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Sustainable Tourism

New Zealand wetlands places to visit, things to do

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Okarito, South Island

Top 10 forgotten waterway destinations

And no it’s not a swamp. Wetlands are the lungs of the world. Wetlands are an endangered land type in New Zealand with less than 10% of natural wetland remaining. You don’t need to be a mountain to be beautiful. Wetlands is where the land and water merge to create a magical kingdom where a kayak is very useful. Magic happens in wetlands, it’s where land and water merge into a landscape where wildlife flourishes. A must-go destination for outdoor enthusiasts and lovers of nature.

Aerial veiw of Whangamarino Wetland @DOC
Whangamarino Wetland @DOC

New Zealand Wetlands are:

  • Lungs of the land, breathing life into water circulation
  • Essential nursery for fish and water loving creatures
  • Critical food resource for birds (migration paths)
  • Natural protective barrier for flooding with the ability to absorb sudden large surges in water

Wetlands are part of the volunteer culture of New Zealand. Everyday people out and about every day volunteering is of incalculable value to the survival of wetlands. Volunteer value and donations guarantees wetlands have an increasingly public profile.

Check DOC resource for up to date information.

Top 11 wetlands to visit in the North Island, New Zealand

Wetlands are wonderful places to visit. The top 11 wetlands are must-go destinations for locals as well as overseas visitors to appreciate the outdoors and observe landscapes as old as the earth.

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Putaruru river light, New Zealand
Waihora Lagoon, Pureora Forest Park, New Zealand
Waituna Lagoon @DOC Karen Denyer


  • The wetlands are surprisingly not always in remote areas, in fact several are on the outskirts of large metropolitan areas such as Waiatarua wetlands in Auckland and the Pautahanui estuary outside Wellington.
  • New Zealand is home to an unusual geothermal wetland where hot gushing vents of sulphur laden water create an extraordinary landscape in Rotorua.
  • Wetlands support massive forests whose lives are spent with sodden roots, check out kahikatea in the Waihora lagoon or thousands of migratory birds descend on the chenier (shell) wetlands of the Firth of Thames.
  • Kayak or walk on boardwalks exploring wetlands from Tongariro River delta to Whangarei’s Limeburner Creek
  • Enjoy one of New Zealand’s spectacular wetlands, Putaruru Blue Springs, a veritable torrent of crystal clear freshwater deep from the bowels of the earth creating a magical wetland

Top 7 wetlands to visit in the South Island

Discover the hidden stories of the South Island’s top visitor destinations from Farewell Spit, Nelson to Okariti lagoon. Unearth places to visit where elegant white herons congregate and a leisurely kayak is an unforgettable experience.

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Ship Creek, Haast, West Coast, Tauparikaka Marine Reserve, New Zealand
Okarito Board Walk, New Zealand


  • Massive Farewell Spit sand dunes where seal lions lie hidden metres away
  • Pupu freshwater springs deep crystal clear water with eels, freshwater grasses and the consistent memorising upwelling of water
  • Ship Creek where ancient swamp trees stand testament to a landscape largely lost on the West Coast
  • A lake that disappears and is saline is extraordinary. Sutton Salt Lake in the Rock & Pillar Range is a must-go in Otago
  • Sinclair wetlands provides an interesting insight into the Otago landscape prior to the establishment of dairy farming
  • Okariti Lagoon is a must-go destination with its prolific bird life, waterways and beautiful scenery
Wildlife photo of a New Zealand sea lions
New Zealand sea lions
Rotopiko National Wetland Centre rare native rushs, Waikato, New Zealand
Rotopiko National Wetland Centre

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 water supply is rain, streams and creeks draining into low lying areas, springs and tidal flows. In the South Island melting ice creates wetlands.

All wetlands typically have:

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

Types of wetlands

  • Permanent, water year round or ephemeral with dry seasons

Sustainable tourism is important to all of us. Embrace the wetlands, pop on the gumboots (wellies) and enjoy a landscape where nature is not always a picture postcard.


Ramsar Convention. In 1971, the value of wetland sites around the world was formally recognised at the signing of a Wetland Convention in the Iranian town of Ramsar. To date, this is the only international convention on an ecosystem type. The anniversary of the Convention’s signing is celebrated on World Wetlands Day, February 2nd every year.


Wetlands are areas where water is the dominant element influencing the environment and associated plant and animal life. They can be freshwater or estuarine (located at the coast with brackish water) or a combination of both elements where freshwater and saltwater combine at some point.

Wetlands are where the water table is at or near the surface of the land, or where the land is permanently or temporarily (as with the tides) covered by water. Although once thought of as mosquito-filled swamps or bogs, wetlands actually perform many valuable functions.


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