In Association with:
NEW ZEALAND 9th Nov - 3rd Dec 2001
128 Species of birds seen plus Whales, Dolphins and much more
Most of the group met on time at Heathrow and despite the apparent stricter security measures we were soon checked in and boarding our flight to Los Angeles. After a smooth and uneventful flight we arrived at LA. where we met up with Steve and Julia who had spent a couple of days visiting friends. The next flight to Auckland began, so we settled down and counted the hours going past. While watching a few feature films we passed through several time zones and eventually we landed in Auckland New Zealand, just as the sun was coming up on Day 3 11th Nov.
Day 3 - 11th Nov
As soon as we had cleared customs we met our local guide Karen, from Kiwi Wildlife Tours. We packed our luggage into a trailer and set off towards the coast where we were to catch our boat. As we sped towards our destination we passed our first Australian Magpies, Spur-winged Plovers and Pukeko's which are the local name for Purple Gallinules. A few White-faced Herons were spotted as well as common introductions such as Blackbird, Song Thrush and Starlings. We arrived at a small quay where we were to board our boat going to the offshore island of Tiritiri Matangi. While waiting to leave we spotted a couple of huge Caspian Terns sat on nearby rocks as well as smaller White-fronted Terns. We also had close views of several Variable Oystercatchers and Red-billed Gulls. We then boarded the ferry which took us to Tiritiri Matangi island. The sea was calm and only a few birds were seen, one of which was Australasian Gannet. As we approached the island a Little Shag was spotted sat on top of a rock while another rock nearby held a colony of several hundred White-fronted Terns. We soon disembarked and while we were being given a short speech by the ranger, some of our group started seeing their first island specialities.
Endemic Tui's flew high over the trees, with several coming into land in the nearby plants. A North Island Saddleback was then spotted followed by beautiful looking Red-crowned Parakeets. Our luggage was taken up to the bunk house, right beside the lighthouse on the top of the island while we set off on a walk alongside the beach. Pied Shags were seen and then we found a pair of Grey Fantail's doing exactly as their name suggests, and very close. As we walked up through the woods we had excellent views of many more Tui and a lot of (North island) Saddlebacks and Bellbirds. A huge New Zealand Pigeon was then seen as well as several noisy Whiteheads. We then followed a grassy track and found a huge prehistoric looking Takehe, like a giant Purple Gallinule with an oversized bill. It came up to us and then went over to Alan where it then tugged at his trouser leg which was quite amusing and meant the rest of us were safe! Continuing on we got closer to our accommodation and here we found several Brown Quail and Welcome Swallows. We settled in and then had a picnic lunch before a short afternoon walk, which found us many Tui, Saddleback and our first Stitchbirds and New Zealand Robin. While everyone sat in a good spot in the woodlands, I decided to quietly search a hundred yards further along.
As a New Zealand Robin fed around my feet I then spotted the bird we were looking for a Kokako, a rather strange pigeon sized bird which was all grey with two blue wattles under it's bill. I quickly ran back to the rest of the group to let them know, only to find to the amusement of everyone there that the Kokako was chasing me along the path. We all got amazingly close views as it sat in a tree just above our heads. Very happy we returned to our bunk house passing lots of Brown Quail, Red-fronted Parakeets and Pukeko along the way. We decided to have a quick look from the cliff top and saw some distant Gannets and even more distant and almost unidentifiable Fluttering Shearwaters. Welcome Swallows greeted us on a fence, while back at our accommodation up to four Takehe could be watched feeding around the lawns. We then relaxed a little before our evening meal of barbecued Salmon, followed by and a few glasses wine and some cheese. At dusk we set off on a walk in search of Little Spotted Kiwi, we never saw one but we did hear a couple of distant birds and we also heard Grey-faced Petrels calling from their burrows on the opposite hill, and on the beach we saw a single Blue Penguin. Very tired we all returned and went straight to bed. Men in one room and Ladies in the other, and quite amusing as I turned down a spare bunk in the ladies room in favour of the floor with the men. I must be getting older or more stupid!!!
Day 4 12th Nov
We woke up to rain and a misty view across the gulf. A hearty breakfast was consumed, after which we loaded our luggage ready to be transported down to our charter boat. The weather soon cleared and a look across the bay had us spot a group of Bottled-nosed Dolphin and lots of Australasian Gannets. We then found a group of sixty or more Dusky Dolphins with several jumping clean out of the water. A slow walk was then taken through the forest. On the way we saw the Takehe and several Pukeko as well as the showy Brown Quails. In the forest we watched (North Island) Saddlebacks, Red-crowned Parakeets, noisy Tuis, some very close Stitchbirds and a family of New Zealand Robins. Just before we left two Kokako's put in a welcome last appearance. We then headed down to the quay where our superb motor cruiser awaited us. We all boarded and set out into the Hauraki Gulf. The sea was perfectly calm and it wasn't long before our first Blue Penguins appeared close beside the boat. Much further away we could see a lot of seabird activity so we headed in that direction. White-fronted Terns flew by and then the first of many Fluttering Shearwaters. As we got closer the views became better with some right beside the boat. A raft of about twenty Fluttering Shearwaters were sat directly in front of us and as we approached several Buller's Shearwaters were spotted amongst them. Eventually they all took of giving us excellent flight views. Several distant skuas were seen with at least one Pomarine Skua identified. We then came across more rafts of shearwaters mixed with Blue
Penguins and right in the middle we had excellent views of a single Flesh-footed Shearwater, this bird ending up only a few feet from the boat. Continuing across the bay we headed towards Motorua Island and then into a secluded inlet or two. We spotted a White-faced Heron, and had unbelievable views of six Bottle-nosed Dolphins bow riding our boat, with one in particular seen swimming just under the waters surface. We then stopped at Mansion House a beautiful spot where we had a lovely cooked meal on board our boat. Beside us were inquisitive Kelp and Red-billed Gulls, while on the shore a family of Paradise Shelduck posed for us with their little chicks. A stunning Eastern Rosella was then seen as well as a very close Pied Shag. After our meal we went ashore for a short walk. Apart from good views of Silvereye and New Zealand Pigeon we also saw three (North Island) Weka, a large flightless rail. Leaving the island we then cruised across to Motorua Island where we spotted amongst other things an Australian Marsh Harrier and three Eastern Reef Herons. It was now time to head back to the mainland. One area of sea we passed through was alive with shearwaters including hundreds of Fluttering, several Buller's and also Blue Penguins. We arrived back at the harbour disembarked and thanked our crew before getting into the minibus and driving to our nearby hotel. A quick stop beside a water filled ditch next to the road found us a Little Black Shag, so we got out and had wonderful close views as it swam and dived in front of us. In the evening we went for a banquet style Indian meal before returning to the hotel for a well earned sleep.
Day 5 13th Nov
We were all up early at 5.30 so as we could get the tide right at Miranda on the Firth of Thames. It was about an hour and a half drive before we reached the area. A short walk to the edge of the bay soon found us a small tidal pool, which amazingly held 20 plus Pied stilts and our first Wrybills, a species everyone was really keen to see. Amongst these we found several Sharp-tailed Sandpipers a Red-necked Stint and a single Curlew Sandpiper. There were plenty of Skylarks and the occasional Yellowhammer in the bushes and grassland.
We then walked a little further to the edge of the water and there in front of a small hide we saw hundreds of Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot as well as our target species a New Zealand Dotterel. Amongst the other waders were several Black-billed Gulls, Pied Oystercatchers, White-fronted Terns and a couple of Little Terns. We then moved a short distance to get better views of the pair of dotterel, alongside Turnstones and a very confiding Wrybill. Eventually we had stunning close views of the two endemics before leaving to have a bit of breakfast. After eating we drove a couple of miles to have another look amongst the feeding waders. There were plenty to look through, but we saw nothing different than earlier. Up to eight Arctic and one or two Pomarine Skuas were seen harassing the terns. Leaving here we then set off south towards our next destination. Along the way we must have seen at least ten Australasian Harriers, and a quick stop beside an area of marshland found us a few Grey Duck and several flight views of an Australasian Bittern. We then left here and continued South. It began to rain so we stopped at the Kiwi centre and had a look at a pair of captive Brown Kiwi and a few other interesting things. Further on we stopped for lunch and then made our way to our hotel beside the Waitomo Caves, which we would be privileged to visit out of normal hours. After our evening meal we drove the short distance to the caves where our local expert met us and then took us into the caves. We spent at least an hour being shown around the many wonderful cave formations. The highlight however was a boat trip into the glowworm caves; we drifted slowly under the roof of several caves and looking up it was as though a dark sky was illuminated by thousands of brightly coloured stars. An amazing experience enhanced by the fact that we were here at night and had the caves exclusively to ourselves. As for the ghosts, laughing from several girls that were not there, lights going on and off and doors closing, well that's another story!
Day 6 14th Nov
We all met at breakfast. John having heard a Morepork calling just before dawn. We then set off towards our first stop at Pureora, an ancient podocarp forest. Stopping in a clearing in the forest we got out of the minibus and we soon greeted by the raucous calls of several Kaka. We then saw Yellow-crowned Parakeet and had good views of the Kaka's sat in the tree tops. A Grey Warbler showed well, while a Rifleman was heard but not seen. We then walked through the forest to a tower hide. A few of the group saw another Rifleman as well as (North Island) Tomtit and Whiteheads. We climbed down the tower and returned to the car park. A Long-tailed Cuckoo was heard calling and eventually seen flying over by a few of us. We then left the forest, making a quick stop when a New Zealand Pipit flew across the road. We got out and had excellent views of it sat on a dead stick. Continuing on we drove a short way to a swampy, scrub covered area. Several more pipits were seen and then later a (North Island) Tomtit was spotted briefly.
We then found a pair of these birds flitting around the edge of a small wood allowing everyone to get good views. Noel and John were checking another area and succeeded in finding a very secretive (North Island) Fernbird. With a little patience we got fairly good views of this difficult skulking species. It was time to leave the wood and head towards our next destination. Shortly after lunch we arrived at the end of a road which had a white water river rushing below it! It was now raining heavy but undeterred we walked down to the river edge and amazingly we found a stunning Blue Duck accompanied by a single chick. After everyone had seen this excellent bird we drove back to Okennua. In the evening, armed with our torches we met up with a local expert who was studying the (North Island) Brown Kiwi. He took us to an area high in the forest, but unfortunately it started raining heavy. We went into the forest and despite hearing a Kiwi less than 100 yards away, we really had little hope of seeing it! I'm sure our guides wonderful imitation of the call would have worked if the weather had been more favourable. Slightly disappointed we returned to our dry hotel.
Day 7 15th Nov
We woke up to a damp drizzly morning, and after breakfast we set off for Tongariro National Park. A short stop in the grasslands used by the military soon found us breeding pair of Banded Dotterel, the male looking particularly nice in his full colours. From here we then continued towards Rotorua calling in on several rivers to look for Blue Duck. Today we could not find any, making yesterdays sightings even more special. We then visited the edge of lake Rotorua and here we found our target species of New Zealand Scaup, Australasian Shoveler and several New Zealand Dabchick, with one particular pair watched mating. Other birds here included Little Black and Little Shag, Pied Stilts, Pukeko and numerous Black Swans.
Leaving here we then visited Wai-o-tapu a thermal area consisting of bubbling hot water and mud pools as well as many holes in the ground puffing out hot pungent steam. After a walk around this interesting geological site we then visited the nearby Huku water falls before continuing on to the town of Rotorua. A look at the lake saw hundreds of nesting Red-billed Gulls and amongst them a few Black-billed Gulls. A little further along we had stunning close views a colony of Little Shags with many feeding their well developed young. Also here were Pukeko, and very close New Zealand Scaup.
It was time to leave so we drove to our nearby hotel which overlooked a very active thermal geyser and bubbling mud pool. Later we all met up and went by coach to a Mauri village were they put on a cultural show and we ate a meal cooked in the old hangi way. After this we returned back to the hotel.
Day 8 16th Nov
Everyone was up early so as to get to Rotorua airport for our flight to Christchurch on South Island. We boarded our small plane on time and flew for about an hour before we landed at Wellington briefly. On to another plane and after a short flight where the southern alps could be easily viewed, we were soon landing at Christchurch. We met Chris, Karen's husband who had our new minibus all ready and waiting. We loaded up and set off north towards our destination of Kiakoura. En-route we made a few stops, the first at Ashley river found us amongst the beautiful smell of hundreds of Lupins while Black-fronted Terns flew about the dried up river bed. Our next stop was at St Anne's Lake where we saw plenty of New Zealand Scaup and up to four Australasian Shoveler. On the far bank Karen found three Cape Barren Geese, while other birds noted included Sacred Kingfisher, Dunnock and Redpoll. We continued on through rolling green hills with the back drop of the snow capped Kaikoura mountains. Just a few miles from our destination we stopped to have our picnic lunch overlooking the bay. As we looked out to sea, rafts of thousands of Hutton's Shearwaters could be seen and a few Northern Giant Petrels sat on the water dwarfing all that was around them.
A New Zealand Fur Seal lazed in the water beside a near rock while beyond three Orca's could be seen logging on the surface. The excitement of our pending pelagic was almost too much to wait for! Lunch over we went to our wonderful hotel overlooking the bay and after settling in we had a brief check of the nearby beach. Here we saw (Southern) Pied Oystercatchers, Turnstone and yet more tantalising views of Hutton's Shearwaters passing by, out at sea. Finally we were down at the harbour and boarding our superb boat ready for the pelagic we had all heard so much about. We steamed out of the harbour and in just a few minutes we were amongst hundreds of Hutton's Shearwaters right beside the boat. After a good look at this endemic breeding bird we continued out further. A few Cape Pigeons started to appear as well as Westland Black Petrels. At an area of up welling our boatmen set about putting some chum or fish ofal into the water. Within seconds we were surrounded by hundreds of Cape Pigeons and lots of Westland Black Petrels. From nowhere our first Snowy Albatross landed literally two feet from the boat and birds came in so thick and fast it was difficult to keep up with them. Over the next half hour we had unbelievable views of all three wandering albatrosses including Snowy, Gibson's and Antipodean, several beautiful Salvin's Mollymawk then flew in and one White-capped Mollymawk. A few Northern Giant Petrels looked enormous sat beside all the smaller petrels which included amongst the previous mentioned several White-chinned Petrels and a couple of Short-tailed Shearwaters.
We moved off and tried another area. Here we were lucky and found an adult Northern Royal Albatross. We then headed inshore and had a close look at a Spotted Shag colony with some of the adults still in glorious breeding colours. An Eastern Reef Heron also flew past before we headed back to the Quay ending a fabulous few hours of close contact seabird watching.
Day 9 17th Nov
Today we had an early breakfast and then drove down to the shore. A look out to sea where it was decidedly rougher than yesterday had us witness the incredible spectacle of over a quarter of a million Hutton's Shearwaters covering every single bit of sea that was viewable Amongst these we also saw up to nine Northern Giant Petrels, while on the beach several Banded Dotterel, Turnstones and both (Southern) Pied and Variable Oystercatchers were seen. Heading north, towards Picton, our destination was to be the Marlborough sound. A quick stop to pick up some local wine found us a couple of California Quail, and then we finally arrived at Picton in time for lunch. After we had eaten we boarded our charter boat and headed out through the Marlborough sound. On the way we came across lots of Fluttering Shearwaters, Spotted Shags and a small colony of Australasian Gannets. Eventually we got out to open water and sighted the first of many Common Diving Petrels, including close views of both flying and sat birds. We motored on towards the White Rocks and once we got there, we were greeted by 50 plus King Shags an incredibly rare endemic restricted to only four rocks in Marlborough sound. We drifted close to the rock and got very good views before slowly leaving and heading back via a feeding flock of White-fronted Terns and Fluttering Shearwater. A Fairy Prion suddenly appeared right beside the boat and later a Northern Giant Petrel was spotted. Our next stop was Motarua island and once ashore we walked through the ancient wood and found very tame (South Island) New Zealand Robins, Bellbirds and three (South Island) Saddlebacks. The robins showed very well and we also got to see a nest box containing two fully grown chicks and an adult Blue Penguin. At the top of the island we climbed up a look out tower and had wonderful views of the sound. On our return down the hill some of the group spotted a New Zealand Falcon flying into the forest. We returned to the boat and set off to Punga Cove. Once here we moved in to our own hillside cabins and met up later for our superb barbecue evening meal.
After yet another fun filled log call we decided to go and look for a Morepork. Within a couple of minutes one was heard calling and we soon spotted it sat on a telegraph pole. This bird was then joined by a second bird giving us excellent prolonged views and ending another superb day.
Day 10 18th Nov
Today after waking some of us wandered around the trails and woods, while a few of the others went down to the quay to watch the tv which was showing the all blacks versus Ireland. Birds seen included Wekas, Bellbirds, Tui, Grey Warblers, Silvereye, California Quail, while both Long-tailed and Shining Cuckoo were heard. After breakfast we all met down at the quay and awaited our boat. Once aboard we set off towards Picton, the sea was calm and Fluttering Shearwaters, Australasian Gannets, and Spotted Shags were easily seen. We eventually got to Picton disembarked got into our minibus a set off towards our lunch stop at Waiotoma valley. Here we combined our meal with some interesting wine tasting. Moving on we passed a river and noted many Black-fronted Terns. Arriving at alpine lodge we then settled in before taking a short walk at nearby Nelson Lakes National Park. Here we saw one New Zealand Scaup on the lake while the woodlands held lots of Bellbirds, Tui and a big selection of trees and plants. At one point we found a (South Island) Kaka which gave us excellent close views as it drank nectar from the beech trees. We then returned to our hotel.
Day 11 19th Nov
After breakfast we set off towards Westport, stopping briefly along the way at a small town called Mercheson. A quick look around found us a very obliging Shining Cuckoo. Continuing on we arrived at Westport and drove down to Cape Foulwind. Here a short walk to overlook the rocks had us viewing a very smelly Fur Seal colony with adults and pups seen lazing around on rocks and also playing in the waves. Our picnic lunch was joined by a family of Weka's with the adult birds happily taking food from our hands and then running over to feed a large fat black chick. Leaving here we continued on, with our next stop being a wonderful wooded walk down to a picturesque beach. The birdlife was rather thin on the ground but the scenery was spectacular. A little further along we then visited the pancake rocks and blow holes, another wonderfully scenic area which also held breeding White-fronted Terns. Just a few minutes from here we arrived at our beachside hotel, where we soon settled in to our rooms which looked straight out at a raging sea. After a few bottles of wine in Chris's room we had our meal and then met up and drove a few minutes up the road and met Bruce who was looking after a colony of Westland Black Petrels. It started raining, so with wet weather gear on, we followed Bruce across a shallow stream and then into the woods where we climbed up wooden steps high into the forest until we reached a specially made viewing platform. As we neared the top a few of the group saw a large chick sat beside the path. At the top we were given a very informative talk on the petrels, but unfortunately none appeared in front of us. We then slowly walked back down and not having gone far we had excellent torchlight views of three petrel's on and right beside the path. We then left, crossed back over the stream and returned back to our hotel thoroughly wet.
Day 12 20th Nov
We woke to another morning of drizzle, typical of the west coast. After breakfast we headed south along the coast, fist stopping at lake Maporanga, where we were soon enjoying excellent views of a Brown Creeper a beautiful bird not done justice by the book illustrations. On the lake were a few New Zealand Scaup while good numbers of New Zealand Pigeons could be seen in display flights. Continuing on from here we made a couple of stops to look at a small town that was made famous for its jade and also gold mining. We then drove down to the edge of Waitangiroto river where we had our picnic lunch. A (Jit) boat then arrived, we put on our life jackets and sped off down the river, holding on to anything loose such as glasses, hats and false teeth. After a thrilling fifteen minute ride we arrived at a small (jitty), we got out and then after a short journey we boarded another boat and slowly cruised along a beautiful quiet river surrounded by lush vegetation.
The occasional Great White Egret or (Kotuku) was spotted as well as a Royal Spoonbill collecting nesting material. We docked and took a short walk to a hide overlooking a wonderful colony of Great White Egrets, many with full breeding plumes and hungry looking chicks. Amongst them were nesting Little Shags, while higher up Royal Spoonbills preened and slept while balanced on moss covered branches. In the forest many plants were seen included Green-hooded Orchids. We returned back to our minibus via another thrilling boat ride and then set off south again. Our next stop was Fox Glacier, we drove to the far car park where we were greeted by six or seven Kea, a large and friendly alpine parrot. These playful birds posed well for the cameras against the backdrop of a white glacial river and the Fox Glacier further up the valley. After a quick look at the glacier we left and headed to our next destination which was called wilderness lodge our accommodation for the next two nights. A quick stop was made to look at (South Island) Tomtit on the way. In the evening after an excellent meal, a Morepork could be heard calling outside our cabins.
Day 13 21st Nov
After breakfast we relaxed a while and waited for the rain to abate. We then drove the short distance to Ship Creek, where it wasn't long before we were all looking at a very close and obliging (South Island) Fernbird. Taking a short walk through a forested trail full of many types of ferns we eventually came out on the beach. After a walk along the beach looking for dolphins and greenstones we made our way back to the lodge for lunch. At we got ready for our visit to a nearby beach. We parked and then made our way through the wood and across four streams before we came out on the most scenic of all beaches. A suitable spot was found and we sat down quietly and waited. You need to conjure up a picture of the scene, a beautiful sandy beach with a stream flowing across it, backed by a small pool and thick tropical forest right down to the sand. In one corner of the beach, rocks went down to the sea where white water crashed up the shingle. As we sat and watched we were enthralled to see our first Fiordland Crested Penguins hopping amongst the rocks, and then preening. Other penguins were spotted playing in the surf and then coming ashore either to the rocks or waddling across the fine shingled beach. We had incredible views of this rare species over the next two hours and everyone just sat back and enjoyed it. If things could not be any more perfect we then spotted White-capped Albatrosses gliding by out at sea, along with a few Sooty Shearwaters and the finale of this wonderful afternoon three Orcas cruising by close to shore, with two huge males seen and a smaller one jumping right out of the water. Reluctantly we left this spot of paradise and called in on the look out, where we saw about ten White-capped Albatross and some Arctic Skuas. We then returned to our lodge ready for our evening meal.
Day 14 22nd Nov
Today we loaded up the minibus and set off south. It was to be a day of travelling with a few short stops en-route. We passed through some wonderful scenery of mountains, waterfalls and snow-capped peaks reminiscent of Scotland. Continuing on we stopped at the blue pools and took a walk through the wood down to the river where we crossed a suspension bridge and then looked over a deep bright blue pool which had some large Brown trout in. As we walked back through the forest the tell tale high pitched call of a Rifleman, betrayed its presence and after a short while we all enjoyed excellent views of this endemic wren. We travelled on next stopping at a winery where the birds were certainly better than the wine. We saw some very obliging California Quail as well as several very bright Redpolls and then a New Zealand Falcon flew around with two Australasian Harriers. Our next stop at Dunstan Lake found us lots of Pied Stilts, plus Grey Teal and several Australasian Shoveler. Just outside Queenstown we called in on another small lake and saw eight Great Crested Grebes including a pair in courtship display. It wasn't long before we arrived at our hotel overlooking a huge lake with mountains in the background, we had yet another marvellous meal and retired early ready for the next day.
Day 15 23rd Nov
Today we set off towards the far end of lake Wakatipu where we walked amongst the giant beech trees of Apiration National Park. After crossing a bouncy suspension bridge that could only hold five people at any one time, we then strolled through the woodland. A Long-tailed Cuckoo was heard calling and after a little coaxing in we had good flight views of two birds. Further along we watched two Yellow-crowned Parakeets while New Zealand Robins and a Brown Creeper could be heard singing. As we started walking back Karen heard the bird we had been looking for, and after some initial frustration we were soon watching a group of about seven Yellowhead's yet again another rare and declining endemic. Excellent views were had of these superb little birds before we departed and drove to another spot just a short distance away. We hadn't walked far before several more Yellowhead's were spotted including one bird that came so close that people could not focus their optics on it. We then saw a couple of obliging Riflemen, a (South Island)Tomtit and a Fantail. Very happy we left and drove to a nearby town where we enjoyed a relaxed lunch and a few cool drinks in the sunshine. Heading back to our hotel in Queenstown it was a chance to relax or have a look around the town, later followed by a superb meal in a seafood restaurant.
Day 16 24th Nov
We left Queenstown and set off south. We broke the journey with a few short stops to take photos of the fantastic scenery. The usual species were seen en-route, harriers, plovers etc. But it was the snow covered mountains, and lakes that stole the show. We stopped and search a section of river to try and find Blue Duck, but to no avail. We had our picnic lunch beside a small rocky valley after which we drove the short distance to another valley where we took a walk, here amongst the boulder strewn hills were New Zealand Pipits and Yellowhammers. Continuing on we passed through a very long tunnel out into an amazing cirque. A short stop was made at a chasm where water raged through a deep and twisting gorge. From here we drove down to Milford Sound where we boarded the Milford Wanderer a huge boat that carried about 30 people. We cruised out into the sound with huge towering cliffs plunging vertically into the sea either side of us. We passed by a couple of beautiful waterfalls and on to the mouth of the sound where we anchored up and some of the group went kayaking, while others went out in a motor boat for a closer look at the shore. Later we left the area and headed out of the sound a short distance where we found lots of Dusky Dolphins playing and jumping out of the water. Amongst them were a feeding flock of fifty or so Sooty Shearwaters and several Arctic Skuas chasing White-fronted Terns. As we cruised around we got excellent views of all the birds and incredible shows from the dolphins swimming and jumping right beside the boat. We then headed back to a sheltered cove where the boat anchored up and our meal was soon served. After this we watched a fabulous sunset, which turned the snow on the mountain tops pink. Stood on the upper deck we then watched as the southern cross appeared above the silhouette of the mountains.
Day 17 25th Nov
Today we woke early from our bunks on the boat and went on deck to look around. Some early birds in the group had already seen several Fiordland Crested Penguins coming out of the forest and walking down to the waters edge where they jumped in and swam out to sea. After breakfast on board, we set off out in to the sound, first taking a closer look at one penguin stood on a rock. Cruising out into the sound we came across a group of Dusky Dolphins and fur seals playing in amongst a group of fish. We then had very close encounters with several waterfalls before headed back to the quay. Leaving Milford Sound our next stops were two valleys where we walked to the screed line and searched the scattered boulders for the rare Rock Wren. After several hours and searching all likely spots we had to concede defeat, proving that wildlife can not be guaranteed no matter how hard you look. We then left and made the long journey to Invercargill passing through many different habitats, and arriving at our hotel late afternoon.
Day 18 26th Nov
Today we left our hotel and drove the short distance to Bluff where we would catch the ferry to Stewart Island. Our huge aluminium catamaran ferry set off on the fast crossing to the island. Over the one hour crossing a few of the group watched from the back. We saw lots of Sooty Shearwaters and many Common Diving Petrels, plus four White-capped Mollymawks, an Arctic Skua, several Stewart Island Shags and a close Northern Giant Petrel. We arrived at Stewart Island and were soon transported to our idyllic lodge. After a welcome tea, we collected our picnic lunches and then walked a short way to a quay where we caught a boat to the small island of Ulva. Once here we set off on a slow walk around this wooded reserve. Brown Creepers were easily seen, as were Kaka and Red-fronted Parakeets. Tuis were common and (South Island) Tomtits quite tame. We had to work a little harder to find (South Island) Saddleback, but eventually everyone saw it. Visiting several lovely beaches we found that each had it's own family of tame Weka's, which would take snacks from your fingers and even search your rucksack if you left it laying around! Out at sea a White-capped Mollymawk was spotted as well as Blue Penguins, White-fronted Terns and Spotted Shags. A New Zealand Pigeon showed really well and as we returned we saw several Weka chicks being shown how to feed by their parents. At the jetty we met the boat which soon whisked us back to the main island and our lodge.
Day 19 27th Nov
From the lodge before breakfast there were New Zealand Pigeons and Kaka's as well as Tui and Bellbird feeding on the bird table. Using the telescope we could see a distant Stewart Island Shag sat on a lone rock in the harbour. After breakfast we headed down to the Quay where we met by our boatman who was to take us on our pelagic trip. The sea was flat calm as we set off and before long we spotted a bronze form of Stewart Island Shag and then three penguins laying on the surface. As we got closer we could identify them as Fiordland Crested Penguins. We drifted to within ten feet of them and enjoyed excellent views as they played around in front of us. Cruising on further we saw more Blue Penguins and the occasional White-capped Mollymawk. We then approached the shores of another island where our first Yellow-eyed Penguin was spotted sat tight under a small bush. Another two were then seen climbing across the rocks and down into the water. Continuing our cruise we passed by several small rocky islands which held Stewart Island Shags, and on a small grassy patch on one of the islands we spotted a Brown Skua. As we circled around, it flew off and came into the boat giving us excellent views. A Southern Giant Petrel then flew in towards us and landed just off the boat, once again let us all see the identification features of it's head and bill. Lots of seals were seen and White-fronted Terns flying around in a flock may have had an Antarctic Tern amongst them but it disappeared before being confirmed. We then set off out to deeper waters and soon found many Sooty Shearwaters and lots of Common Diving Petrels.
Several White-capped Mollymawks gave good views as did Cape Pigeons and the occasional Brown Skua. A real highlight was to see both seals and diving petrels swimming underneath the crystal clear water beside the boat. Turning around we headed to a sheltered bay where we had our picnic lunch on-board. After this we headed back, joined by a couple of very close White-capped Mollymawks a bird no one could get fed with seeing! We returned and had a few relaxed hours looking around the town, or just soaking up the sun with a cool drink outside the local harbour-side pub. Later we all met for our evening meal at the lodge. After this and with drizzle coming down we got ready and walked down to the quay for our long awaited try for Stewart Island Brown Kiwi. We set off on the boat and during our forty five minute journey we passed lots of groups of Blue Penguins floating on the water. When we reached our destination just after a wonderful sunset, we were given a hot drink and a very informative talk on the Stewart Island Brown Kiwi by our guide. When ready we set of on a slow quiet walk through the wood and onto Ocean Beach. Here our guide Phil, searched all the likely areas where kiwis sometimes feed. After looking along most of the beach we then caught sight of a kiwi feeding right out in the open on the beach. With everyone in the party very excited we remained quiet and with a low light we could watch this male bird feeding amongst seaweed before walking up into the undergrowth where we watched it feeding for another couple of minutes. Very elated with this excellent sighting we returned back to the boat and headed back to quay and our comfy beds.
Day 20 28th Nov
We were up early for breakfast, after which we caught the ferry back to the mainland. From this fast boat we managed to spot lots of Common Diving Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters, as well as a Cape Pigeon and Arctic Skua. An interesting sighting mid channel was a group of seven New Zealand Pigeons heading from the mainland straight towards Stewart Island. Once ashore we loaded up our minibus and drove the short distance to Invagargill Museum. Here we met a very interesting man who was studying the Tuatara, a strange prehistoric lizard which has many affiliations with early birds. I had the rare opportunity to have one of these amazing creatures sit on my arm.
From here we next drove to Porpoise Bay where our arrival was greeted by excellent sightings of three Hector's Dolphins playing in the shallow surf, while behind them a large female New Zealand Sealion sat quietly on a rock looking out to sea. We also saw a nice group of Spotted Shags. Leaving here we continued on to our next stop at Cannibal Bay. Here a walk along the beach, got us very close views of several large male sealions lazing around in the sand and looking quite mean. Out at sea we saw several very distant albatross following a fishing boat, unfortunately they were just out of range to be positively identified. Our next stop at another beautiful bay saw us watching five Yellow-eyed Penguins running up the shore and then climbing up the grassy bank to their nesting sites. In glorious sunshine we then travelled to Dunedin, arriving at our hotel in the pouring rain. Such is the changeable weather that we have now got used to.
Day 21 29th Nov
After breakfast we set off towards nearby Taiaroa Head. En-route we checked a few shallow bays and found lots of Pied Stilts, White-faced Herons and Bar-tailed Godwits. There were also several Royal Spoonbills a pair of Banded Dotterel and a group of Grey Teal. Driving to the head we arrived at the car park and immediately saw a huge Northern Royal Albatross fly low overhead. What a sight! We then went on a guided walk to the observatory which overlooked the albatross colony, and here we saw half a dozen adult birds sat on their nests, while just below them were a nice colony of Spotted Shags. Leaving here we had our lunch at a wonderful country house, where the food was outstanding. Filled to the brim we then made our way back to a small quay where we awaited our boat, which was to take us around Taiaroa Head. Beside the jetty was a historic rock from which two brothers hunted and exterminated all the local Right Whales, a sad reminder of the past. We boarded our boat and set off for our short cruise. As we neared the Albatross colony we could see around ten birds sat on their nests as well as the Spotted Shags below. Leaving the headland and going further out to sea we saw a close Northern Giant Petrel and then a Northern Royal Albatross came across the sea and gave us fantastic close flybys. A little further out we came across Sooty Shearwaters and a couple of Cape Pigeons. Another albatross then put in a welcome appearance alongside a Hutton's and several Fluttering Shearwaters. It was soon time to return back to the jetty, from where we then drove up over the headland and down to an area which overlooked penguin beach. Aptly named it wasn't long before we saw Yellow-eyed Penguins waddling up the beach and then slipping and sliding their way up the sandy banks to their nest sites. One bird was spotted sat on a nest with a tiny chick, and we then watched as the parent changed places with its partner which then fed not one but two little chicks. While this was going on Sea Lions lazed on the beach and Royal Albatrosses flew out at sea and sat around on the surface. Giant Petrels and White-capped Mollymawks dwarfed the hundreds of Sooty Shearwaters that were flying back and forth. And while searching amongst the seals sleeping on the rocks I then found a huge Elephant Seal lazing on a small area of shingle. We left this spot and walked down to another nearby beach where several tiny puppy fur seals were being nursed by their parents. One mother was seen pushing her yearling away in preference to a newly born pup. In a small shelter overlooking this nursery we saw a Blue Penguin resting on the floor, we left it in peace. We then headed back towards Dunedin stopping to have another wonderful but very filling meal at the country house where we had lunch.
Day 22 30th Nov
Leaving our hotel we set off on the next leg of our amazing tour. A short stop at Shag Rock found us Stewart Island Shags and a Northern Giant Petrel before we continued our journey making several more short stops en-route. After a lunch stop at Omarura we then drove a short distance to a river bed where we took a slow walk. Along the edges of this river were nesting Black-fronted Terns and Banded Dotterel, while the occasional Pied Stilt and oystercatcher were also seen. John then shouted, and we all stopped. There right in front of us were two Black Stilts, the rarest wader in the world. We watched these immature birds for quite a while before they flew a short way to a marshy pool. Here they fed along side each other giving us superb views in perfect light conditions. Although you wouldn't have thought so, looking at my less than sharp photos!!
Very happy we all left and continued our journey to another area alongside a canal where we searched several marshy pools. Here we found plenty of Pied Stilts and a couple of hybrid Black/Pied Stilts. Time was getting on so we left to complete the last leg of today's journey to Mt Cook. As we approached the delta before the mountains, the weather changed from glorious sunshine to misty rain. We had a quick look on the delta but found just a couple of Pied Stilts.
We soon arrived at our hotel and checked in. Steve and Julia were lucky enough to see a perched New Zealand Falcon from their room, something for us all to look for tomorrow. We had yet another good evening meal, along with the inevitable few laughs and our evening checklist.
Day 23 1st Dec
We woke this morning to a downpour of rain, which prevented us seeing Mt Cook and put everyone off the proposed walk up the Hooker Valley. We decided to leave and get away from the rain. A quick stop at the delta this morning found us three immature Black Stilts. Although obviously more distant than yesterday's excellent close views they were still a great pleasure to see. We left the delta and drove to a nearby lake before continuing on to Mt John. Parking at the observatory on the top of this small mountain allowed us to look around the stony hillside for the resident Chukor. After a fairly thorough search of the top we decided to give up and move on. We had a long way to go to get to Christchurch so we set off, making a few comfort stops along the way. By late afternoon we were near our destination. Despite the heat we decided to check out the edges of nearby Lake Ellesmere. A difficult area to access we drove down to the beach first, where we saw lots of Spotted Shags plus a couple of Hector's Dolphins. As we drove back we called in on several spots that overlooked the lake. Our best sightings were probably the forty-two Royal Spoonbills feeding and resting around the shallow waters. Leaving here it was not to long before we reached our hotel in Christchurch. Here we met up with Karen's husband Chris and after our evening meal together we all thanked Karen for a most wonderful tour, far exceeding everyone's expectations, staying in superb accommodations, enjoying very good food, and seeing 99% of our intended species. Our tour was advertised as being the best value birdwatching and New Zealand experience on offer from any British wildlife tour company and I am pleased to say that once again we have proved our commitment to offering such a high standard tour. For those lucky enough to have attended this tour they will have many fond memories. For those that booked with someone else it's about time you seriously considered us as an option. Having read this report I am sure you will want to look at our company in more detail. Those that have, are now loyal and regular customers, which speaks for itself.
Day 24 2nd Dec
With the tour over today was to be a day spent at leisure in and around Christchurch. Our flight was not due to depart until early evening so a proposal was made for any of the group who so wished to share a hire vehicle and drive two hours to Kaikoura where we could sample another exciting pelagic trip. Seven of the group took up the offer for this hopefully memorable finale to our tour.
We set off early and arrived at Kaikoura at after a quick cup of coffee we then drove to the Quay and met our boatman Simon. The sea was described as sicky but we were all eager to see what was out there. On a smaller boat than before we headed straight out to the edge of the wind, which was about four miles.
The first huge Wandering Albatrosses then flew in joined by a Northern Royal, and several White-capped and Salvin's Mollymawks.
Northern Giant Petrels seemed to be everywhere, and dwarfed the first of fifty Fairy Prions which danced around just feet from the boat. Buller's Shearwaters gave us superb close views just before a distant albatross was spotted majestically gliding in towards us. A beautiful Buller's Albatross, one we had been hoping to see, gave us two flybys before disappearing over the increasingly large waves. A Grey-faced Petrel was then spotted and seen well on several occasions. The waves had now increased to a four and a half metre swell, and as we floated up and over these huge waves we were almost face to beak with the Wandering Albatrosses that sat just a few feet from our boat. The boatman decided it was getting a bit too rough so he set about returning to shore, but not before the Buller's Albatross appeared again and flew past us eventually sitting on the water at the rear of the boat. A perfect ending to another great pelagic and a fitting send off from our New Zealand tour. We returned to Christchurch in plenty of time to catch our return flights.
The following list shows the numbers of birds seen from our final days pelagic and is almost certainly under estimated.
Snowy Albatross 5
I would like to thank everyone on this tour, who made it such pleasure to lead!
Special thanks to Karen who's incredibly hard work, local knowledge and contacts and cheerful personality made this tour so fantastic, and a once in a lifetime experience for all those that participated
We can't wait until we return in November 2004 --- Steve Bird