Wildlife & Forest

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Pohutukawa bloom in summer

Whangarei has a fascinating diversity of flora and fauna; see kiwi and tuatara and walk through pristine native forests

The Kiwi Story

Limestone / Matakohe Island in the Whangarei Harbour, is a ‘Kiwi creche’ for the raising of juvenile kiwi birds that can then be released into wild habitats on the mainland. Backyard Kiwi works to ensure that predator control, kiwi monitoring, landowner liaison and engagement, continues to keep the kiwi population on the Whangarei Heads peninsula alive and growing. Marunui Conservation Reserve is home to kiwi that were raised on Motoura Island. Kiwi birds can be seen in the nocturnal house at Kiwi North.


Found only in New Zealand, the tuatara is the last living relative of the dinosaurs. This reptile are rare, medium-sized reptiles (adults range from about 300g to 1000g). Tuatara once lived throughout the mainland but have survived in the wild only on 32 offshore islands. Tuatara is a Maori word meaning "spiny back".  You won’t see tuatara in the wild but don’t miss a visit to KiwiNorth where you can see these fascinating creatures.

Tara-iti - Fairy Terns 

With a population of around 40 birds and an average of 9 breeding pairs, Sternula nereis davisae, the NZ fairy tern or tara-iti is one of NZ’s rarest birds. Once widespread, their habitat is now restricted to only four sites, with some of these birds nesting and feeding in Waipu and Ruakaka Wildlife Sanctuaries. Find out more at the NZ Fairy Tern Charitable Trust website.

Buller's Shearwater & Tuatara

Buller’s shearwaters are medium to large-sized seabirds with long slender hooked bills. Their sole breeding grounds are the Poor Knights Islands and recent estimates suggests there may be 100,000 pairs using Aorangi island, less than half of the estimate made in 1981. The birds dig burrows in the volcanic soil and return to the same nest year after year. They will share this burrow with the nocturnal tuatara. 

At night, the tuatara leaves to feed, but will guard the Shearwater’s  eggs during the day whilst the shearwater stays at sea feeding and resting on the surface. The tuatara will not eat its host’s egg, and the bird will not scratch its guest. This symbiotic relationship exists on few other offshore islands in NZ. After the breeding season, the birds migrate to the central South Pacific before heading to the North Pacific Ocean.

Brown Teal or Pateke

The brown teal, or pāteke, is a small dabbling duck species endemic to New Zealand. They once live throughout the lowland freshwater wetlands and forests of NZ but it is now NZ’s rarest mainland waterfowl.  Mimiwhangata Coastal Park forms the last mainland stronghold for this small, secretive, mostly nocturnal duck.

Kiwi North - Museum, Kiwi House & Heritage Park

Truly Unique Wildlife

Only in New Zealand will you see these two animals – the iconic kiwi bird and the tuatara that walked the earth with dinosaurs. Visit the Nocturnal House at KiwiNorth and you may see both.

Find out more
The beautiful keruru or kukupa (wood pigeon) is common throughout Whangarei.
The beautiful keruru or kukupa (wood pigeon) is common throughout Whangarei.


Other unique and beautiful birds that enrich our skies and forests include the  kukupapa/kereru (wood pigeon), tui,  piwakawaka (fantail), kakariki (parakeet)and the  miromiro (tomtit). Take a walk through native forest and some are sure to entertain and delight you.

Life in the Ocean

Whangarei is blessed with 270 kilometres of outstanding coastline. Not surprisingly, these waters are home to a plethora of sea life. Common and Bottlenose dolphins, several species of whales including orca, minke, Bryde’s and pilot whales feed off the coast and it is not uncommon to see these awe inspiring creatures close to shore and within the District’s harbours.

Get up close and personal with the marine life by snorkelling or diving at one of the District’s marine reserves; note that these are reserves and no marine life, including shellfish can be taken:  - Poor Knights Island Marine Reserve  - Mimiwhangata Coastal Park   - Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve - Motukaroro and Reotahi Marine Reserve

Elusive Eels

Tuna kuwharuwharu (longfin eels) are of great significance, culturally, nutritionally and economically to Maori and there are many traditional stories, artefacts and songs about eels. These threatened and important top predators are found nowhere else in the world. 

The longfin eel lives up to 100 years and travels 2000km to the deep sea trenches near Tonga before mating and dying. After a couple of years, the young return to NZ to live and grow in our rivers and streams. In the past 100 years eel habitat has reduced as a result of urban and rural development. Barriers such as hydro power stations, weirs and pumps stations have meant making the trip up and down stream more difficult for the eels. Projects are in place to address these challenges and help keep the long-fin eel in our waterways.

A kauri tree reaching for the sky at AH Reed Memorial Park
A kauri tree reaching for the sky at AH Reed Memorial Park

Indigenous Forest

Just over 10% of the original indigenous forest remains today, with podocarp, kauri and broadleaf forests found on rolling to steep hill country. Small fragmented remains or individual trees of ancient broadleaf forests survive on the rich volcanic soils of Maungatapere, Maunu, Whatitiri, Maungakaramea and Glenbervie. Small stands of kauri remain, one of which can be viewed at AH Reed Memorial Park which includes a boardwalk through the forest canopy. There are many other walks through outstanding native forest throughout the District, including the hike to Tane Moana; measuring over 11 metres in diameter, this is one of the largest remaining kauri trees remaining. Check out more walks in Whangarei here.

The native kowhai tree's vibrant golden blooms are a cheerful splash of colour in winter.
The native kowhai tree's vibrant golden blooms are a cheerful splash of colour in winter.


Northland is one of only two regions in New Zealand which has extensive forests of large mangrove trees. These forests are made up of a number of different types of habitats - mangrove stands, pneumatophore zones, seagrass beds, low-tide channels, channel banks, and mudflats.The richness of the mangrove habitat makes it an ideal spot for fish, crabs, snails and crustaceans to set up home, which in turn attract an abundance of sea birds and fish to these unique habitats. In Whangarei, you can meander along boardwalks through mangrove forests on the Waimahanga Walkway, a pleasant walk located just a few kilometres from the city centre.

Poor Knights Lily

The Poor Knights Lily is unique to only three offshore islands in New Zealand, including the Poor Knights Islands off the Tutukaka Coast. The vivid red blooms provide a spectacular show that starts in October. 

Red & Gold

Winter in the District is made more cheery as the native kowhai tree blooms in vibrant yellow. The blossoms provide a much needed food source for local nectar loving birds. From November to January, the coast blazes with glorious red as gnarled pohutukawa or NZ Christmas trees blossom.