New Zealand Penguins

You have a unique opportunity to see penguins in their native environment in New Zealand. Little blue penguins, yellow-eyed penguins, and Fiordland-crested penguins are the three primary native penguin species of New Zealand.

In New Zealand, there are various opportunities to observe penguins, from the commercial operations where you are most likely to see them to stumbling upon them on the country’s beaches.

Give penguins adequate room if you plan to watch them alone so as not to interrupt their natural behavior. So where in New Zealand can you watch penguins?

In New Zealand, blue penguins, often known as tiny penguins, are the most frequently sighted birds; some have even been spotted as far north as Auckland and as far south as Stewart Island. See some of the rarest penguins in New Zealand by visiting the locations listed below.

The Banks Peninsula, Canterbury

The biggest colony of Little Blue penguins in New Zealand is found at the Pohatu Marine Reserve off the Banks Peninsula, close to Christchurch. Visitors may visit Flea Bay to observe them; excursions are advised because getting there with conventional cars might be challenging.

The best time of year to see wild penguin sightings is between September and February, when they are nearly a given. However, you’re not just likely to observe wildlife in this area if you look closely. Also seen are seals, Hector’s dolphins, orcas, and albatrosses.

It takes up to 1.5 hours to get there from Christchurch, where the bulbous Banks Peninsula stretches south-east.


Just before dusk, observe blue and yellow-eyed penguins. Penguintown has even been given to Oamaru. Either witness rafts of penguins return home after a long day of fishing at the Blue Penguin Colony or observe them locating their nesting burrows along the seashore at twilight. Oamaru & Waitaki – Guide for Backpackers has further information.

Visitors may witness Little Blue penguins in Oamaru, which is located on the northern Otago coast, during the day or at night. While you may see them in their nests during the day, the best time to observe them is in the evening when they come back to the beach and their nests from a day of fishing at sea.

Between September and February is the ideal time to observe penguins in Oamaru, when you could see up to 200 birds.

It’s easy to pause in Oamaru while traveling between Christchurch and Dunedin. It is around 1.5 hours north of Dunedin and 3.5 hours south of Christchurch by automobile.

The Catlins, Otago/Southland

The Catlins coast, which stretches across southern Otago and northern Southland, is an ideal location for Yellow-eyed penguin nesting.

They build their nests among roots and plants. Curio Bay and the Nugget Point Totara Scenic Reserve are good places to watch the birds (Roaring Bay beach in particular). Dusk and sunrise are the ideal times to view the penguins from hides, which have been erected up. When they are present, avoid the beaches.

The best way to get to the Catlins region is from Dunedin. A 90-minute trip takes you south.

The Marlborough Sounds

The Marlborough Sounds is a fantastic area to observe dolphins, seals, and whales in addition to the small blue penguins. When taking a boat tour through this breathtaking region on the top of the South Island, keep a look out for wildlife.

For those who travel the ferry from Wellington across the Cook Strait, Picton is best known as the starting point for their journey to the South Island. You may engage in a variety of outdoor activities, such as viewing Little Blue penguin colonies, on the lovely Marlborough Sounds.

Take a wildlife-spotting cruise into Queen Charlotte Sound or visit the Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary, which is close to Picton Wharf. You have a fair probability of seeing dusky dolphins in addition to penguins.

On the boat from Wellington, a lot of people travel to Picton. On the other hand, it’s a two-hour trip east of Nelson, the biggest city in the upper South Island, or a 30-minute drive north to Blenheim.


Bird lovers shouldn’t miss a trip to the Otago Peninsula. The only breeding albatross colony on land in the whole world and the endangered Yellow-eyed penguin may be found at Taiaroa Head, which is located near the tip of the Otago Peninsula to the east of Dunedin.

Only the eastern and southern shores of the South Island are home to these penguins. Visitors may now observe the birds going about their daily activities thanks to the construction of rails, tunnels, and hides. On wildlife-spotting excursions around the shore, the penguins can also be spotted (but more distantly).

About 40 minutes’ drive northeast of Dunedin lies Taiaroa Head.

Little Penguin or Little Blue Penguin

The little penguin, also known as korora, stands around 25 cm long and weighs one kilogram. In the past, korora was plentiful throughout all of New Zealand’s coastlines.

Unfortunately, predators have now restricted them to a few sheltered locations on the major islands and outlying islands. On islands without predators, like Matiu-Somes Island, they can be sighted.

Stewart Island

One of the greatest spots in New Zealand to watch a diversity of birds is undoubtedly Stewart Island. Possible sightings of small blue penguins and yellow-eyed penguins are included in that assortment of birds. For the best odds of seeing them, search the beach at dusk near the pier in Oban.

Here is a link where you may learn more about getting to Stewart Island: Stewart Island – Guide for Backpackers.

Stewart Island/Rakiura

The third-largest island in New Zealand is Stewart Island/Rakiura, which is located off the South Island. The Stewart Island/Rakiura National Park covers around 85% of the island, giving local birds and animals a protected environment and giving tourists a fair chance to observe them.

On the island without predators, Little Blue penguins and Yellow-eyed penguins coexist. Hiking the three-day Rakiura Track through the national park is one way to see them.

You may take a passenger boat from Bluff, which is located at the southernmost point of the South Island, or you can fly there from Invercargill in a relatively short time.

Munro Beach

The second-rarest penguin species in the world, the Tawaki, also known as the Fiordland-crested penguin, calls Munro Beach home. If you are fortunate enough to witness one, take pleasure in watching it from a distance so as not to impede its natural behavior.

Munro Beach is located in Lake Moeraki, 30 kilometers north of Haast.

Haast, Westland

There are only thought to be 2,500 mating pairs of the extremely uncommon Fiordland Crested Penguin. Munro Beach, located near Lake Moeraki and about 18 miles north of the west coast town of Haast, is a nice site to watch them.

Between the lake and the beach, there is a path, and if you choose, you may go on guided nature hikes with a naturalist. Keep your distance from the penguins if you want them to remain; they are quite shy. The mating season, which lasts from July through November, is the greatest time to watch them.

Despite being one of New Zealand’s most isolated regions, the west coast is a well-liked road trip destination. Between Franz Josef and Wanaka/Queenstown, travelers may pause in Haast/Lake Moeraki because Lake Moeraki is next to State Highway 6.


Little blue penguins swarm to Caroline Bay at twilight and build their nests in the roped-off sections along the beach’s edge. From behind the rope, see the interactions between the nesting burrows and the parents as they feed their offspring.

Location: Timaru, Canterbury, Caroline Bay

Hoiho – Yellow Eyed Penguin

The South Island is where the yellow-eyed penguin lives and breeds. It is unfortunately in decline and in danger of being extinct, much like many local species. An estimate of its population ranges from 5,000 to 10,000. Click here to learn more about the yellow-eyed penguin.

The Hoiho was selected as the 2019 Bird of the Year!

The Catlins

Penguins are just one of the interesting marine animals that call the Catlins Coast in Southland home! In Curio Bay, parents of yellow-eyed penguins are frequently spotted returning to shore in the early morning or late evening to feed their offspring.

Please obey the warnings posted in Curio Bay on how far away you should keep your distance. 18 Amazing Attractions You Can’t Miss in The Catlins has more information.

Fiordland Crested Penguin

The tawaki penguin is the least common of the three species that breed on New Zealand’s major islands. It is endemic, which means it is unique to this area of the world. They are seen in the Fiordland region of the South Island’s south-west coast.

Its number is dwindling and it faces extinction, much like the other penguins. It has an estimated population of 2,000–3,000 people.

A Guide to Penguin-watching on The Mainland

Of the 17 species of penguins in the world, six breed in New Zealand, four do so solely here, and five more come here frequently. On land, three species lay their eggs. Although penguins cannot fly and do not have tube-nosed seabirds, some people nevertheless classify them as pelagic birds since they spend the most of their life at sea.

They are members of the lovable and taxonomically distinctive family Spheniscidae. They are classified as pelagic in this book because they have similar survival challenges to other pelagic seabirds and are virtually as elusive to mainland birdwatchers.

Penguins lack wings and spend half of their life in the water, to which they have evolved admirably. With flippers in place of wings, they swim incredibly well and blend in with the ocean thanks to their black feathered top sides and light undersides.

They consume fish, squid, and krill that they catch while swimming. They stay in the ocean during the austral winter, and new tracking studies of 90 birds from two species reveal that they can travel up to 15,000 kilometres at that period.

They often return to their customary breeding locations in the spring to lay their eggs, leave again when the chicks hatch, and then come back in the early fall to moult for a few weeks before leaving again for half a year at sea.

The Little Penguin, Eudyptula minor, also known as koror, is the tiniest penguin in the world and builds its nest both on several Southern Ocean islands and in coastal areas of the mainland. At Tiritiri Matangi, the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, and Pukekura on the Otago Peninsula, it is simple to view at the appropriate season.

How Many Species Of Penguins Live In New Zealand?

13 of the 18 species of penguins in the world, according to the Department of Conservation website, have been observed in New Zealand. There are more species in just one nation than there are in the entire earth!

Not all of them breed here, though. In New Zealand, there are 9 species of penguins that breed, however only 3 of them are found on the main islands (North, South and Stewart). On the numerous outlying islands, many of which are located far to the south of the main islands, the other 6 species breed.

Threats to Seabirds

Projects to eradicate invasive mammalian pests from the offshore islands have received hundreds of millions of dollars and a significant amount of time from the New Zealand government, non-government groups, and generous corporations and people.

By doing this, the ecosystem can get back to how it was before humans came along and introduced bird predators, and it also provides secure, predator-free areas for birds to dwell and nest.

Pelagic birds’ nests have been damaged by wild pigs and cattle since humans first arrived, and their eggs and chicks have been devoured by cats, rats, hedgehogs, and mustelids. Introduced predators have equally harmed the habitats, nests, eggs, and chicks of terrestrial birds.

More than 100 of New Zealand’s 220 bigger offshore islands have become predator and pest free thanks to the highly effective pest removal programs throughout time. As a result, several bird species are flourishing and multiplying, especially tethered and pelagic birds that do not migrate to the northern hemisphere.

It is terrible that many seabird species, particularly those that migrate north during the austral winter, are returning from their yearly trip to the north Pacific anemic and feeble or are not returning at all after so much work has been put towards predator removal.

For instance, due of the dwindling food supply in the north Pacific, the population of Flesh-footed Shearwaters is decreasing.

In the north Pacific, birds deal with a variety of issues. Mud-flat infilling, pollution, development, and extensive net fishing are destroying the habitat for foraging shorebirds.

The food chain is being disrupted by global warming and the ensuing rise in water temperature, which some scientists claim is higher in the northern hemisphere. Industrial krill harvesting is also removing a crucial component from the food chain.

Additionally, finding food is becoming increasingly difficult for these high-revving, thus perpetually hungry flyers due to overfishing. They use more energy on food searching and become weak as a result.

Another factor in the disappearance of seabirds is the worldwide fishing industry. Many of the larger petrels and albatrosses accompany vessels in search of fishy discards, where they get caught in longlines or have their wings damaged by running into trawl lines and boards.

Numerous seabirds confuse plastic for food. Because there are many densely populated nations in the north, many of which do not substantially deal with recycling or proper garbage disposal, ocean plastic pollution there is worse than it is south of the equator. Plastics and toxic chemicals are flowing into the ocean from several major rivers.

Add to it the sea’s radioactive contamination from the tsunami and nuclear tragedy in Fukushima. It may have an impact on some species that normally feed in that region. In conclusion, the outlook for migrating seabirds is not promising.

Although New Zealand has little influence over these significant global concerns, I am glad that the country has pioneered methods and procedures for reducing seabird bycatch in the fishing sector.

The many Southern Ocean islands of New Zealand as well as a large number of smaller mainland offshore islands have effectively been rid of invasive animal pests and predators. At least they are safe and secure in their pelagic seabird colony homes.