Seeking out the Kiwi, New Zealand’s Favourite Bird

Seeking out the Kiwi, New Zealand’s Favourite Bird

Updated August 2, 2023

The kiwi bird is the unofficial mascot of New Zealand, so much so that we New Zealanders even call ourselves ‘kiwis’. The kiwi’s center stage role in New Zealand society is obvious to anyone who visits—from advertisements to our currency, the kiwi seems to be everywhere.

But while images and icons of kiwi birds are ubiquitous around New Zealand, don’t expect it to be so easy to see the birds themselves. Kiwi are extremely endangered, nocturnal and notoriously shy.

Meet the kiwi

Fortunately, there are reserves and parks around the country where you can see live kiwi. It may not be as thrilling as stumbling across an exotic animal in the forest, but these reserves closely replicate the kiwi’s natural habitat and give you a glimpse into how they behave in the wild.

Best of all: most of these organizations operate as breeding and rehabilitation centers, so your admission fee is going straight to conservation and support for these national treasures.

To see a kiwi on your trip to New Zealand, check out:

Rainbow Springs

The Kiwi Encounter at Rotorua’s Rainbow Springs is the North Island’s most popular kiwi experience. Since 1995, Rainbow Springs has worked with the Department of Conservation on North Island Brown kiwi conservation.

The park itself has seven kiwi on display and also operates an ‘open to view’ kiwi hatchery. In addition to the Kiwi Encounter, Rainbow Springs runs a 22 acre wildlife park full of all the weird and wonderful animals that live in New Zealand. If you’re traveling with kids, this is bound to be a highlight.

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

Located in Christchurch, Willowbank Wildlife Reserve runs one of the country’s most prolific kiwi breeding programs. Rowi are the rarest species of kiwi, with only about 400 in the wild, and over a third of these kiwis have their origins at Willowbank. Not a bad contribution to the conservation effort! Take a peek at what goes on behind the scenes with a kiwi breeding tour (these run during breeding season: August-February).

Willowbank is also a great opportunity to learn about New Zealand before the European colonization. The park includes an array of native and introduced species, and also operates a popular Maori cultural tour in the evenings. You won’t find a more complete New Zealand experience anywhere else.

West Coast Wildlife Center

The West Coast Wildlife Center is located in Franz Josef village, an area famous for its impressive glaciers and also as the home of the rowi. Predictably, rehabilitating rowi chicks is the main focus of the center. The modern facilities (very modern—it opened in November 2010) offer engaging interactive displays and plenty of information about the local kiwi population.

Stewart Island

The reserves are the most reliable places to see kiwi, but if you are dead set on seeing a kiwi in the wild, your best chance is on Stewart Island – the much smaller, but very beautiful island at the very bottom of New Zealand (en route to Antarctica). The unique habits of the Stewart Island kiwi, like feeding during the day and living in groups, make this the most likely location for a wild kiwi sighting.

Even still, sightings are not guaranteed. It’s worth a try though: if you do see one, you’ll have had an experience that most New Zealanders don’t even get!