A rare King Shag in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand
  • Bird life

    Kiwi, native falcon & rare king shag

  • Marine life

    Dolphins, orca, seals & more

  • Wildlife

    Visit island sanctuaries

  • Coastal Gem

    Long Island Marine Reserve


Wildlife & Conservation

Endangered kiwi and various native birds including the King Shag thrive on predator-free islands in the Marlborough Sounds, as well as tuatara, gecko and native frogs.

The winding waterways of the sounds hold dolphins, stingrays, seals, and even orca and whales on their seasonal migration.

Back on dry land, the Picton Heritage and Whaling Museum hosts interesting rich stories of the region's whaling history.

Other ways to immerse yourself in Marlborough's wildlife and conservation is to Kayak on the Wairau Lagoons, cruise close to a multitude of New Zealand bird species, or visit the rare population of bats being protected at the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve. Stroll the wildlife trail at Lochmara Lodge, or discover more about the award-winning sustainability practices at Yealands Estate winery.

  1. Maud Island Scientific Reserve
  2. Motuara Island bird sanctuary
  3. Long tailed bats
  4. Blumine Island bird sanctuary
  5. Marlborough Sounds Wildlife Recovery Centre
  6. Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary
  7. Wairau Lagoons, including royal spoonbills
  8. Kokomohua Marine Reserve
  9. Mistletoe Bay Eco Village
  10. The Marlborough Falcon Trust
Roy Grose

Roy Grose Director Operations, Northern South Island | Te Tau Ihu

“Marlborough is the mountains to the sea. One day you can be out in the Marlborough Sounds, and the next day be up at Lake Rotoiti. On the way you can stop and pick cherries or have a glass of wine at a cellar door. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

My insider guide to Marlborough

Motuara Island bird sanctuary

It’s taken an enormous amount of work over decades to return the bush and the birds to islands like Motuara in the Queen Charlotte Sound, which was covered in lush forest when Captain James Cook used it to claim British sovereignty over the South Island in 1770.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the island was used for farming, but in 1920 Motuara was declared a reserve.

The bird sanctuary is now predator free, and visitors can walk to a lookout at the top, via tui, bellbird, cheeky robins and fantails, as well as yellow-crowned parakeets and around 200 South Island saddleback. Cruises depart from Picton daily for trips to the island, which is about an hour by boat.

You’ll see penguin nesting boxes, with downy chicks in residence, but the most important species on the island - the nocturnal Okarito brown kiwi - is hidden from sight to most.

There are just 400 rowi nationwide, and the birds here are part of Project Rowi and Operation Nest Egg, through which eggs are removed from the natural habitat of Okarito on the West Coast, hatched in captivity, and the chicks taken to Motuara to grow through to adolescence, before being returned home.

Please make sure there are no pests stowed away on your boat or in your gear. No dogs allowed.

King Shags

Spot the king shag, a rare bird with a population of 500-600, which sit off Motuara Island, three other nearby islands, and nowhere else in the world. These birds are shy and precious, so keep at least 100 metres from their nesting and roosting sites.

You’ll see plenty of other seabirds in the Marlborough Sounds, including beautiful little blue penguins, gannets, shags, terns, shearwaters, white-faced herons, kingfishers and oystercatchers.

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