Skip to Content

15 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Wellington

15 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Wellington

This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.

If you’re spending any length of time in Wellington, visiting Zealandia Ecosanctuary is a must! It’s a huge eco park just 10 minutes from the downtown (CBD) area, and it was built to protect New Zealand’s unique native creatures.

Invasive species are one of the biggest threats to wildlife in New Zealand, which is why this ecosanctuary is completely fenced off and predator free! In fact, Zealandia was the first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary in the world!

Consequently, it’s also one of the best places on the North Island to see wildlife including rare birds like Takahē and Tui, and reptiles like Maud Island Frogs and Tuatara. 

This place is nothing like a zoo. Despite being in the middle of New Zealand’s capital city, wildlife exists pretty much as nature intended it within the fences of Zealandia, which I personally find pretty amazing! 

I had an absolute blast when I visited Zealandia and it remains one of my favorite things to do in Wellington. For me, wildlife is one of the best things about living in New Zealand, and this place is the perfect example of just how committed the country is to conservation. 

So, if you are thinking about visiting Zealandia, then here are a few things to help prepare for your visit!

1. About Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Wellington

Zealandia dam near Wellington, NZ
A bird paradise in New Zealand’s capital city!
Bailey stands along the pathway overlooking Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Wellington

Wellington used to be a biologically rich area but when European settlers arrived, they brought non-native mammals (species like cats, stoats, rats, possums, etc) with them whose presence did major damage to local ecosystems.

On top of this, heavy farming and urban development meant that by the 1990s, Wellington had become very biologically poor. 

In the early 1990s, conservationist Jim Lynch proposed a wildlife sanctuary in Wellington to protect its native flora and fauna, and a reservoir catchment area was identified as the perfect spot for such a project. The area was completely closed off by the world’s first predator-proof fence, and in 1999 the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary opened its doors to the public (although the name would later be changed to Zealandia). 

So basically, what makes Zealandia special is that for over 20 years, it has been completely closed off from the rest of the city and thus protected from urban activity and invasive species. This means that you won’t find any mammals here, because New Zealand actually has no native land mammals! As a result, the native New Zealand wildlife here is thriving and it’s a true bird paradise. 

Honestly, when I took a tour of Zealandia I felt like I had stepped into a Jurassic Park movie! I couldn’t believe that I was still within the city limits of Wellington!

I was also fascinated to learn that Zealandia has a long-term vision of restoring the waterways and valleys around Wellington to their pre-human state. And when I say long-term, I’m not talking about a 5 year plan – I’m talking about a 500 year plan. Now that’s commitment to a cause!

Two Kaka fight at the Kākā Feeding area in Zealandia, New Zealand
A couple of Kākā in Zealandia!

So now that you know all of this, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that Zealandia is home to a ton of endangered species. It’s actually probably the best place in the country to see rare birdlife, and at night you can even spot the iconic (and elusive) Kiwi bird here, which is New Zealand’s national animal – seeing one should be on your NZ bucket-list!

It’s also home to lots of frogs, insects, and amphibians, and of course a ton of diverse plant life. 

Perhaps the sanctuary’s biggest achievement, though, is that it was instrumental in reviving the Kākā population! Kākā are charmingly cheeky birds that are only found in New Zealand (see the above photo), and their name mimics the sound of their distinctive cry. 

The Kākā population had been almost completely destroyed by non-native predators, and hadn’t existed on the mainland for years. When Zealandia opened, 14 Kākā were reintroduced to the North Island, and their population has seen impressive growth since. You can now also find them outside of the sanctuary in several places across the country, but Zealandia is still one of the best places to spot these sassy birds.

2. Where is Zealandia Ecosanctuary in Wellington?

Bailey walks a trail at Zealandia, NZ

Zealandia is located 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) from downtown Wellington, so it takes roughly 10 minutes to drive there. It’s situated in a valley and covers an area of around 2.3 square kilometers (0.87 square miles).

Apparently, there was some resistance from local suburban residents when the fences first went up, but people soon changed their minds when they saw the positive impact the sanctuary has had on New Zealand’s native wildlife.

3. How do you get to Zealandia Ecosanctuary? 

Bailey stands at the Zealandia sign at the entrance
Kākā at the Kākā Feeding area at Zealandia

Free Shuttle

There’s a free shuttle that can take you to Zealandia from the city center or the top of the Wellington cable car. 

If you’re coming from downtown, you can catch it from the i-Site visitor information center on Wakefield Street. The shuttle leaves once an hour from 9:30 am until 2:30 pm, although it sometimes departs early if it’s full, so try to get there ahead of your departure time. 

Alternatively, you can also take the free shuttle to Zealandia from the Botanic Gardens, which are at the top of the Wellington cable car. The shuttle leaves here every 30 minutes from 9:50 am until 3:50 pm, every day of the week. 

Then, after you’ve finished exploring Zealandia, you can take the free shuttle back to either the downtown i-Site center or the top of the cable car.  

Cable Car

Riding the Wellington cable car is one of the best things to do in the city, and you can easily combine it with a visit to Zealandia.

The cable car takes you from Lambton Quay to the Botanic Gardens, and tickets cost $6 NZD for an adult one-way, or $11 NZD for a return ticket. From the top, you can either walk to Zealandia in just under half an hour, or take the free shuttle that I talked about above! 

Parking at Zealandia, New Zealand
Parking at Zealandia, New Zealand

Driving

For those of you driving in New Zealand, there’s a big parking lot at Zealandia – but it does fill up pretty quickly since, unsurprisingly, this place is popular (I mean, who wouldn’t want to go and live out their Jurassic Park fantasies?!).

It’s best to try and get here nice and early if you want to drive. And if you do arrive and the car park is full, then you can go and park in the Birdwood Road overflow parking lot, which is a 7-minute walk away.

Parking at Zealandia is free. If you need a car though, these tips on renting a car in Wellington might help!

Public Bus

Last but not least, you can also take the public bus to Zealandia. There are three stops for Zealandia, each of which are roughly a 5-minute walk from the sanctuary. You can either ride to stop 4320 on Waiapu Road, stop 5320 on Chaytor Street, or stop 5380 on Birdwood Street.

There are a ton of different public buses that stop at these three stops, and you can plan your route via the Metlink website. The journey should cost you around $2 NZD each way, although it’s even cheaper if you have a prepaid Metlink card. 

4. When is Zealandia Ecosanctuary open?

Birds sit at the lake at Zealandia in Wellington, New Zealand
Birds sit at the lake at Zealandia in Wellington, New Zealand

Zealandia is open every day of the year except for Christmas Day. It opens at 9 am and closes at 5 pm, with last admission at 4 pm. The Rātā cafe (onsite cafe) also closes at 4 pm. I’d say it’s definitely better to visit early in the morning because it’s quieter then and a lot easier to get parking. 

5. How much is the entrance fee to Zealandia Ecosanctuary?

Bailey walks along a wooden bridge at Zealandia, NZ
Sign about plants at Zealandia, NZ
Be sure to read about the plant species in the park!

Entry to Zealandia is $24 NZD for adults, $10 NZD for kids aged 5-17, and free for under 5s. New Zealand seniors and students can receive discounted entry at $21.50 NZD when they present a valid form of ID. 

If you’re visiting Zealandia as a family (which is a really good idea, just FYI), you can also get a family pass for $53 NZD. This is valid for 2 adults and up to 3 children, so it can be a great money saver! 

Of course, this is just the standard entrance fee, you can also choose to join a 2-hour guided tour of Zealandia, which costs more at $60 NZD per adult and $30 NZD for a child.

6. When is the best time to visit Zealandia, Wellington? 

Scenic view over Zealandia and the lake near Wellington, NZ
Zealandia reminds me of a scene from Jurassic Park!

Okay, so if you’re visiting Zealandia independently without a tour then I would recommend going early, around 9 am when the sanctuary first opens, because this is when the park has the least amount of visitors. On that note, it’s also a good idea to go on a weekday if you can, as naturally, Zealandia is busier on weekends.

However, Zealandia also offers lots of awesome tours at different times of day, which allow you to visit outside of regular hours. These are all run by the sanctuary itself, not third party operators. So you can do a guided dawn walk on weekends during the winter, a twilight tour in the summer months, or a nighttime tour all year round. 

I’ll go into more details on these tours in a moment, but I really do think that they’re an incredible way to visit the park because you get a unique experience and you can explore as part of a small group when hardly anyone else is around.

7. What are the best tours of Zealandia Ecosanctuary?

Bailey walks down some steps at Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Wellington
Bailey walks along the floating boardwalk at Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Wellington

Daytime 2-Hour Wildlife Tour at Zealandia

I did this 2-hour walking tour of Zealandia and I loved every minute! It was so informative and since there’s a max group size of 12 people per tour, it felt really personal, too! I learned so much about the sanctuary itself as well as all the amazing animals that live inside, and I feel like I got a lot more out of my visit than I would have had I gone it alone. 

This tour leaves at 10 am, 11 am, or 1 pm daily and costs $60 NZD per adult. The price includes your admission fee, so you’re actually only paying $36 NZD for the tour itself. In my opinion, it was well worth the money! 

These tours are popular, though, so be sure to secure your spot online in advance here to avoid missing out!

Twilight Guided Wildlife Tour

This 2.5 hour twilight tour of Zealandia is great not only in terms of avoiding the crowds, but also for seeing a maximum amount of wildlife! You’ll see a ton of activity at dusk, when many nocturnal animals are starting to stir but the daytime animals are still awake. In fact, you’ll even hear the bird calls change over the course of your visit as day turns into night, which I think is pretty amazing.

And better yet, you will even get the chance to see some rare birds that are only active at night, including the iconic Kiwi! 

This tour costs $95 NZD per person, so it’s more expensive than the daytime tour, but you’re paying for the privilege of having the entire sanctuary to yourself (with your group) and the chance to see nocturnal wildlife.

You should book the twilight tour online in advance here.

Night Guided Tour

For $95 NZD, this night tour of the Zealandia Ecosanctuary maximizes your chances of seeing kiwis, as well as other amazing creatures like glow worms and weta, and you’ll also get to visit a super interesting exhibition that teaches you all about New Zealand’s natural history.

Exploring the sanctuary by night feels like a really exciting adventure, and you get to see a ton of critters that the daytime visitors aren’t privy to! 

You can read about all of the details and book the night tour online here.

banner asking people to click to join the Queenstown Diary Facebook Group

8. What are the highlights of Zealandia Ecosanctuary?

The Exhibition 

Bailey walks through The Exhibition at Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Wellington
Bailey reads some facts at The Exhibition at Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Wellington

The Exhibition is a small museum on site that teaches visitors all about New Zealand’s natural history, from its ancient beginnings to the destructive arrival of Europeans and the cutting-edge conservation work happening to protect this beautiful country.

It was opened in 2010 by John Key, New Zealand’s prime minister at the time, and I think it’s a must visit while you’re here! They also play a super interesting video about the Zealandia project itself and the birds that live in the sanctuary – that was my favorite part!

It is free to visit the museum with your entrance ticket.

Kākā Feeding area 

Two Kākā at the Kākā Feeding area in Zealandia, Wellington, NZ
You’ll see so many of them at the feeding areas!

Zealandia played a central role in reintroducing Kākā to the mainland and building their population back up, and it remains one of the best places in New Zealand to see these mischievous birds up close. There are two designated Kākā feeding areas inside Zealandia where you can see the birds up close while you feed them, and take some amazing photos. 

The two Takahē

The two Takahē wandering around Zealandia, Wellington, NZ
The two Takahē wandering around Zealandia, Wellington, NZ

Takahē are incredibly rare – so rare, in fact, that they were once believed to be extinct. There are only a few hundred in New Zealand, and the only place you can see them in the wild is in the Murchison Mountains in Fiordland National Park. However, seeing them at Zealandia is the next best thing, as this place really does feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere rather than just 10 minutes from central Wellington! 

There are two Takahē in Zealandia, both of which are too old to breed. The opportunity to see these birds is definitely not one that comes around every day, so make sure to check them out while you’re here.

I was very lucky to see both when I lasted visited Zealandia, they were just wandering around!

Boat tours

The boats sits on the lake dock at Zealandia Wellington New Zealand

Zealandia has its very own electric boat, the Ara Kawau, which is used to give visitors a tour of the lower lake. These boat rides are a lot of fun and a great way to explore the park further, but unfortunately, they haven’t been operating since covid hit.

There’s no news as of yet about when they’re going to be back in action, but I’ll keep you posted!

Upper Dam walkway 

Views from the Upper Dam walkway at Zealandia
Views from the Upper Dam walkway at Zealandia

The Upper Dam walkway is at the far end of the park, towards the Upper Valley, and I definitely recommend heading over here for a stroll. It offers amazing views of the park and I guarantee you’ll be dying to snap some photos here.

It really does make you feel like you’re in The Land Before Time! 

Suspension Bridge

Bailey walks the bridge at Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Wellington

There’s a beautiful suspension bridge in the park, close to the Upper Kākā feeders. This is another great spot to take in the natural beauty of the sanctuary and marvel at all of the birds soaring above the treetops. You should definitely take a walk across this bridge while you’re here! 

Rātā Cafe

Bailey at the Rātā Cafe at Zealandia, Wellington, NZ
A pie on the deck at Rātā Cafe at Zealandia, NZ
I had to get the pie of course!

Cafes tacked onto tourist attractions aren’t always that great, but Rātā Cafe is definitely an exception! It’s got a small breakfast and lunch menu, and all of the ingredients are locally and sustainably sourced, so you can feel good about eating here.

And best of all, it has gorgeous views over Zealandia, which makes the food taste even better.

9. Do you need a guide to visit Zealandia Ecosanctuary? 

A boat sits at a dock in Zealandia Ecosanctuary in Wellington NZ
A bird hides in a bush at Zealandia, NZ

No, you don’t have to go with a guide, but I do think that it makes the experience much better. You don’t learn that much unless you go on a tour, and I think it’s a shame to visit a place like this and come away not having learned very much.

I did the daytime tour and it made my experience 10 times better, and I would love to go back and do the twilight or night tour in the future.

10. Is Zealandia Ecosanctuary suitable for kids? 

A small bird on the floor at Zealandia, Wellington

Yes! Kids love Zealandia and I think it’s perfect for a family day out in Wellington! Plus, under 5s can enter for free.

The park isn’t 100% stroller friendly, but most of the main walking tracks are, so this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

11. Is Zealandia Ecosanctuary wheelchair friendly?

Mobility sign in Zealandia in Wellington, New Zealand
Mobility sign in Zealandia in Wellington, New Zealand

Partially, yes. Some of the tracks are wheelchair accessible and the staff at the visitor center will be happy to help you plan out a wheelchair-friendly route around the park. The visitor center also has an elevator to ensure wheelchair users can access the front desk, Rātā Cafe, and exhibition. There are also wheelchair accessible toilets in the visitor center and in the main park. 

Wheelchair users can bring a companion to assist them, who will receive free entry to Zealandia. There are also two mobility scooters available for free, and you can reserve them in advance by emailing the visitor center.

There’s also disabled parking available at the sanctuary, and the free shuttle has a wheelchair space, although there is no chairlift on board, so bear this in mind.

Related Read: Learn about the best time to visit New Zealand before you arrive!

12. Facilities at Zealandia Ecosanctuary

Gift shop at Zealandia, NZ
Gift shop at Zealandia, NZ

The Zealandia Ecosanctuary has a visitor center with a cafe and exhibition, gift shop, as well as accessible bathrooms. There are more bathrooms in the park, close to the Tuatara research area, and a water refilling station.

There are also mobility scooters and child buggies that you can use for free, and there’s a gift shop where you can buy locally-made clothes, toys, and gifts. 

13. Tips for visiting Zealandia Ecosanctuary?

A bag search station at Zealandia, NZ
A bag search station at Zealandia, NZ
Map of Zealandia, New Zealand
Take a photo of the maps!

If you’re visiting without a tour, arrive early in the morning

I do recommend taking a tour to get the most out of your visit to Zealandia, but if you want to visit without one then definitely get there as early as possible. The park opens at 9 am all year round, and you should try to arrive as close to this time as possible to ensure that you get parking and can enjoy the ecosanctuary before it gets too busy. 

Bring water

There are lots of walking tracks around the ecosanctuary so it’s best to stay hydrated while you explore. Wellington doesn’t get super hot in the summer but you can still get pretty warm as you’re walking around Zealandia. There’s a water bottle filling point near the bathrooms at the Tuatara research area, so make sure to refill when you pass by! 

Sunscreen is also a must! The sun in New Zealand is harsh and although there are plenty of shaded areas, there are lots that are unshaded, too.

Wear comfortable shoes

You’ll be doing lots of walking at Zealandia, so comfy shoes are a must! Sneakers that are suitable for walking should be fine. You don’t need to wear hiking boots, but they can come in handy if you do happen to have a pair with you in Wellington! 

Plan your route when you arrive at the park

There are a ton of paths around the park to explore, so I think it’s best to plan your route around if you’re not taking a tour. Decide what you want to see and plan a route beforehand to make sure you don’t miss out. The staff at the visitor center can also help you with this if you’re not sure where to go. 

Oh, and take a photo of the map. Although they are dotted around the place, it helped me a ton!

Spend some time just observing

Don’t rush your visit to Zealandia. Spend time just observing all of the magnificent birdlife around you and enjoying the amazing, otherworldly atmosphere of this place. You see so much more when you slow down and just watch. 

14. How long do you need to explore Zealandia? 

A kaka eats at the Kākā Feeding area at Zealandia
A kaka eats at the Kākā Feeding area at Zealandia
Information board at Zealandia near Wellington New Zealand
Information board at Zealandia near Wellington New Zealand

At least 2 hours. You can definitely see plenty of wildlife at Zealandia in 2-3 hours, but it’s also easy to spend even longer here. I think I spent about 4 hours here in total, including time to visit the exhibition and cafe after my tour.

Related Read: I like stopping into Zealandia after making the road trip from Palmerston North to Wellington!

15. Is visiting Zealandia Ecosanctuary worth it? 

The Lake at Zealandia, NZ
Yes!

Yes! I absolutely loved my visit to Zealandia. It’s the best bird sanctuary in New Zealand and you can see so many rare species. On top of that, it’s located so close to the capital city. Talk about surrounding yourself with unspoiled nature in Wellington!

Please don’t miss a visit to Zealandia. It might be top-rated, but it’s still underrated!

Related Read: While exploring NZ, be sure to add a few of the best waterfalls in the country to your list!

Other Activities to do while you’re in Wellington

Mount Victoria Lookout, Wellington
How beautiful is Wellington! This is the view from Mount Victoria Lookout.

While Zealandia is one of my favorite places to visit in Wellington, there are a ton of other things to do and see in NZ’s capital city (and yes, Wellington is the capital, not Auckland as many assume.) Here are a few things to add to your to-do list:

  • Mount Victoria Lookout – One of the best views of Wellington can be found atop the Mount Victoria Lookout. Here, you will be treated to a 360-degree view of the city’s eastern beaches, Hutt Valley, and the Miramar Peninsula. You can hike here, drive, or take the bus. I recommend visiting for sunset!
  • Te Papa Museum – This is my favorite museum in all of NZ (a big statement, I know!) Most of the museum is free to visit with a recommended donation. One of the best ways to see Te Papa is on this particular tour which gives you the chance to explore the museum 30 minutes before it opens its doors to the public.
  • Weta Workshop – Movie buffs will love this guided tour of the famed Weta Workshop, one of the best special effects and prop companies in the world. In fact, it was founded by none other than Sir Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings movies. So, as you can imagine, it’s a must-visit for Lord of the Rings fans.
  • Explore Cuba Street – Easily the most popular street in Wellington, Cuba Street is known for its quirky and fun atmosphere. Filled with colorful cafes (serving the best coffee in Wellington), vintage clothing stores, casual restaurants – many with great outdoor seating areas – visiting Cuba Street is a not-to-be-missed experience in Wellington.

If you want to get out of the city, there are plenty of fun day trips from Wellington that you should check out!

Where to Stay in Wellington, New Zealand

The Marion Hostel
I stayed at The Marion Hostel on my last visit!

There are a ton of great places to stay in Wellington, however, as with any big city, location is everything! So if you need help narrowing down your options, keep reading. I’ve highlighted my favorite accommodations for each budget.

Luxury – $$$

If you’re a luxury traveler, then check out the Doubletree By Hilton Wellington. I stayed here once on a business trip/getaway. The location is a little further from the center of the city, but I enjoyed the walk. Plus, the rooms here are so stylish and beautiful, with a super comfy bed and a luxurious rain shower.

You can expect to pay closer to $400 NZD per night, but the best deals I’ve found are on Booking.com.

Mid-range – $$

Those on a medium budget will love Ramada by Wyndham. You get great value for money here since it has a good location, a trusted hotel name, modern rooms, a fitness center, and parking (huge bonus!). The center of town is just a short walk away, and there are laundry services if you’ve been on the road for a while! Prices per night are roughly $150-300 NZD.

To snag this awesome deal, check availability and book the Ramada by Wyndham online here.

Budget – $

My top choice in the budget category is The Marion Hostel. It’s right in the heart of the city, just steps from Cuba Street, which is full of restaurants and bars and a 5-minute walk to Courtney Place’s nightlife. They provide towels and toiletries and access to a kitchen, lounge, and rooftop terrace. They have big dorm rooms starting at $44 NZD and private accomodations starting around $134 NZD for 2 people. You can book this awesome boutique hostel on Booking.com or through Hostelworld.

Another option for budget travelers is The Cambridge Hotel and Backpackers. I sometimes stay here if I’m driving to other North Island destinations since it’s perfect for a stopover. For starters, it’s one of the cheapest places in Wellington and has dorm beds for around $35 NZD and private rooms starting at $113 NZD. It’s also located centrally and easy to book on Booking.com.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey at the Kākā Feeding area at Zealandia, NEw Zealand
Thanks for reading!

Zealandia is really one of my favorite attractions in Wellington, and after visiting for yourself, I’m sure you’ll probably agree! It really should be on everyone’s New Zealand itinerary.

I hope that this blog has helped you prepare for your day at Zealandia!

If you found this blog helpful, check out the rest of my blogs about travel on the North Island including a few favorites below:

The BEST Hikes on the North Island

Guide to Visiting Hastings in Hawke’s Bay

12 BEST Stops between Napier and Wellington

The BEST Wine Regions in New Zealand