Where can you see seals in New Zealand? One hundred and fifty years ago there were so few places, you could have written the answer on the blunt end of a sealer’s club. Today, protected almost continuously since 1916, seals are making a remarkable comeback and there are many places to spot them – including Wellington’s Red Rocks and Sinclair Head, and various South Island sites.
In the South Island there is a fur seal colony at Kaikōura, at the tip of the peninsula and accessible by foot at low tide. Perhaps the most easily accessible site is at Ohau Point, 17 kilometres north of Kaikōura, where the seals are visible close to State Highway 1. At Cape Foulwind, on the West Coast near Westport, there is a viewing platform overlooking seals some 12 metres below. A scenic spot for seal watching is at Nugget Point in the Catlins, and on the Otago Peninsula there are several accessible places where seals sleep on the rocks, and pups frolic in tide pools. There are several seal colonies in the southern North Island, including Red Rocks, on the south coast near Wellington city, Turakirae Head, and Palliser Bay in the southern Wairarapa.
Keep your distance
Seals are more closely related to bears than we are. Adult male fur seals are highly territorial during the breeding season and will attack virtually anything that moves, if they think it threatens their access to the females. Seals might appear awkward on land, but over a short distance they can move a lot faster than we can. Their strong jaws, and teeth laced with vile bacteria, mean that a bite would be unforgettable.
The best places to find New Zealand sea lions are the sandy beaches of the Otago Peninsula, such as Sandfly Bay and Allans Beach. You will mostly see the large, dark brown males, but increasingly there are some small, pale females among them.
Elephant seals are less readily spotted, but you might see one on the south-eastern coastline of the South Island, from Ōamaru south. Leopard seals are even less predictable, but each year one or two show up on beaches frequented by elephant seals and sea lions.