The Best Places to see Penguins in New Zealand

Posted on Wednesday, September 20th, 2017 in New Zealand Holiday Blog

Fiordland crested penguin


Penguins are incredibly charming birds and whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast or not seeing one in its natural environment is an unparalleled experience. So lets put aside New Zealand’s epic scenery, fabulous wine, adventurous reputation, and superb beaches and concentrate on where you can see these wonderful birds up close and personal.

There are 3 main species native to New Zealand: yellow eyed penguins, blue penguins and Fiordland crested penguins.  The list below outlines some of our favourite places to spot them, and where to stay when you’re there:


1. Stewart Island

This is one of the best places to see most of New Zealand’s rare and endemic birds.  It’s worth crossing the Foveaux Strait to hear the dawn chorus alone.  New Zealand’s third largest Island is 85% national park and it’s a place where  blue penguins (korora) and yellow-eyed penguins (hoiho) waddle among the rocks and brown kiwi outnumber humans.

Where to Stay: The newly opened Church Hill Boutique Lodge (opens 22nd Sept) offers three stand alone suites that look out to Halfmoon Bay.  The accompanying restaurant and oyster bar has long been a New Zealand in Depth favourite.



2. Munro Beach

Fiordland crested penguin

Fiordland crested penguin

Fiordland crested penguins (or tawaki) can only be seen in the southwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island and they are the second rarest breed in the world.  Whilst most of their lives are spent navigating the oceans, they return each year to breed in the coastal rainforest near Lake Moeraki from July to early December.

Where to Stay: Take a small group tour from Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki through the rain forest to the coast where you can sit and watch the penguins nest and feed their chicks.  The Lodge’s owners work closely with  the Department of Conservation and a stay here will make a genuine difference to wildlife and habitat conservation.



Blue penguin

Little blue penguins

3. Oamaru

Little blue penguins are so important to the locals at Oamaru they built an underpass to help them safely navigate a busy road.  Every evening they waddle from the sea through the tunnel to their nests, watched by a small crowd from a viewing grandstand.  They are the smallest kind in the world and are endangered, yet the town’s safety efforts are having an affect as the colony is one of the few populations in the world that is actually growing.

Where to Stay: Pen-y-bryn Lodge is a luxurious base from which to explore Oamaru.   With just five rooms the elegant Victorian mansion offers warm hospitality and exceptional food.



Yellow eyed penguins

Yellow eyed penguins


4. The Catlins

The Catlins is one of New Zealand’s most outstanding forest and marine wildlife areas and is well off the main tourist trail.  As morning breaks you can watch yellow eyed penguin, the world’s rarest, leave their burrows and cautiously make their way across the sand to the sea and in the evenings you can watch them return.

Where to Stay: Mohua Park is a rural retreat with 4 lovely private cottages set in beautiful bush countryside.  Their wonderful tours take in the best of the rugged and remote landscapes, and also offer the opportunity of seeing fur seals, sealions and a variety of forest and sea birds.


Hotel St Clair

Hotel St Clair

5. Otago Peninsula

The best way of seeing yellow-eyed penguins and blue penguins at close quarters is to take a wildlife tour to within the peninsula’s restricted wildlife sanctuary.   Expect to see hooker’s sea lions, fur seals and albatross whilst you’re at it.

Where to Stay: Hotel St Clair is a boutique hotel situated directly above the white sands of St Clair beach.  It has 26 contemporary rooms, and a fantastic restaurant.



Seascape at Annandale

Seascape at Annandale

6. Banks Peninsula

Come to the Banks Peninsula to see a fourth species of penguin – the white-flippered penguin, or Australasian little penguin.  Only guided tours are allowed onto the Pohatu Marine Reserve to visit the breeding colony, but getting there is a real adventure by sea kayak or four-wheel drive.

Where to stay: Annandale Luxury Villas is a working coastal farm with four breathtaking villas, set in stunning scenery and offering complete privacy.  A stay here is simply unforgettable.



These are just a few places where you can spot penguins in New Zealand but if you’re feeling adventurous we can also help you get further afield to see king penguins in the Subantarctic and Antarctica.

For expert advice on the best times of year to visit and where to go to see penguins then please get in touch by calling New Zealand In Depth on 01298 74040 or by emailing [email protected].