If you have bought a car there are two large islands to go exploring around and you can take a ferry or flight to the beautiful and isolated Stewart Island in the deep south.
New Zealand is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea, as well as being full of lakes & rivers. There are ample opportunities to discover ocean based wildlife. Pack a picnic, grab your binoculars, pull your car over and enjoy observing the wildlife at play.
Here are some hot spots for seal, whale, penguin, sea lion and dolphin experiences.
Paihia in the Bay of Islands offers swimming with dolphin experiences. The water is warmest in this part of the country which means it is likely to be a more pleasant time swimming in the water amongst the dolphins.
Explore New Zealand have a purpose built catamaran designed for dolphin viewing and safe access in to the water to swim with dolphins.
You might be lucky and find yourself travelling on a Fullers ferry to Waiheke and come across some dolphins, but a company that specialises in this is Explore NZ. They offer whale watching and dolphin excursions in the Hauraki Gulf which is the water surrounding Auckland on the east side of the city.
Dolphin Seafaris cater to travellers in the Mount Maunganui & Tauranga region of New Zealand. At the time of writing (May 2015) their prices were $140 for an adult to swim with dolphins. This also includes wetsuit, snorkels and fins as well as food & hot drink.
Whale Island Tours offer a range of trips providing an array of experiences. You can swim with dolphins, explore White & Whale Island and the wildlife in this area (which can include seals, dolphins and penguins. They also offer scuba diving to SeaFire wreck.
On the south side of Wellington you can park your car and take a coastal walk from Owhiro Bay around the Red Rocks.The Red Rocks are a very ancient flow of lava that were formed millions of years ago. They are also home to seal colonies.
You could also tour with Seal Coast Safaris.
Sea kayaking is a very popular activity to do in the Abel Tasman National Park and chances are very high you will come across seals during your adventures in the Tonga Island Marine Reserve.
There are a number of sea kayaking companies including Wilons, Abel Tasman & Kahu Kayaks
Kaikoura is a hot spot for whale watching and there are many seal colonies you can drive to on the coastline around Kaikoura.
Whale Watching is a very popular activity as well as seal swimming.
You can drive your car to the Cape Foulwind Seal Colony and walk to the fur seal colony which exists there year round. If you are there from October to March this is when the large bull seals (the daddys) come to mate and the pups are most playful. Cape Foulwind is a short drive from Wesport, a small town situated on the West Coast north of Greymouth.
Akaroa is a small harbour town in the Banks Peninsula where Black Cat Cruises operates from . They offer swimming with dolphin experiences as well as wildlife cruises where you are likely to spot penguins, seals and dolphins.
Otago Peninsula and Catlins
Elm Wildlife Tours offer close up views of the rare yellow eyed penguin, seals, little blue penguins, albatross and sea lions. There are a number of other tourist operators such as Monarch, Natures Wonders, Catlins Marine Encounters and Eden WildlifeTours. If you are driving your car around the catlins coast keep an eye out for the signs that warn of penguins potentially crossing the roads. You should be able to view penguins, seals & sealions.
Stewart Island, Fiordland (Milford & Doubtful Sounds)
Real Journeys is a company that offers a number of cruise/boat options for discovering wildlife in this area. For example on their Milford Sounds Nature cruise you are likely to see seals, dolphins and in the right season, the rare Fiordland crested penguin.
In Stewart Island you can enjoy a 2-3 hours cruise and a guided walk on Ulva Island. Ulva Island is a predator free bird sanctuary and it offers the opportunity to see some of our most rare and endangered birds.
All seals, dolphins and whales are protected in New Zealand under something called the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978. The Department of Conservation have strict guidelines about the way we are allowed to interact with wildlife, both on the land and in the water. You can read more here about this.