10 of the most dangerous animals in New Zealand

New Zealand is a country full of wonder and magic, however many are surprised to find that we do have a few creatures that you’ll need to keep an eye out for.

Unlike our neighbour, Australia, New Zealand isn’t known for its deadly creatures. You won’t find any crocodiles or poisonous land snakes here… thank goodness!

However, there are still a few dangerous animals in New Zealand to be cautious of. These include spiders, sharks and marine animals. The chances of encountering one of them in Aotearoa are relatively low, but it is important to be aware of them all the same.

Let’s take a look at the animals to watch out for.

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The Most Dangerous Animals in New Zealand

Join us as we introduce you to ten of the most dangerous animals in New Zealand, in no particular order, to give you an idea of what’s lurking beneath the bush and the waves.

So, let’s dive right in…

1. Katipō Spiders

First on this list, is the infamous katipō spider. Although this guide isn’t in any particular order, it seems only fitting to start with one of the most dangerous animals in New Zealand.

The chances of encountering one of these creepy crawlies is relatively low, but the katipō spider is one of the only poisonous spiders in the country, it’s worth knowing about them.

They look very similar to black widow spiders as they’re black with a red stripe. They are also smaller than the size of a pea. They live in sand dunes and are seldom seen, so your chances of being bitten are incredibly low.

The katipo spider’s venom isn’t lethal, but if you do get bitten make sure you get it treated straight away.

Did you know? Only female katipō spiders bite.

A Lactrodectus Katipo spider crawling on an old wood.
Katipo spiders are small and very rarely seen. Photo credit: Andrew Simpson.

2. White-Tailed Spiders

Another creepy crawly that you’ll want to avoid in New Zealand is the white-tailed spider. It’s more commonly spotted than the katipō spider as they often reside in residential areas.

Like the katipō, their bites aren’t lethal and they will only bite you if provoked or feeling threatened. Although their bite can be painful, the swelling and irritation tend to subside relatively quickly.

You can recognise these spiders by their dark body, orange/brown bands on their legs, and the two white spots that can be seen along their rear and abdomen.

Despite being relatively harmless, it’s worth looking out for white-tailed spiders because getting bitten by one isn’t pleasant.

A white-tailed spider resting on a wood.
White-tailed spiders are more common in New Zealand, but you are still unlikely to be bitten by one. Photo credit: David McClenaghan.

3. Redback Spiders

The redback spider actually originates from Australia and somehow made it over to New Zealand in the 1980s. However, they don’t seem to be a fan of the cooler temperatures so are very rare.

Sightings are nearly non-existent but there are small populations found in Taupō, New Plymouth and Otago. However, many Kiwis that have lived here all their lives have never seen one so your chances of encountering a redback on holiday are thankfully low.

These spiders look very similar to the katipō spider, with their black-brown body and red stripe that runs down the length of their abdomen.

If you’re unlucky enough to get bitten by one of these, you’ll want to seek medical attention straight away as their bites are venomous.

A redback spider walking in the sands.
Redback spiders are incredibly uncommon in New Zealand, but they are occasionally seen. Photo credit: Julie Burgher.

4. Great White Sharks

Great white sharks are more common in the waters around Australia, but you will find them in New Zealand too.

These incredible creatures are one of the world’s apex predators and unfortunately, there have been fatal incidents in Aotearoa.

The most recent of these was in 2021 in the North Island. Since then, there have been several sightings but no further attacks. Before this, there was another fatal attack in 2013 although this was never confirmed to have been carried out by a great white shark.

For your safety, It’s best to only swim in clear waters and to avoid dusk and dawn as this is the shark’s prime feeding time. With that said, shark attacks are rare in New Zealand so they aren’t something that people tend to worry about.

We wouldn’t let it stop you from hopping in the ocean for a swim or surf.

A Great White Shark beneath the blue ocean.
Great white sharks are the most dangerous sharks in our waters. Photo credit: Elias Levy.

5. Bluebottle Jellyfish (Portuguese Man O’ War)

Another creature you’ll want to avoid here is the bluebottle jellyfish (otherwise known as the Portuguese man o’ war). It’s undoubtedly one of the most dangerous animals in New Zealand due to its severe sting.

These marine cnidarians (they’re not actually jellyfish) are found in the waters surrounding New Zealand, and they are notoriously difficult to spot in the water. Practically invisible and surprisingly small, avoiding a sting from these creatures is near impossible when you’re in the ocean.

The bluebottle jellyfish’s tentacles are up to 10m in length and the sting from them is incredibly painful! Even worse, the burning sensation can result in anaphylactic shock, fever or respiratory distress.

They are mostly present during the summer, but can be found in the ocean and on the beach right throughout the year.

Should you get stung, keep eye on the symptoms and seek medical attention if required.

Pro Tip: Keep an eye out for bluebottles washed up on the sand. They can still sting long after they’re dead. We also suggest skipping your swim if you see them on the sand.

A bluish-dark Portuguese man-of-war stranded on the beach during low tide.

6. Sea Snakes

Sea snakes aren’t at all common in New Zealand. However, some make their way from Australia and the South Pacific.

The two main culprits are the yellow-bellied sea snake and the banded sea krait. Although they are only small, they’re incredibly poisonous. For this reason, give them a wide berth if you see one and make sure you seek medical attention if you get bitten.

With that said, there’s really no need to worry about coming into contact with a sea snake here as these as encounters are extremely rare. In fact, there have only been around 35 sightings of these creatures dating back over 90 years!

A yellow-bellied hydrophis platarus sea snake on a sandy beach.
Photo credit: Luis Correa.

7. Grey Side-Gilled Sea Slugs

The grey side-gilled sea slug is found throughout Australia and New Zealand, and although small, it can be deadly. Their eggs and larvae are incredibly toxic and are lethal to both humans and other animals, such as dogs.

Containing a neurotoxin called TTX, the eggs and larvae can cause paralysis, breathing difficulties and even death if enough of it is consumed.

It’s unlikely you’re going to eat them as an adult, however, you will want to keep a good eye on dogs and children when these sea slugs are about on the sand or in rock pools. Again, they’re very seldom seen but every now and again we do hear about dogs getting sick because of them.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for this toxin either so it’s something to avoid at all costs.

The beach, waters, and houses meeting together in Rothesay Bay, Auckland.
Sea slugs are sometimes found on New Zealand beaches. Photo credit: Follash.

8. Sea Lions

New Zealand is home to the rarest sea lion species in the world, known as the New Zealand sea lion. You’ll find them in a number of places in the South Island (including Otago and Kaikoura) and on Stewart Island. They are classified as ‘nationally critical’, with approximately 10,000 animals left.

Sea lions may look very cute, but they’ve got large teeth and powerful jaws that they use to inflict a lot of damage. To avoid any unfortunate encounters, you’ll want to keep your distance – especially during the breeding season. This is when the sea lions are at their most territorial, and then they can become particularly unpredictable and aggressive.

Make sure you keep your distance, especially from the little pups as their mums won’t be too far away and they are incredibly protective.

For the best experience, purchase some binoculars and observe these creatures from afar.

Two sea lions raising their heads in the beach while the waves are crashing on the background.
Sea lions are found on the coasts of the South Island. Photo credit: Vince Smith.

9. Mosquitoes

Like many other countries in the world, New Zealand is home to plenty of mosquitoes. The majority of them will just leave you with an irritating bite, but unfortunately, mosquito-borne diseases have increased in the country over recent years.

Some of these diseases include chikungunya and the Ross River virus. Although catching one of these viruses is incredibly rare, it only takes one bite in a country where mosquitoes are carriers.

Luckily, there are no mosquitoes in New Zealand that carry malaria, dengue fever or zika virus. The few cases that are observed in Aotearoa come from travellers who have returned from abroad.

Mosquitoes are found all over New Zealand, although you’re more likely to encounter them in remote locations and around still bodies of water (such as lakes and slow-moving rivers). To avoid getting bitten it’s best to:

  • use DEET insect repellent
  • wear long sleeves and pants
  • use a mosquito net around your bed in the evenings (if you sleep with windows open), or use a heat pump/fan to cool rooms with closed windows.

Though some mosquitoes in New Zealand carry diseases, it really is unheard of to catch anything. They’re really more of a pest than a danger.

A mosquito sucking blood on the skin.

10. Wild Boars

Although wild boars don’t come first to mind when thinking about the most dangerous animals in New Zealand, it is worth knowing about them.

These boars are found all across the country, especially in forested areas. However, like most of the other animals on this list, you’ll be unlikely to see them.

As piglets, they are extremely cute, but adults can grow up to 6 feet in length. They also have large tusks that can cause substantial damage.

Like most of the animals on this list, wild boars won’t tend to attack unless they’re feeling threatened (though they are unpredictable). Even just standing in their territory can be deemed a threat, so keep your eyes peeled, keep your distance and move on quickly if you do spot one.

Should you have a physical encounter with one of these large creatures you will probably require medical assistance.

Wild boar drinking in the water.
A wild boar is unlikely to be an issue in New Zealand, but they’re worth keeping an eye out for. Photo credit: Cloudtail the Snow Leopard.

Fortunately, there aren’t many dangerous animals in New Zealand compared to other countries. But you may want to consider travel insurance if you want to be extra careful. As we mentioned previously, sightings are few and far between, so you really need not worry.

Have you ever spotted any of these dangerous animals in New Zealand?

If you have, what was your experience like?

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