8 great wildlife and animal parks

8 great wildlife and animal parks

Zoos and animal parks can be likened to natural history museums giving a better understanding of the natural world and empathy for the creatures we share it with. These holidays, enjoy an up close and intimate experience at one of Wendy Montrose’s favourite places.

Brooklands Zoo, 30 Brooklands Park Drive, New Plymouth

This free, family-focused zoo is home to a variety of farmyard animals, amphibians, reptiles, oriental small-clawed otters, meerkats, a brolga, Bolivian squirrel monkeys, and both capuchin and cotton-top tamarin monkeys, as well as a selection of exotic parrots housed inside a walk-through free-flight aviary. Officially opened to the public in 1965, the zoo has undergone many changes, with recent developments creating more open natural habitats for the animals while allowing closer, unrestricted viewing for visitors. You’re welcome to take along your picnic basket; just don’t share the spoils with the zoo animals. There’s plenty of parking at the top of Brooklands Drive or walk from the city centre through Pukekura Park. Open daily 9.30am to 4pm.

Staglands Wildlife Reserve, 2362 Akatarawa Road, Upper Hutt, Wellington

8 great wildlife and animal parks
Experience the joy and wonder of childhood at Staglands

As a townie kid, nothing could beat the excitement of farm visit days. Staglands, created by John Simister in 1972, stirs the same feeling of joy and wonder. His vision to provide an opportunity for people to freely interact with wildlife in as natural an environment as possible has resulted in a wonderful place to get up close to all kinds of animals, including a range of waterfowl, farm animals, fallow deer, and many more. Cross the river to a recreation of an abandoned bush settlement or join a free lunchtime feed tour. When you need to refuel, there’s a log cabin café or, if you prefer to bring your own food, there are numerous picnic spots and complimentary barbecues. Today, the park plays a big part in conservation efforts in partnership with DOC through their captive breeding programme for whio (grey duck). Open every day from 9.30am to 5pm.

Butterfly Creek, 10 Tom Pearce drive, Auckland

8 great wildlife and animal parks
Immerse yourself among the butterflies at Butterfly Creek

Where else can you see saltwater crocodiles, tropical butterflies, life-size animatronic dinosaurs that roar and move, dragons, unicorns, mermaids, and live critters all in one place? Butterfly Creek near Auckland Airport is home to all of these and more, including a café, train rides, and a playground. Be one of the lucky few to see our largest species of giant wētā. Since 2009, they have run a ‘captive rear and release’ programme for wetapunga, ensuring its survival for future generations. Open Wednesday to Sunday from 9.30am.


Island Bay Bait House Aquarium, Marine Education Centre, Island Bay, Wellington

8 great wildlife and animal parks
Boris the big bad blue cod at the Island Bay Marine Education Centre’s Bait House Aquarium

The Wellington Marine Conservation Trust firmly believes that the more people know about the marine environment, the more they want to take care of it. Their mission is to inspire as many of us as possible to learn more about our marine life and environments and their education programme has hosted more than 1,000,000 visitors since 1996. On Sundays, the Island Bay Bait House Aquarium is open to the public with expert Marine Biologists and dedicated volunteers on hand to guide visitors on a fascinating exploration. You can hold soft sea cucumbers, scurrying crabs, kina, and creatures you never knew existed in the ‘touch gently pools’ and learn about octopuses, seahorses, blue cod, and loads more. Open Sundays from 10am to 3pm.

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Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, 30km north of Masterton on SH 2

8 great wildlife and animal parks
The Pūkaha Mount Bruce visitor centre is the entrance to a wonderland of native wildlife and bushwalks

See conservation and forest restoration in action at this breeding sanctuary for native wildlife. When Mount Bruce farmer Elwyn Welch and his bantams successfully raised four takahē chicks in 1960, the way was paved for the creation of the National Wildlife Centre. Established in 1962 to breed and release endangered native birds, Pukaha/Mount Bruce is home to a diverse range of birds, reptiles, and invertebrates, thanks to thousands of traps and bait stations scattered through the 942-hectare forest. Go along and watch rangers feed the tuna (eels). Visit a free flight aviary full of native New Zealand birds and the kiwi nursery, where chicks are raised for release all over Aotearoa. Open daily from 9am to 6pm.

Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park, 467 Paradise Valley Road Ngongotaha Valley, Rotorua

8 great wildlife and animal parks
See the lion feeding at Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park at 2:30pm every day

Since 1939, when Paradise Valley Springs operated as a trout spring, they’ve encouraged hands-on or close contact with many of their animals. This privately owned and operated family business hopes to foster an appreciation and love for wildlife while also educating visitors about the challenges a lot of our native species are facing on a day-to-day basis. The 48-acre property is a natural and well-maintained bush environment with an active pest control programme making it safer for the wild inhabitants, which include native long-tailed bats. The park has friendly animals for hand feeding, a free flight aviary, trout, and even lions and you can get a different view from the elevated treetops walkway. Open from 8am to 5pm every day.

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Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, 60 Hussey Road, Harewood, Christchurch

8 great wildlife and animal parks
Have a close encounter of the wildlife kind at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

Get up close to heritage livestock breeds and native and exotic wildlife as you journey through the natural history of New Zealand at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve’s farmyard, New Zealand, and zoo/exotics sections. You see the impact of introduced species and enjoy encounters with native wildlife. Attractions such as the deer stalker’s hut, the tractor museum, and the Māori village complete the story. Willowbank is also part of Operation Nest Egg, which hatches and grows kiwi for release back into the wild; their on-site Wildlife Hospital treats, rehabilitates, and releases many wild and native birds. Open every day except Christmas Day from 9.30am to 5 pm.

Natureland Wildlife Trust Hounsell Circle, Tahunanui Beach Reserve, Nelson

8 great wildlife and animal parks
An African crested porcupine at Natureland
Accredited zoos are the third largest contributors to global conservation projects and Natureland has the highest proportional impact for conservation of any accredited zoo in New Zealand. Their vision is to be a community-based conservation organisation, devoted to connecting people, places, and animals. Specialising in Nelson Tasman native species, Natureland also breeds endangered birds for release in Abel Tasman National Park. You can also see primates, meerkats, porcupines, and other exotic species, including heritage farm animals. Open daily from 9.30am to 4pm.
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