New Zealand’s best bird watching spots

Twitchers are spoilt for choice in New Zealand as there are plenty of opportunities across the country to see birds in their natural environment. Here are the best New Zealand bird watching spots that you need to achieve birdie bliss.

New Zealand Bird Watching Spots

Albatross viewing at Taiaroa Head

There is only one mainland breeding colony of royal albatross in the world and it’s at Taiaroa Head, near Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island. These magnificent creatures have a wingspan of three metres making them one of the most impressive sights in the avian world. If you’re lucky, you’ll also see their fluffy chicks awaiting a feed. Access is by guided tour only to the dedicated observatory where visitors are permitted to view these beautiful birds behind sound deadening glass.

New Zealand Bird Watching Spots: Southern Royal Albatross in flight
Southern Royal Albatross in flight: Photo by JJ Harrison / CC BY-SA 3.0

White Heron Sanctuary

A short drive north of Franz Josef on South Island’s west coast is the only place in New Zealand you’ll find the breeding ground of the white heron. Not far from Okarito Lagoon is the pristine tropical forest of the Waitangi Roto Flora and Fauna Nature Reserve, dominated by kahikatea trees. Visits can be arranged via White Heron Sanctuary Tours when the birds are around, usually between September and March, which gives you plenty of time to plan your New Zealand bird watching trip.

New Zealand Bird Watching Spots: Great White Heron
Great White Heron

The Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre

About an hour outside Auckland, this place can be home to up to 10,000 shorebirds at any given time. A wide range of species, both endemic and migratory, can be seen here. Many of them have flown enormous distances to be there, just like human tourists. For instance, the kuaka, or bar-tailed godwit, makes a journey of 11,000 kilometres from Alaska without a stopover and the tiny huahou, or red knot, flies over 10,000 kilometres to China on its way to its Siberian breeding grounds.

New Zealand Bird Watching Spots: Bar-tailed godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit: Photo by Andreas Trepte / CC BY-SA 2.5


The comic kea, New Zealand’s beloved native parrot, is an engaging sight and one to aim for during your New Zealand holiday. It’s common to see them near Arthur’s Pass, so it’s worth breaking your journey if you plan to take the excellent TranzAlpine train across the Southern Alps. If you don’t get off the train, keep an eye out as you near Otira. Visitors to Milford Sound should also keep their eyes peeled as they often hang out in the car parks en route to this UNESCO World Heritage Site in the hope of some rubber to chew upon.

New Zealand Bird Watching Spots: Kea at work
Kea at work: Photo by Jens Bludau / CC BY-SA 3.0

And of course, not forgetting the kiwi!

New Zealand’s national icon, the kiwi is nocturnal and therefore you’ll have to make a special effort to see it. Maximise your chances by building in time for a guided night walk at the Trounson Kauri park or, if you’re determined to see them in daylight, join a kiwi spotting tour to Mason Bay on Stewart Island which claims an 80% success rate.

New Zealand Bird Watching Spots: Nocturnal Kiwi bird
Nocturnal Kiwi bird: Photo on Flickr by denisbin / CC BY-ND 2.0

Have you been to any of these New Zealand bird watching spots?

About JuliaHammond


Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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