Wildlife and forest
Whangārei 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 Whangārei Harbour, is a ‘Kiwi creche’ for the raising of juvenile kiwi birds before they are released into wild habitats on the mainland. Backyard Kiwi works to ensure that predator control, kiwi monitoring, land owner liaison and engagement, continues to keep the kiwi population on the Whangārei Heads peninsula alive and growing. Kiwi birds can be seen in the nocturnal house at Kiwi North.
Tuatara means "spiny back" and these reptiles, found only in New Zealand, are the last living relative of the dinosaurs. They are rare, medium-sized reptiles (adults range from about 300g to 1000g) that once lived throughout the mainland but have survived in the wild only on 32 offshore islands. 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 nine breeding pairs, the NZ fairy tern Sternula nereis davisae 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 Ruakākā Wildlife Sanctuaries. Find out more at the NZ Fairy Tern Charitable Trust.
Buller's shearwater & tuatara
Buller’s shearwaters are medium to large-sized sea birds 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 harm 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 pāteke
The brown teal, or pāteke, is a small, dabbling duck species endemic to New Zealand. They once live throughout lowland freshwater wetlands and forests but they are now NZ’s rarest mainland waterfowl. Mimiwhangata Coastal Park forms the last mainland stronghold for this small, secretive, mostly nocturnal duck.
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 to see both of these very special creatures.
Other unique and beautiful birds that enrich our skies and forests include the kūkupa/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
Whangārei is blessed with 270kms 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 marine life by snorkeling or diving at one of the District’s marine reserves; note that these are reserves and no marine life, including shellfish can be taken:
Threatened longfin eels Tuna kuwharuwharu are found no where else in the world and are of great significance to Māori; culturally, nutritionally and economically and there are many traditional stories, artefacts and songs about them.
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 New Zealand 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.
Podocarp, kauri and broadleaf forests, remains of New Zealand's original indigenous forests, can be found throughout Whangarei district and there are many tracks and trails for hiking through them. Small stands of kauri also remain. Mature kauri trees can be seen at the AH Reed Memorial Park and impressive Tāne Moana, on the Tutukākā coast, measuring over 11m in diameter which makes him one of the largest remaining kauri trees remaining. Check out more walks in Whangārei here.
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. Mangrove forests are ideal habitats for crabs, snails and crustaceans, which attracts an abundance of sea birds and fish to these unique ecosystems. In Whangārei, you can follow boardwalks through mangrove forests on the Waimahanga Walkway, located just a few kilometres from the city centre.
Poor Knights Lily
The Poor Knights Lily Xeronema callistemon is unique to only three offshore islands in New Zealand, including the Poor Knights Islands off the Tutukākā Coast. The beautiful lily with flax-like foliage, produces vibrant red blooms, providing a spectacular show that starts in New Zealand's spring and lasts for several months.
Red & Gold
Winter in the Whangārei District is made more cheery as the native kowhai tree blooms in vibrant gold. The blossoms provide a much needed winter food source for nectar loving birds. From November to January, the District and coast blazes with glorious red as gnarled pōhutukawa or New Zealand Christmas trees burst into blossom.