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TRAVEL & LEISURE

Our Auckland: Five Unforgettable Animal Encounters Our Readers Love to Have in Auckland

Search for nocturnal animals on an after-dark tour and go scuba diving in a marine reserve.
By Melanie Colwell
November 23, 2020
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By Melanie Colwell
November 23, 2020
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in partnership with

Whether it's patting your neighbour's pup or tuning into a zoo's live stream of baby snow leopards playing, there's just something about interacting with other animals that's guaranteed to brighten our day. If you're in dire need of a serotonin boost, courtesy of some furry friends, Auckland has plenty of options for animal encounters — from going behind the scenes at a zoo to seeing native wildlife in their natural habitat. So, we've teamed up with Tourism New Zealand to ask you — Concrete Playground readers — about animal encounters you've loved in and around Auckland. Here are some of your selections.

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SEE NATIVE WILDLIFE IN THEIR NATURAL HABITAT

We all know the brown kiwi is our national icon, but how many of us have actually seen it in the wild? Well, now is the time to tick it off your bucket list, thanks to this after-dark experience with Habitat Tours. It takes place in the marine reserve of Tawharanui, which is home to New Zealand brown kiwi, plus other rare species like Morepork (spotted owl) and weta (flightless crickets). Many of these are nocturnal, which is why the tour happens at night, giving you the best chance to see them going about their business — plus, the clear night sky here makes for some epic stargazing. The tour costs $130 per person and includes transportation from Auckland, Warkworth and Matakana, a light supper and a guided tour of the area. You'll be given binoculars to increase your chances of spotting some action.

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CRUISE AROUND AUCKLAND'S HAURAKI GULF IN SEARCH OF MARINE LIFE

The South Island may be considered the place to go to spot marine life along New Zealand's coast, but you don't actually have to venture that far. Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari promises encounters with whales, dolphins, seals and rare seabirds right in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. The 4.5-hour cruise departs from the Viaduct Basin and takes place on a custom-built 65-foot catamaran. While you cruise around in search of marine life, the crew will share facts about the area and animals, and occasionally get passengers involved with their research activities — the company works with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and universities to conduct marine mammal research during tours. Tours depart from 1.30pm on weekdays and twice daily on weekends, and tickets start from $99 per person.

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GET UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

Auckland Zoo boasts some pretty impressive statistics. Since its opening in December 1922, it has seen a whopping 28 million visitors to its 16-hectare park which is filled with over 1400 animals from 135 species. All the usual zoo animal suspects are present, including African lions, giraffes, elephants and zebras. You can also expect cotton-top tamarins, squirrel monkeys, Tasmanian devils and four Gálapagos tortoises. For the full experience, plan your visit around the keeper talks on everything from meerkats to Australia's red-tailed black cockatoos. The zoo normally offers a number of behind-the-scenes experiences, including the chance to feed a giraffe or red panda, but these are on hold until further notice.

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Neil Bennett

SCUBA DIVE IN A STUNNING MARINE RESERVE

In 1975, New Zealand established its first marine reserve at Cape Rodney/Okakari Point, just north of Auckland. In the years since then, the area's transformation has been incredible and it's now considered one of the best places to scuba dive and snorkel on the North Island, particularly the reserve's tiny island Te Hāwere-a-Maki (or Goat Island). On a one-day charter to Goat Island with New Zealand Diving, you'll complete two dives in the marine reserve from the Midnight Diver boat. Once you venture beneath the surface, you'll have the chance to see big snappers, blue maomao, gorgonian fans and lace coral — and plenty more. This is a full-day tour that kicks off at 8.30am and costs $175 per person.

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EXPLORE A STUNNING WILDLIFE SANCTUARY

For an adventure that'll leave you feeling like you're world away from the city, pop on a ferry at Downtown Auckland ferry terminal to Tiritiri Matangi Island. About 75 minutes later, you'll arrive at the stunning wildlife sanctuary. This is a predator-free island, and is one of New Zealand's most important conservation projects. Spend the day looking for rare and endangered birds like the korora (little penguin) and takahē (a flightless native bird), plus one of the country's oldest pohutukawa (New Zealand Christmas) trees. Be sure to visit the picturesque Hobbs Beach and New Zealand's oldest operating lighthouse. There are also a handful of walking tracks to conquer, plus a 90-minute guided tour on offer for $10 per person. Remember to pack everything you need, including food, drinks, swimming gear and sun protection, as there are no shops on the island, and take any rubbish with you, too. If you're keen to stay the night, you can book a bed in the island's bunkhouse, but you'll need to do so well in advance.

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Discover more exciting things to do (and businesses to support) around Auckland here

Top image: Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari

Published on November 23, 2020 by Melanie Colwell

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