West Coast locals can be cheeky, graceful, elusive and some are just downright cute. And when you are surrounded by their homes on the sea, beach, rainforest, rivers, lakes and mountains you can't help but run into at least one. From the smallest of penguins to some of the rarest of kiwis, wildlife on the West Coast is incredibly diverse and very accessible. Just make sure the keas don't steal your lunch.
Here is a list of just some of the amazing wildlife you can see on the West Coast, New Zealand.
The Blue Duck (Whio) is a river specialist, one of only three waterfowl in the world that live on fast flowing rivers year round. They occur nowhere else in the world and are a threatened species so if you see them you are one of the lucky ones. Your best chance of seeing one is by doing a tramp up to the headwaters of one of the many West Coast rivers.
The glowworm is not actually a worm. It is an insect that uses bioluminescense to attract its dinner of other small flying insects. They like sheltered damp places like a cave roof or overhanging bank in the forest and hundreds can live side by side. This makes for an amazing light display at night. There are places to see these other-worldly insects all along the West Coast, most very easily accessible and near the road. Just ask a local, they can tell you the best places. There are also guided caving tours with Norwest Adventures where you can see a whole galaxy of gloworms.
The Hectors Dolphin is one of the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins and is found only in New Zealand waters. They play near the shore as they like shallower waters so chances are you will spot one from one of the many viewpoints along the coast. Punakaiki is a paticularly good spot to find them, and they often accompany leisure boaters along the shore. They also hang around the fishing boats in Greymouth and Westport and like to play on the incoming tides around the mouth of the Buller River.
Green with bright red under their wings, the world's only alpine parrot is often referred to as the "cheeky kea". These incredibly intelligent birds use their strong beaks and sharp claws to explore and investigate everything including your backpack, lunch, even your car windscreen. They are most often seen at Arthur's Pass National Park but can be seen anywhere on the West Coast. Even on the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers - they have their own special talons for walking on ice.
There are three types of kiwis on the West Coast. The most rare of all kiwis the Rowi makes its home near Okarito and the Haast Tokoeka resides near Haast. We also have the Great Spotted Kiwi (Roa) which is endemic to the South Island and is NZ's 2nd largest kiwi. The Roa lives predominantly on the north-western South Island. The Rowi and Haast Tokoeka kiwis are getting a helping hand by the Kiwi Sanctuary with associated breeding programs. New Zealand's native bird is mostly active at night and very elusive - bad news when you want to see one. But don't give up hope there are some ways to better your chances. Take a unique evening guided kiwi tour at Okarito or visit the National Kiwi Centre in Hokitika or the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef to see and hear these rare birds.
The White Heron with its bright white feathers, long neck and large graceful wings is truly a beautiful bird and can often been seen fishing in wetland areas. For a unique experience, take a guided White Heron Sanctuary Tour to the Waitangi Roto Nature Reserve near Whataroa where they nest in the trees to breed. You may also take a tour with the Okarito Boat Tours on the Okarito lagoon and rainforest waterways to view the birds, ancient plants and trees.
There are two types of penguins on the West Coast. The Little Blue Penguin (Korora)is the world's smallest penguin and you can often spot them coming ashore at night along much of the West Coast. Near Punakaiki, take extra special care on the roads along the Great Coast Road as the penguins cross here to get to their nests. The Fiordland Crested Penguin (Tawaki) is one of the world's rarest and makes its home in the areas around Haast. The Munro Beach Walk near Lake Moeraki is your best bet to see them. It's a 2-hour return walk through rainforest out to the beach. The penguins are best seen between July to December either late afternoon or early morning. Just sit quietly and wait for them to pass by as they come to or from the sea and don’t take dogs with you – they are a major threat to penguins.
It is not uncommon to be enjoying a walk along a West Coast beach and suddenly find yourself tripping over a New Zealand fur seal. These seals love to lounge around and soak up the sun. To see a large group of them, visit Tauranga Bay at Cape Foulwind near Westport where there is a breeding colony. Access is via an easy walking trail.
The weka is often mistaken for a kiwi. But don't be fooled - one good hint it is a weka is they are out during the day and not shy by any means! A large, brown flightless bird they are seen often on the walking trails around the West Coast. The kids love chasing them as they make their great booming calls.
The Westland Petrel (Taiko) is a large-ish blue grey bird native to New Zealand. This is the West Coast’s very own seabird, which breeds only at a few colonies between Punakaiki and Barrytown. Petrels are silent at sea, and give cooing and cackling calls at night. During the breeding season, the adults mostly feed off the West Coast between Haast and Cape Farewell. Between breeding seasons Westland petrels migrate to South American seas. Between April and November the petrels can be seen offshore just before dusk south of Punakaiki. Immediately after dark they can be seen fying inland south of Punakaiki, or following the south bank of the Punakaiki River. This is a threatened species with fisheries bycatch thought to be one of the major threats.