Where should you hunt is often the first question that people ask when planning a hunting adventure away from home. Here is some high level information to help get you started.
The country of New Zealand is split into two major islands, the North Island and the South Island.
Between the two major islands and its smaller offshore islands, New Zealand has approximately 20 million acres (over 80,00 kilometers squared) in some form of public ownership. This represents almost 30% of New Zealand’s land mass.
A large portion of these public lands exist in the form of Forest Parks, Conservation Parks and National Parks -- all of which allow hunting, with a few exceptions. This creates an incredible amount of opportunity for all hunters, both kiwis and foreigners. The challenge is figuring out where to hunt!
For starters, its best to determine which main island you will focus on. Although you could definitely hunt both islands on one trip, if you are not going with an outfitter, it would take a significant investment of time, energy and planning to figure out quality hunting on both the North Island and South Island.
For instance, we spent seventeen days on the south island hunting Tahr on both the East Coast and West Coast during late May - early June, 2019. Due to early success on the east side and the time that it took to pack our Tahr off the mountain plus over ten days of bad weather on the West Coast that prevented us from flying into the mountains, we hunted less than half of the total time that we were on the South Island.
In hindsight, my preference would be to have a solid ten days to two weeks of hunting for the East Coast and a minimum of two weeks (three weeks would be better) to hunt the West Coast, not including time to travel and sightsee. Carving out as much time as you possibly can for your hunt will be a huge part of increasing your odds for success -- primarily because the weather can play havoc with even your best laid hunting plans and due to the time it takes to learn new country and figure out how to best hunt an unfamiliar game animal.
Overview Of The Islands
The North Island is geographically smaller and is more populated than the South Island. Being farther north, it is closer to the equator and therefore it has a warmer climate than the South Island.
The North Island is also less mountainous that the South Island and is home to eight of the twelve big game species.
The South Island has more mountains, which are far more rugged and higher in elevation than the mountains of the North Island. The South Island is also wetter and colder on average than the North Island.
Maybe most importantly from a DIY hunter’s perspective, the South Island has significantly more public land than the North Island and it is less densely populated. Nine of the twelve game species live on the South Island.
Whether you choose to hunt the North Island or the South Island, it can seem pretty daunting to determine how to choose a specific hunting area.
Luckily, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) offers a tremendous amount of information on its website designed to help hunters find and choose general hunting locations based on regions and targeted game species. Remember, to the DOC, most non-native game animals in New Zealand are considered ‘noxious animals’ and because there are no natural predators, the government views hunting as a tool to control animal populations..
NOTE: As you begin to do your own research about where to hunt, you might find that New Zealanders are remarkably open about their hunting locations, at least by American standards. It's not uncommon to read an article or watch a hunting film that names the exact drainage or ballot block where the hunt took place -- even if exceptional animals were seen or taken.
I asked a couple of kiwi buddies about this and neither of them seemed to think that knowing where to hunt was that important in New Zealand, especially in the Southern Alps. Their perspective was that a hunter still has to tough out the weather and put in the ‘hard yards’ (hard work) to get into the hunting location that was named.
Of the top three game species that I recommend for the DIY hunter -- tahr, chamois and red deer -- all three of them can be found and hunted on large tracts of public land on the South Island. Of those three, only red deer can be hunted on the North Island. This makes the South Island an obvious choice for the DIY hunter.
However, if you are particularly interested in collecting a variety of the deer species including fallow, sika, sambar, rusa, or red deer, then the North Island will likely offer the best opportunities.
Let's take a closer look at what the North and South Islands offer to the DIY hunter:
The North Island is a great choice if you are interested only in hunting the deer species, and you are not interested in hunting for Tahr or Chamois. To make it simple, if you want to hunt sika deer, plan on hunting the North Island.
Geographically, the North Island is significantly different than the South Island. Although it does have some rugged mountains with alpine zones in large public tracts that can be hunted, it is on average more characterized by low elevation farmland and scattered forests.
The North Island is broken into nine different territories. The southern half of the North Island has the majority of the public access hunting opportunities.
The best Sika deer hunting opportunities are in the Hawke’s Bay territory on the southeastern portion of the island.
Red deer can be found on most large public land tracts in Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu-Whanganui, and Wellington territories as well as feral goats and feral pigs and some small, isolated populations of Sika deer.
Fallow deer can be found in good numbers on public land in the Manawatu-Whanganui territory and in limited numbers elsewhere.
Rusa and Sambar deer primarily exist on private land in New Zealand. While some small populations of Sambar exist on public lands, your best bet for either species would be to look into a reputable outfitter or possibly private ranches that charge trespass fees.
NOTE: A solid strategy for collecting the New Zealand deer species on the North Island would be to book a Rusa and/or Sambar hunt with an outfitter for the beginning of your trip and then stay on and hunt Sika, Fallow and Red deer on public land for the duration of your hunt.
If you do choose to hunt the North Island, your two options for flying into the country are Auckland to the north and Wellington to the south.
Wellington is the second largest city in New Zealand (population of about 400,000) and is located on the southern end of the North Island which makes it a logical city to fly into for a bit of North Island deer hunting.
If you are interested in hunting Tahr or Chamois, then you will definitely want to focus on the South Island of New Zealand.
Geographically, the South Island is a long, narrow island that lays northeast to southwest and is split down the middle, lengthwise, by a long, extremely rugged mountain range known as the Southern Alps. The West Coast of the South Island is extremely wet and can be very windy as weather off of the open ocean contacts the South Island first along its West Coast.
The Southern Alps create a rainshadow that push prevailing weather systems up as they encounter the mountains, causing clouds to dump their moisture gained from the ocean. Because of this, the East Coast is significantly more arid than the West Coast.
The South Island is broken into seven different territories, five of which have extensive hunting opportunities.
The Southland territory has hunting opportunities for Red deer, Wapiti, Whitetail deer, Fallow deer and some Chamois. Fiordland, on the southwest corner of Southland gets the most extreme weather of all of New Zealand and is home to Red deer and Wapiti. The majority of Fiordland is public land.
The West Coast territory is rugged and harsh, but offers excellent hunting for Tahr, Chamois, Red deer and some Fallow for the experienced and skilled mountain hunter. The majority of the West Coast is public land. Hunting access is by walk in, or helicopter.
The Canterbury and Otago territories on the east side of the Southern Alps are milder in both mountain terrain and weather and offer hunting opportunities for Tahr, Chamois, Red deer plus feral goats and pigs. Both regions have extensive farmland in the bottoms and private ranches in the hill country, although both offer large portions of public land in the mountain regions towards the main divide. The Otago track has populations of Fallow deer that can be hunted through a ballot block.
The Marlborough territory in the northeast, offers opportunities for Red deer, feral pigs and feral goats with some Chamois and Fallow deer hunting available. It is a mountainous country, but not as high of elevation as the main range of the Southern Alps.
There are two cities on the South Island that are most practical to fly into when planning your travel.
If you are hunting Canterbury, Marlborough or the northern part of the West Coast territories, then Christchurch is the obvious choice.
If you are hunting Southland, Otago or the southern part of the West Coast territories, then Queenstown is your best choice.
However, if you are thinking of hunting various areas on the South Island or doing a bit of sight-seeing, you can easily drive around the entire island in a couple of days so the choice of what city to fly into to get your adventure started really isn’t that critical.
After reading all of the above, here is my quick and dirty advice for choosing where to hunt in New Zealand for the DIY hunter:
One of the best ways to start researching locations for your New Zealand hunt other than utilizing the DOC website, is subscribe to NZ (pronounced “enzed”) Hunter Magazine. You can get NZ Hunter Magazine online at Zinio where you can subscribe as well as purchase back issues.
NZ Hunter Magazine has articles on hunting all species of game in New Zealand, with the most focus on Tahr, Chamois and Red Deer. Its so helpful to be able to read stories written by both NZ Hunter staff as well as average hunters and to look at photos to get an idea of what the various parts of the New Zealand backcountry look like to aid your research.
The bottom line is that no matter what exact area of New Zealand you choose to hunt, you are almost guaranteed to have an amazing adventure and be eager to return.