Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer


New Zealand is home to much unique, and in many cases endangered, wildlife. Below is a guide to some of the wildlife you might encounter on a tour with Back to Nature.

Northern Royal Albatross, Toroa (Diomedea empmophora sanfordi) The Northern Royal Albatross is one of the largest seabirds in the world with a wingspan of nearly 3.3 metres. Taiaroa Head is home to the only mainland breeding colony in the world.  More than 80% of their lives are spent at sea and it is said they carry the ‘souls of sailors’. Albatrosses use very little energy to cover huge distances across the ocean. They use the wind for lift, their narrow cambered wings acting as an aerofoil like those of a glider. A shoulder-lock tendon helps brace the wings, reducing the effort for muscles. The birds face into the wind to gain height, and coast in a wide, descending loop, gradually losing height until they need to climb again. In stormy seas they gain lift from wind deflected upwards by waves.

Yellow-eyed Penguin / Hoiho

The Yellow-eyed Penguin is arguably the rarest of the 18 species and endemic to NZ. They can also be found on Stewart, Auckland and Campbell Islands. They are a very private bird and like to nest in coastal dune vegetation, shrub land and forest away from other birds. They are the ‘mountaineers’ of penguins and can travel hundreds of metres from sea and up steep terrain. They go fishing during the day and return before dusk all year round. Usually they mate for life but occasionally there is a divorce and they find new partners. The nest is built in August and 2 eggs are laid in September/October. These birds are extremely shy so viewing hides have been built to view them.

New Zealand Fur Seal / Kekeno (Arctocephalus Forsteri)

Hunted to near extinction the NZ Fur Seal has become a wildlife success story. They were slaughtered by early European sealers for their valuable skins that were taken for the fashion industry in Europe. There are shocking stories of ships arriving in England to find that 100,000 sealskins were deemed useless because they were damaged during the voyage!

Their population has dramatically increased recently and they can once again be seen around NZ South Island coastline and offshore islands. The first breeding colonies in the North Island were set up in the early 1990s. Males set up their territories late October and defend them with force. It seems that the bigger of the two usually wins. Males generally weigh up to 4 times the weight of the smaller 40kg females. The females have a single pup in November and mate again a week later! Delayed implantation of the egg and a 9-month gestation enables the female to mate and give birth at the same time.

New Zealand Sea Lion / Whakahao (Phocarcyos hookeri)

New Zealand sea lions were present all around the NZ coastline until hunting by Maori and European sealers forced them to the brink of extinction. Official protection since 1893 has lead to a dramatic recovery of their population in New Zealand.

The NZ sea lion is the rarest of the five species of sea lion and endemic to NZ. We take you within 10 metres of these wonderful animals that have no fear of man. We advise that you don’t turn your back to them as they are very quick over land but only in small bursts. We see them as they relaxing and playing before they go fishing in the evening.

Bulls weigh up to 500kg (brown/black) and females (creamy/silver) up to 160kg. Young males are often mistaken for females because of their smaller size and colour. The males can measure 3 metres in length with long hair on their necks and shoulders forming a mane similar to a lion.

The Otago Peninsula attracts birdwatchers from all over the world because of the many waders, seabirds and waterfowl that frequent the area. These are some of the birds you are likely to see on our tour.

Waders and Waterfowl

– Bar-Tailed Godwit (Kuaka) – more common in the North Island but often seen here between September and March.
– Black Swan (introduced) – a large majestic bird that is commonly seen throughout our tour.
– Grey Duck (Parera) – it used to be NZ’s most common duck but has made way for the mallard.
– Mallard (introduced) – interbreeds with the grey duck and very common.
– Grey Teal (Tete) – much smaller than the grey duck and often seen sitting high and upright in the water.
– Kingfisher (Kotare) – a small stunted bird that is a master at catching fish.
– Paradise Duck (Putangitangi) – large goose-like duck usually seen in pairs.
– Pied Oystercatcher (Torea) – very common and smaller than the Variable Oystercatcher.
– Variable Oystercatcher (Torea, toyepango) – only found along the coast.
– Pukeko – a swamp bird often seen on farmland.
– Pied Stilt (Poaka)- self-introduced from Australia it is classified as a native.
– Royal Spoonbill (Kotuku Ngutupapa) – an unforgettable bird with a huge bill unlike any other birds.
– Spur-Winged Plover (self-introduced) – A pretty bird that defends their young by dive bombing intruders.
– White-Faced Heron (self-introduced) – flew here from Australia. A large bird with yellow legs that is often seen.


– Australasian Gannet (Takapu) – the gannet can drop like a stone reaching speeds of 145km/h before diving to 8 metres. It is usually seen at sea but often enters our harbour.
– Black – Backed Gull (Tarapunga) – the largest seagull of the 3 species in NZ. Young birds look completely different than adults.
– Shy Albatross – larger than other mollymawks and a regular visitor to our headland.
– Buller Albatross – A wonderful bird that often visits Taiaroa head.
– Caspian Tern (Taranui) – the largest of all other NZ terns. It has a harsh ‘kaaar kaaar’ call.
– Little Shag (Kawaupaka) – the size of a common duck and often seen flying in v-shaped flocks.
– Spotted Shag (Parekareka) – found only along the coast on its rocky shores.
– Stewart Island Shag – the largest of the NZ species.
– Black Shag (Kawau Pu) – often seen perched in trees drying their wings.
– Red-billed Gull (Tarapunga) – very common and a third the size of the black-backed gull.
– White-fronted tern (Tara) – the most common seashore tern. Birds of Prey Australasian Harrier (Kahu) – often seen on roads feeding on road kill. This is the larger of the two birds of prey that are native to NZ.