New Zealand has more than 80 ecosanctuaries, many of which are open to visitors. They have one important thing in common — the opportunity to see native birds thriving in their natural habitat — but each has distinctive features that set them apart.
Whether your goal is to tick seeing a wild kiwi off your wish list, or to learn about how you can help create a predator-free NZ, here's where you should go — and why.
Zealandia started it all. Originally known as the Karori Sanctuary, it was established in 1999 when an 8.6-km fence was built around it the 225ha park, making it the first fully fenced urban wildlife sanctuary in the world.
As if that wasn't ground-breaking enough, Zealandia also reintroduced 18 species of native wildlife, six of which had been absent from the mainland for more than 100 years. Today, it has 40 species of birds, including takahē, tīeke (North Island saddlebacks), and kākā.
Come here for: Nature that you don't have to leave the city for.
How to get there: Catch the free shuttle bus from outside the Wellington i-SITE or from the top of the cable car. Otherwise, Zealandia can also be accessed by public transit to Karori.
What it costs: Until July 19, admission is free. From July 20, adults are $22, children 5 to 17 are $10, with concession rates and family passes available.
Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands
Thanks to Project Island Sound, the seven main islands in the eastern Bay of Islands are all pest-free. Maintaining this status is no small feat, considering the mainland is only swimming distance away for stoats and Norway rats. Of these, Urupukapuka Island is the only place you can camp overnight.
Come here for: The island is a breeding area for pāteke (brown teal ducks) and NZ dotterel.
How to get there: During the summer, passenger ferries depart regularly from Paihia and Russell to Otehei Bay. Water taxis can be arranged year-round.
What it costs: Access to the island is free, although you'll need to pay for your boat ride over.
The Cape Sanctuary, Hawke's Bay
Since the 1870s, Cape Kidnappers has been home to what's reputed to be the world's largest gannet colony. But it wasn't until 2006 that it became a protected wildlife refuge, with the construction of a 10.6km fence.
Now, the Hawke's Bay headland is the largest privately owned project of its kind in NZ. Known as The Cape Sanctuary, it's not open to the general public — but it is to those staying at the Cape Kidnappers luxury lodge.
Come here for: A bespoke experience. Dependent on the season, you may assist tour guides as they complete routine health checks on kiwi or tuatara.
How to get there: Guests at Cape Kidnappers have exclusive year-round access. However, from September to April, Gannet Safaris operates a three-hour tour leaving from Te Awanga.
What it costs: Overnight stays usually start at around $1700 per night, but with the new "local luxury" package, two nights at the resort cost just $675 per person, inclusive of meals and drinks. Meanwhile, Gannet Safaris' seasonal half-day tours are $88 per adult and $44 per child.
Moutohorā (Whale) Island, Bay of Plenty
Whakatāne is still reeling from the tragic eruption of Whakaari (White Island). Rather than crossing it off your list, it's all the more reason to support this destination by visiting nearby Moutohorā (Whale) Island.
The geothermal island is perhaps best known as a breeding colony for grey-faced petrels, but kākāriki (red-crowned parakeet) and geckos also call it home.
Come here for: At Onepū (Sulphur Bay), you can dig your own private spa in the sand. Since only 24 visitors are allowed daily, you'll also have plenty of room to do so (unlike another famous hot-water beach).
How to get there: Weather permitting, White Island Tours to Moutohorā depart on weekends at 10am from Whakatāne.
What it costs: Until October, a four-hour excursion to Moutohorā runs $95 per person (children $59), with a portion of proceeds going to DoC and the Coast Guard.
Whenuakura (Donut) Island, Coromandel
With Cathedral Cove only an hour north, it's easy to understand how Whenuakura (Donut) Island remained the Coromandel's best-kept secret for so long. But that's changing, now that images of the sublime turquoise lagoon have made their way on to social media.
There's more to the island than just its good looks; it's also a pest-free sanctuary. You're unlikely to see the hundreds of tuatara that once basked in the sun here, but there is hope their population will be re-established in the future.
Come here for: An excursion into the bluest of lagoons.
How to get there: Kayak or stand-up paddleboard is the only way to get through the narrow cove entrance. The best spot to launch is from the Island View Reserve at Whangamata.
What it costs: For safety, it's advised you use a certified guiding company. Local family business SurfsUp offers a two-hour guided tour for $80, or a self-guided option for $40.
Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, Waikato
Compared to some of the country's other wildlife sanctuaries, Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari's visitor centre may not be the glossiest. But what the site lacks in amenities, it more than makes up for in size. At 3400ha, it's one of the largest pest-proof fenced projects in the world. A 47km fence encircles the area, ensuring safety for its inhabitants, including takahē, tuatara and giant weta.
Come here for: Exercise. There are extensive walking trails throughout the enclosure, including the Over the Mountain track, which takes about six hours to complete.
How to get there: Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari is in Pukeatura, an hour's drive south of Hamilton.
What it costs: Admission is $25 for adults and $12 for children aged 5 to 16. Concession and family passes are also available.
Kāpiti Island, Wellington
As early as 1870, this small island was identified as a potential bird sanctuary. Conservation work began in the early 1900s, although it wasn't until the late 90s that rats were eradicated.
The result? This is one of the best places in the country to spot a kiwi in the wild. It's estimated that 1400 little spotted kiwi live on the 1965ha island.
Come here for: If you like to take your birdlife alongside a spot of history. Kāpiti's historic Whare is the oldest building associated with nature conservation in the country.
How to get there: A permit is required to land on Kapiti, so you'll need to visit with a certified tour operator departing from Paraparaumu Beach.
What it costs: Kāpiti Island Nature Tours is run by a Māori whānau who have lived on the island for eight generations. Overnight kiwi tours (from $393 per adult and $230 per child) include meals, accommodation in a glamping tent or cabin, and transportation.
If you don't have your heart set on seeing a kiwi, pack your own lunch, and make a day trip of it. The round-trip ferry costs $82 for adults, $44 for children.
Orokonui Ecosanctuary, Otago
One of the few wildlife sanctuaries on the South Island, Orkonui's 307ha of regenerated bush are fully fenced. Otago skinks and tuatara roam freely, although enclosures near the entrance allow for easy viewing and feeders throughout make finding feathered friends a breeze.
Come here for: Lunch with a view. The visitor centre looks out over a landscaped garden, with views of the sanctuary beyond.
How to get there: Orokonui is a 30-minute drive north of Dunedin. If you're without a car, two tour operators can take you there - Mateo Winter of UntamedNZ will show you the city's highlights before guiding you through Orokonui; likewise, Whisper to the Birds' owner Warren Hurley does pick-ups in his electric car.
What it costs: Admission is $20 for adults and $10 for children, with concession and family packages available.
Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara, Stewart Island
If spotting a kiwi in the wild is a numbers game, it's one that Rakiura (Stewart Island) wins —13,000 of the country's 68,000 kiwi live here.
Some of these birds live on Ulva Island or Te Wharawhara, Rakiura's very own predator-free zone. The 269ha sanctuary also has rifleman (tītipounamu) and South Island saddlebacks (tīeke), among other vulnerable birdlife.
Come here for: Spotting a kiwi in the wild.
How to get there: Ulva Island is a 10-minute ride by boat from Golden Bay.
What it costs: A round-trip water taxi to Ulva Island will run you about $25. To increase your chances of seeing a kiwi, from October to May you can book on Stewart Island Experiences' Wild Kiwi Encounter, which takes place nearby in Glory Cove. It is $205 for ages 15 and up.
Wharariki Eco Sanctuary, Nelson
In January 2020, the ribbon was cut at the country's newest fenced conservation project, the Wharariki Eco Sanctuary.
It's small, at only 3ha, but that doesn't make its work towards Predator-Free 2050 any less significant — conservationists hope that it will soon be home to breeding populations of burrowing seabirds such as fluttering shearwater. Once prevalent throughout mainland NZ, they're presently relegated to offshore islands due to predation.
Come here for: There's not much to see at Wharariki Eco Sanctuary (yet), but that doesn't mean that a trip to Onetahua (Farewell Spit) isn't worthwhile. Migratory shorebirds use the 5km sand spit to rest and feed on long-distance journeys.
How to get there: Wharariki is in Golden Bay, about a 20-minute drive north of Collingwood.
What it costs: To protect the birdlife, public access the sand spit is strictly controlled. Visitors can walk along the Inner Beach for free, but if you want a better understanding of the unique ecological area, visit with Farewell Spit Tours. Its signature day tour is priced at $160 for adults and $58 for children.
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