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Wilderness & Wildlife

New Zealand Wilderness & Wildlife

New Zealand offers countless wilderness experiences and 13 national parks showcasing more than 30,000 square kilometres of diverse, natural scenery ready to be explored by foot, boat, or air. In addition, New Zealand is home to the darkest skies in the world. Here, the heavens appear closer to earth. See constellations, shooting stars, unique celestial features and otherworldly landscapes.

New Zealand also has three World Heritage Sites: Te Wahipounamu, Tongariro National Park, and the Subantarctic Islands. Te Wahipounamu features include glaciers, fiords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, lakes and waterfalls. Tongariro National Park is famous for its herb fields, forests, tranquil lakes, desert-like plateaus, and active volcanoes. The Subantarctic Islands are particularly notable for the large number of seabirds and penguins.

The best wilderness NZ experiences and destinations include:

  • Stargazing
  • Fiordland National Park
  • Volcanic Regions
  • Birdwatching
  • Gorges & River Valleys
  • Marine Mammal Encounters
  • West Coast Rainforest
  • Finding a Kiwi Bird in the Wild
  • Mount Aspiring National Park
  • Redwoods Forest Rotorua

Immerse yourself in New Zealand’s wilderness with our 10 Day South Island Wilderness Itinerary. Surround yourself with untouched natural splendor at exclusive wilderness retreats and indulge in delightful outdoor activities.

The Top Wilderness & Wildlife Experiences in New Zealand

Stargazing

Immerse yourself in the Southern Night Sky
Lake Tekapo Stargazing New Zealand

New Zealand boasts some of the world’s best stargazing. With clean air and wilderness areas free of light pollution, New Zealand offers unparalleled views of the Milky Way and even the Southern Lights (the Aurora Australis).

The Best Destinations for Stargazing in New Zealand

Mackenzie Basin and Lake Tekapo Stargazing

The Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve is New Zealand’s most iconic stargazing destination. Sparsely populated, the Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve encompasses the central basin near Aoraki/Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo. This world-renowned stargazing destination also boasts a state-of-the-art observatory for Lake Tekapo stargazing.

Experience Mackenzie Basin and Lake Tekapo stargazing with:

Fiordland National Park

If you are lucky enough to encounter clear skies in Fiordland, an overnight cruise on Milford Sound offers an unforgettable stargazing opportunity. Indulge in a luxury overnight cruise on the Fiordland Jewel and stargaze from the deck-top hot tub after dinner.

Enjoy a new Zealand stargazing experience with these top luxury itineraries

Fiordland National Park

Rediscover yourself in the wilderness of Milford Sound
Milford Sound Fiordland

Fiordland National Park is one of the most untouched wilderness areas in the world. The vertical topography, dense temperate rainforest, and extreme weather make this stunning region largely inaccessible and uninhabitable. Only one road allows access to Fiordland National Park by land; this region is best explored by water and by air.

The Top Destinations in Fiordland National Park

Milford Sound

Famous around the world, Milford Sound is home to the iconic Mitre Peak and some of the most arresting views in Fiordland National Park. The Milford Road allows visitors to drive directly to Milford Sound, while cruises and helicopter flights offer an even more captivating perspective of this dramatic fiord.

Explore Milford Sound with:

Doubtful Sound

Even larger and more dramatic than Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is much less accessible and therefore far less visited. Here you will discover the vast wilderness and breathtaking silence of Fiordland National Park.

Discover Doubtful Sound with:

Visit Fiordland National Park with these top luxury itineraries:

Volcanic Regions

Explore New Zealand’s Volcanic Wonders
Tongariro Alpine Crossing Volcanic Experience New Zealand

Situated right along the Pacific Ring of Fire, New Zealand is a wonderland of volcanic landscapes. In particular, the North Island boasts several breathtaking volcanic regions, including Tongariro National Park and Egmont National Park.

The Most Dramatic Volcanic Regions in New Zealand

Tongariro National Park

Largest and most varied of New Zealand’s volcanic regions, Tongariro National Park encompasses the famous Tongariro Crossing day hike; the Tongariro Northern Circuit, one of the New Zealand Great Walks; two ski fields on Mt Ruapehu; and filming locations from the Lord of the Rings.

Explore Tongariro National Park with:

Mt Tarawera

Just 24 kilometres from Rotorua, Mt Tarawera is a dramatic volcanic dome with a deep fissure down the centre. As the site of one of New Zealand’s largest historic eruptions, Mt Tarawera is fascinating to discover.

Visit Mt Tarawera with:

  • A scenic helicopter flight and crater edge walk with Volcanic Air

Visit a volcanic region with these top luxury itineraries:

Bird-Watching Experiences

Discover many native bird species such as the Yellow Eyed Penguin
Yellow Eyed Penguin Dunedin Bird Watching

Cut off from the rest of the world for most of its evolutionary history, New Zealand is home to countless unique bird species found nowhere else in the world. Wildlife enthusiasts will never forget an encounter with these fascinating, charismatic birds, which include yellow-eyed penguins, Fiordland crested penguins, kiwis, keas, wekas, and gannets.

The Best Bird-Watching Experiences in New Zealand

Penguin Encounters

Only found in a very few parts of the world, penguins are a delight to see in the wild. New Zealand is home to many penguin colonies, and visitors may be lucky enough to encounter yellow-eyed penguins, Fiordland crested penguins, and little blue penguins around the coast.

The best destinations for penguin encounters include:

  • The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, which you can visit on an excursion from Pen-y-bryn Lodge
  • Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, where you might be lucky enough to see Fiordland crested penguins or little blue penguins from a cruise
Gannet Colonies

The Cape Kidnappers gannet colony is famous worldwide, with spectacular cliff-side views and abundant birdlife. In addition, Muriwai Beach, an hour’s drive from Auckland, boasts a thriving gannet colony of its own.

You can view gannets:

Bird Sanctuary Islands

Once abundant throughout New Zealand, native birds have been driven often to the brink of extinction by introduced predators. However, these friendly, inquisitive native birds flourish on predator-free bird sanctuary islands around the country.

The Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary, in the Marlborough Sounds, is particularly notable. Home to blue penguins, bellbirds, Kereru (New Zealand pigeons), kakariki (yellow-crowned parakeets), and more, this island is a delight to explore.

Visit this bird sanctuary island with:

Gorges & River Valleys

Witness the amazing colours of pristine turquoise pools
Hokitika Gorge West Coast

Home to the most fresh water per capita in the world, New Zealand is crisscrossed by hundreds of stunning rivers. Explore the dramatic gorges and river valleys around New Zealand with:

  • Jet-boat rides (Shotover Jet and Dart River Jet in Queenstown and Hukafalls Jet in Taupo)
  • Rafting trips (Go Orange Rafting in Queenstown or Tongariro River Rafting in Taupo)
  • The Routeburn Track Guided Day Walk with NZ Walks
  • Visits to the Hokitika Gorge or the Blue Pools in Haast Pass

Marine Mammal Encounters

Exclusive Whale Watching and Dolphin Swimming experiences
Whale and Dolphin Watching in New-Zealand

New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to encounter whales and dolphins. See bottlenose dolphins, Hector’s dolphins orcas, humpback whales, blue whales, southern right whales, sperm whales, and more.

The Top Marine Mammal Encounters in New Zealand

Whale Watching

World-renowned for whale watching, Kaikoura is one of the only places in the world where sperm whales can be seen year round. These magnificent whales are drawn by the rich marine ecosystem of the underwater Kaikoura Canyon. Humpback whales, blue whales, southern right whales, and orcas can also be sighted at different times of year.

Spot whales off the Kaikoura Coast with:

  • Wings Over Whales flightseeing tours
  • Whale Watch Kaikoura cruises
Dolphin Encounters & Swimming with Dolphins

Dolphins live off the coast in many parts of New Zealand, from top to bottom. From sheltered bays to deep fiords, New Zealand’s coastline offers countless stretches of idyllic marine habitat.

Some of the top dolphin encounter destinations and options include:

  • The Bay of Islands–private dolphin cruise charters
  • Marlborough Sounds–luxury dolphin swimming and encounter cruises with E-Ko Tours
  • Kaikoura–dolphin swimming and watching cruises with Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura
  • Akaroa–swim with dolphins with Black Cat Cruises

Experience a marine mammal encounter with these luxury itineraries:

West Coast Rainforest

Let the lush rainforest refresh your soul
Oparara Arches West Coast Rain Forest New Zealand

With many metres of rainfall every year and an abundance of native species, New Zealand’s West Coast rainforest is unique.

Discover this captivating temperate rainforest with:

Encounter stunning West Coast rainforest on the:

Finding a Kiwi Bird in the Wild

A magical and unique experience limited to only a select few visitors to New Zealand
Finding Kiwi Birds in New Zealand

Shy and nocturnal, kiwi birds are very difficult to see in the wild. Even most New Zealanders never see their famous kiwi bird in the wilderness. However, you have the opportunity to encounter these charming flightless birds on a kiwi tour.

The best kiwi encounter tours are:

Mount Aspiring National Park

Breathe in the purest mountain air in the Wanaka and Queenstown backcountry
Mount Aspiring National Park

Home to mountains, glaciers, river valleys, and alpine lakes, the stunning Mt Aspiring National Park straddles the southern end of the Southern Alps. Discover this superb wilderness region with helicopter tours, guided hikes, and outdoor adventures.

The top experiences in Mt Aspiring National Park include:

Redwoods Forest Rotorua

Be dazzled by the nighttime Redwoods Treewalk
Redwoods Treewalk Rotorua

The Redwoods Forest in Rotorua is a wilderness New Zealand highlight.

Explore this atmospheric forest with:

Plan an unforgettable wilderness New Zealand escape

Learn more about our wilderness holiday packages here.

Many of our other New Zealand itineraries include helicopter tours, cruises, and lodge stays in picturesque natural settings. We can also modify any itinerary to include immersive encounters with wildlife and nature.

Contact New Zealand Luxury Escapes today to begin planning your wilderness retreat.

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