8 Best Places to See Penguins in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com
8 Best Places to See Penguins in New Zealand

10 Best Places to See Penguins in New Zealand

© NZPocketGuide.com
Article Single Pages© NZPocketGuide.com
Article Single Pages© NZPocketGuide.com
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Penguins Are Awesome. Enough Said.

New Zealand gives you the rare opportunity to observe penguins in their natural habitat. The three main penguin species native to New Zealand are the little blue penguins, yellow-eyed penguins and Fiordland-crested penguins. There are many penguin-spotting options in New Zealand, from the commercial operations where you are most likely to see penguins to seeing them by chance on New Zealand’s beaches. When going to observe penguins by yourself, be sure to give them enough space in order to not disturb their natural behaviour. So where can you see penguins in New Zealand?

Well, blue penguins/little penguins are the most common sightings in New Zealand with some being seen as far north as Auckland all the way down to Stewart Island. Take a look at the list below for a list of where to see some of the rarest penguins in New Zealand.

1. The Banks Peninsula

The largest mainland colony of little blue penguins can be found on the Banks Peninsula outside of Christchurch. They also hold a species of white-flippered little blue penguins only found here in Canterbury. With feedings for blue penguins in rehabilitation and plenty of spots to observe them behaving naturally from Pohatu Penguins’ tour leaving Akaroa, the Banks Peninsula allows you to get the closest look at New Zealand’s little blue penguins. It’s likely that you’ll spot the odd blue penguin out on the water in the Akaroa Harbour. Learn more in The Complete Travel Guide to Akaroa.

Location: Tours start from Akaroa, Banks Peninsula, Christchurch

We recommend: On the Banks Peninsula, two notable spots for penguin spotting include Flea Bay (Pohatu) and Hinewai Reserve. Flea Bay, home to the largest little penguin colony on mainland New Zealand, offers guided tours for closer observation. Hinewai Reserve, with its diverse habitats, also provides opportunities to see these birds, especially around dusk. For more detailed information and to plan your visit, it’s best to check with local conservation groups or tour operators in the area.

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2. Oamaru

See blue penguins and yellow-eyed penguins just before sunset. Oamaru has even been dubbed Penguintown. Either spot them finding their nesting burrows along the coastline at dusk or watch rafts of penguins come home after a hard day’s fishing at the Blue Penguin Colony. Find out more in Oamaru & Waitaki – Guide for Backpackers

We recommend: In Oamaru, two prime spots for observing penguins are the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, where you can watch the world’s smallest penguins return home at dusk, and Bushy Beach, where you can see yellow-eyed penguins from viewing hides as they navigate the beach. Both locations offer unique opportunities to witness these penguins in their natural habitat. For the best experience, follow the guidelines provided at each site to minimize disturbance to the animals.

3. Dunedin

A popular backpacker destination, Dunedin hosts wildlife tours and has several yellow-eyed penguin conservation areas. Although you may spot penguins randomly on the beaches on the Otago Peninsula, we recommend taking a wildlife tour to significantly increase your chances of spotting one of the rarest penguin species in the world. Check out The Complete Travel Guide to Dunedin.

Location: Otago Peninsula, Dunedin

We recommend: In Dunedin, two specific spots for penguin viewing are Sandfly Bay and Pilots Beach. Sandfly Bay is known for its wildlife, including yellow-eyed penguins, which can be seen from hides or during guided walks. Pilots Beach, near the Royal Albatross Centre on the Otago Peninsula, offers evening tours to watch little blue penguins return to shore after a day at sea. Both locations offer unique opportunities to observe penguins in their natural habitat, with conservation efforts in place to protect these species.

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4. The Marlborough Sounds

As well as the little blue penguins, the Marlborough Sounds is a great place to also see dolphins, seals and whales. Keep your eyes peeled when taking a boat cruise through this stunning area on the top of the South Island.

Location: Marlborough Sounds, Picton, Marlborough

We recommend: In the Marlborough Sounds, specific spots for penguin spotting include Picton and Queen Charlotte Sound. These areas are known for their natural beauty and wildlife, including various penguin species. For the best experience and conservation awareness, consider guided wildlife tours or boat trips that offer the opportunity to see penguins in their natural habitat while ensuring minimal disturbance.

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5. Stewart Island

Stewart Island is arguably one of the best places to see a variety of birds in New Zealand. Among that variety of birds are possible sightings of little blue penguins and yellow-eyed penguins. Have a look around the wharf in Oban and the coastline at dusk for your best chances of spotting them.

Find out more about how to get to Stewart Island here: Stewart Island – Guide for Backpackers.

We recommend: On Stewart Island, a prime spot for penguin viewing is Lee Bay and the surrounding coastline, particularly during the evening when penguins return ashore. Another specific location is Observation Rock, offering a wide albeit faraway vantage point for spotting penguins from afar as they navigate the beaches and waters. For more detailed visiting information, it’s recommended to consult with local tour operators or the Department of Conservation.

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6. Monro Beach

Monro Beach is home to the world’s second rarest penguin species: Tawaki a.k.a Fiordland-crested penguin. If you are lucky enough to see one, enjoy observing them from a distance in order to not disturb their natural behaviour. Monro Beach offers the best sightings during the breeding season, which typically runs from July to November.

Location: Monro Beach, Lake Moeraki, 30km north of Haast.

We recommend: Specific spots for the best chance to see these penguins include the beach itself and the nearby coastal areas where penguins come ashore. Access is usually through guided walks, emphasizing the conservation effort to minimize disturbances to the penguins. For exact locations and tours, local conservation organizations or tour operators in the region would have the most current information.

Francesco Veronesi on Wikipedia© Francesco Veronesi on Wikipedia

7. Timaru

Little blue penguins flock to Caroline Bay at dusk, nesting along the edges of the beach in the roped-off areas. Observe them from behind the rope, watching parents feed their chicks and nesting burrow interactions.

Location: Caroline Bay, Timaru, Canterbury

We recommend: For Timaru, Caroline Bay is a notable spot where you might observe penguins, especially during the evening as they return to shore. Another area is the Dashing Rocks at the eastern end of Caroline Bay, where the habitat is conducive to penguin spotting. It’s always beneficial to visit these areas quietly and during the less busy times to increase your chances of seeing penguins. For more details on the best times and practices for penguin watching in Timaru, local wildlife guides or the Department of Conservation’s website can offer valuable information.

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8. The Catlins

The Catlins Coast in Southland is home to many fascinating marine wildlife, including penguins! A commonplace to see yellow-eyed penguins is at Curio Bay when parents are often seen coming back to shore in the early morning/evening to feed their chicks. Please respect the signs at Curio Bay to indicate how far you should keep your distance. Find out more in 18 Amazing Attractions You Can’t Miss in The Catlins.

Location: Curio Bay, Catlins, Southland/Otago

We recommend: In the Catlins, Curio Bay and Roaring Bay are excellent spots for observing yellow-eyed penguins. Curio Bay is known for its petrified forest and penguins often seen at dusk. Roaring Bay, on the other hand, offers a hide to watch these shy birds going about their activities, especially late afternoon. Always maintain a respectful distance to avoid disturbing them. For further details and the best experience, consider guided tours or visiting local information centers.

Tourism NZ© Tourism NZ

9. Zoos

In New Zealand, several zoos and exhibits offer captivating experiences with penguins, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the charm of these fascinating creatures.

Auckland Zoo, located in the heart of the city, showcases a diverse range of wildlife, including penguins, in their purpose-built exhibit designed to mimic their natural habitat. Visitors can observe the playful antics of these birds while learning about conservation efforts to protect their species.

Similarly, Wellington Zoo boasts an impressive penguin exhibit, providing visitors with the opportunity to observe these charismatic birds up close and learn about the zoo’s conservation initiatives.

Additionally, Antarctic Centre in Christchurch offers a unique Antarctic experience, complete with a penguin encounter where visitors can witness the agility and grace of these incredible birds in a simulated Antarctic environment.

These zoos and exhibits in New Zealand offer unforgettable encounters with penguins while also raising awareness about the importance of conservation efforts to safeguard their future.

8 Best Places to See Penguins in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

10. Remote Islands

And finally, here are three places in New Zealand that you are unlikely to visit, but perhaps for the better, as they are incredible natural reserves. These islands boast protected areas and conservation tours, providing unique opportunities to witness the fascinating world of penguins up close:

  • Auckland Islands – Protected areas, accessible by specific conservation tours.
  • Campbell Island – Home to yellow-eyed and rockhopper penguins, viewed during expeditions.
  • Codfish Island – Conservation areas for observing rare species, with guided access.
8 Best Places to See Penguins in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Laura S.

This article has been reviewed and published by Laura, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Laura is a first-class honours journalism graduate and a travel journalist with expertise in New Zealand and South Pacific tourism for over 10 years. She also runs travel guides for five of the top destinations in the South Pacific and is the co-host of over 250 episodes of the NZ Travel Show on YouTube.

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