Historically, the range of the southern right whale (SRW) included winter calving grounds around the North and South Islands (mainland) of New Zealand (NZ) and in the NZ subantarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands. Due to extensive whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries, no SRW was seen around mainland NZ for nearly four decades (1928–1963). Here we present evidence for the regular use of the mainland NZ wintering ground, presumably from a remnant population that persisted in the NZ subantarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands. SRWs have been sighted every year around mainland NZ since 1988, with 125 sightings during the focus of this work: from 2003 to 2010. There were 28 cow-calf pairs sighted around mainland NZ from 2003 to 2010, compared with 11 sightings from 1991 to 2002. Furthermore, two females, identified by DNA profiles, were sighted with calves around mainland at 4 yr intervals: the first evidence of female site fidelity to the mainland NZ calving ground. Individual identification from photographs of natural markings and DNA profiles provided information on within-year movements and residency around the mainland, and further evidence for exchange between the mainland and subantarctic wintering grounds. Despite these promising signs, the distribution of NZ SRWs remains primarily concentrated in the NZ subantarctic.