlessjourneys.com.


Our dedicated team of travel experts are here to help.


Travel + Leisure World's Best Award

Top 5 World's Best Tour Operators
Multi-year Recipient

National Geographic Traveler

50 Tours Of A Lifetime
Multi-year Recipient

National Geographic Adventure Magazine

Best Adventure Travel Company Winner

ATTA member since 2006