Wellington Zoo calls itself the “Best Little Zoo in the World,” and they just might be accurate. Having lived most of my life near large cities with somewhat famous zoos, I thought I had seen it all. Not so. Some of the unique animals at Wellington Zoo make it worth a visit.
More important than the animals at Wellington Zoo might be its strong conservation programme. Everything they do leads towards their goal of making a lasting change in the world.
“We are guided by our kaupapa, Me Tiaki, Kia Ora! We must look after our environment, so all things will flourish.”
The weather was warm and sunny, but neither too hot, nor too windy. The animals agreed, being active and playful.
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Unique Animals at Wellington Zoo
Interesting animals fill the zoo. While many are the traditional animals found at most zoos around the world, there are a few that are quite unique, either because of their status or as the only ones located in New Zealand.
Malayan Sun Bear
The Malayan Sun Bear gets his name from that yellowish circle on his chest that looks like a rising sun. Classified as vulnerable, their native habitats are found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia
The Malayan Sun Bear is the smallest of the world’s bear species. The female at the Wellington Zoo is currently the only bear in New Zealand.
We were lucky to see her active, as Sun bears are nocturnal. She stood on two legs for just a moment, we saw her distinguishing chest markings and those long sickle-shaped claws that make her such a good climber.
The Kiwi bird is a national icon of New Zealand. It’s also well protected and nocturnal so spotting one in the wild is a rare occurrence.
Even at Kiwi enclosures, they are often difficult to locate as enclosures are always in the dark. Flash photography is not allowed, so this shot was taken at an ISO of 25600, then converted to black and white to filter out the red lighting of the enclosure. Once again I am glad to have my Olympus OM-D EM-5.
“Lanky”, the pelican’s huge eyes, long neck, short legs, and big feet, made me smile.
Sadly, in April 2016 Lanky passed away, and New Zealand no longer has a pelican in captivity. Having been at the Wellington Zoo for 40 years, he was their longest living resident.
Tasmanian devils are the world’s largest carnivorous marsupials. Found in the wild only on Australia’s island of Tasmania, they are classified as endangered.
Another one-of-a-kind for New Zealand, these two Caracals joined the animals at Wellington Zoo from Denmark only five months prior to our visit.
It’s no surprise that these nocturnal animals were not too active on the day we visited, they were awake, with their big ears reaching up to the sky.
From a photography standpoint, I was a bit disappointed to watch them from behind glass, but realizing they are great jumpers, I got over it
Some of the more traditional animals at Wellington Zoo
It’s not all rare and unique animals at Wellington Zoo. Here we also found animals common in New Zealand zoos, as well as those frequently found in animal exhibits worldwide.
Little Blue Penguins
Native to New Zealand these Little Blue Penguins are fairly common on our coasts and also found in southern Australia.
They are the world’s smallest penguin, standing just over 25cm (10 inches) and weighing only about a kilogramme (2.2 pounds). They are flightless and use their wings to swim.
Bolivian squirrel monkeys are found throughout South America. The zoo is home to a large troupe of squirrel monkeys.
Babies cling on to the mother’s back for months, so be sure to look closely when you visit. (there is not a baby in this photo)
The giraffes have both an inside and outside enclosure. While I was enjoying the heat of the day, these magnificent creatures came inside.
They do have daily feeding opportunities, but we missed it.
This is only a small sample of the animals at the zoo. Check the zoo’s official webpage to see a more complete list.
Educational encounters and Zoo keeper talks
While the unusual animal exhibits appeal to everyone, the Wellington Zoo has many kid-friendly learning opportunities. Since there were no young children nearby, my teen demonstrated it for the shot. There is also conservation information throughout the zoo.
Throughout the day there are zookeeper talks, often with a chance to get up close and personal with the animals.
A Few Practical Tips for Visiting Wellington Zoo
- The Wellington Zoo is one of the best things to do in Wellington with kids.
- We liked it so much that we featured it amongst our recommended Wellington Activities and on our list of things to do when travelling from Auckland to the capital city.
- It’s not a huge zoo, although it’s built on a hill. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.
- If you have favourite animals you want to learn more about or you want to know when to feed the giraffes, be sure to check the daily schedule and plan your visit accordingly.
- We spent less than two hours at the zoo, saw all the animals and listened to one “zookeeper talk”.
- For more information see the Zoos official website.
- In addition to visiting the Wellington Zoo, while in the capital be sure to check out the wildlife at Zealandia.
Getting to the Wellington Zoo
The zoo is located in Newton, about a 10-minute drive from downtown.
- Bicycle: There is a bicycle rack in front of the zoo, for those inclined to get some extra exercise and help the environment.
- Private Vehicle: The drive from downtown to the zoo is well signposted. There is limited free parking, so our best tip for drivers is to get here early. If you are thinking about renting a car, we recommend Rentalcars.com. With worldwide rental partners and outstanding customer care, they have been our favourite since the first time we rented with them.
- Public Bus: Stopping right outside the Wellington Zoo, the number 23 or 23z bus are the easiest options from downtown. Check out the Metlink for current timetables.
- Visitors to the city love the Hop-on Hop-off bus option. It also stops at the zoo, as well as 9 additional locations, providing commentary along the way.
Booking tips for New Zealand travel planning
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First-time visitors start here: New Zealand travel guide or with our favourite New Zealand road trips.
Flights: We use Skyscanner to find all the available flight options at the best prices.
Rental Vehicles: For cars, we always use RentalCars.com, a rental car search engine with no hidden costs. For campervans (and larger cars), note that Spaceships Rentals NZ offers free one-way drop-off between Auckland and Christchurch.
**Albom Adventures readers can check for discounts off Spaceships campervans.**
Accommodations: We use Tripadvisor to find ratings and reserve accommodations in most NZ cities.
Activity Discounts: We use Bookme.co.nz to find discounts on entry tickets and tours in New Zealand.
Travel Insurance: We purchase insurance that covers medical and travel emergencies when we head overseas. We start with Travel Insurance Master, an aggregator that gives us a free and easy-to-read comparison of the inclusions of each policy.
Packing Tips: Get a free copy of our New Zealand packing list when you sign up for our mailing list.
**Find more money-saving resources on our Travel Resources page.
What’s the last zoo you visited? Which of the animals on this page are new to you?
More on New Zealand you might enjoy:
- 75 Free and Nearly Free Things to Do in Auckland New Zealand
- Auckland to Cape Reinga: New Zealand Road Trip Tips
- Enjoy an Auckland to Wellington Drive with These Stops
- South Island Road Trip: Dunedin to Christchurch NZ
- NZ South Island Road Trip: Queenstown to Nelson (West Coast)
Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary entry to aid in the writing of this page. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly my own.