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A Report from

New Zealand; the Sub-Antarctic Islands of N.Z. and the Ross Sea in Antarctica, Feb-Mar. 2006 ,


NI Saddleback
Yellow-eyed Penguin
Yellow-eyed Penguin
Light-mantled Sooty Albatross

Moira and Graeme Wallace, Edinburgh, Scotland.


            Background and Summary of the Trip.

            Site Information .

            Reference Sources.


                        Trip Reports


            Daily Account.

            Annotated Species List.

*       Background and Summary of the Trip.

Emperor Penguin

The snow covered peaks of the great volcanoes Terror and Erebus, the Ice Barrier, Terra Nova Bay, Cape Royds, and Cape Evans provided the beautiful but  harsh landscape upon which stage exploits of great courage, endurance and tragedy were played out  by Ross, Borchgrevink, Amundsen, Shackleton and Scott -  the great names of  the heroic age of Antarctic Exploration. It had long been our  wish to visit these distant and forbidding  places, to experience the grandeur of the stormy southern oceans, the splendour of albatrosses and petrels gliding effortlessly over storm tossed seas, to see the icy landscape and to touch history at first hand  by visiting the preserved Historic Huts. We therefore determined to visit Antarctica with Heritage Expeditions, the ship also stopping off at the bird rich Sub Antarctic Islands of the Snares, Auckland, Macquarie and Campbell Islands with the outside chance of the Balleny Islands, breeding  ground of the rarely seen Greater Snow Petrel. Around  Antarctica we also planned a month long  trip to mainland NZ and its predator free offshore islands, hoping to see as many endemic families and species as possible.

The trip was a great success, on the Sub Antarctic/Antarctic leg  recording 8 species of penguin including an extraordinary encounter on the sea ice at 78˚ South with a group of 40 Emperor Penguins, preparing to start the long march to their breeding grounds . We landed by zodiac on the sea ice and watched in wonder as, braying and trumpeting , they waddled and tobogganed across the ice  to within a couple of metres to check us out.  We also saw12 species of albatross, both snow petrels, the strange endemic flightless teals on Campbell and the Auckland Islands. Leopard Seal cruising the sea ice at Cape Royds and Adare and several pods of Orca were among the mammalian highlights.


In New Zealand we were lucky enough to find 4 species of Kiwi, the critically endangered Black Stilt, Takahe  (once presumed to be extinct) Saddleback, Kokako,  Stitchbird,  a good mix of petrels and shearwaters including the much sought after New Zealand Storm Petrel. The only major dip was Rock Wren at the Homer Tunnel and the Gertrude Valley where we searched for hours – there is suggestion that they may undertake an altitudinal migration in late summer and December is a better time to look. We were too late for Fiordland Crested Penguin or Long-tailed Cuckoo. The following text  focuses largely on the birds and mammals of the trip but includes a summary of our time on the ship where there were fewer birds but a lot of scenery and history.

*       Logistics and Site Information .

There is already a huge amount of information available from trip reports on the internet and books about birding sites in New Zealand which I do not intend to replicate. However, short comments on some sites and local guides may be helpful.

Antarctica and the Sub Antarctic Islands of New Zealand

Access to these islands and the huts in Antarctica are restricted by permit and, unless you can find work at one of the bases,  the only way to get there is with one of the limited number of tour companies who operate in that region. No matter who you go with Antarctica is remote, hazardous, difficult to get to and thus very expensive. We chose Heritage Expeditions  primarily because they operated the smallest ship ( 48 passengers) and we had heard that they were very reliable. In the event they lived up to expectations and Rodney Russ ( owner of the company and Tour Leader on our trip) was exceptional in the breadth of his polar exploration and natural history knowledge and did everything in his power to ensure we made the important landings even in hazardous conditions. This included the unscheduled stopping of the ship in the middle of nowhere, launching zodiacs to get us on to the sea ice in temperatures of -25C for a close encounter a group of 40 curious Emperor Penguins and standing up to his chest in icy waters at Cape Adare and Terra Nova Bay to ensure safe NIAID landings.

Stewart and Ulva Islands

The principal reason for going to Stewart Island was in search of Brown Kiwi. For this we contacted two companies who operate kiwi walks; Ruggedy Range and Philip & Diane Smith .Ruggedy Range, who offer a two day walk ( overnight in  a bunkhouse) to Half Moon Bay for the kiwi, were very helpful and responsive to our e-mails. Philip & Diane Smith, who operate a night time kiwi search, every second night, weather permitting,  by boat from Oban harbour to a relatively remote peninsula of Stewart Island, initially proved unresponsive to our enquiries.  Because our time was limited it was with some misgiving we finally decided to go with  Philip & Diane Smith, also staying in their rentable cottage in Oban. I am sure RR would have done a good job; as on the night did Phillip Smith who proved to be a man of few words but most of them  worth listening to.  We started out from Oban Harbour at 9.00 at night and eventually found kiwi 5 hours later at 2.00 the following morning. It is greatly to Phillip Smiths credit that he stuck at it for so long, eventually rewarding us with a male kiwi pecking at our boots. In retrospect we should have stayed longer on Stewart Is and organised a pelagic as good numbers of albatross, petrels and prions may be seen not far offshore.

Kaikoura Pelagic

There are 2 kinds of pelagic from Kaikoura one essentially for diving with dolphins/seeing cetaceans, the other for petrels and albatross. Other trip reports suggested that these were popular and we pre-booked over the internet with Oceanwings who seem to operate as a subset of Dolphin Encounters at In the event we were the only customers for the early morning pelagic and spent a greatly enjoyable 3 hours at very reasonable cost seeing (depending on taxonomy) Royal {Southern} Wandering {Snowy Gibsons &Antipodean} and Shy {White-capped &Salvins} Albatross and a nice mix of petrels and shearwaters including the local endemic Huttons. Highly recommended.

Hauraki Gulf Pelagic

The pelagic if you want to see the recently rediscovered NZ Storm Petrel as well as nice mix of other shearwaters and petrels and Grey Ternlet if you can get out far enough. Originally booked for March 26th our pelagic had to be cancelled due to the arrival of Cyclone Wattie but Chris Gaskin did a really good job of contacting us and re-organising and we went out on the 28th seeing about 20 NZ Storm Petrel,  unusually alongside similar numbers of Wilsons. Highly recommended. Chris can be contacted at Kiwi Wildlife Tours and can also act as a ground agent and guide.

Marlborough Sound

The rare endemic Rough-faced Shag  breeds and roosts on rocks at the mouth of Marlborough Sound but comes into the sound to feed making it more accessible to birders. It can be seen from the Inter Islander ferry but to make sure its probably better to go out with Dolphin Watch Ecotours who run  morning and afternoon 3 hour “cruises “  for wildlife in general including the endangered Hectors Dolphin and a landing on Motorua Island. The afternoon cruise is tagged as a “Birders Special” where apparently great efforts are made to find the Shag. Whilst we did see two juvenile shags we were unimpressed by this operation where we had to ask repeatedly for the boat to stop or slow to allow us to look at species in the water and despite requests to try and find an adult shag on the return journey the boat sped back to Picton without stopping or slowing.

TiritiriMatangi and Kapiti Islands

These easily accessible predator free islands are must for any birding trip to N.Z. as they are home to a number of  endemic species now extinct or gravely threatened on the mainland. Little-spotted Kiwi, Takahe, Saddleback, Kokako ( still on the mainland at Mapara but difficult) and Stitchbird are among the many attractions. Both are operated by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation whom we found to be helpful and reliable in providing us with information, landing permits etc. Tiritiri can be visited on a day trip from Gulf Harbour but if you want to try and see kiwi at least one nights stay, probably two, in the bunkhouse is recommended. As it happened we saw kiwi on both nights there but it was hard work, particularly the first night which was windy making it almost impossible to hear the kiwi moving around in the dark. Others were not so lucky. There is  charitable foundation Friends of Tiritirimatangi who control the bookings for the bunkhouse which is popular and should be booked in advance.

Kapiti requires you to obtain a landing permit from DOC and you need to make arrangements with the local boatmen to transfer you from Paraparauma. On the north end of Kapiti there is an area of Maori land which has accommodation operated by the very helpful John Barrett  who also acts as the DOC representative on the island. Probably best to arrange boats and accommodation with John  and to stay overnight because the chances of kiwi are apparently much higher on Kapiti than Tiritirimatangi.


To see the very localised Okarito Brown Kiwi you will need to bird along the Okarito Road; turn left just a few kilometres north of Franz Josef. About half way along this road to Okarito on the right there is a DOC sign Pakahi and a small car park. There is a track from the back of the car park into the bush that is a good place to look for this kiwi. There is also Fernbird in the adjacent marsh.

Bullock Creek Road

There are a number of places to look for Great Spotted Kiwi. We had originally planned to look along the Heaphy Track  around the Lower Heaphy from Kohaihai to Scotts Lookout and also around the Macey Hut but we came to realise that this would require a lot of walking, overnight camping and cooking. Much more easily accessed is Bullock Creek Road  just north of Punakaiki ( and the excellent Punakaiki Rocks Hotel). Drive up the dirt road for about six kilometres to a car park at the end. (Be aware of the possibility of flash floods on this road). Walk through the open meadow beyond for 200-300 metres where the path forks by a large solitary tree. Take the path to the right which goes slightly uphill and GSK can be anywhere around here. As the path continues over the rise and descends there is another fork by a memorial stone to a mining accident. Take the right fork again into deeper bush. At this point do NOT go off the narrow track as there are many, deep limestone sinkholes.

Kerikeri Birders Rest

To try to find North Island Brown Kiwi many people go to Trounson  but we discovered a couple who run a fantastic B&B in Kerikeri and who also will take you to a nearby location to look for this bird. They are very dedicated, have a very high success rate and if they do not find the bird the first night they will take you out again at no charge. Contact Carol & Detlef Davies at

*       Reference Sources.


In New Zealand - The Hand Guide to the Birds of New Zealand; Hugh Robertson & Barrie Heather 2001 OUP proved perfectly adequate in the field, the ocean and the Sub Antarctic Islands.

In Antarctica – The Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife; Hadoram Shirihai PUP is a rich source of reference.


There are now hundreds of sites on the internet with birding information on just about anything  Among the best are still &  with &  providing excellent entry portals making searching for information very easy.. The NZ birding information exchange group provides as valuable current information source on sites and species.

*       Acknowledgements.

We would like to thank in particular Nick Allen in New Zealand of Birding NZ Yahoo group who was really responsive and provided us with some great information that was crucial for Black Stilt and very helpful for other species. Also thanks to all the contributors to the above group whose input is very helpful when planning a trip. Thanks also to Frank Lambert for his assistance.

*       Daily Account.

3rd February  (Day1)

06.00 - 09.00 Excellent pelagic from Kaikoura highlights being Southern Royal, Snowy, Gibson’s, Antipodean, New Zealand White-capped and Buller’s Albatross along with Westland, White-chinned and Cape Petrels, Bullers and the local Hutton’s Shearwater. Intended to drive to 335kms to Twizel but rain and mist led us to stop about 60kms short in Fairlie where we found a Thai B&B.

4th  February  (Day2)

Drove to the small village of Lake Tekapo at the southerly end of the impossibly blue Lake Tekapo. Just south of the village  took the turn off onto Godley Peaks Rd which runs along the western shore of Lake Tekapo. After a few kms the road forks left to Lake Alexandrina with a marshy area in between.

Within 10 minutes we had the good fortune to find a pair of Black Stilt which was a huge bonus as it saved potentially many hours scanning the braided rivers which are a feature of this area and the preferred habitat for the stilt. Also seen were Paradise Shelduck, NZ Scaup and Black Swan, Returned to Godley Peaks Rd heading south but detoured to take a look at Mt Cook in spectacular sunshine,  arriving late afternoon in the very touristy Queenstown.

Black Stilt
Black Stilt

5th  February  (Day3)

Drove to Glenorchy and on to the start of the Routeburn track and into some beautiful native forest. Ridiculously tame NZ Robin walked all over our  boots and Rifleman very evident.  Walked the trail seeing Yellow-crowned Parakeet and after an hour or two crossed the second swing bridge and found the main target of the day, a flock of Yellowhead and shortly after another smaller group. Bellbird, Grey Fantail, Tomtit, and Grey Gerygone. Also present  were Brown Creeper but they stayed very high in the canopy allowing only poor views. Drove to Te Anua Downs.

6th  February  (Day 4)

Drove to Homer Tunnel on a cold, cloudy morning  seeing Tui in the forest along the way and spent 2 -3 hours scouring the boulder strewn slopes for Rock Wren. By now the day was hot so headed back the short distance to the Gertrude Valley and spent another hour searching with no luck before returning to the Tunnel for one last and unsuccessful look. A pair of Kea flying around were some consolation. Through the Tunnel to Milford Sound seeing Tui again at the Visitor Centre before heading back out to the Tutoko Valley which was crawling with Brown Creeper and Bellbird. Boarded the ship for the overnight cruise up Milford Sound, dropping anchor in Anita Bay. Australasian Gannet and lots of Sooty Shearwater on the water and on land and a pair of black phase Variable Oystercatcher and a distant pair of NZ Pigeon perched up. Regrettably, but as expected,  no sign of Fiordland Crested Penguin

7th  February  (Day 5)

Sailed to the mouth of the Sound seeing distant White-caped Albatross, Dolphin and Fur Seal before returning to shore. Back to the Homer Tunnel, failing again to find Rock Wren ( late summer altitudinal migration ??). Stopped at Knobbs Flat to look for Long-tailed Cuckoo but we were really too late for this migratory species and came up short. Drove to Invercargill, picking up a speeding ticket on the way, to catch the17.oo very fast ferry to Oban on Stewart Island. Thousands of Sooties at their home – the Muttonbird islands and a few Black-browed Albatross. Accommodation at Pilgrim Cottage close to the harbour with Kaka and NZ Pigeon in the garden. Dinner in the Church Hill bistro where we declined the traditional boiled Muttonbird.

8th  February  (Day 6)


Water taxi from Golden Bay Wharf to Ulva Island where we spent the morning walking the forests and shores of this predator free island. Weka were evident and tame but otherwise birds seemed thin on the ground but eventually Red-crowned Parakeet and the first much wanted Wattlebird – Saddleback showed.

After lunch walked the long track out to Ackers Point in search of Stewart Island Shag which we failed to see but hundreds of albatross, White-capped, Buller’s and Black-browed and many Blue Penguin. Walked back seeing several Tui and finally back in the harbour 3 Stewart Island Shag sitting on a rock.  At 21.oo headed off with Philip Smith and 14(!!) others for what was to be a long night and morning. It was very windy which probably didn’t help but after  4  hours back and forth through the bush and along sandy bays we had seen nothing. We were surprised that Philip had not given up but on our third visit to one beach we found kiwi tracks that had not been there earlier. Retracing our steps into the bush Philip played a tape and the shape of a kiwi came hurtling down the track in the dark and apparently rocketed straight by. Fortunately the kiwi hit the brakes and returned to the source of the call where it spent the next 5 minutes walking around us, snuffling and probing both sand an boots before finally disappearing.. First kiwi – fantastic and much bigger and more agile than expected. Good views of spot lit Mottled Petrel as we returned to Oban and bed at 03.10.

9th  February  (Day 7)

Up at 06.30 for the 08.00 ferry back to Bluff and the on to  Invercargill to pay the speeding ticket! Drove out to the Catlins to Waikawa where we had hoped to do a short pelagic but the day was windy with high seas so no-one was going out. Returned to Invercargill and checked in to the Ascot Park where tomorrow Heritage Expeditions would take over.

10th  February  (Day 8)

Leisurely day, in Invercargill and in the evening met up over dinner with our fellow travellers.

11th  February  (Day 9)

Visit to Southland Museum and the interesting exhibition on the history of the Sub Antarctic Islands and met up with Henry the 120 year old Tuatara, a unique long lived, slow-moving lizard with a 3rd eye.  Down to Bluff and on board the Spirit of Enderby ( aka the Profesor Khromov – and elderly, but modernised ice strengthened Russian research vessel where we cleared customs but they failed to find the Russian cook who had apparently jumped ship. Set sail on a calm sunny evening passing Stewart Island to the east at dusk.

12th  February  (Day 10)

Anchored of the Snares in fairly choppy water in Station Cove. Ship moved to South Bay where our zodiac was launched and a battering ride in the swell took us to the shelter of Ho Ho Bay for great views of the endemic Snares Crested Penguin and the local race of Fernbird and Tomtit. The return to the ship which had moved station took us between Broughton Island and the Snares where one battering wave nearly knocked us out the zodiac. Buller’s Albatross everywhere, small numbers of Broad-billed Prion and the local race of Cape Pigeon chased the little craft.

13th  February  (Day 11)

Yellow-eyed Penguin
Yellow-eyed Penguin

Overnight the ship sailed south to the Auckland Islands and dawn found us anchored off Enderby Is. Landed by zodiac on Sandy Bay where NZ Pipit proved ridiculously tame and 2 Yellow-eyed Penguins walking down from the rata covered slopes and across the beach was a great sight.  We had the day to walk around the island and we headed off over the tussock moor seeing nesting Southern Royal Albatross,  Banded Dotterel and a pair of Sub Antarctic Snipe. On a rocky ledge on the cliffs on the other side of the island we had wonderful views of a pair of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross with an almost fully fledged chick. The adults put on  a wonderful aerial display  returning  just in time to see off three Auckland Island Shag which showed a very curious and aggressive behaviour towards the chick. As we walked on Northern & Southern Giant Petrel were seen, Red-crowned Parakeet, Antarctic and White-fronted Tern, migratory Turnstone and a few more Yellow-eyed Penguin. Hookers Sea Lions and NZ Fur Seals had to be circumnavigated with care but finally we returned late afternoon to Sandy Bay where a pair of Auckland Island Teal feeding in the kelp beds sealed an excellent day.

14th  February  (Day 12)

Ship moved from its overnight position in Erebus Cove and by dawn we were at the entrance to Carnley Harbour on the main Auckland Island. Scheduled to go to the Shy Albatross colony but not for the last time, strong winds made the navigation impossible and instead we cruised to Tagua Bay to scramble through the rata forest to see the ruined huts of the WWII coast watchers. A but disappointing but nothing could be done. Late afternoon headed south in increasingly rough seas.

15th February (Day 13)

At sea in rough weather heading for Macquarie Island which is of course Australian territory. At sea loads of Antarctic Prion and Black-bellied Storm Petrel and the odd White-headed Petrel.

16th February (Day 14)

In glorious weather dropped anchor at Buckles Bay at 06.00 with the ship surrounded by hundreds of King Penguin who had come out to greet us. At the ANARE station picked up the Australian rangers and headed for Sandy Bay. Just a magical morning with a backdrop like an Attenborough programme set. Huge Southern Elephant Seals literally piled up on top of each other on the beach , Northern and Southern Giant Petrels including some white-phase but the stars of the show were hundreds, indeed thousands, of highly inquisitive King Penguins and the more stand offish little Royal Penguins; many of whom were huddled at their windy colony waiting to complete their moult. Macquarie Is Shag  and Light-mantled Sooty soaring above completed the cast on a fantastic day.

17th February (Day 15)

King Penguin
Gentoo Penguin
King Penguin
Gentoo Penguin

Overnight at anchor at Sandy Bay  then headed back north for a landing at  the ANARE Station at Buckles Bay. Another beautiful day, we spent the morning wandering on the beach areas around the base with more Kings plus a few lingering Gentoo Penguin and some distant Rockhoppers and some hideous tripot reminders of the days when people travelled here to kill penguins in their thousands.

On  a perfect afternoon we sailed south passing Lusitania Bay where the huge colony of King Penguins have taken back control of the beach and now nest in their thousands around the rusting tripots that used to spell their doom. Now sailing south through the Roaring 40’s and Furious 50’s heading for Cape Adare and our first landfall on the Antarctic Continent.

18th-22nd February ( Days 16 – 20 )

Initially we made good progress in relatively benign sea seeing our first iceberg on the afternoon of the 19th and crossing the Antarctic Circle on the afternoon of the 20th. Late that afternoon seas deteriorated and sleep became difficult because of the constant rolling of the ship. Some time during the night a constant crunching and grinding indicated that we were passing through a band of sea ice and by 05.00 most people were up to watch us push our way through to arrive in Robertson Bay and anchor off Ridley Beach at Cape Adare. Weather was clear but a freezing howling wind was blowing off the plateau making it impossible to land. Antarctic and Snow Petrel were all around the ship with distant views of the apparently few Adelies lingering from this huge breeding colony. The wind howled all day and in the end we had to cut our losses and depart for the Ross Sea.

23rd  February ( Days21 )

Arrived off Cape Hallet at 06.30 to discover 10 miles of ice between us and the shore and so no landing possible so we headed further south towards Inexpressible Island and Terra Nova Bay. A dreary day enveloped in snow and swirling fog.

24th February ( Day 22 )

Awakened at o4.oo by the grinding of the ship as it pushed through a band of solid “old ice”  but again foul weather and poor visibility thwarted the landing at Inexpressible Island and it seemed as if we would never get to land. However as we sailed south through broken sea ice  we saw a few Adelies and 2 Emperor Penguins on a floe that tobogganed off at high speed into the sea as the ship drew closer. Later that day as the weather cleared we sailed into Terra Nova Bay and finally landed, first having picked up Rune Gjeldnes, a Norwegian who, in the footsteps of his forbears, had just completed an extraordinary single handed, unsupported walk across the continent of Antarctica 4600 kilometres on his own in about 100 days. Spent a few hours on shore climbing the hill behind the Italian base and then headed back out to Inexpressible Island in the late afternoon. Inexpressible is the place where Scott’s Northern Party led by Campbell over wintered in 1912 after failing to be picked up by the Terra Nova. They lived through the Antarctic winter in an excavated snow cave insulated with snow blocks and seaweed!! before finally walking 370 kms to the base at Hut Point. That evening when we arrived the weather had again turned, the barren volcanic land was dark under a leaden sky, the wind screamed off the continent, snow was fell heavily and the sea was black. I do not think I ever saw a more inhospitable place.

25th - 26th February ( Days 23-24)

Again awakened in the early hours as the ship broke through more ice around Terra Nova Bay as we now headed directly for Beaufort Island, skipping another planned landing on Franklin Island because of the continuing high winds. Weather became warm and sunny and we had spectacular views of Cape Bird and our first distant glimpse of Cherry Garrard’s “old friend” Mount Erebus. The principal excitement of the day came when the captain tried to squeeze the ship through the narrow channel between land and the 27 mile long C-16 iceberg only to abort at the last minute.

 However the 54 mile sunlit evening cruise around the berg was beautiful and spectacular with several orca patrolling the ice edge and in the night we sailed past Cape Royds arriving off Cape Evans early on the 26th.  The memorial cross on Wind Vane Hill was just visible through the wind driven snow and Scotts Hut below faded in and out of view as the snow squalls whipped by. The wind continued to blow hard and made securing an anchor impossible , so we drifted up and down  all day waiting for the weather to change but the wind still howling as we turned in.

27th February ( Days 25)

The morning conditions didn’t seem dramatically different but the captain had decided that he could hold the ship against the sea ice and so after breakfast we descended onto the polished glassy emerald-green sea ice and began our walk to history. Ice was treacherous and slippy and in the strong wind many where whipped off their feet for a hard landing but eventually we arrived at the hut. From ice white outside to inky black inside the hutmeans that eyes take time  to focus but gradually familiar shapes recognised from photos taken almost a century ago resolved themselves into familiar objects. Here, in the middle, the great table where the famous Christmas photograph was taken with all the sledging pennants hanging from the rafters; then to one side the “tenements” or bunks where Oates, Meares, Bowers and Cherry-Garrard slept, their spare gear still spread around, woollen socks, clumsy looking boots, finnesko, hauling traces and personal items such a posters of  dogs much love by Oates. Further on, past the stove,  in one corner are the officer’s quarters, a tiny but cordoned off space occupied by Scott and Wilson, and on the table lies a copy of the 1909 London Times together with the perfectly preserved body of an Emperor Penguin worked on by Wilson  before he walked to his death. Ponting’s darkroom and the laboratory are next and  as you return to the entranceway the piles of boxes marked Shore Party, Northern Party bring to mind the meticulous work of Bowers as quarter-master but also so much more.

Tins of food, Frys Cocoa, Colemans Mustard, Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup, Huntley &Palmer Biscuits, preserved cabbage, roasted veal, tinned haddock, pickles, anchovies and condiments, dried onions, and many more line the hut as if waiting  to provide the lost travellers with a substantial meal which they would never taste. Outside the main cabin in a surrounding corridor, stores of seal blubber used as food and to fuel the stoves, a box of penguin eggs, then further stores of sledging gear, rusty wheels and runners and finally the stables with the names of the ponies stencilled on their stall, bales of hay, pony snow shoes. It is a strange, silent place, preserved in time and ice as if still awaiting the heroes return but simultaneously heavy with their loss; a place of brave souls, hopeful spirits, hardship, endurance, comradeship and ultimately a place of death. We make our way back outside returning to  the world of life passing Weddell Seal hauled up on the ice who watch us with a cautious eye caring neither for history or us – surviving the oncoming winter is their only  goal. A skua overhead suggests this may not be guaranteed.

Back on board, the ship is repositioned a few miles further north off Cape Royds, NIADs launched and under the watchful gaze of a languid Leopard Seal we once again land on the sea ice to make our way to Shackletons Hut. We cannot land close to the hut because the area is designated a marine park so, in the shadow of mighty Erebus, we once again slipslide our way to the hut. Almost invisible from sea the small hut is located in shelter in amongst some black volcanic dunes which are also home to a small Adelie colony the remnants of which look utterly miserable as they wait to complete their moult. The hut seems to be made out of thin plywood and appears as if it would be blown over in the first winter storm but if it’s still standing after 80 winters must be a lot sturdier than it looks.  The hut is more spartan, seems less permanent than Scott’s but contains the same sort of relics, blubber stove, tinned foods – Moir’s Lunch Tongue, Curried Rabbit and Irish Stew, and the ubiquitous preserved cabbage. There are more medicinal potions and lotions, faded photos of loved ones but an absence of scientific equipment. The hut does not feel eerie like Scotts and as we step back outside there are glorious views of  smoking Erebus and glistening sea ice . Back on ship we contemplate what we have seen and pass a peaceful night  in McMurdo Sound.

28th February ( Days 26)

Emperor Penguin

Refrozen sea, winter is coming after all, means  we cannot push through the 8 miles of ice between us and McMurdo Station or more importantly Scott’s other hut at Hut Point. High winds mean that its too risky to use the mini-hovercraft so it looks as if we will not be able to read the famous lines from Ulysses at the Memorial Cross erected in memory of the lost members of the Polar Party. This is a disappointment but  it means that we will not see the huge US base at McMurdo thus leaving  our images of Antarctica as a  wild place untainted by man’s intrusive works.  Instead we cruise the sea ice seeing several pods of orca and then at 77.35S/165.32E we have a major stroke of good fortune. In the distance a group of 40 Emperors are sighted on the sea ice and as the ship approaches we see several more in the water. Not many get to see this in life and we watch in wonder as we draw near. The penguins seem unafraid and  closing  in we have stellar views before the big red ship becomes to much and the birds take to the water – about 60 in all. Fantastic!! – but about to be eclipsed by what happened next. Further along the sea ice we find another group of about 40 Emperors; the captain stops the ship. As quickly as possible, though it seems to take forever, a NIAD is launched, cold weather gear donned ( it’s   -25C ) and we make our way on to the sea ice about 100-150 metres from the penguins.

 And it was here that it happened that around mid-day in temperatures of -25 degrees 40 inquisitive Emperor Penguins began to march across the ice to greet the wonder-filled humans kneeling on the ice. They came curious and unafraid, marching, waddling, tobogganing and sliding to within 2 metres braying loudly  as if trying to elicit a response from us. Our response was to watch in amazement and pray that camera batteries would hold out. They were extraordinary, sleek and fat, coats shining  in the sun while in the background frost smoke hovered over our ship and in the distance the Transantarctic Mountains will rarely have been seen so clearly. In the middle of this stark and desolate place we had 20 minutes that none of us will ever forget. Then as the penguins became  bored with us we returned to the ship. As we watched the group suddenly arose and began to straggle slowly south, the first step on the their long march to their breeding grounds and the uncertainties of the dark Antarctic winter. Silently we watched and  wished them well. We turned north and in glorious sunshine headed for home and late in the evening a fiery sunset over the sea , silhouetting our last view of Erebus was a fitting tribute to a glorious day.

1st March  (Day 27)

Along with everyone else we elect not to go for the midnight landing on Franklin Is. and we continue north for Cape Hallet but again heavy fog, poor visibility and a build up of ice forced us to abandon any attempt. Poor sea conditions later that day also forced the abandonment of any landing at the Possession Islands. And so we sail north for another try at Cape Adare.

2nd March  (Day 28)

Adelie Penguin
Adelie Penguin

In our bunks we try to  ignore the bumping of the ship as it passes through a thick band of pack ice but eventually we are forced out of bed and on deck find we were just off Cape Adare on a glorious day with blue sky, little wind, icebergs, sea ice and stunning views of the Transantarctic Mountains. We spend the morning  ashore at Borchgrevinks Hut a relic from the1892 Southern Cross Expedition and in the company of the many Adelies still there following the breeding season. Hundreds of dead penguins lie all around; testament to the fragility of life in these harsh conditions. As we return to the NIADS a Leopard Seal cruising the ice edge causes panic among the Adelies but is a stunning sight for the humans.  In the afternoon some hardy souls elect to climb the hill to the grave of Nicolai Hansen the botanist on the Southern Cross Expedition but I elect to spend the afternoon alone with my Adelie friends. Intent on taking some good photos I settle own a few metres from a group but fail to notice another dozen or so who creep up behind. As I get up I slip on the ice and the penguins take fright, scatter quickly braying as if to say – Who is this clumsy fellow?. Late afternoon we bid farewell to the Antarctic continent, board ship headed for Campbell Is by way of the rarely visited Ballenys

3-7th March  (Day 29-33)

Greater Snow Petrel
Lesser Snow Petrel
Greater Snow Petrel
Lesser Snow Petrel

After several days in the open sea we arrived at dusk off the desolate Sturge Island, most southerly of the Ballenys and had spectacular views of its eastern coastline. Planned landing on Borrodale Is. the following day cancelled at the last minute as dense fog descended. However, of considerable interest were the many snow petrels surrounding the ship because the Ballenys are home to the pure form of Greater Snow Petrel. With overlapping measurements Greater Snow Petrel are extremely similar to the more common Lesser Snow petrel but are said by Hadoram Shirihai in his book on Antarctica to be “ inseparable at sea”. However there were a number of snow petrels around the ship with a completely different jizz from any that we had seen before and we spent an hour or so with naturalist Aaron Russ who has been trying to separate the two species. When both species are seen together and can be compared, we believe that in flight the wings of the Greater Storm Petrel appear narrower, with a marked bend at the carpal joint and appear to have longer primaries than their Lesser relative. The photographs above illustrate the difference and readers can make up their own minds. Having cleared the Balleny’s leaving behind the desolate icy landscape we headed for the Campbell Island seeing several Grey Petrel  as well as Wandering, Southern Royal, Campbell, Black-browed and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross before we dropped anchor in the sheltered waters of  Perseverance Harbour.

8th  March  (Day 34)

Southern Royal Albatross

On a glorious morning we went ashore around 09.30 and walked through the tussock grass of Col Lyall saddle to the sea cliffs at the base of Mt Azimuth. It was the breeding season for Southern Royals and many nests had chicks and non breeding young males were gathered in groups calling and displaying  trying to outdo each other so that they would have pre-eminence when the were old enough to mate.

 We spent the day in sunshine enjoying this marvellous island now restored to its former natural state before returning to the shore for an attempt to find the rare, recently re-introduced Campbell Island Teal. The teal’s preferred habitat is narrow overgrown streams where they can quietly seek food and find quick cover if disturbed. With 18 people (16 of whom had no idea what a teal was) success was unlikely but amazingly we had terrible brief and untickable views of one before it scuttled off. I decided that if there was another I would be the one to see it so went to the head of the line ( most other people had lost interest anyway) and moving quietly then rounding a small bend in the stream I obtained great views of this rare duck before it swam for shelter never to be seen again. Overnight in Perseverance Harbour

9th   March  (Day 35)

Opted to look again for the teal at Camp Cove but without success but huge bull elephant seal and New Zealand Sea Lions kept us interested and around 11.00 lifted anchor for the last time and in moderate seas followed by several species of albatross set course for Bluff.

10 - 11th   March  (Day 36-37)

Good weather did not last and we  punched our way through heavy seas but  arrived at the pilot station off Bluff at midnight on the 10th and awoke to find our ship tied up in Bluff. in very wet weather. Cleared customs at Bluff, picked up the hire car at Invercargill and drove to Wanaka where we planned to stay overnight. The Wanaka Show meant that there was no accommodation so we drove on the Haast stopping in damp weather at the Bridle Path where we got lucky with NZ Falcon. Arrive in Haast in torrential rain.

12th  March  (Day 38)

Awoke to a beautiful morning and drove the 50kms to Jackson Bay stopping along the way in the ultimately vain hope of finding a lingering Fiordland Crested Penguin. Retraced our steps and drove north to Okarito where we found some basic accommodation. Drove back the Okarito Road to the Pakahi car park and easily taped out Fernbird in the swamp. Birded around the lagoon seeing Great Egret before returning at night to try the kiwi. Morepork calling but no sound of the Okarito Kiwi so tried driving the road slowly and eventually tried the beach beyond Okarito but gave up at midnight.

13th  March  (Day 39)

Did the tourist thing at  Franz Josef, before driving north to Punakaiki. Arrived early afternoon and drove up Bullock Creek Road to check out the sketch map that we had been given for GSK. On the ground the map seemed accurate and we went back to the hotel and waited for dark. As we arrived on a bright moonlit night, Morepork were calling all around and as we walked through the meadow to the bush GSK began calling. Near the start of the trail we played the tape and a kiwi called very close from the bush and we sat in the dark , waited played the tape again - the bird called back but never emerged. Further on a similar episode with another GSK and we spent an  enjoyable but ultimately frustrating three hours returning to the hotel as the birds became less vocal.

14th March ( Day 40)

Lazy day reading and catching up on e-mails, looking around the Pancake Rocks  before returning to Bullock Creek Road at dusk. Morepork calling and taped in but, on this cloudy night, GSK much less vocal than the previous and we never really connected with any before retiring  around 10.30.

15th March ( Day 41)

Early start for the long drive through rain and mist to Picton where we eventually arrive late morning. At 13.30 departed on the pre-booked trip up Marlborough Sound – the so called Birders Special. Rafts of Fluttering Shearwater, the odd Blue Penguin, Spotted Shag and a couple of Immature King Shag perched on the rocky coastline. Endangered Hectors Dolphin seen well and then a speedy return to the harbour at Picton with no attempt to find  any other shag. – not much of a Birders Special.

16th March ( Day 42)

Departed S. Island on the 10.00am Interislander Ferry. Smooth crossing with a few Wandering and Grey-headed Albatross and petrels but nothing new. Drove through Wellington north to Paraparauma from where we would depart tomorrow for a planned  overnight stop on  Kapiti Is. Birded the small wetland reserve with Australian Shoveler and Royal Spoonbill the main additions.

17th March ( Day 43)

Drove the short distance to the Paraparauma Yacht Club – the departure point for the short trip across to  Kapiti. By now had decided that we were a little short of time on the next stage of the trip and decided not to overnight on Kapiti ( where there is a near 100% chance for Little-spotted Kiwi)  and hoped that we would be lucky on Tiritiri. John Barret was very accommodating about our change of plan and the boat left at 9.00 for Kapiti. Following an interesting briefing on the history of Kapiti and the elimination of the 20,000 possums that used to decimate native vegetation and birds we set off for our 5 hours on the steep trails. Weka were obvious in the grassland at the foot of the trails and eventually we found the extraordinary Takahe. NZ Robin, Tui, Saddleback and Whitehead soon showed on the trails with NZ Pigeon, but Stitchbird and Kokako remained elusive. Stopping for a late lunch  at a picnic table on the trail Kaka appeared from nowhere  and Stitchbird called showing briefly. However the arrival of 15 of the noisiest and most ignorant people on the planet soon cleared the area of birds and so we headed back down for our 15.00 departure and onward drive to Manganui.

18th March ( Day 44)

Blue Duck
Blue Duck

Drove north on H4 to Raetihi. 4kms north of Raetihi turned onto the road signposted for Orautoha and eventually the Ruatiti Domain. We drove for about 14kms to a bridge over the Manganui-a-te-ao river where the road forks at the aptly named Blue Duck Cottage. Blue Duck are seen here but not today so we followed the left fork over the bridge and started looking at the river wherever there was a vantage point. After several unsuccessful attempts we finally reached a large concrete bridge where the road recrosses the river and there on rocks in the middle of the river, calling loudly, was a pair of the much wanted Blue Duck. We drove the remaining few kms to the end of the road to the Ruatiti Domain where we found another pair. Returned  to Okahune where we had pre-booked accommodation.

19th March ( Day 45)

Left Okahune at 06.15, actually 05.15, as the clocks had changed for the drive to Te Kuiti and Mapara DOC Reserve which is one of the few places on the mainland that Kokako can be found.  Eventually found the spot on a now cold, damp morning and began to walk up the wet overgrown and bramble covered trail which led to some good forest. Far from the Kokako being vocal at dawn it took until 10.30 before we heard their mournful church organ note call. They proved very difficult to see behaving like laughingthrushes of SE Asia, skittering through the trees but eventually got a flight view. Left to find a B&B in Te Kuiti and returned late in the afternoon to try again but it was very quiet.

20th March ( Day 46)

Left the B&B at 05.30 for Mapara but when we arrived things were pretty quiet with just a few Bellbirds calling and the odd phrase from the Kokako but pretty half hearted and unresponsive to tape. After a couple of hours we were scheduled to go back to clear out from the B&B but, on the point of departure, birds became more responsive and finally we had a glimpse of one as flew across the trail. Moira went back to the B&B and I hung on eventually getting very good views of this strange wattlebird with the haunting call which I managed to record well. Finally left Te Kuiti around 11.30 for the longish drive to Miranda missing out the glow-worm caves on the way in retrospect was a mistake. Arriving at Miranda we had unfortunately missed the high tide but went to check out the various birding areas seeing South Island and Variable Oystercatcher, Pacific Golden Plover, Double-banded Plover and lots of the enigmatic Wrybill – the main target of the trip. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper on the Stilt Pond completed and enjoyable day  but no sign of the New Zealand Dotterel  and at the Shorebird Centre we were told that there were very few around. Accommodation at the Bayview Hotel was pretty basic but the seafood place next to it served up some really good food.

21stMarch ( Day 47)

Mid-morning went to the Outer Shellbank hide for high tide seeing the same species as the previous day except this tim there were thousands of Wrybill some of which were pretty tame allowing their pictures to be taken, Still no sign of N.Z Dotterel but later that day we met some local birders who had seen 8 birds on the stony beach by a stream nearer the town. Tried all day but went to bed still not having  found them.

22th March ( Day 48)

Last chance this morning and around 10.00 we found 10-12 N.Z Dotterel on the beach at the Tramaire Creek. All in winter plumage but an important tick.  Enjoyed the high tide spectacle again this time adding Red-necked Stint to the list. Remainder of the day spent driving to Orewa, finding some accommodation and going out to Gulf Harbour to check with the ferry company that we were allset for tomorrow’s trip to Tiritirmatangi and buying food for our 2 nights in the bunkhouse there.

23- 25thth March ( Day 48)


Along with about 100 schoolchildren took the 09.40 ferry from Gulf Harbour to Tiritiri, checked in a the Visitor Centre and dropped our gear in the bunkhouse which was full for the next 2 nights. Several Takahe feeding on the lawn below the lighthouse and Bellbirds calling everywhere. Wandered down the Wattle Track which was very birdy seeing Tui, Saddleback, Stitchbird Whitehead and Red-crowned Parakeet emerging near the jetty by the small dam where it was not difficult to find the resident Brown Teal. Spent the remainder of the day on the Wattle Track with brief sightings of Kokako. Cooked dinner and were preparing to go looking for the kiwi when one of the other guests came in to say that they had just seen one at a water trough by the entrance gate. We headed straight out and were delighted to see it was still hanging around and had good views before it scuttled off. Just as well we saw it because we spent the next 3 hours on a by now windy night seeing nothing. Next day we walked the Ridge RoadTrack and the Wattle Track finally obtaining good views of Kokako. On a calm night we walked the Ridge Road Track and some of the side tracks off it  hearing  a kiwi calling far off. After a couple of hours we were descending the KawerauTrack when we decided to take a seat for a while and listen. As we sat down something moved under the bench and ran a few metres up the hill – got the light on it and it was a kiwi – having walked all over the place seeing nothing for nearly three we the nearly sit on  kiwi. Sat around for a while heard another bird calling close but did not see it so made our way back seeing Tuatara on the way. Left Tiritiri the following  afternoon seeing Bullers and Sooty Shearwater on the journey back to Gulf Harbour.  Drove north to Warkworth stopping off at the marsh at Westerholme for  a very obliging Buff-banded Rail. Overnight in the Salty Dog

26th March

We were scheduled to go on the Hauraki Gulf Pelagic this morning but Chris Gaskin had called us on Tiritiri to tell us that the remants of Cyclone Watti meant that the weather for the next two days meant this was impossible. The pelagic was tentatively rescheduled for the afternoon of the 28th but fortunately we were able to change our plans to look for North Island Brown Kiwi at Kerikeri. Met Chris over breakfast to confirm the arrangements and he also helpfully gave us information on a couple of sites further north. By now it was evident that Watti had arrived and in torrential rain we headed off on SH1 for  Waipu, Whangarei and Hikurangi taking the turn off there for Tutukaka and the Lake Waro Domain where from the limited shelter of the toilet block we scoped up N.Z. Dabchick and Australsian Little Grebe. Arrived at the Birders Retreat in Kerikeri in the late afternoon and, desperate to try for the kiwi, ignored the lashing rain, cancelled dinner and drove to the site where predictably were soaked to the skin  and we saw nothing .

27th March

Went out early with Detlef Davies to a  local site for Fernbird which performed well before heading to the far north of Northland to look for Australian Bittern. The weather was wet and windy and although we reached the site we saw little and were really more concerned over the prospects for the kiwi that night. Back in Kerikeri the weather had improved so around 7.30 we set off for the 30 minute drive to the site. Conditions were pretty good as we walked into the valley and a couple of kiwi were calling . After about an hour we walked up the hillside on the lft of the valley where we had heard a bird call and in a bushy area both Moira and I thought we heard a snuffle or a sneeze. We had because on the other side of the bushes Detlef had found a North Island Brown Kiwi which gacve us great views. Returned to Kerikeri elated.

28th March

N.Z. Storm Petrel

Bade farewell to Corole and Detlef and drove south in good weather to Warkworth and the harbour at Sandspit. Met Chris and 3 other birders and soon we were on our way out to the Hauraki Gulf. Blue Penguin gave good views together with Arctic Skua, White-fronted Tern and Australian Gannet as we passed Takatu Gulfinto the Gulf. Sea conditions were not awful but enough to make everyone a bit queasy but Fluttering , Bullers and Flesh-footed Shearwater kept our attention. The first storm-petrel caused great excitement but proved to be the first of several Wilson’s Storm Petrel. Common Diving Petrel was briefly seen and in increasing winds and now churning seas we moved towards Little Barrier when a very different storm petrel zipped by. With narrower wings, and a very fast swallow like flight with lots of swoops and sharp turns this was the rare and recently re-discovered N.Z. Storm Petrel. Over the next 20 minutes we had great views and comparison with Wilsons but in the rolling boat it proved impossible to get a good photo of this zippy bird.  Cook’s, Black and a single Grey-faced Petrel were added to the mix and as we thought of turning for home as we all now felt pretty seasick four White-faced Storm Petrel were to be the full stop to our birding odyssey in the Southern Ocean and its wonderful islands. Happy to reach land again and overnight in the Salty Dog.

29th March 

Drove to Auckland to catch the flight to Sydney where we overnighted seeing Sydney Harbour  and its famous bridge as well as Sulphur-crested Cockatoo before catching the long flight home to Scotland

Annotated Species List


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