The Best Places to See Penguins in New Zealand
Yes, New Zealand has penguins and a whole lot of them! While penguins can be seen all over New Zealand, from the tip of the North Island all the way to the South, there are certain spots in New Zealand where you are almost guaranteed to see those waddling little guys. We’ll stick to the hot spots in this article on where to find penguins in New Zealand. But, for more places to add to the list, check out 8 Best Places to See Penguins in New Zealand.
Many different species of penguin have been spotted in New Zealand, but the three main residents are the little blue penguins, the yellow-eyed penguins and the Fiordland-crested penguins. Little blue penguins are New Zealand’s most common penguin seen all over New Zealand. On the other hand, the yellow-eyed penguin is one of the world’s rarest species of penguin yet you have a good chance of seeing them in The Catlins and the Otago Peninsula.
Best Practices for Penguin Spotting in New Zealand
Watching penguins is fun but it’s not so fun for the penguins if you get in their way. To not disturb their natural habits and to have a better penguin-viewing experience, here are some best practices for penguin spotting in New Zealand.
- Keep your distance – allow penguins to behave naturally by not getting between them and their nesting site. Yellow-eyed penguins, in particular, are timid and do not like being approached.
- Don’t shine lights at penguins – little blue penguins are best watched at sundown but avoid shining white light at them or using camera flashes.
- Respect barriers – barriers are put in place to keep people off nesting sites. Watch penguins from behind these barriers where there are some.
- Consider taking a tour – wildlife tours in New Zealand often have the birds’ interests in mind as well as your experience, so they are a good way to keep you viewing the penguins responsibly while increasing your chances of viewing penguins. Look for tours that are involved in penguin conservation.
The Otago Peninsula
Situated just outside the South Island city of Dunedin, the Otago Peninsula is a magnet for wildlife from sea lions to royal albatross. It’s worth mentioning first on this list as there are a number of wildlife tours that almost guarantee up-close penguin spotting.
Penguin Tours on the Otago Peninsula
Wildlife tours such as with the Royal Albatross Centre, Elm Wildlife Tours and Penguin Place allow visitors access to private conservation areas where penguins are abundant. Not only will you most likely get the chance to see little blue penguins, but it’s one of the best places to see the rare yellow-eyed penguins in New Zealand.
Where to See Penguins for Free on the Otago Peninsula
There are opportunities to see penguins for free just by chance on the coast of the Otago Peninsula, such as Allans Beach and Sandfly Bay. However, there is no guarantee you’ll see penguins. With that, we recommend taking a tour to not only increase your chances of a close encounter with penguins but so guides can take you to places where you’re not going to disturb the penguins’ natural behaviour.
Oamaru, a little town north of Dunedin on the South Island, is pretty much known for being the town of little blue penguins. Without fail, the little blue penguins return to the shores and their nesting sites every night at sundown. Their nesting sites can be anywhere from under buildings, in campsites or in the bushes. They’re everywhere!
Penguin Tours in Oamaru
The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony is a commercial set up to allow visitors to observe waves of penguin rafts coming onto the shore and make us of the artificial nesting boxes and environment set up for the penguins. A stadium-like set up with special lighting allows visitors to see the penguins after dark.
Where to See Penguins for Free in Oamaru
Go sit by the shores of Oamaru just before dark and see if you get lucky. Give penguins plenty of space as to not get between them and their nesting site.
The Akaroa Peninsula just outside of Christchurch is another wildlife haven on the South Island. In fact, it is home to the largest colony of little blue penguins in New Zealand. It’s also one of the only places where you can find white-flippered little blue penguins.
Penguin Tours in Akaroa
Your best chance to see blue penguins in Akaroa is by either taking a boat tour out on the Akaroa Harbour or joining Pohatu Penguins for a tour of their private land which is also home to the little blue penguin colony. Their tour allows you to see penguins in rehabilitation as well as watching their natural behaviour from several viewing points.
Where to See Penguins for Free in Akaroa
You might get lucky when on the shores or waters of Akaroa but we wouldn’t rely on that. Your best option is to join a tour whether it’s on land or on the water.
Timaru is a coastal city between Oamaru and Christchurch on the South Island. It is one of the best places to see little blue penguins for free.
Penguin Tours in Oamaru
There’s not a huge offering of tours to see penguins in Timaru. However, Greg, the hostel owner from 1873 Wanderer, is regularly putting on tours for backpackers to see the penguins responsibly while learning more about the penguins.
Where to See Penguins for Free in Timaru
At sundown, stand behind the short fences at Caroline Bay and watch the little blue penguins coming back to their nesting areas. Street lights make it easy to watch the penguins.
The final location we’re going to mention on this list is The Catlins Coast in the Southland region of the South Island. It’s another wildlife hot spot and a great place to spot yellow-eyed penguins.
Penguin Tours in the Catlins
Because seeing penguins is a bit hit and miss on the Catlins Coast, tours like the Catlins Scenic & Wildlife Tours can take you to some of the more “secret spots” for penguin viewing where you are more likely to spot them.
Where to See Penguins for Free in The Catlins
A popular place to see yellow-eyed penguins for free is at Curio Bay. During the summer season when penguins are seen early morning and in the evening, the Department of Conservation put barriers up indicate a safe viewing distance between visitors and the penguins.