What wildlife can I see in Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand?

New Zealand's smallest national park is also among its most popular, as much for its golden sandy beaches as for its natural wonders.

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With black beech forests ringing with birdsong and waters splashed by seals, dolphins and penguins, Abel Tasman National Park is also a delight for wildlife lovers. A major ecological restoration programme, called Project Janszoon, aims to return the park to its pre-colonial state.

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Weka Gallirallus australis

Wekas on the beach. © Tobias Bernhard/Getty
Wekas on the beach © Tobias Bernhard/Getty

A loud ‘coo-eet’ call at dawn or dusk might be the first indication that a weka is nearing your campsite – where this inquisitive, flightless bird may decide to check out your picnic. Once common in the park, weka disappeared decades ago but were reintroduced in 2006.

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New Zealand fur seal Arctocephalus forsteri

New Zealand fur seal. © Matthew Micah Wright/Getty
New Zealand fur seal © Matthew Micah Wright/Getty

Colonies of this lithe marine mammal breed on islands in the park, notably Tonga Island – now a protected marine reserve, where landing is by permit only. Paddle your kayak around the island to see seals swimming or hauling out on the rocky shore.

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Other species

Little blue penguin. © 4FR/Getty
Little blue penguin © 4FR/Getty
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Find a quiet beach as night falls and you may see little blue penguins Eudyptula minor (Māori name: ‘kororā’). You’ll almost certainly spot South Island pied oystercatchers Haematopus finschi and variable oystercatchers Haematopus unicolor probing the wet sand. In the forests, listen for the otherworldly whistles of tui Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae.

Key facts

Area: 225km2 

Length of coastal track: 60km

Created: 1942

When to go

Summer (November to February) is the warmest but busiest season, when huts and campsites on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track get booked out well in advance. Spring and autumn are quieter but still truly delightful. 

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Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand. © Martin Krmer / EyeEm/Getty