New Zealand birding sites

This is a selection of some of our favourite birding locations around New Zealand.

North Island South Island

Big Sand Island

In summer this is a great location for the arctic waders.  Expect 5,000 to 10,000 Bar-tailed Godwits, plus Knots, Pacific Golden Plover, NZ Dotterel, Wrybill, Little Terns (and Fairy Terns in winter), Arctic Skua, and a good chance of a rarer wader.  Sanderlings and Great Knots and other vagrants have often turned up here.  The northern end of the island is generally best, but the birds could be at the southern end depending on the wind.  You can cross to/from the island 3 hours either side of low tide, but the channel is quite shallow and can be waded without difficulty.  It is about 1 hours drive from Wellsford, the last few kilometres along unsealed road and the final track out through the farm to the shore is quite sandy (4WD recommended).

Big Sand Island
Big Sand Island, Kaipara Harbour

Big Sand Is Birds in flight

Tiritiri Matangi

Tiritiri Matangi is an an island, a 75 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland.

You will find almost the full range of native species on the island, and because the trees are still relatively young the birds are not too high up in the canopy.  Stitchbird, Saddleback, Kokako, Red-Crowned Parrakeet, Kaka, Robin, Whitehead, Tui, Bellbird, Fantail, etc.  Spotless Crakes can be found at the wetlands, and it is also a good spot to see Brown Quail, usually around the tracks on the southern end.  There are Takahe around the visitor centre.  You can stay overnight, where you may see/hear Little Spotted Kiwi and Blue Penguin.

Adult feeding young Saddleback on Flax
North East bay of Tiri
North East bay of Tiritiri Matangi near wetlands



Miranda is about 90 minutes drive from Auckland, and is a great place for waders in the summer.  There are large flocks of Knots and Godwits, and sometimes more unusual waders on the Stilt Ponds such as Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper.  Bittern have nested in the area.  The Shorebird centre has limited accommodation, and has a blackboard of the latest sightings so drop in before heading to the hides.

View from hide at Miranda

Also near Miranda is the Piako flood plain – a paddock off Shelly Beach Road about 10 km from Miranda.  The birds seem to like roosting in this paddock and is well worth a visit, especially at high tide.  Best to have a scope.  There is good viewing from the gravel road adjacent to the paddock.

Piako Flood plain
Piako Flood Plain

Boundary Stream

At dawn here at Boundary Stream you will hear the dawn chorus of birds before the colonisation of New Zealand by humans.  Almost the full range of NI native bush birds – Bellbird, Tui, Rifleman, Tomtit, Kaka, NZ Falcon, Kokako, Red-Crowned Parakeet, Whitehead, etc.  There are several pairs of Kakako, and Kiwi’s which may be heard at night.  It is about 1 hours drive north out of Napier on SH2.  At Tutira turn left on to Matahoura Road and then Pohokura Rd, and follow the signs to the small car park.  The last part of the road is gravel.  Shine Falls is also a nice side trip on the way back.

Rifleman beside nest
Boundary Stream Car park
Car park at Boundary Stream

Cape Kidnappers

This is the place to see Gannets over the summer months.  Tours run from October to April.  You can walk there along the beach (at low tide); take the tractor, or the overland bus trip.  You get very close to the Gannets.  There is also good birding in the Napier region.

Gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers


Foxton Beach (Manawatu Estuary)

One of the best spots for waders in the lower North Island.  Spoonbill, and sometimes Cattle Egret and White Heron in winter.  Some Godwits and Wrybills overwinter, but in summer there will be good numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot, and sometimes Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Banded Dotterel, Variable and South Island Pied Oystercatcher, Pacific Golden Plover, Wrybill, Pied Stilt, Spur-winged Plover, etc.  A good spot for Terns, as well as White-fronted and Caspian, there have been Little Tern, Black-fronted Tern (winter), Common Tern and Arctic Tern on occasions.  Arctic Skua occasionally, and sometimes Glossy Ibis in winter.  There is a good population of Fernbird up-river in the wetlands, but these are hard to access without a boat.

Foxton birds
Spoonbills, Oystercatchers and waterfowl at Foxton estuary in autumn

Kapiti Island

This is another pest free offshore island with excellent numbers of native bird species: Saddleback, Stitchbird, Robin, Tui, Bellbird, Red-crowned Parakeet, NI Kaka, Whitehead (no Rifleman or Tomti) and plenty of Weka (introduced Western Weka, not North Island subspecies).  There are Brown Teal at the northern end, and a Spoonbill colony at the northern end lagoon in summer.  There are also Little Spotted Kiwi and Brown Kiwi on the island, but you will need to stay overnight at the northern end to have a chance of seeing these, and the overnight lodge costs are quite steep – see Kapiti Island Nature Tours.  There are also Kokako on the island, which are best seen along the Trig track from Rangatira, but numbers are small and by the time the ferry has got you there it is mid morning when they are less active and quieter.  A Takahe is still wandering round near the landing area at Rangatira.  The cost of a ferry to the island is now quite steep, and the logistics and rules around visiting the island are a discouragement – the same bird species are easier to access at Tiritiri Matangi and Zealandia.

NZ Pigeon near the beach on Kapiti Island

Zealandia (Karori Sanctuary)

In the heart of Wellington is a predator-free environment with most of the rare native species, and these are easily seen.  Saddleback, Stitchbird, Whitehead, Robin, Kaka, Red-Crowned Parakeet, Tui, Bellbird, Takahe, Brown Teal, Scaup, etc.  (No Tomtit, and no Rifleman).  Shining Cuckoo in summer.  NZ Falcon are occasionally seen around the area, and have bred within the sanctuary.  Little Spotted Kiwi may be seen (certainly heard) if you do a night tour.  Also a good place to get close to Tuatara.

Karori Lower reservoir
Lower Reservoir at Karori Sanctuary


Kaikoura pelagic
White-capped Mollymawk, Cape Petrel & Giant Petrel

This is the place for pelagic trips to see Albatrosses and Shearwaters.  Good chance of seeing Northern & Southern Royal Albatross, Northern & Southern Bullers Albatross, Bullers, White-Capped, Salvins and Gibsons (Wandering) Albatross, Bullers, Sooty, Short-tailed, Fluttering, Hutton’s Shearwater, Diving Petrel, Westland Black, White-Chinned, Cape, Northern & Southern Giant Petrel, Fairy Prion, Blue Penguin, Australasian Gannet, White-Fronted, Black-fronted and Caspian Tern.  A good spot for the occasional rarity.

There is a nice Farm Stay called Lynton Downs about 17 km inland if you want accommodation out of Kaikoura township itself.  There are lots of SI Robin in the area; NZ Falcon, Bellbird, Brown Creeper in the bush on the hills, and I saw a Cirl Bunting at the front gate.

South Island Robin, Lynton Downs
Lynton Downs
View to Kaikoura peninsula from Lynton Downs

Otago Peninsula

Panorama cliffs at Taiaroa Head
Cliffs at Tairoa Head near Royal Albatross Centre

As well as having the Royal Albatross Centre, the peninsula is a good for Spotted (Blue) and Stewart Island Shag, Blue Penguin and Yellow-eyed Penguin.  Yellow-eyed Penguins can also be found north near Oamaru. The Catlins area, about 1.5 hour drive south, is a good place to look for Yellowhead in the bush.

Stewart Island

An excellent birding location.  There are populations of SI Brown Kiwi around Oban and on the nearby outlying islands.  Red-crowned Parakeet are often seen around the township, and Albatrosses and Shearwaters often come into the bay following fishing ships.  Ulva Island has SI Robin, good populations of Yellowhead and Brown Creeper, and SI Saddleback.

Fiordland Crested Penguin
Fiordland Crested Penguin near Oban
Halfmoon bay
Halfmoon Bay, Oban on Stewart Island

Caravan Bush, Pitt Island

Pitt Island isn’t the easiest place to get to.  Most people will arrive by boat from the Chatham Islands.  About 50 people live there, and there is a small lodge and primary school.  Caravan Bush is a great spot for Chatham Islands Tui, Chatham Islands Tomtit, and nesting Chatham Island Petrel.  If you can get there, you’ll love it.

Pitt Island.jpg
Dept of Conservation Hutt, Caravan Bush, Pitt Island
CI Tomtit
Chatham Island Tomtit

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