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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
New Zealand May 2005 ,
Overview: Single person exclusively birding for 3 weeks. Trip began at Auckland (North Is) and finished at Christchurch (South Is). Primary focus being on endemics and natives, introduced species being recorded as encountered, but not actively sought.
Getting there: I won’t dwell too much on this as there is a huge choice, in particular from Australia. I flew Air New Zealand from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia at a cost of $319 return. Average service, food poor, adherence to schedule excellent. One word of warning: I got stuck for $30 excess baggage on departure from Brisbane, as the limit was 20Kgs – but I only discovered this at the airport. There was no advice on the recorded message I called to check the flight the day prior. On return there was no mention of a bag limit, although I had taken steps to avoid further cost. This may be in common with all airlines, I have not encountered a problem before.
Getting around: I chose to travel in a Britz High Top campervan. I felt this gave me the flexibility to stop and go whenever I chose and provided cooking, transport and accommodation all in one. At $51Aus per day I believe it was excellent value and did give me exactly as I had hoped. The van was easy to drive, used Unleaded petrol, was comfortable to sleep in and the cooking facilities were minimal but adequate. The clothes storage was very small – unless one used the area under the bench seats. The water tank could hold 35 litres – I kept minimum water in it as I felt that carrying a large quantity would increase petrol cost.
The sealed roads in NZ are excellent, good condition, straight, well maintained (I have never seen so many road works!) and well signposted. However, for serious birding it is necessary to travel on unsealed roads. These are usually also well maintained and in good condition, but gravelly, and caution is required. The Britz rep at the airport said they did not ‘advise’ using unsealed roads, but there was nothing in the handbook to suggest they prohibited it. One needs to be wary of parking on wet or soggy ground – it would be very easy to get this type of vehicle bogged – I nearly did on a couple of occasions, despite taking great care.
Costs: There was a $5000 security deposit required for the van – unless one pays more per day to reduce this. I had taken out extra travel insurance to support a nil deposit. I still had to ‘pay’ the $5000 (taken against my credit card) but could claim back later if there was an issue. It made me very careful with the vehicle and I received the full credit back 24 hours after returning the van to Britz.
I was asked if I wanted to pay $15 for Britz to refill the gas cylinder after my trip? I chose to do it myself and it cost me $5. I also carefully checked the fuel gauge prior to leaving Auckland airport. Petrol was $1.23 -$1.26 (NZ) per litre but did go as high as $1.38 (Arthur’s Pass) and as low as $1.18 (Christchurch the day I left). It would be easy to make a difference of $20 to $40 if the tank was not completely full – in my case it wasn’t.
In the end I drove a total of 5,000 kms and spent $703 on fuel.
Food prices were relatively close to those in Australia and, I would assume, be comparable to anywhere else in the western world and possibly cheaper when the exchange rate is taken into consideration. I did not eat out at all – and only had fish ‘n’ chips once – very tasty and well priced!
Accommodation: I did sleep in the van most of the time, but spent a total of 4 days on 2 islands, leaving the van on the mainland.
Two nights on Tiritiri Matangi – off Auckland - $20 per night in the bunkhouse, bring your own food and linen/sleeping bag. There are no public facilities on the island.
Two nights on Stewart Island – off Bluff at the extreme south of South Island - $20 per night at Stewart Is Backpackers, normal backpacker accommodation. You can buy food on the island and there is a huge choice of accommodation.
Of the 17 nights I slept in the van, I spent 8 sleeping ‘rough’ ie stopping wherever suited me - car parks, pull ins, quiet side roads etc - using the van’s 11 volt supply for fridge, lights and water pump.
The remaining 9 nights I stayed in ‘van’ parks. The latter varied in price from $10 to $15 per night. This provided 240v power, the camp kitchen, bathroom, showers, laundry (extra) and TV!! These, too, varied in quality. For example - 69 Beach Rd in Kaikoura is a relatively new park and the facilities are excellent. Camp Eldon in Porirua (near Wellington) was an older camp, but clean and adequate.
Preparation: I did a fair amount of research prior to travelling. Trip Reports, e-mails, personal recommendations, bird books, web sites etc.. I obtained my own copy of Robertson & Heather’s Hand Guide to the Birds of New Zealand and studied it in detail. I prepared a plan on a day by day basis to target the places I believed I would be most likely to see the endemics and natives. This plan was designed to change as I went and to that end I only booked accommodation on Tiritiri, and Fuller’s Ferry to get there, before I left Australia. I then booked other ferries, pelagic and accommodation as I went. It all worked well and I can see no reason why it wouldn’t work that way again – weather permitting.
I did so much research that it felt like I didn’t need to go at all!
Must Sees and how to go about it:
Tiritiri Matangi – island in the Haruki Gulf off Auckland. Fuller’s ferry provides daily transport ($45 return from Gulf Harbour on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula north of the city.) The ferry leaves from Auckland itself and stops off at Gulf Harbour to and fro. The island has been replanted by a group of volunteers (not all birders) and most of the North Island endemics have been re-introduced to the pest free island. Purists may prefer to seek these species elsewhere on the mainland as most of the birds are ringed and relatively tame, but for travelling birders this may be the only opportunity, realistically, of seeing any of these endemics.
Kaikoura – Oceanwings Albatross Experience. Very professional, friendly, flexible service. No need to prebook, just call the day before and leave your name. Two trips a day – weather permitting. We only went 4 – 6 kms off the coast (approx 20 mins) for about 3 hours. I am not the best of sailors and so took Kwells (travel calm tablet) just in case. The precaution was probably unnecessary as it was very calm. Cost = $60 per person, unless you are alone –as I was – then it’s $120 min. (Cost reduces to $50 or $110 on subsequent trips).
Ulva Island – off Stewart. Day trip by water taxi $20 return – organised on Stewart the day before. South Island endemics reintroduced here. Not as tame as on Tiritiri, and more challenging in the main, however, a visit is necessary as Stewart is a very big island and I found the birds there to be few and far between.
These were the three areas I had targeted before I left home and they proved their worth. There were many other spots as I will detail in the body.
References: As I mentioned above – Robertson & Heather’s Hand Guide to the Birds of NZ. This version is the ‘thinner, lighter version’ and proved more than adequate. The only complaint I would have is the Brown Creeper looks a lot different in the wild!
I borrowed a copy of Chambers ‘Locality Guide’ and used it extensively. I found it very helpful so long as one was realistic! The description of birding spots was clear and accurate, the locations and directions could use a little updating ie distances would be very helpful in some cases, but so long as one does not expect to walk in and see the relevant birds waiting for one it is very useful! The bird descriptions in the front of the book are very handy and, I guess, one could almost get away with using Chambers exclusively.
Trip reports – sourced mainly from the Web, latest was in Nov 2004.
E-mails – I subscribed to Birding-NZ and monitored that while I was there. This gave me details of local sites and an idea of possible species, especially pelagic reports.
Maps – Hema’s North Island and Gregory’s South Island, both purchased prior and used in research. Neither show elevation and this can be a trap when considering petrol consumption.
Equipment: I took my Nikon Travelite 8-24 X 25 binoculars – very handy with the zoom feature and small and light enough to pack easily. I also had my trusty Bushnell Spacesaver telescope and Velbon tripod. The latter probably added most of those extra kilos at the airport, but I did plan to sea watch so it was a desired addition. I had my new Panasonic Lumix digital camera, X12 zoom, 5 megapixels ready to go! I also had brought 2 torches, both Maglites. One would probably have been enough, but an absolute necessity if one intends to look for Kiwis.
Note on species: If the United Kingdom ever runs out of Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Starlings, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes or House Sparrows – New Zealand has them to spare and, similarly, Australia’s Swamp Harriers. I reckon a conservative estimate for the latter at 1 for every 5 kms. I saw most of these species nearly every day. I won’t mention these much during the report – assume they are available wherever the habitat is adequate.
Notes on the Trip Report: I have blocked all the birds’ names to make it easier to pick out species. I have also (scripted parts of the report) for those who only want to read about the birds – the scripted parts refer to non-birding detail and instances.
Summary: I enjoyed the trip very much. Being my first (exclusively) birding trip I felt I did quite well. If anything my research almost spoiled the trip! No surprises left – except the birds. I was lucky with a couple of species – I won’t claim good judgement!
The people were very friendly and helpful, without exception, although I felt that sometimes I had to break the ice first. I was a little disappointed by the scenery, but I didn’t go to the West Coast and hence missed the glaciers etc. Also being autumn, between summer and winter, the country was a little bare without being picturesque. Would I go back? Yes, definitely, I would like to see the West Coast and Kaikoura will always remain one of my birding highlights.
May 3rd (Checking in at Brisbane airport and seeing the signs declaring the baggage limit would be 20kgs my heart sank. I figured my backpack was at least 20kgs and my small backpack hand luggage possibly another 5 or 6kgs. It had my books, binoculars, camera and telescope either in or attached to it. My tripod and Kiwi searching torches (2) were in my main bag with batteries still in them. Mentally I tried to think what I could do without and decided I had no choice. I was alone at the airport and had nowhere to leave anything anyway! I considered an indignant “I wasn’t told” but decided that probably wouldn’t wash – I didn’t think begging in tears would help either.
I reached the head of the queue and put my backpack down on the conveyer belt. On tiptoe I tried to see what it weighed – my heart sank further – 23.5kgs. “Don’t weigh my carry on luggage too, please”, I begged in my head, trying to look casually as if it weighed nothing. The attendant was as nervous as I was at the prospect of a possible ‘discussion’ regarding my 3.5 extra kgs. She very gently raised the subject and said it would cost me $30 extra and waited for my reaction. I figured that if I made a scene they might weigh my other bag so I decided that (a $30) discretion was the better part of (probably a lot more) valour and I agreed that that was probably fair. I think both of us were relieved – obviously for different reasons and I sauntered off as casually as I could carrying my 6kg hand luggage as if it were weightless.
Despite my extra luggage the plane took off effortlessly and exactly on time.) After an uneventful flight, arrived in Auckland at 5.40pm. Clearing customs – boots examined and declared safe etc – and into the arrivals hall to find the Britz terminal and Ingrid from Holland. (It seemed to take a long time to get all the details I thought they would have had already. I paid $35 extra for a ‘personal pack’ for bedding – which included one double sheet (?), a pillow and a doona, a sleeping bag was supplied already, although I had brought my own. Luckily I was the only customer or I might still be waiting at the desk in Auckland airport. Eventually we went out to the car park, located the van and, after a quick introduction, Ingrid departed leaving me with the keys. )
I familiarised myself with the workings (manual as I preferred) and headed off. I managed to find my way to Highway 1 heading south quite easily and so off into the night. I wanted to reach Miranda on the Firth of Thames and had planned to turn off before Pokeno. (In a brief discussion with Ingrid I was sure she said turn off after Pokeno. In the night, trying to read the map, I proved Ingrid wrong but wasted about 20 minutes and had to ask directions (which I hate, it’s so touristy) before I got on the road to Miranda.)
I had been given advice to call in at the Miranda Naturalist’s Trust, however, it was after 21.00 when I got there, it looked very quiet and the gate had a closed sign on it so I decided not to intrude and headed on down the coast. I eventually found a car park that appeared to be right on the beach (at Kaiaua) and I parked, unpacked and set up the bed. (After a struggle I got the kettle on and soon had a cup of coffee (the struggle was my ineptitude, the gas was turned on and there was nothing wrong with the stove). I settled down to the quiet murmur of the waves on a muddy shoreline and threatening rain clouds overhead.)
May 4th I woke to exposed mud flats and began birding from my sleeping bag! Showers arrived as I made more coffee. I ventured out onto the mudflats with the scope and listed Mallard, White-faced Heron, Pied Oystercatchers, Variable Oystercatchers (black phase) (tick), Little Pied Cormorant, Kelp or Black-backed Gull, Red-billed Gull (tick) and Black-winged Stilts. The small flock of terns I had spotted were soon distinguished as White-fronted Terns (tick) and as I returned to the van two Kingfishers (tick) flew up off low perches on the mud. I investigated the trees around the car park and flushed Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Starlings and Mynas. Sudden excitement as my first NZ Australian Swamp Harrier swooped low over the road. A great start!
I headed back towards the Naturalist’s Trust trying to watch the road and the birds at the same time and finally giving up and stopping along a shingle stretch. I could see some waders in the mud beyond the shingle so I took the scope and set up on the beach. In the distance Double-banded Plovers (tick) poked and prodded and very far out there were other waders along the water line. I dismissed these as I figured I would see plenty later – first error of judgement – I saw very few waders after Miranda and possibly missed out on NZ Dotterel as a result of my casual attitude here. I noticed a couple of waders closer to the shingle, but further down the beach working their way towards me. Focusing the scope I discovered them to be 3 Wrybill (tick) – a bird I had come here (Miranda) to see and such a neat looking wader too! I was very impressed and took some shots quickly before they flew further out. Luckily I did, as these were the only Wrybill I was to encounter!
I found my way back to the Trust building but the closed sign was still in evidence and there was no sign of activity so I, again, decided not to intrude and headed off north along the coast. I have since learned that the sign is always there and I should have gone in – oh well, such is life!
A few kilometres and a swampy bit of ground on the left and a pair of Paradise Shelduck. (tick) Wow – Shelduck have always been a favourite of mine and these guys were no exception – then they began braying, or honking, like geese! Unreal! Very smart looking birds. The shooting season had just opened so they were understandably nervous and flew at my first approach. I was to see many Paradise Shelduck along the way and never tire of their looks or calls.
I drove through Whatkatiwai, Matingarahi, out to Oreo Point and so on past Maraetai using the winding roads and hills to get used to handling the van and stopping here and there when the fancy took me. Kaiaiua Quarry – Canada Geese, Black Swans, Mallard, Grey Duck viewed from the road – no entry. Nearly ran over my first NZ Grey Fantail just up the road and at Oreo Point noticed a couple of the locally introduced Spotted Doves on the overhead wires. At Maraetai a Caspian Tern and an Eastern Reef Egret on the beach were exciting as both are listed as Uncommon Natives and I nearly ran off the road when I saw my first (in NZ) Pukekos or Purple Swamphen. That decided me – no more birding unless I was actually stopped!
I did some food shopping then got back on Highway One and followed it through Auckland city (easy) and turned off to the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and eventually Gulf Harbour. (I checked out the ferry terminal so I knew where to go the next morning for the ferry to Tiritiri then decided to fill up with fuel and have fish and chips for tea. The fuel cost me $75 and the fish and chips $2.80, the food was definitely the better part of the deal!!)
I decided to have a look at Shakespear Park on the headland 6 kms from Gulf Harbour and it was worthwhile. Heeding the warning of ‘Lock it or loss it’ in the carpark I decided not to wander too far this late in the afternoon. So in a very short stroll around the little pond I flushed Eastern Rosellas, spotted my first Grey Warbler/Gerygone (tick) and photographed my first Tui (tick) along with more of those Shelduck, Mallard, Pukekos and I confirmed ID of a pair of Yellowhammers. I parked up in the car park overlooking the northern side of the peninsula. (Unfortunately some local hoons use the park as a place to play loud music and yell at each other. This gave me a couple of uncomfortable hours but resulted in them finally departing after a visit from a police car. There was no trouble, but not being familiar one doesn’t know what might go down.)
Up as soon as the light was adequate and, after a quick breakfast, down to the pond again and a brief walk in the Park. I didn’t go very far – probably about 300 meters into the park then back out again, I didn’t feel I had the time before the ferry for Tiritiri left and I didn’t want to miss that. However, apart from the ducks on the pond, I also saw a variety of finches and got some very satisfactory photos of an obliging NZ Pigeon (tick). (As I packed up a man walking his dog stopped and we chatted for a few minutes – he was an ex-British soldier and had served some time in Belfast. He had been injured in a bomb blast and been invalided out – hence migrating to NZ.) Returning to the van I packed up and headed down to the ferry terminal at Gulf Harbour.
I checked in at the demountable office Fuller’s were using temporarily and waited for the ferry to arrive. As I waited, others arrived and shortly I struck up a conversation with a lady who, it turned out, was not only one of the volunteers on Tiritiri but Alison Chambers, wife of Stuart, author of the Locality Guide in my backpack! I immediately embarrassed myself by telling her I had borrowed the book for my trip, however, she continued to talk to me and we boarded the ferry together. It was a larger vessel than I had anticipated and despite the large number of passengers (mostly day-trippers) there was plenty of room to move around. I got talking to a local bird photographer and, during the conversation, gained some information that was to be critical for success a few days later.
Arriving at the island I was assigned to ‘Bruce’s’ group for the $5 guided tour – recommended for any first time visitor – and spent the morning walking the track with 4 or 5 other non-birders while Bruce regaled us with diverse snippets of information and stories. We saw Saddlebacks, (tick) NZ Robin, (tick) Stitchbirds, (tick) Little/Blue Penguins (in their nesting boxes), Tuis, Whiteheads, (tick) Bellbirds (tick) and, luckily, according to the guides, 3 Kokakos. (tick) The island has been extensively replanted and is kept as pest free as possible. The plants have matured and the growth is quite natural looking (to my eyes anyway) but there isn’t yet enough mature nectar bearing flowers to support all the honeyeaters. Feeding stations have been set up to provide food specifically for the Stitchbirds. The Bellbirds take great advantage of this and between the feeding stations and the supplied water holes it is relatively easy to get close views of most of these species. The walk finished at the lighthouse and shop and a welcome cup of coffee. While chatting with Bruce he invited me to visit him at his property south of Dunedin and I filed away Papatowai for future reference.
The day-trippers headed off mid afternoon and I walked down to the harbour with a group via the Wattle Track. Along the track saw Red-crowned Parakeets (tick) and at the Brown Teal pond, 2 Brown Teal (tick) waddled up. Around the bunkhouse Pukekos and Takahe (tick) fed in the grass an arm’s length away. To see so many rare birds in one day is almost overwhelming – and to get photos!!
After dinner I ventured forth with one of the guides staying overnight – Paul – to see Grey-faced Petrels, (tick) arriving at their burrows. A fascinating experience as the birds circled overhead calling and then silently landed along the edges of the track and we got some very close views with our red-shrouded torches. Walking further along the track we came across a lone Blue Penguin who insisted on running ahead like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car until we turned our torches off and edged quietly past him! A little further and I was lucky enough to spot a Tuatara at the side of the track before it scuttled deep into the undergrowth. These rare lizards have recently been introduced to the island and it is believed have bred successfully.
So, off on a Kiwi hunt. On Tiritiri the Little Spotted Kiwi has been introduced and is the only Kiwi on the island. Paul and I walked for quite some time scanning tracks and side growth, trying to listen over the wind for any suspicious noise at ground level. I had almost given up hope when suddenly just in front of us a brown, shaggy shape materialised in the weakening torchlight. Backside towards us it was not immediately recognisable as a Kiwi until it raised it’s head and looked over it’s shoulder – at which point I intelligently exclaimed “that’s a ……. Kiwi!” only to watch it quickly disappear into the undergrowth. Embarrassed as I was at my very unprofessional outburst, Paul and I congratulated each other – it was his first Little Spotted Kiwi (tick) too, despite many nights spent searching the island. We marched on, buoyed by the find and, a short while later, I heard a movement and we saw a second bird in the undergrowth. This one, too, took off before the flash charged, but the view was a bit better and slightly longer!
May 6th We woke to a strong wind warning and the probability of another night on the island. Fuller’s were reluctant to come to the island with day-trippers as they could not guarantee being able to remove them in the afternoon and there is very limited accommodation. I accepted the unexpected delay and decide to make it a photo day. I walked the east track along the cliffs and exposed coastline seeing Buller’s Shearwaters (tick), 1 Swamp Harrier, Australian Gannets, Pied Shags, Goldfinches, Silvereyes, Takahes, Pukekos, Tuis and Yellowhammers. Back on the west coast facing the mainland and Saddlebacks, Stitchbirds, Whiteheads, NZ Pigeons, Red-crowned Parakeets, NZ Robin and 2 Kokakos in the bush fell victim to my camera, while hundreds of Fluttering Shearwaters, interspersed regularly with Buller’s, passed by just off the island. In the distance an Artic Skua chased a White-fronted Tern and rafts of Little Penguins bobbed on the swells. I flushed an Eastern Reef Egret a couple of times along the beach and Little Shags and Kelp Gulls hung around on the rocks just offshore. As I returned up the Wattle Track to the bunkhouse a NZ Robin hopped beside my foot – these guys are so tame. In reality they are only interested in the insects one stirs up but they come so close it’s magical! Further up the track and a covey of Brown Quail scuttled across the track and through the leaf litter and a R-cParakeet posed obligingly for more photos (thank God for digital).
I rested for a while and ate and then in the early evening Paul and I headed out again – this time to the far, north, end of the island, looking for Diving Petrels reputed to be coming in at night in that area. We were unsuccessful, although once again Grey-faced Petrels flew low overhead calling eerily, and on our return trip one torch bulb blew and the other was fading fast so cutting short any hope of further Kiwi hunting. Other groups out that night had better luck. One couple seeing 4 separate birds and, Harris, an American birder claimed 5 (although one of the 5 was seen only as a foot!)
May 7th. We had hoped to be able to depart the island following the early arrival of the ferry. Unfortunately Fuller’s were not prepared to do a run back to the mainland until their return trip in the afternoon, so the day was spent catching up on birds in the vicinity of the bunkhouse. A Takahe wandered into the kitchen while I was preparing lunch – and guiltily charged back out when challenged! Pretty amazing – to have one of the rarest birds in the world wander into your kitchen!
Finally wandered down the Wattle track to the wharf stopping at various watering spots on the way. At the Brown Teal pond, 100 meters from the dock, I waited to see if I could catch a glimpse of the Spotless Crakes. The pair of Teal were pottering quietly around when a family of Pukekos (Purple Swamphens) came down for a drink and a poke around. The male Teal showed some territorial display – shuffling wings, sudden rushes towards the Pukekos. They pretty well ignored him, as I did, until suddenly he was in full attack! He cornered one of the younger, although full-grown, Pukekos and proceeded to hammer into it with his bill. The rest of the family scattered into the undergrowth with startled squeaks and screams and left the younger bird at the Teal’s mercy. I finally climbed down and rescued the victim – the Teal swam out onto the pond with a bill full of feathers and calmly washed himself while his mate looked on admiringly. I picked up the semi conscious Pukeko and held it for about 10 minutes until it recovered and ultimately staggered off into the undergrowth after it’s family. I have never witnessed a ‘duck attack’ before and never on another species. In the meantime a pair of Spotless Crakes were allowed wander around the pond unmolested!
The boat trip back to Gulf Harbour was relatively uneventful. I met an American birder, a day visitor, who was spending a few days in NZ prior to heading home. Dan was planning on reaching Kaikoura on the same day I was so we made an agreement to meet there for a pelagic.
I said goodbye to the friends I had made on the island and set off in the van from Gulf Harbour. I had decided to head for Pureora Forest and the fabled ‘tower’. Unfortunately I took a wrong turn at Whakamaru and ended up on the wrong side of the Pureora Forest Park. So 400 kms later I parked and slept just outside Turangi, on the shores of Lake Taupo, at Waiotake Reserve.
May 8th The morning was grey and windy – scattered cloud obscuring what I am sure would have been beautiful views, the lake choppy and cold looking. As I breakfasted and ‘scoped the lake rain pattered lightly on the roof. On the lake itself I quickly identified NZ Grebe (tick), Black Swans, Little Shags, Little Black Shags, Canada Geese and Mallard. Views were not good, but the NZ Grebes were relatively close and easily identified. I had information that Fernbirds inhabited the swampy margins of the lake, and the roads leading into it, so I took a walk along the shoreline – 2 Red-billed Gulls excited me for a minute but they were not Black-billed- and no Fernbirds. I spoke briefly to some duck shooters then wandered back onto the access road. Two birds were calling from the dense reed beds beside the road and I was sure they were Fernbirds, but I could see nothing. I suddenly noticed a movement on the opposite side of the road, right beside the verge and, at first, assumed Grey Fantail, then the movement became flesh and blood and, Yes, 2 Fernbirds ( tick) low in the foliage right beside the road!! As often happens, just at that moment the duck shooters roared out of the car park in convoy and the birds vanished, and it started to rain more seriously putting photography out of the question. I beat a hasty retreat and then, acting on casual information supplied by the duck shooters, drove down the road and back into the lake shore again at Omarumutu to find a flock of about 200 Coots and 100 NZ Scaup (tick) sitting placidly beside a little jetty. It was like an English pond scene and I got photos of both these species and NZ Grebe and Red-billed Gull.
(Time to refuel again so I stopped off at the Shell garage in Turangi and filled up with petrol and water. They also very kindly allowed me to charge my camera battery at the counter and I bought and wrote some postcards while I waited)
Off on Route 47 to National Park, then down Route 4 towards Raetihi. (I didn’t see much of the mountains due to heavy cloud/rain cover, although a brief break or two exposed upper slopes and I could see snow high on the mountains.) I was looking for a turnoff before Raetihi (to the right coming from the north) called Oharu Rd. Found it about 8 kms before Raehiti as Chambers described. The first section of the road is windy and steep, however it eases out as one approaches the valley floor. The description for Blue Duck was “go to the first metal bridge” . This I did – no Ducks. Crossing the bridge I continued onto an unsealed section of the road, signs pointing to ‘Oharu Domain’. I seemed to lose the river after a short distance so carefully reversed and retraced my steps. I noticed a sign on a closed gate stating ‘camping ground’ in the Oharu domain. There was a very tight turn into this gateway, angled as it was to the road. I remembered the photographer on the boat to Tiritiri and how he had described a very tight three point turn in to the Blue Duck spot. I figured – what did I have to lose? what was the worst could happen? – undid the gate and drove in. Just inside the gate I spotted a pond and on the pond 2 …ducks. Carefully taking my binoculars I slipped out of the van and crouch/walked until I had a clear view of…. the cobwebs under the chin of a plastic Blue Duck lookalike! Embarrassed, hoping no one else noticed, I took this as a positive sign and, after closing the gate drove on. The track ended in a tree enclosed, grassy campsite – obviously open to the public, currently completely empty - on the riverbank. A truly lovely camp site. On the opposite bank a sheer cliff and, on my side, about 60m away a male Blue Duck (tick) asleep on a rock! A quick stalk and several pictures later and I was well pleased with the results of my efforts. As I sat down to a cheese sandwich and coffee a ‘ke-ke-ke-ke’ call attracted my attention and running quickly into the open I was delighted to see a NZ Falcon (tick) circling overhead! This was one bird I had suspected I wouldn’t see and here it was – what a surprise! It vanished into the sun as I thought I heard a second bird somewhere in the area of the cliff.
Back up to the main road (Route 4) and on to Wellington via Waiouru and the Desert Road. I had some very heavy rain on the way and generally the scenery was shrouded in mist. All in all I found the road tedious and boring. I managed to ring the Wellington/Picton ferry and book in for a 9.30 sailing the next morning. (Just outside Wellington, at the end of the double lane ‘freeway’ the traffic backed up and it was a bumper to bumper crawl for an hour or more. Frustrating, but this was the only serious traffic I got involved in on the whole trip so I couldn’t complain!. Found the ferry terminal and then headed off to find somewhere to camp.) I needed a campsite and eventually found one in Porirua. A damp dark night but I managed to stay awake long enough to complete some laundry and have a meal, before crashing out.
May 9th Up at 7.00 and away by 8.00. Weather brighter and clear. (Having neglected to fill with petrol yesterday the needle was on empty. I was feeling confident - it was only 11 kms to the ferry terminal – then I ran into the early morning traffic heading for downtown Wellington. Coasting as much as possible - and praying - the traffic ran smoothly and I reached the ferry terminal at 8.45. We boarded at 9.00 and I figured I was OK - if they had to, they could tow me off at the other end! ) A lovely smooth crossing – maybe too smooth as not many seabirds visible. However, I did see Cape Petrels, Sooty, Fluttering, Buller’s and Flesh-footed Shearwaters, a couple of Common Diving Petrels (tick) and my first Albatrosses – probably NZ White-capped or Shy, but with my limited experience (at this stage) was unsure of definitive identification. The crossing is quite a spectacular trip in itself. Once the ship enters Marlborough Sound it sails for about an hour and a half through calm waters up these fiord style valleys – very pretty. In the sound I looked carefully for King Shag as I had been unable to co-ordinate a day trip to see them. (www.naturetours.co.nz offer a specific trip for this and other species from Picton). I did see a few Australian Gannets, unspecified Shags on the rocks and, to my great delight, a porpoising seal – something I have always wanted to see. Disembarked at Picton and paid a higher than average price for petrol – serves me right, I’ll never learn - on then through vineyards and over bare, dried up looking hills to the east coast and a stop at ‘The Store’ for lunch. Varied Oystercatchers, Kelp Gulls, Caspian and White- fronted Terns on the beach, seals sleeping on the rocks off the shore, grey, heavy thick sand on the shoreline.
Further down the road a movement in the corner of my eye and I pulled in to photograph a group of NZ Fur Seal(lions) right beside the road! A couple looked a little uncomfortable and edged away, but one young female (?) posed, yawned and scratched within perfect photo distance. Wow!!
Eagerly on to Kaikoura. (I had read and heard so much of this place I was really keen to get there. Seabirds are of special interest to me. The idea of a bird that spends almost it’s whole life swooping over the sea, gliding down the front of the waves, picking up food where it can, coming to land briefly to breed only, socialising when it chooses, but spending a lot of solitary time battling the elements really appeals to me and I was very excited as I pulled into the main street.) I made some enquiries, put my name down for the next morning’s Albatross Experience with Oceanwings, confirmed Dan was also expected and found myself a camp ground to stay in – 69 Ocean rd. (At the campsite chatted with a couple in the van parked next door – they were from Samsonvale, one of my regular birding haunts in Brisbane – it’s a small world!)
May10th Cold morning – frosty ice on the windscreen, grass white and brittle. Put on my thermals for the first time. Bright and clear – warmed up by 10.00. Headed down to Oceanwings along the sea front and checked in – Dan was there, having driven down from Picton during the night. He only had 3 days left and is planning to move on after the pelagic this morning. Swapped stories and bird sightings, then at 8.50 we were taken in a mini van around to South Harbour (5 minute drive) and met Jackie our boat operator. There were 4 of us, Dan & I and a non-birding couple - the lady just wanted to see albatrosses. The next three hours were bliss! I cannot recommend this pelagic highly enough to anyone interested in seabirds or, in fact, birds of any sort.
We went out about 4 kms - 20 mins - and it was very calm, a slight swell only. On the harbour wall as we motored slowly past we picked up Black-fronted Terns (tick) and a lone Spotted Shag (tick) along with Red-billed Gulls and White-fronted Terns. Approx 300 Spotted Shags then flew across the bay from the mainland out to sea, presumably to feed. A group of 10 Hutton’s Shearwaters flew past too – you need to watch for these in the first 10 minutes or so of the trip.
We stopped and burleyed with a frozen ball of fish liver in-cased in a plastic cage and were surrounded almost continuously by Cape Petrels, while Wandering Albatrosses (tick) and Northern Giant Petrels (tick) squabbled and Buller’s, (tick), NZWhite-capped, (tick) Black-browed (tick) and Royal Albs (tick) sat back and watched from a distance – a distance being 20 meters! It’s an amazing experience. Jackie moved and stopped two or three times to encourage interest as much as possible. Several Westland Petrels (tick) and 1 White-chinned (tick) circled and landed briefly and a Sooty Shearwater and a Buller’s also happened by. Photography and videos complete, hot chocolate and ginger nuts eaten we headed in after 3 hours and were bused back to the main street. At reception we were each presented with a personalised envelope containing brochures and offers. All in all it was a very friendly, professional, knowledgable service and I looked forward to returning later in my trip.
Dan headed off for Arthur’s Pass as I spent some time downloading photos onto CD and wandered south along the coast to investigate Goose Bay stacks as described in Chambers. These rocky islands are the roost for the hundreds of Spotted Shags we had seen in the morning and, late in the afternoon, as predicted, it was very pleasant to sit and watch them fly in from the sea. I saw some more seals along the beach and Banded Dotterel on the airstrip beside the main road. I also positively identified a NZ Pipit near the slipway at South Harbour too. The introduced Skylarks are very common while the native Pipit not so. While driving it is difficult to identify between the species so a positive ID at least once was necessary!
After a meal I watched TV for a while in the common room then retired for the night.
May 11th I had put my name down for another pelagic, based on the hope that someone else would also book in. Checking in at 8.30 and no one had, so I chose to head south rather than pay $120 at this stage. I promised myself I would return before I went home.
Not so cold this morning although the mountain range behind Kaikoura was capped with patches of snow and it was clear and fresh. I stopped off in South Bay and got some close photos of a Spotted Shag on the harbour wall – the Black-fronted Terns were not in evidence unfortunately. Then heading south saw the last few Shags leave the Stacks for their day’s fishing. I stopped off at St Anne’s Lagoon, north of Cheviot (well signposted) for a coffee and a wander. Grey Duck, Australian Shoveler, NZ Scaup, Paradise Shelduck, Mallard, Grey Teal, Pukeko, Black Swan, Grey Warbler and I positively ID’d a Dunnock or Hedge Accentor. I didn’t see any sign of the Cape Barren Geese reputed to be in residence.
(I got to Christchurch around lunch time and found my way to the Britz depot. (If planning on bypassing CC on Hwy 1, be on the lookout for a right hand turn – it’s badly signposted and unexpected – I missed it and wandered for quite a while) I asked about the possibility of needing chains further south and was amusedly advised they would probably be unnecessary, but to rent them and claim reimbursement if the situation demanded – fair enough, I just didn’t know what to expect)
I decided to head out to Banks Peninsula, check out Lake Ellsemere on the way and visit Hinewai Reserve. This was mistake number 1! Mistake number 2 for the day was not filling up with fuel – the map indicated approx 85 kms to Akaroa and I figured I had enough to cover the return trip. As it turned out the road to Akaroa is extremely steep as it goes up and over the peninsula and the fuel disappeared like magic. I had to pay $1.30 per litre for $25 worth to get back to CC. Mistake number 1 was thinking I could arrive at a reserve, spend an hour and get Rifleman and Yellowhead. I guess this is always possible, but in this case you would have to be very lucky! Hinewai reserve is in a steep sided valley and deserves half a day at least. It looks very worthwhile, but arriving at 3.00pm is not a good time to start. I cut my losses, had a quick look at Akaroa (no overnight van parking allowed along the front) and headed back to CC. I did have some luck – White Heron at two locations and 2 Black-billed Gulls (tick) from the road. Also NZ Scaup, Canada Geese, Black Swans, Masked Lapwing, Paradise Shelduck, Black-winged Stilts and 2 Mute Swans (the only ones of the trip). I didn’t spend any time off the main road but there were lots of spots I probably should have/could have explored in preference to the reserve.
Getting late in the day and I kept going, back to CC, turn left, through Ashburton and then, 35kms south of Timaru, turned left onto Foley’s Rd and down to the coast at Waimate Reserve and Lake Wainomo. Unsealed, but easy, track in to the gate. Parked up and relaxed for the night after the 600 km drive.
May 12th I woke during the night to hear the wind and also a moaning sound – rather like someone blowing across the mouth of a bottle. There were cattle in the field and I wondered if it could be them?
The morning was windy and wet. In the van sheltered behind the high pebble beach bank it was only cold, but on the exposed beach the wind would have blown the lens out of your ‘scope. I rugged up and walked in to Lake Wainomo for little result as the wildfowl flew easily and at some distance. It was the shooting season and this area is protected, but I guess the birds don’t always know that! Canada Geese, P Shelduck, Shoveler, Mallard, Grey Teal, Black-winged Stilts, Black Swans, Caspian Terns were all present, the only new bird for my list was Lesser Redpoll – nice to see again after so many years. I fought my way back to the van against the wind and investigated the habitat beyond a patch of trees to discover a dyke lined with dense reed beds. I felt confident that the call I heard during the night was that of a Bittern and the environment looked perfect.
I drove on to Omaru and called in at the Blue Penguin colony information centre. Spoke to a very helpful guy there and had a short walk out along the track on the headland – wind still huge so didn’t bother going too far. Varied Oystercatchers and South Island Pied Oystercatchers on the beaches and hundreds of Spotted Shags on the harbour walls and piers. Searched in vain for Stewart Is Shag. I had a quick look at the Yellow-eyed Penguin hide on the south side of the peninsula. It was too early in the day for the YEPs but it is an easily accessible spot if one is in the area at the right time.
On to Dunedin and out on the Otago Peninsula along Portobello Rd (bought fuel first this time!). Yellow-eyed Penguin was the target bird for me here. Long, pretty, winding drive along the harbour to the Albatross colony, then a climb further up to Nature’s Wonders. I spoke to the owner and debated the $35 entrance fee – no guarantees but there is a good chance… I took the plunge and, along with a non-birding couple, we headed off in the 8 wheeled Argo round the property. Good views of Dunedin, close views of seal pups and Blue Penguins in their burrows but no YEPs. Disappointed and feeling cheated, I referred to Chambers and decide to try for Sandfly bay. I needed water and food so returned to Dunedin and stocked up before finding my way to the car park overlooking the beach. Getting late in the afternoon now. The hide is at the far end of the beach and necessitates (approx) 1 km walk in soft sand including a steep descent/ascent. (Determined to get there and back before dark I set off. Ahead on the beach a couple were also making the trip. The man was taking pictures of a huge bull seal when it reared up and ‘ran’ at him! He quickly ran towards me and the seal, having established his authority lost interest and humped off into the sand dunes. I was more determined now to return before dark – I didn’t fancy stepping on one of those guys in the dark!)
We reached the hide together and, within 10 minutes, had a Yellow-eyed Penguin (tick) climbing the cliff at the end of the beach. About 200 meters away and difficult in the evening light, however, the details could be seen and watching them hop up an almost vertical grass slope was fascinating. We saw 6 YEPs in total before heading back down the beach.
(The retired couple from the UK set off into the sand dunes, they had parked elsewhere, and I walked the beach and climbed the track back to my van. I decided to camp the night in the car park. I would be at the third location in the world to welcome the sunrise and it was lonely and windy – a perfect setting! An hour and a half later, having had a meal and relaxing with a cup of coffee and cigarette, I was surprised to hear voices. Looking out I recognised the couple from the bird hide! They had lost direction in the dunes and, without any light, had managed to make their way back to the beach and find the track to the car park. Their vehicle, however, was parked some distance away at another location. They piled in and I quickly returned them to their camper van, saving them a bit of a hike!)
May 13th Next morning headed further south, turning off Hwy 1 at Balclutha and on to Nugget pt. There is a long (8kms) unsealed, corrugated track to the headland. I may have been unlucky with the condition of the road – the fridge door jolted open twice due to the vibrations – as it is well used and there are a number of houses all the way to the base of the headland. No sign of any seabirds from the outlook and I walked down to the hide above the YEP beach. Once again too early in the day, but another easily accessible spot worth a try. (There appeared to be some antagonism towards DOC (Dept of Conservation) as locals had signs up declaring ‘No Reserve’ and the signs at the YEP track had been vandalised. I have no idea of the full story, but I did notice, in this area in particular, and elsewhere less aggressively, an apparent dislike or distrust of DOC.)
I took a turn pointing me back to the hwy and along 18kms more of slightly better surfaced dirt road, then on towards Catlin’s Forest Park. I was trying to find a road described in Chambers as “turn right up Puketiro Station Rd and then left down Aurora Creek Rd”. I was unable to locate this road, so instead turned off towards the Catlin’s River Walk and drove a fair way on a good unsealed road following the signposts. The campsite at the River walk was empty and I parked up and took the walk along the river! Had Grey Warblers, Grey Fantails, Silvereyes, 1 Bellbird and 5 Tom Tits (tick). One of the latter was very obliging and I got some very satisfactory shots of him. I also had a flock of about 20 Redpolls that I was convinced were Brown Creepers, I know it sounds dumb, but they didn’t act like the Redpolls I am familiar with from the moorlands of Ireland. They fed and called in the tree tops and flew down to bathe in a pool of rainwater in the road. Mostly they were female or immatures and until I saw a male I was very unsure. Having since seen B Creeper I cannot understand my confusion, but at the time……..
(Quite a nice walk up the river – moss covered trees and a track that winds along the river bank. I also walked a short distance up the 4WD road from the car park and I suspect there would be some lovely walks, drives etc from this central location.)
My two target birds in this area were Brown Creeper and Yellowhead and as neither was in evidence I decided to push on and try to locate the Chamber’s described turn off. Again I failed to find it and kept going to arrive shortly in Papatowai. (On Tiritiri ‘Bruce’ had invited me to his property at Papatowai – just “ask at the shop, my property is just up the road". The ‘shop’ was easy to find – there was nothing else, except the caravan park. The lady in the shop very kindly made phone calls to try to establish ‘Bruce’s’ location. It didn’t help that I didn’t know his surname nor have any other details, however, she finally pointed me to a side street and described a house I could ask at for assistance. This I duly did, meeting ‘Helen’ in the process, finding out that Bruce had not arrived, but discovering his surname, and obtaining a key for his front gate from ‘Marg’! The property was undeveloped and I simply parked the van inside the gate and had a cuppa while I reviewed my position!) It was early in the day and I really wanted to try for Yellowhead, where should I go? The immediate area was going to be my best chance for this species. once I’d left there would be few other chances. I decide to retrace my steps north back towards the Caitlins and explore one more turnoff.
About 10 kms from Paptowai I followed Puketoi Rd – unsealed, 15 kms later I turned right onto Tawanui Rd, drove down into the forested river valley, stopped about 100 meters past a culvert and found a pair of Yellowheads (tick) immediately over my head! Lucky? I think so! The drive in resembled Chamber's description, and may, in fact, be the same place, but I found no campsite. Great views of the two birds calling loudly about 20ft away for about 10 minutes. The light, unfortunately, was too far gone for any attempt at photography.
Returned to Bruce’s place and settled in to a wet night.
May 14th Despite the rain I slept well and, after breakfast, off south again to Bluff. (The countryside immediately around Papatowai was quite scenic and there were several reserves and plenty of ‘bush’. This changed within a few kilometres and it was back to rural cleared land of sheep and grass. The wind whipped in from the coast and the road was wet and greasy. Arriving in Bluff I huddled in a public phone box and made some family calls. I was booked on the Stewart Island Ferry at 12.30 but it was looking pretty wild and I was anticipating disappointment and at least an overnight wait for calmer weather. I checked in to the arrivals’ office and was assured the ferry would be going although the trip might be rough. Rough? ROUGH??? I was too scared to be sick – and I think most of the other 20 voyagers felt the same way. The waves were higher than the 60ft (?) catamaran at times and we swayed and dipped and surged across the first half of the shallow Foveaux Strait. They call it the Stewart Is Experience and I know why. There was never any real danger and it was exciting – what with the weather, the sea and the heavy rock music blasting from the speakers! It settled down on the second half as we came within the lee of the island and I watched a few albatrosses gliding past and around enjoying the wind. The hostess on the boat drew our attention to them and IDd them as Buller’s Albatrosses. I didn’t feel confident enough with my white knuckled view to disagree so just accepted she knew what she was talking about!)
We disembarked in spotty rain and I checked into the Stewart Island Backpackers. Not being really sure about where to go I decided to just go for a wander towards Acker’s Pt. Halfway along I turned right up Wohler’s Rd and walked around the coastline along the Deep Bay track back to the township. I was expecting a lot of birds – I saw a few Grey Warblers, a TomTit on someone’s verandah, Tuis and had brief views of NZ Robins. The most prolific bird was … Dunnock – dozens of them! As I arrived back in ‘town’ I heard 2 strange calls – a mellow whistling kind of call overlaid by a harsh, aggressive, demanding call. Tracking them down I spotted 3 Kakas (tick) flying around the tree tops and I wondered what they were hassling – the mellow whistling call, a Tui? As it turned out both calls belonged to the Kakas – really weird!
In the harbour I spotted a few albatrosses circling among the moored boast and moved out to the jetty for a better view – definitely Buller’s Albs, plus a couple of White-capped – easily distinguishable from each other by bill colour.
May 15th Out at 7.30 – cloudy, grey, wet – I walked to Acker’s Pt. I could have hired a vehicle or even a push bike, but felt the 4 km walk was better for birding and I needed the exercise anyway. Fifty minutes later arrived at the ‘lighthouse’. A boardwalk covers the last 100 meters or so and there is a railed platform, with no shelter, to look out to sea from. A flock of White-fronted Terns including 3 Black-fronted swooped and dived on a school of fish just off the headland. A small number of Blue Penguins hunted there too. Around the harbour mouth and backwards and forwards in front of the pt – Buller’s and White-capped Albatrosses provided terrific flight views. A Stewart Island Shag (or possibly 2) flew past. Hoping for a skua I hung around in the intermittent rain trying to keep my scope and camera dry, with no luck, just the penguins and albatrosses……(I’ve always wanted to say that!). Headed back to the township and visited the DOC office. there a volunteer kindly offered advice on the best birding places -–definitely Ulva Island unless I wanted to spend a few days walking the interior of Stewart? I couldn’t afford the time to walk, but I could afford the $20 water taxi return trip to Ulva and booked for the next morning.
I had lunch at the backpackers and, as luck would have it, struck up conversation with two young guys who had just arrived. Turned out that Alex (Welsh) and Colin (Scottish) had travelled from a 6 month stint in South Africa via Australia and were planning a 3 day walk on Stewart as part of their NZ trip. Following our chat they decided that Ulva Island would be worthwhile the next morning as well.
We had just agreed to meet later when Alex came running back shouting something about being attacked by a Kaka. Around the corner and there in the back yard was Colin struggling and cursing as he tried to replace the film in his camera, which had just then decided to run out. The Kakas were eager to assist and helped by opening his bag and offering advice at very close range while Alex and I took photos! Eventually the film problem was fixed and the Kakas, happy with their success, retreated to a nearby clothes line and tree and proceeded to entertain for another 10 or 15 minutes before flying off to help someone else! They seemed to really take to Alex – they left a couple of very big calling cards on the back of his jacket. I suggested he should be honoured, but I don’t think he was too impressed!
Around 3 pm we headed off to Acker’s Pt. We watched the White-capped and Buller’s Albatrosses in the harbour, but, other than that, saw little else on the way out. There were no Penguins, Terns or Shags at the point either much to Alex and Colin’s disappointment. We waited for darkness and then began our walk back looking for Kiwi on the way, although realistically we knew there was little chance so close to the town. We went down to a little beach where the stone house is and I spotted a movement under the overhanging bank – “Kiwi” I called, but it was, in fact, a Weka (tick) foraging for food. We were just about to leave the beach when Colin looked up and exclaimed… and there were the Southern Lights! Coloured beams of pink and blue and greens shifting across the sky, rather like a multi coloured sun hiding behind a cloud and it’s beams only visible. The three of us stood in awe on the tiny beach and watched the colours strengthen and fade. It was an awesome feeling.
May 16th Ulva Island water taxi from Golden Bay with ‘Ken’. On the way he stopped the little craft and we caught glimpses of a single Yellow-eyed Penguin and a Blue Penguin on the calm water. Landing at Ulva we let three German backpackers head off in front of us then we took the other track. Th trees on the island were astonishingly big and the undergrowth quite dense with a good layer of leaf mulch. The tracks were well formed and maintained – one could walk them in thongs, no need for hiking boots. We walked over most of the tracks on the island and visited all the beaches. Weka was the commonest bird! Quite aggressively helping Alex open his lunch and running up to us on the beach to see what we had to eat. Lots of NZ Pigeons crashing through the trees, Tuis, a few Bellbirds, 1 Tom Tit, 1 Stewart Is Shag and 2 Spotted Shags, 3 Kakas, 4 Grey warblers,Redpolls and Dunnocks, Dunnocks, Dunnocks! I was specifically interested in Brown Creeper and Yellow-crowned Parakeet. I eventually realised that 2 birds near one of the beaches were Brown Creepers (tick) and not the Grey Warblers I had at first thought. I also encountered a flock of 10 Creepers at the bay we arrived at and left from and managed to get a couple of shots of them. These were the only B Creepers I saw. As for the Parakeets – in the forest we got excellent views of a couple of Red-crowned and one in particular, with the front two thirds of the crown red, back third yellow, which suggested interbreeding? We also had a brief glimpse of 2 Yellow-crowned (tick) flying over a beach at one end of the island.
Ken returned promptly at 13.00 and we arrived back in Oban in time for me to say Goodbye to the guys and get the ferry back to Bluff. A much calmer trip this time! I spent most of the return trip on the rear deck watching for and seeing 4 Diving Petrels, 1 Brown Skua, Shy and Buller’s Albs, Spotted Shags, 1 Cape Petrel, 1 Black-fronted Tern and a Yellow-eyed Penguin porpoising briefly away from the boat’s wake.
Claimed the van from the secure storage area ($5 a day) and drove to Manapouri (20 kms from Te Anau) -found a carpark beside the lake and crashed.
May 17th A very, very cold morning – mist rising off the lake, ice on the windshield requiring warm water and the egg slice to remove it! Then off to Te Anau and Milford Sound. Had a quick look at Lake Te Anau and decided to top up with fuel here as none available for the return trip to Milford. (As I filled up, the volunteer fire alarm came on – very, very loud and men rushed form all over town. The girl in the service station calmly announced it was ‘probably a crash on the Milford road – take care now!’ …. I started to worry I wouldn’t make it and so drove west relatively gingerly.) There were a number of places I wanted to stop and have a look at on the way – Rifleman, Rock Wren and Kea were my targets here.
First stop Mirror Lakes- Scaup, Mallard and….. Rifleman (tick)! A female right beside the boardwalk! Wow – and what a cutie! Went on to Knob’s Flat and stopped at an indistinct track on the right hand side -Tom Tits, Grey warbler, NZ Robin and 4 more Rifleman! Stopped at Lake Gunn and did the ‘Nature walk’ to the lake and back. More Tom Tits, Bellbirds, NZ Robin and Rifleman. On then to Gertrude Valley, parked near the Alpine climbing huts and headed up the valley. Chambers describes two bridges – I only crossed one and yet walked for about 1 hour up onto the flat bed of the valley. Pools of water were ice, trees and grass all covered in frost, cold and brittle even though it was the middle of the day. Rough track in places, but a nice walk. Unfortunately no Rock Wrens, despite sitting for a while and just watching. I did see 4 small brown birds about 300 meters away up the side of the valley fly from one patch of bush, maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. Did see a pair of Tom Tits and a couple of Chaffinches. Returned to the van and drove up and through the Homer Tunnel and thence down to Milford itself. Then the disappointment – no more tours today and overnight van ‘camping’ is not allowed. I had not been aware of these restrictions – assuming I would be able to sleep somewhere and get a tour the next morning. I had a coffee and thought of my options. There was only the off chance off a Fiordland Crested Penguin on the cruise, and to drive out of the valley and back the next day was a lot of time and effort on that slim possibility, so I decided to drive out, camp at Lake Gunn and forget the cruise – which I did. As I exited the Homer Tunnel 2 birds on the open area beside the road attracted my attention and I quickly swung off the road and parked. They were Keas (tick) and I walked up to them and took a few photos while they ignored me completely! If I had done my research in more detail it is at this point that I should have looked for the nature walk in this area. Rock Wrens are supposedly very easy to ‘get’ there. I hadn’t and didn’t and despite trying in other spots, have still to see this species.
Returning to Lake Gunn and having coffee and a Robin visited – so enthusiastically that he flew into the van and I had to shoo him out from the other side! As I sat and watched the shadows lengthen a NZ Falcon flew across the field on it’s way home. I had dinner and then rugged up and walked the nature walk hoping for Brown Kiwi. Nothing, but it was quite a pleasant walk – very Lord of the Rings-ish.
May 18th Ice on the bucket of water I had lifted from the river yesterday. Cold and crisp, mist rising off the river like smoke. Walked in to the lake again – beautiful, calm, clear, sun rising over the mountains – lovely. As I returned to the van the Falcon flew overhead again. Needing the toilet badly in Te Anau I looked for and found the public toilets near the information centre. Push a button to enter and the sign advises the door will open in 10 minutes, ready or not! The dispenser also gave me two very thin pieces of toilet paper – all very well to be automated and save water, but this was just ridiculous. Not impressed.
On to Queenstown and along beside Lake Wakatipu. Visited Internet Connection and checked and sent my e-mails. Walked around town a bit then stocked up with food and fuel and headed off to Glenorchy. I found the drive from Qstown to Glenorchy worthwhile – very scenic and less travelled. Booked into the campground ate, watched some TV and slept.
May 19th I had checked Chambers and, following his directions, headed out to the start of the Routebourn track. “Soon after crossing the river RW may be encountered in rock gardens”. It was 26kms and 18 of them were unsealed. The river was crossed by a suspension bridge and then I walked for about 30 mins through forest. No sign of the rock gardens so I returned to the bridge and a map of the track on a wall board. The nearest rock gardens I could see were about 1 and a half hours walk in. I guess if you’re walking the 3-4 day walk 1.5 hrs is ‘soon’, but it was further than I had planned so I decided to head off and try elsewhere.
Did get some great views of more Rifleman here – around the bridge itself.
The road north from Queenstown goes through a gorge and is pretty spectacular, after that I felt the countryside looked a bit ‘drained’ – rounded brown hills, little vegetation. I searched the Ahuiri River bed for Black Stilt and, reaching Lake Benmore early afternoon, drove down to the described spot past Substation B. Plenty of Canada Geese, Scaup and Mallard and a few each of Shoveler, Grey Duck, Black Swans, Little Shags, Black Shags and 1 Caspian Tern, but no Stilts. I actually found the whole area a bit depressing, but maybe it was just my mood at the time.
I checked into a campground at Twizel and casually told the very friendly manageress that I was looking for Black Stilts. She told me she had seen her first one ever just a few hours previously just down the road at a small pond! I then made a decision I still shake my head over – I decided to wait till the next morning. It was only 15.00 and I could easily have driven down to the ponds (near Lake Poaka) and probably have seen the bird, however, I decided to wait and, of course, it was gone the next day.
May 20th I drove down early and scanned the ponds. I drove on along to Lake Poaka and walked along it’s shoreline. I returned to the ponds and sat and waited from 9.30 until 13.00 when I finally decided to give it away and move on.
Arrived at Arthur’s Pass after an uneventful 391kms. Good drive up, worth topping up with fuel before you do… AP was much smaller than I had imagined. I stayed in the carpark of the Chalet that cost me $15 for a power hook up and a shower. On reflection I would have been better off in the free, forest camp ground 8kms back down the mountain and done without the shower in favour of more appealing surroundings and possible Kiwi hunt.
May 21st Last chance for Rock Wren – up to the head of the Pass and looking for the access to Lake Misery. Could not locate it despite driving halfway down the opposite side into the forbidding Otira Gorge. Walked, instead, up Dobson’s Nature Walk on the right near the summit. A 20 minute climb – bit of a heart starter, but no RWs. The views were good but a bit spoilt by the electricity pylons and wires running through what is otherwise a very rugged and remote looking area. 3 Keas flew high overhead calling and I hoped they would leave my van alone! A couple of Tomtits and a Silvereye were the only other birds seen.
On the way back down the mountain I stopped off at Lake Pearson and looked for Crested Grebe without success – loads of P Shelduck and Scaup.
Heading for Kaikoura again to finish my trip on a seabird high! Turned off the main highway at Waipara and took the secondary road through the foothills. Much windier and narrower and I, unfortunately, hit a Grey Fantail on the way, but it was nicer than the main highway.
Checked in with Oceanwings for the morning pelagic, no one else booked in at this stage. I advised them I was happy to pay $120 if no one else showed and I’d come back in the morning. Checked into 69 Ocean Rd again – the area had had lots of rain in the past 2 or 3 days and everything was very wet.
May 22nd Down to Oceanwings at 8.30 – damp misty morning. Mini-bus over to South Harbour again. No one else had booked in. I’d have Jackie and the boat to myself. We headed out into the sea mist and Jackie took me out further than the last time looking for anything unusual. We saw 3 Diving Petrels in the distance, difficult to get near them. Flat, oily swell and the usual Cape Petrels arrived, followed quickly by several Wandering, White-capped, Buller’s and Black-browed Albatrosses, no Royals this time. Northern Giant Petrels again, none of the hoped for Southern. A couple of Hutton’s Shearwaters happened by out of the mist and Buller’s and Westland Petrels came for a look and a feed. I got great photos of the Buller’s and Black-browed Albs this time as they ventured right up to the boat. A poor, but identifiable, view of an Antarctic Fulmar (tick) was the highlight of the trip, but it was just magnificent to be among the Albatrosses and Petrels at such close quarters again. Three hours of absolute pleasure and then it was time to head in and shop for gifts for the stay-at-homes. I put my name down for the next day in the hopes someone else would too.
May 23rd My last full day and down to Oceanwings again. It had rained all night and the morning was very wet and choppy looking. No one else had arrived and the staff advised the conditions were not really worth it so I, reluctantly, put my well used credit card away and turned the van south for Christchurch.
I stopped off at St Anne’s Lagoon again for coffee and a quick walk. Nearly bogged the van on an innocent looking patch of mud, then on at a leisurely pace to New Brighton, a coastal suburb with the Avon Heathcote estuary as a backdrop. I booked into the New Brighton Caravan Park, found my way to Pukeko street and walked down Stilt Lane to find the high tide roost as accurately described in Chambers. There were hundreds of South Island Pied Oystercatchers, 6 Caspian Terns, approx 200 Varied Oystercatchers, 1 Spotted Shag and 150 Bar-tailed Godwits. I spotted 5 flagged birds among the Godwits and recorded the details for later reporting.
After dinner I decided I would try for Hagley Park in Christchurch and see if I could find Little Owl. I drove into the city but between the fog, the traffic, the lack of a decent street map and general lack of direction I ended up driving back to New Brighton without even stopping!
May 24th (I packed up after breakfast, deposited the rest of my food in the fridge with a note to ‘help yourself’ and then spent 1.5 hours cleaning the inside of the van. I put any and all heavy stuff in my hand luggage back pack in preparation for another maximum weight situation. The bag was so heavy I could barely get it on my shoulder but I was determined not to pay any extra if I could help it! I dropped the van at the Britz depot – finally found my way there despite a lack of good signage – and received my receipt for the $5000 deposit. A shuttle bus took me to the airport and I checked in. My main bag weighed only 18.5kgs this time and there were no signs regarding weight limits… The custom officials thought my hand luggage was ‘very busy’ and had a look through my books, torches, spare batteries, binoculars, camera, tripod etc. I had empty seats beside me and great views of the passes and mountains I had driven over days before. Another uneventful flight and back in Brisbane 5 minutes late to run the gauntlet of customs and have my shoes checked for any foreign matter.
Home again and back to work next week, groan, but I did have some great memories and some great photos!)
SPECIES and LOCATIONS LIST
Little Spotted Kiwi – 2 only Tiritiri Matangi, NI
NZ Dabchick – Lake Taupo, NI.
Royal Albatross – Kaikoura Pelagic, SI.
Wandering Albatross – Kaikoura Pelagic, SI.
NZ White-capped (Shy) Mollymawk – SI - Kaikoura Pelagic; Cook Strait crossing; Stewart Is ferry and Oban harbour.
Black-browed Mollymawk – Kaikoura Pelagic, SI
Buller’s Mollymawk – SI -Kaikoura Pelagic; Stewart Is Ferry and Oban Harbour
Northern Giant Petrel – Kaikoura Pelagic, SI.
Buller’s Shearwater – NI - Tiritiri Matangi, Auckland; SI - Kaikoura Pelagic; Cook Strait crossing.
Sooty Shearwater – Cook Strait crossing; SI - Kaikoura Pelagic.
Flesh-footed Shearwater – Cook Strait crossing
Fluttering Shearwater – NI - Tiritiri Matangi, Auckland; Cook Strait crossing.
Hutton’s Shearwater – Kaikoura Pelagic, SI.
Common Diving Petrel – Cook Strait crossing; SI - Kaikoura Pelagic; Stewart Is ferry.
White-chinned Petrel – Kaikoura pelagic, SI.
Westland Petrel – Kaikoura pelagic, SI.
Antarctic Fulmar – Kaikoura pelagic, SI.
Cape Pigeon – Cook Is crossing; SI - Kaikoura pelagic; Stewart Is ferry.
Grey-faced Petrel – Tiritiri Matangi, NI.
Yellow-eyed Penguin – SI - Sandfly bay, Otago Peninsula; Ulva Island and Stewart Is ferry.
Blue Penguin – NI - Tiritiri Matangi; SI - Nature’s Wonders, Otago Peninsula; Stewart Is.
Australasian Gannet – NI - Tiritiri Matangi, SI, Marlborough Sound
Black Shag - common along coast.
Pied Shag – common along coast.
Little Black Shag – common along coast
Little Shag - common along coast.
Spotted Shag – SI - Kaikoura pelagic; Oamaru;
Stewart Is Shag – Stewart Is, SI.
White Heron – SI - Lake Ellsemere, Christchurch.
White-faced Heron – common throughout.
Reef Heron – NI – Maraetai Beach and Tiritiri Matangi.
Black Swan – common throughout.
Mute Swan – SI - 2 only Lake Ellsemere area.
Canada Goose – common throughout on large bodies of water and the ocean.
Paradise Shelduck – common throughout.
Blue Duck – NI - 1 only, Oharu Domain, north Raetihi.
Mallard – common throughout.
Grey Duck – relatively common.
Australian Shoveler – SI - St Anne’s Lagoon,;
Grey Teal – relatively common.
Brown Teal – 2 only on Tiritiri Matangi, NI.
NZ Scaup – Common most lakes.
Australasian Harrier – very common.
NZ Falcon – NI - Oharu rd, Raetihi; SI - Lake Gunn.
Wild Turkey – once, south of Auckland city, NI
Brown Quail – Tiritiri Matangi, NI.
Weka – SI - Stewart and Ulva Islands.
Spotless Crake – Tiritiri Matangi, NI.
Takahe – Tiritiri Matangi, NI.
Pukeko (Purple Swamphen) – common throughout
Australian Coot – Lake Taupo, NI.
South Island Pied Oystercatcher – common throughout.
Variable Oystercatcher – common throughout in lesser numbers.
Spur-winged Plover (Masked Lapwing) – Common in small numbers.
Pied Stilt – common NI.
Banded Dotterel – small numbers, easy to locate.
Wrybill – 3 only Miranda area, Firth of Thames, NI.
Bar-tailed Godwit – seasonal so only at Avon-Heathcote, Christchurch.
Arctic Skua – 1 only, off Tiritiri Matangi, NI.
Brown Skua – 1 only, Stewart Is ferry, SI.
Black-backed or Kelp Gull – common throughout.
Red-billed Gull – coastally common.
Black-billed Gull – 2 only Lake Ellsemere, SI, not as common as I thought.
Caspian Tern – several locations from coast to Highlands, not as uncommon as I thought!.
White-fronted Tern – common in small numbers on the coast.
Black-fronted Tern – SI - Kaikoura and Stewart is, not as easy as I thought.
NZ Pigeon – NI - Shakespear Reserve and Tiritiri Matangi; SI - Ulva Island.
Rock (Feral) Pigeon – common in larger towns.
Spotted Dove – 2 Orere Point, NI.
Kea – SI - Homer Tunnel and Arthur’s Pass.
Kaka – SI - Stewart is and Ulva Is.
Eastern Rosella – Shakespear Reserve, NI.
Yellow-crowned Parakeet – Ulva Is.SI.
Red-crowned Parakeet – NI - Tiritiri Matangi; SI - Ulva Is.
Morepork – heard on 2 occasions – NI – Tiritiri Matangi & Wellington.
Kingfisher – common throughout, although less so in the south of SI.
Welcome Swallow – common north of Christchurch.
Rifleman – relatively common in the forests of the south of SI.
Silvereye – only seen on 3 occasions, but probably a lot more common – Tiritiri Matangi, Stewart is & Arthur’s Pass.
Grey Warbler – common in small numbers throughout.
Blackbird – common
Song Thrush – common
Dunnock – common in the south SI
Skylark – common in the heathlands
NZ Pipit – small numbers in the right habitat.
Fernbird – only 2 seen at Lake Taupo, NI.
Brown Creeper – small numbers on Ulva Is only, SI..
Whitehead – small numbers on Tiritiri Matangi only, NI
Yellowhead – 2 only near Paptowai, south SI.
Fantail – common throughout.
Tomtit – common on SI in forest.
NZ Robin – NI - Tiritiri Matangi; SI - Lake Gunn, Knob’s Flat.
Kokako – on Tiritiri Matangi, NI
Tui – relatively common in forested areas – especially offshore islands.
Stitchbird - Tiritiri Matangi, NI only.
Bellbird – NI - Tiritiri Matangi; SI - Caitlins River Walk and Ulva Is.
Saddleback - Tiritiri Matangi, NI only.
House Sparrow – Millions
Chaffinch – Millions
Redpoll - All SI – Lake Wainomo, Caitlins and Ulva Is.
Goldfinch – millions
Greenfinch – thousands
Yellowhammer – thousands.
Starling - Millions.
Myna – around Auckland, NI only.
Australian Magpie - scattered in small numbers.