Will Sweetman

New Zealand and Australia are often seen from afar as alike, and in many ways they are. Our wildlife, however, is very different. While Australia is host to many of the most deadly creatures on the planet, New Zealand’s are entirely harmless. Even our airforce has a flightless bird, the kiwi, as its emblem.

Dunedin, which claims the title of New Zealand’s wildlife capital, is a great place to meet our friendly wildlife. Sir David Bellamy has described the Otago Peninsula as “the finest example of eco-tourism in the world.” The Royal Albatross Centre—at Taiaroa Head on the exposed eastern tip of Otago Peninsula—is the only mainland-based albatross breeding ground in the world. Visitors can experience the exhilaration of having a huge northern royal albatross with a three-metre wingspan glide effortlessly and silently over their heads or land in front of their cameras.

The beaches strung out along the coast near Dunedin are home to New Zealand sea lions and fur seals—spring is a great time to see seal pups. Two of New Zealand’s many species of penguin also breed on the peninsula. The kororā or little blue penguin—the world’s smallest penguin—can be seen in its natural habitat returning to nest each evening in cliff-face burrows at Pilots Beach. The larger hoiho, or yellow-eyed penguins, are found only on the south-eastern coast of New Zealand. You can see them from hides on several of the beaches, or they may just walk out of the water while you’re sunbathing.

Whales (right whales and humpback whales), orcas and dolphins are all occasional visitors to the Otago harbour, although for guaranteed viewing you should plan to stop at Kaikoura on your way to or from Dunedin. Further afield, in Central Otago or Fiordland, you may be pestered by New Zealand’s alpine parrot, the curious and cheeky kea, or see what Benedict Cumberbatch can only call “penglings.”