Tailored from £10,500 per person excl. flights
13 days Auckland, Te Anau, Stewart Island, Dunedin, Kaikoura, Nelson
13 days Auckland, Te Anau, Stewart Island, Dunedin, Kaikoura, Nelson
New Zealand is a unique wildlife watching and birding destination, as the islands were isolated for 80 million years (the Polynesians, now Maori, only arrived 650 years ago). There were no mammals other than three small bat species and this meant birdlife was able to evolve free of predators, other than the few birds of prey.
This isolated evolution resulted in a high number of flightless birds including penguins, the giant moa (larger than an ostrich and now extinct), as well as the ubiquitous kiwi.
Since the land has been taken over by humans much of that has changed, but New Zealand still makes for a fascinating insight into evolution and endemic wildlife, as well as a chance to explore diverse landscapes catering to many different birds and animals: from alpine habitats to forest branches, wetlands to beaches.
Some bird species to look out for include burrowing sooty shearwaters, colourful parakeets and the royal albatross (New Zealand is home to the only only mainland colony in the world).
However, not all of New Zealand’s wildlife can be found on land. As part of this self-drive tour, you’ll also have the chance to encounter sperm whales as part of both boat and helicopter whale watching excursions, dolphin sightings and a chance to get up close and personal with fur seal colonies.
A wildlife tour of New Zealand is a chance to discover some of the country’s most beautiful natural landscapes, endemic creatures and fascinating history; a lesson in evolution and the humbling power of Mother Nature.
You’ll fly into Auckland International Airport to be greeted by a Wayfairer representative, who will transfer you to your hotel, the Hilton Princess Wharf. Your whale watching, wildlife and birding tour of New Zealand is about to begin!
The nautical-themed Hilton Hotel is located in the city centre, right on the waterfront, jutting out of the harbour like a cruise ship to spectacular ocean views. If you’re looking for your first taste of Kiwi cuisine, the bars and restaurants of the Viaduct are just five minutes away on foot.
After breakfast at your hotel, you’ll be picked up and transferred back to Auckland’s airport for a flight down to Queenstown. From Queenstown, you’ll pick up a rental car and drive two hours to Te Anau, where you’ll be staying at Prospect Lodge.
Te Anau is a charming township on the edge of Te Anau Lake and the gateway town to Fiordland National Park. Fiordland is the largest national park in New Zealand, covering an area of around 12,500 square kilometres and is part of the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for its significance as a habitat for the kea (the only alpine parrot in the world) and the endangered flightless takahe.
Prospect Lodge is a family-run, luxury bed and breakfast perched on a ridge, facing north to magnificent views of Lake Te Anau and the surrounding landscape. The lodge is close to the Kepler Mountains, Lake Manapouri and less than two hours away from Milford Sound, making this location the perfect starting point for your Fiordland adventures.
After breakfast, a local guide will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to Milford Sound, less than two hours away, where you will board a helicopter. You’ll fly to Martins Bay, landing on a stretch of beach just a 20-minute walk from the Long Reef Seal Colony and the Fiordland crested penguins’ nesting site.
Martins Bay is a remote and deserted piece of paradise, which was home to only Maori until 1870, though the isolated setting meant that Europeans weren’t there for long either. One of the few Europeans who remained was local legend Davey Gunn, who famously ran 21 hours through the bush for help after a plane crash at Big Bay in 1936.
Today, you’ll drive from Te Anau to Invercargill Airport, around two hours away, to drop off your rental car and take a flight over to Stewart Island. Stewart Island offers a glimpse of the old country, where the world is in tune with nature, both at the beach and in the bush.
85% of the island is part of Rakiura National Park, which covers 1,570 square kilometres. Here, you can go wildlife watching by boat or on foot; with options such as diving, kayaking, fishing and hunting available.
You’ll be staying at Church Hill Lodge, a locally-owned property that prides itself on using fresh local produce to create tasty homemade dishes, served with a side of gorgeous views of the bays and its surrounding islets. The fact that this is a family-run establishment adds even more of a personal touch to your stay.
After breakfast, you’ll be met by a local guide, who will take you on a wildlife tour of nearby Ulva Island (also known as Te Wharawhara). The island is a haven of birdlife with its rich forest habitats and impressive marine reserve.
You’ll walk out to Ackers Point Lighthouse for sunset, where you can see the sooty shearwaters coming in from sea, as they return to their burrows. You may also see little blue penguins return to their nests and perhaps even a kiwi, one of the national symbols of New Zealand.
You’ll meet with the same wildlife expert tour guide again this morning for your next stop: Port William. Port William is where early Maori decided to settle and the coastal track here makes up part of the Rakiura Great Walk, which is one of the best native bush walks on Stewart Island.
Your tour of the area will take you to Lee Bay and Little River, which is a picturesque river mouth spilling into the ocean, flanked by rata trees. Here, you’ll see mutton birds, shags, cape pigeons, Buller’s mollymawks and more little blue penguins. Back in the bush, you’ll be able to both see and hear parakeets, grey warblers, shining cuckoos, tui, bellbirds, fantails, tomtits and kaka.
After dark, you’ll recommence your wildlife tour in search of the ubiquitous New Zealand kiwi. The tokoeka is the largest species of kiwi, found only on Stewart Island. You’ll know the males by their repetitive high-pitched whistles, while the females have a deeper, throatier call.
You’ll transfer back to Stewart Island Flight Center for a flight to the mainland’s Invercargill, where you’ll collect a rental car and drive to Fletcher Lodge in Dunedin, around 2.5 hours away.
Dunedin is a large city on the South Island that is proud of its history, evident in the working heritage of the Gasworks Museum, the Taieri Gorge Railway and Speight’s Brewery. The city also boasts fantastic coastline views and good surfing.
Fletcher Lodge is a five-minute walk from the city centre, near many good cafes and restaurants. Tucked away in secluded gardens, the luxury property is a fine example of this region's Scottish lineage, as the lodge was built by Glaswegian Sir James Fletcher in 1924.
After so many adventurous activities and early rises packed into the first week of your New Zealand wildlife tour, you’ll take this morning at your leisure. Explore Dunedin’s Scottish roots, which has earned it the moniker, “The Edinburgh of the South.” You’re sure to see haggis and bagpipes about, plus the city even has its own tartan.
In the afternoon, you’ll be collected from your hotel for a private Wild Coast Explorer peninsula tour. Out on the Otago Peninsula, you’ll be able to see yellow-eyed penguins, New Zealand fur seals, Hooker’s sea lions and the only mainland royal albatross colony in the world.
After breakfast, you’ll drop your rental car off at Dunedin Airport, ready to take an internal flight to Christchurch. Here, you’ll collect a new rental car and drive three hours to Kaikoura, where you’ll be staying at Hapuku Lodge and Tree Houses.
Kaikoura is a quaint village tucked away in some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the country; from azure views of the Pacific Ocean to the snow-capped peaks of the Seaward Kaikoura Mountain Range. The area is known for marine mammal encounters, including whale watching and dolphin spotting, as well as meetings with the local fur seal colony.
Hapuku Lodge is a five-star eco-retreat, located a few kilometres from Kaikoura, with treehouses elevated at 30 feet to give you the best views of the Kanuka Grove and the surrounding mountains and coast. Tuck into a three-course dinner before an early night, ready for your whale watching tour the next morning.
You’ll have an early start for your group whale watching safari, where you’ll get to observe the abundance of marine life just offshore. Kaikoura is one of only a few places on Earth where you can see sperm whales all year round and so close to the shore.
In the afternoon, enjoy lunch at one of Kaikoura’s cafes or restaurants before you embark on a helicopter trip, whale watching from the air. The view from your heli provides opportunities to see dolphins and more sperm whales, as well as the dramatic peaks of the mountain ranges. The tour includes a stop-off on Mount Flyffe, where you’ll be treated to panoramic views of epic mountain scenery.
Today, you’ll leave the South Island’s east coast and drive three to four hours to the city of Nelson. Sunny Nelson is a charming city in itself but is also visited as the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. This area is renowned for producing delicious food and incredible wines, as well as for great hiking and biking trails. Try the Abel Tasman Coast Track for gorgeous views of the turquoise shoreline, then reward yourself with a paddle at one of the beaches.
You’ll be staying at The Lodge at Bronte, a private and peaceful property nestled between a coastal orchard and vineyards. The secluded, luxury retreat boasts stunning views out to the Waimea Estuary from your own private deck, fine dining on local delicacies paired with award-winning wines, as well as massage and yoga facilities.
After a leisurely breakfast at your hotel, you’ll take a helicopter ride to a private location for a remote picnic lunch. Then, in the afternoon, you’ll continue to the strictly protected Farewell Spit Nature Reserve for a privately guided tour of this famous bird sanctuary and wetland park.
As part of the tour, you’ll ride in a specialist vehicle to help you explore, climb the sand dunes for panoramic views of the landscape, take a trip to the historic lighthouse and walk to the gannet colony, where up to 9,000 migratory birds nest and feed on the fertile sand flats.
Sadly, your wildlife tour of New Zealand comes to an end, though you’ve certainly packed a tight itinerary of wildlife watching and birding into your trip. Depending on your departure destination and available flight times, you’ll most likely take a domestic flight to one of the country’s major international airports and depart from there.
You’ll be leaving with a treasured collection of memories and a camera full of unique wildlife encounters found only in New Zealand.