March 2012
Start your discovery of wetlands with this brochure, highlighting 40 of New Zealand's best wetlands you can visit.

Download the publication

Magical places - 40 wetlands to visit in New Zealand (PDF, 4,933K)
(Note: this is a large file and may take some time to download.)

Download in smaller sections

Magical places - 40 wetlands to visit in New Zealand publication cover.
Magical places - 40 wetlands to visit in New Zealand publication cover

View as webpages

North Island wetlands

South Island wetlands

Stewart Island/Rakiura wetlands

Full text of introduction

Learning about wetlands. Photo: Sarah Bond.
Learning about wetlands

Wetlands - places of magic and wonder

Wetlands are magical places. Often their full beauty is not revealed until you explore along the boardwalks and paths or, in some cases, by boat or kayak into bays and inlets. Beautiful reflections of mountains and trees can be captured in the open water of a lake. Bubbling pools are a feature of natural springs and geothermal wetlands, while in other places, specialised plants like mosses, ferns, orchids, sundews and rushes form intricate carpets.

Did you know that wetlands support the greatest concentration of wildlife - more than any other habitat in New Zealand? There is a good chance you will see a variety of birds when you visit a wetland - waterbirds, waders, shorebirds and forest birds depending on the situation.

Often it is possible to get closer to wildlife than in the bush - and a good pair of binoculars can make a difference to what you see. Bird watching is enhanced by specially created hides or viewing places. Where there is water there are usually fish. Native fish, many endangered, are often small in size or hiding under banks, so you need to look carefully to find them.

This publication identifies 40 of the best wetlands in New Zealand to visit and enjoy, whether walking, cycling, boating, fishing, bird watching or taking photos. It covers sites from Te Paki in the north to Awarua in the south and across to Stewart Island/Rakiura. It includes pristine wetlands, as well as some being restored or reconstructed by the community, and a range of wetland types.

Pauatahanui Inlet with bird hide. Photo: Matt Barnett.
Pauatahanui Inlet with bird hide

It is hoped by exploring some of the wetlands in this publication, you will appreciate just how special wetlands are and discover for yourself that they are magical places that can enthral, amaze and delight when you take the time to visit.

Wetland types

Wetlands vary in terms of their water regime - the volume of water; whether that water is fresh or saline, permanent or temporary, static or flowing; the diversity of landforms; and the range of plants and animals they support.

There are a number of different types of wetland referred to in this publication, and with examples of each to visit, you have the opportunity to experience a wide spectrum of wetland types across the country. Each wetland is unique and even within a type, no two wetlands look exactly the same.

Wetlands include:

  • swamps, bogs and fens
  • estuaries, lagoons and dune lakes
  • lowland lakes, rivers and streams
  • alpine lakes and kettleholes
  • geothermal and natural springs.

Wetlands can be fed by water from rainfall, over-ground streams, flood waters, groundwater springs or seepages, ice melt or from the incoming tide.

All wetlands typically have:

  • an abundance of water above or near the ground surface for all or part of the year
  • unique soil conditions
  • plants and animals that are adapted to living in wet conditions.

Some wetlands are referred to as ephemeral: periodically wet areas that may be wet or dry when you visit. This is often the case where surface depressions become ponded with water
during wet seasons or wet years, yet are partially or wholly dry at other times.

Ramsar sites

The wetlands listed here are a selection of wetlands from around the country and include five of the six sites in New Zealand designated as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. These are the Firth of Thames, Whangamarino Wetland, Manawatu Estuary, Farewell Spit and Awarua Wetland. The sixth site, Kopuatai Peat Dome, has limited public access.

Ramsar sites are considered to be internationally important - comparable to World Heritage sites.

The Ramsar Convention was the first modern intergovernmental treaty on conservation and wise use of natural resources. It was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 on 2 February - the date on which we now celebrate World Wetlands Day each year. New Zealand became a party to the Ramsar Convention in December 1976.

This booklet on 40 wetlands to visit was initiated in 2011 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Ramsar Convention. It was published in 2012 to coincide with the World Wetlands Day theme of Wetlands and Tourism - to highlight those sites in New Zealand that provide great tourism and recreation experiences. They are by no means the only wetlands to visit and you will note that for most sites, other local wetlands have been identified.

National Wetland Trust logo.
National Wetland Trust logo

National Wetland Trust

Special thanks go to the National Wetland Trust for their assistance in preparing this publication. The Trust is a nonprofit organisation that seeks to encourage people to safely visit wetlands as a way of increasing appreciation of wetlands and their values.

The Trust is building an online directory of wetlands to visit in New Zealand on their website. Visit the National Wetland Trust website.

A number of the sites featured in this publication can also be found there. The Trust and its membership has extensive knowledge about wetlands and has worked collaboratively with DOC in compiling information on these 40 wetlands.

Recreation information

The majority of the wetlands listed in this publication can be accessed by foot, but some are better appreciated from a high point providing an overview, or by kayak or rowboat on the water to give a true sense of the magic of the place.

Tracks can vary from easy walks to more strenuous exercise - the ones listed here should be achievable by most people of average fitness. The majority of walking tracks are developed and maintained by DOC but a number managed by other agencies are included.

Tracks on conservation land are marked by orange triangles. Other coloured markers or tape are used for land management purposes and should not be followed.

Enjoying the outdoors safely

Choose the type of walk that most suits the skills, fitness and abilities of your group. Be well prepared, with food and water as necessary, and wear appropriate clothing. Check the weather forecast before you head out—remember, safety is your responsibility. For further information visit the Adventure Smart website.


DOC Customer Service Centre
Phone 0800 275 362
Address DOC offices
Back to top