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New Zealand is the Penguin Kingdom

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You don’t have to go to the ice to see penguins in New Zealand.

Welcome to the ‘penguin kingdom’. New Zealand has more penguin species – and more ways to see them – than anywhere else in the world. 

You’ll find them on the sand, in the hills and occasionally in town.

Penguins might just be the world’s most popular bird. It’s true that there’s something extraordinarily compelling about these comical birds with their cartoon good looks, cute antics, cool disposition and celebrated ‘happy feet’.

For the record, penguins are a group of flightless aquatic sea birds. They live almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere, with just one species (the Galapagos) found north of the equator. So, if your clients want to notch up a longed-for penguin experience, New Zealand’s pretty much their best bet.

  • New Zealand is one of few accessible lands with penguin populations. 
  • Of the 18 penguin species, 13 are found in the New Zealand region.
  • Three rare penguin species breed on the New Zealand mainland.

New Zealand has a wide variety of places and ways to view penguins in their natural habitat. Locals were all agog earlier this year when a couple of little blue penguins were seen on several occasions frequenting a sushi truck right outside Wellington’s main railway station.

Here are a few quick facts to help you know your penguins and where to meet them in New Zealand.

Korora / Little Blue Penguin 

The little blue penguin is as its name suggests, little. The smallest penguin species at 35cm (13 inches) the korora weighs around 1kg (2 pounds) and is common in New Zealand coastal waters. Blue penguins travel 15–75 km at sea each day, and only come ashore under cover of darkness.

The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, on the South Island’s east coast, is an ideal spot to watch these little guys making their nightly pilgrimage from the sea, over the rocks, through their underpass tunnel and into their nests.

At Blue Penguins Pukekura on Otago Peninsula, join a penguin scientist on their rounds to assist with the crucial behind-the-scenes conservation work that is contributing to saving this precious feathered population. Kaitiaki means ‘supporting and caring’.  

Closely related to the little blue penguin, the Canterbury white flippered penguin lives around Banks Peninsula, near Christchurch. Check them out with Black Cat Akaroa Harbor Cruises.

Hoiho / Yellow-eyed Penguin 

Unique to New Zealand, the elegant yellow-eyed hoiho is the world’s rarest penguin with only 4000 known individuals. At 75cm in height, it is one of the largest species. This species relies on both marine and land environments to survive. On New Zealand’s South Island, around the Otago Peninsula and North Otago, a huge amount of work has gone into providing nesting sites and shelter to help breeding.

Penguin Place Dunedin takes visitors through a system of covered trenches and into specially designed viewing hides, allowing close-up access to the breeding grounds of the yellow-eyed penguin.

Tawaki / Fiordland Crested Penguin 

The Fiordland crested penguin stands out from the crowd with its super cool spiky yellow top knots. Only found in New Zealand, this penguin frequents southern coastal waters and can be seen around the Catlins (on the Otago / Southland coast), Stewart Island and in Fiordland. Curiously, the tawaki lays two eggs each year but only raises one chick per season – it’s thought that the first egg may be an insurance against failure of the second.

Cruise Milford or Doubtful Sound with Southern Discoveries and Real Journeys and you may spot one sunning itself on the rocks.  

Other Penguin Experiences

In Auckland, Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium is home to groups of majestic king and gentoo penguins from Antarctica. Watch them playing in their icy underground domain or take an exclusive on-the-ice-guided encounter to meet these playful locals and pose for photos with them.

In Christchurch, the International Antarctic Centre offers a chilly on the ice Antarctic experience, along with the Penguin Rescue which has a combined indoor/outdoor penguin viewing area with up to 26 little blue penguins. There are two daily feeding times and a VIP backstage pass for a more exclusive experience.

See the Penguins for Yourself

Interested in traveling to New Zealand to see amazing wildlife, like the penguins mentioned here? Coastwise Travel is a certified New Zealand travel specialist, and we would love to help you plan your trip. We are a full-service travel agency and will put together an itinerary according to your personal priorities and preferences.  Contact us today to get started! 

Encounter unique wildlife in New Zealand