WellingtonSee & Do
A tūī stands on a tree branch, surrounded by green leaves.

Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne

  • Location

    53 Waiapu Road, Karori, Wellington

  • Website


The world’s first fully fenced ecosanctuary, Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne is an incredible slice of wilderness. You wouldn’t expect to find 225 hectares of regenerating forest and birdlife only a few minutes’ drive from a city, but you will in Wellington.

Named by Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest places in the world, the Zealandia urban ecosanctuary is a must-visit. It has reintroduced 18 native species into the region, some of which were absent from mainland New Zealand for more than 100 years.

Across the city, you can hear the sound of native birds. Zealandia’s vision to restore the valley to the way it was in pre-human times has led to a large population bump in native birdlife. Its 8.6km fence keeps out introduced mammalian predators so birds such as the tūī, kākā, and kererū, once extremely rare, are now common around central Wellington.

A tour guide wearing uniform from Zealandia, talking to 4 people on the bridge at Zealandia.

The best way to explore Zealandia is on a tour. You can soak up the scenery while knowledgeable guides track down some of the rarest wildlife. You could spot prehistoric reptiles the tuatara, giant wētā, or kererū, the chunky native pigeon whose flapping wings sound like a helicopter in flight.

There are also night tours that leave around dusk. You can explore the sanctuary by torchlight and spot creatures that only come out at night like cave wētā, ruru, and glowworms. If you’re lucky, you may spot a rare little spotted kiwi. Zealandia is home to New Zealand’s second largest population of the tiny bird, with an estimated 140 little spotted kiwis living within the sanctuary.

If you’d rather explore Zealandia by yourself, general admission is available during the day. Grab a visitor map and then head out to walk the 32km of tracks. There are some bridges and a dam to cross, and dozens of intersecting tracks to explore. It’s a peaceful way to spend a few hours getting close to nature, and spotting the abundant wildlife. General admission also includes access to the indoor exhibition and gallery space. There’s a café on site to refuel before or after your visit.

What Zealandia has achieved shows that cities don’t have to be places devoid of native wildlife. The pest-proof ‘urban island’ is the closest thing you’ll ever find to being in New Zealand before humans were here. By visiting the sanctuary, you’re doing your bit towards keeping this wildlife thriving for another generation.