Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Fri April 01 2016

New Zealand’s Best Animal Encounters

Destination & Tourism | Shannon Ullman | April 01, 2016

New Zealand’s Best Animal Encounters

PHOTO: North Island Brown Kiwi chick. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)

New Zealand’s got nature folks! It’s well known and loved. Hiking seems to be the national past time and it seems that the country is comprised of more national parks than cities and towns. While the glaciers and lakes are agreeably epic, the wildlife adds a whole new aspect of sightseeing onto the itinerary. If your inner animal lover wants to have some encounters with the NZ wildlife, here is how to do it.

READ MORE: Hop Onboard and Travel New Zealand by Train

See The Glowworms Of Waitomo And More

This country is famous for its glowworms. It’s one of the only places on Earth that has them and there are plenty of ways for visitors to get a close up look. Hanging from the ceilings of caves, these tiny worms glow in order to attract insects for them to tangle up in their sticky threads and eat. Typically, there are so many of them within a small area that they cause the entire cave ceiling to look like a blanket of stars. But where’s the best spot to glimpse these luminous creatures?

• Waitomo: This town is THE place for glowworms. There are handfuls of tour companies that offer excursions into the caves for viewings. If you’re adventurous, try the Black Water Rafting tour, which offers tubing, zip lining and climbing inside of the cavern. For something more laid back, the Spellbound Tour offers a leisurely boat ride and knowledgeable guide.

• Waipu Caves: This one is free but you will need a bit of bravery, waterproof shoes and a flashlight. Head into the cave yourself, turn off the light and watch the ceiling brighten up.

• Paparoa National Park: Less crowded than Waitomo, you can have another black water rafting experience in a lesser-known location.

• The Terrace Walk at Franz Josef: Right within the town of Franz Josef, you can take a walk into the forest on The Terrace Walk track until you reach a man-made tunnel. A walk inside about three minutes will give you a good dose of glowworms for free. Just make sure to bring a flashlight and sturdy, waterproof shoes.

Look Out For The Kea Around Aurthor’s Pass

The Kea are wild, forest parrots and they are quite big and strikingly beautiful. They shouldn’t be too hard to spot, as they tend to hang out in parking lots and around the visitor’s center. Due to their curious nature, they tend to go after anything small, shiny or made of rubber. In fact, they are known to rip apart cars and tents of campers or hikers who leave their things unattended. If you do get a look at them, make sure not to feed them, despite how friendly they seem.

TIP: The Kea can also be seen around the Mt. Cook area as well as atop the mountain if you are hiking.

Go Whale And Dolphin Watching In Kaikoura

This coastal town is well known around New Zealand for being the stomping grounds of well-loved marine life. Just driving along the coast will give travelers a look at lazy seals and penguins but it’s the adventures out to sea that promise the bigger animals. Right in the center of town, you can book a dolphin encounter tour to snorkel or view multiple breeds right in the water. Alternatively, you can book a whale watching tour by either plane or boat to get a look at the massive sperm whale.

Kayak Next To Seals in Abel Tasman

Sea kayaking is the top activity in Abel Tasman national park and besides being a hearty workout, it gives visitors the chance to observe seals. A whole colony lives amongst the rocks and you can kayak right along them to get a look. Watch them sun bathe, swim and if you’re lucky, tend to their seal pups.

View Penguins And Seals Around Dunedin

On the east coast of the south island is a whole string of sites that are home to penguins and seals. You can take a guided tour running out of the city of Dunedin or head to the nearby towns of Oamaru and Moeraki for a more self guided experience. Try looking for the yellow eyed penguins and seals at Katiki Point or Bushy Beach for free.

Do A Farm Stay Anywhere

New Zealand is full of farms and any length of travel around the country will yield lots of them. You won’t be able to hop over the fences along the highway to play with the sheep but you can opt to do a farm stay. From top to bottom, there are plenty of farms that have turned their properties into B&Bs and open up for visitors. A favorite for travelers on the south island is Warwickz Farm, a property holding over 200 species of rare breed animals. Interact with alpacas, goats, sheep, horses, pigs and one of the rarest rabbits in the world.

READ MORE: Whatever You Do, Don't Skip Dunedin, New Zealand

See A Real Kiwi Bird

This elusive animal is the country’s national bird. However, with a low population and a tendency to only show themselves at night, it’s quite difficult to actually see a Kiwi in the wild. Paying to see a Kiwi in a sanctuary or breeding ground tends to be the best way to get a glimpse at New Zealand’s most popular, flightless bird. To get a look, try visiting the Auckland Zoo, the Kiwi Encounter in Rotorua, the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve or the National Kiwi Center.

If you love animals and you want to see them in their natural habitat, New Zealand has got you covered. The only problem is choosing which one to see first. 

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