in 1998 Amanda and I decided to treat ourselves to a holiday of a lifetime
FLIGHTS & CAR HIRE
decided to fly with Air New Zealand on a direct flight west via Los Angeles rather than fly east with a stopover in
Having chosen our itinerary well in advance we went to a local travel agent and asked them to book us into hotels for all our overnight stays. In reality, with the number of hotels available in all major towns and cities, this move was not really necessary and moreover, without hotels being booked we would have been able to vary our itinerary as we found places we really liked, such as Kaikoura, where we could have quite happily spent more time. All the hotels and motels were comfortable, clean, spacious and good value for money. All rooms had fridges in them, with the majority also having cooking facilities and two large double beds.
the time of our trip it was spring in
itinerary was worked out with the help of much research into the agendas
of the various bird tour companies who cover
Since our trip information has become more freely available via the internet; The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand has brief information on the main birding sites, along with a wealth of other relevant information. Also New Zealand Birds has a good section dedicated to the main sites. Available since September 2007 but now out of print, a new site guide by Kathy Ombler - Where to Watch Birds in New Zealand - provides information on more than thirty of the country's top birding sites and 2014 saw the publication of Birds of New Zealand - Locality Guide: Where to find birds in New Zealand by Stuart Chambers.
November 23rd Arrive Auckland for 3 nights at First Imperial Hotel 131-139 Hobson Street. Phone 0064(0)93576770. Pick up hire car at Airport. Drove to Whangaparaoa after checking in (c100 kms round trip).
November 24th Mangere Sewage Works, Auckland but closed to visitors for last 2 months due to earth moving work. Kaiaua Naturalist Centre, Miranda on the Firth of Thames (c200 kms).
November 26th Auckland to Taupo (c280 kms) for two nights at Lakeland Motor Inn, Two Mile Bay, State Highway 1. Phone 0064(0)73783893. Journey via Rotorua with boat trip to Mokoia Island in Lake Rotorua.
November 27th Lake Whakmanu & Pureora Forest Park east of Lake Taupo.
November 28th Taupo to Wellington (c380 kms) for one night at Angus Inn, corner of Waterloo Road & Cornwall Street, Lower Hutt, Wellington via Tongariro National Park & Orautoha.
November 29th Ferry from Wellington across the Cook Strait to Picton on South Island. Hire car left at ferry terminal with new car waiting at Picton. One night at Blenheim Country Lodge Hotel, corner of Alfred & Henry Streets, Blenheim (c29 kms). Phone 0064(0)35785079. Visited Nelson (c113 kms).
December 1st Whale watching off Kaikoura. Despite rough seas, a leftover from storms 2 days earlier, saw 5 Sperm Whales and several new seabirds in what was a truly memorable experience.
December 2nd Kaikoura to Greymouth (c338 kms) for one night at Ashley Hotel, 74 Tasman Street, Greymouth. Phone 0064(0)37685135. Hotel and food not one of our better choices. Travelled via Lewis Pass and Lake Kaniere.
December 3rd Greymouth to Lake Moeraki (c300 kms) for one night at Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge, Private Bag 772, Hokitika, Phone 0064(0)37500881. Travelled via Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers.
December 4th Lake Moeraki to Twizel (c307 kms) for one night at Lake Ohau Lodge, North Otago, PO Box 51 Twizel. Phone 0064(0)34389885. Travelled via Haast Pass and Lake Hawea to Lake Ohau.
December 5th Twizel to Queenstown (c200 kms) for one night at Goldridge Hotel, Frankton Road, Queenstown. Phone 0064(0)34426500. Started by travelling north to Ohau Power Station on Lake Benmore and subsequently south to Queenstown with hotel overlooking Lake Wakatipu.
December 6th Queenstown to Te Anau (c186 kms) for two nights at Te Anau Village Inn, Mokoroa Street, Te Anau. Phone 0064(0)32497911. Despite the facades, looking like a wild west town, the rooms are quite normal and very comfortable. Drove out towards Milford Sound as far as Lake Gunn.
December 7th To Milford Sound (c121 kms) for boat trip, via Homer Tunnel and Lake Gunn, again.
December 10th Ferry back to Bluff and onwards to Dunedin (c195 kms) for two nights at Southern Cross Hotel, corner Princes Street & High Street. The fire alarm went off in the middle of the night and we ended up out on the street for an hour, dressed in fleeces and very little else. Welcome to the big city! Phone 0064(0)34770752. Visited Papanui Inlet.
December 11th Trip north to Moeraki beach in morning to look at the extraordinary spherical boulders which look like giant marbles, returning to Dunedin for lunch and onwards to Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula to visit the only mainland breeding colony of albatross in the world (c170 kms).
December 12th Leave car at Dunedin airport and fly to Auckland, via Christchurch with Ansett New Zealand (went into liquidation in 2001), returning to First Imperial Hotel for one night. Flight time, including short stop in Christchurch, was just under 3 hours.
December 13th Fly
from Auckland to
December 17/18th Flight from
SITES AND BIRDS
Whangaparaoa (23/11) Sandy bays with some small marshy areas, overlooked by wooded hillsides. Little Black Cormorant (Shag), Grey (Pacific Black) Duck and Sacred (New Zealand) Kingfisher were noteworthy, whilst Common Peafowl, New Zealand Dotterel and Eastern Rosella were only seen at this site.
Auckland (23 & 24/11) Not many birds seen in and around the city, however Common Myna was only seen at one other site and the only Barbary Dove (African Collared-Dove) of the trip were seen here. Sadly we did not have the time in our schedule to arrange a boat trip to Tiritiri Matangi Island as the ferry service did not run daily. Current details can be found on the Gulf Harbour Ferries web site.
Miranda (24/11) In the Firth of Thames with the reputation
of being the best and most famous shorebird locality in
Mokoia Island (26/11) Regular boat trips go to the Island where there are some spectacular tree ferns. Our only Stitchbird and Saddleback were seen here, with several pairs having been introduced from Hauraki Gulf in August 1994. We saw our only Grey Warblers of North Island here and at the nearby Pureora Forest.
Lake Taupo (26 to 28/11) Our only New Zealand Grebe (Dabchick) and Shining Bronze-Cuckoo were seen around the lake with Little Black Cormorant (Shag), Feral Goose, California Quail and Australian Coot only seen at one other site. There were numerous waterfowl on the lake.
Pureora Forest Park (27/11) Ancient podocarp forest where we saw our only Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Long-tailed Koel (Cuckoo), Whitehead and Fernbird. We also had good views of California Quail and Tomtit, but didn’t arrive early enough in the day for the reserve’s most sought after bird, the Kokako.
Tongariro National Park (28/11) Blue Duck was our main target here on the Manganui a Te Ao River near Orautoha. After quite a lengthy search we eventually located a pair making the substantial detour well worthwhile.
Lower Hutt (28/11) A staging post to South Island, only noteworthy for the first and only Canada Geese on North Island.
Cook Strait (29/11) The 3 hour ferry crossing on The Interislander between Wellington Harbour and Queen Charlotte Sound is one of the best opportunities for sea
Nelson (29/11) Covering the area around Tasman Bay with many marshes and mudflats. Only briefly visited but yielding our only sighting of Wild Turkey and Grey Teal, seen also only at Kaikoura.
Kaikoura (30/11 & 1/12) Famous for whale watching, with Sperm Whales the main attraction, Kaikoura is also an outstanding seabird site. We had our only sightings of Wandering Albatross, Cape Pigeon and Westland Petrel in addition to the four species mentioned above under Cook Strait. We also saw Grey Teal, Western Reef Egret and Banded Dotterel which were only seen at one other site. The scenery at Kaikoura is stunning and well worth the visit to this area in itself, without the other obvious added attractions. With hindsight, we should have arranged a seabird pelagic with Ocean Wings Albatross Encounters, as well as the whale watching with Whale Watch.
Lewis Pass (2/12) One of only two ways to get from east to west coast in this area along with Arthur’s Pass. We did not see many birds on this long journey as stops were restricted by time. We did however see our only Rook of the trip here.
Greymouth (3/12) Nothing special in this overnight stop other than our only Great White Egret (White Heron) of the trip.
Fox Glacier (3/12) Stunning scenery. Our target bird, Kea, was waiting in the car park scavenging and attacking vehicles as usual.
Lake Moeraki (4/12) Unfortunately we were just too late for the Fiordland Crested Penguins at Monroe’s Beach, a 2km walk from the Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge. In typical fashion for this site we heard, but did not see our only Morepork of the trip, but we did manage our first Brown Creeper which was only seen on Ulva Island afterwards.
Haast Pass (4/12) Journey via Pass to Lake Ohau with much stunning scenery on the way. We saw only our second Banded Dotterel (and many more besides in the wide stony river beds) together with good numbers of Black-fronted Tern.
Lake Benmore (5/12) Our onward journey to Queenstown took a slight detour North near the Lake Ohau Power Station for the chance to see Black Stilt. We saw many White-headed Stilt in our two hour stay and were just about to give up when our patience was rewarded and one of our targets flew past us and landed on the lake shore nearby, giving stunning views. We also had our second only sightings of Australian Coot.
Queenstown (6/12) Nothing special on the bird front in the Bungee Jumping capital of the world, which was really only an overnight stop on the way to Te Anau and Milford Sound.
Lake Gunn (6/12) On the way from Te Anau to the Sound, we had our only sighting of Rifleman.
Te Anau (7/12) Spent some time with a very friendly New Zealand Robin on the return from our 3 hour cruise down Milford Sound with Red Boat Cruises. Birds were far and few between as the weather took control of our day, starting with beautiful sunshine for the first half of the journey followed by torrential rain which continued throughout the boat ride and turned into snow as we came back out of the Homer Tunnel on the return journey and then swiftly into torrential rain again. The waterfalls in Milford Sound were however quite spectacular!
Bluff (8 & 10/12) Stopping point for the ferry service to Stewart Island. "The ferry" is two 20 metre catamarans capable of speeds nearing 30 knots and despite quite choppy water the trip was comfortable. One or two good birds on the way but nothing we hadn’t seen elsewhere.
Stewart Island (8 & 9/12) Probably the best food of our whole trip at the Stewart Island Lodge. The meals were really excellent and different. We saw Bronze (Stewart Island) Shag, Pacific Reef Egret and Grey Warbler which were not very common elsewhere and had New Zealand Kaka, Bellbird and Tui to entertain us around the hotel. We tried to book an evening Kiwi walk when we arrived, only to find all the available trips were booked up. Isn't hindsight wonderful! Contact Kiwi Wilderness Walks for information and bookings.
Ulva Island (9/12) A further short boat ride south from Stewart Island. Along with the Kaka and Red-fronted Parakeet only seen on S I, we saw our second only Little (Blue) Penguin plus Brown Creeper and the only Weka of the trip (9 adults and 2 juveniles, with one very friendly individual taking pumpkin seeds from Amanda’s hand as we stepped off the boat).
Papanui Inlet (10/12) Returning from Bluff to Dunedin we visited this area of the coast and saw numerous cormorants, shags and herons on the vast areas of exposed sand and mud at low tide. We also had our first sighting of Royal Spoonbill.
Taiaroa Head (11/12) The visit to the Northern Royal Albatross breeding colony was an incredible experience with these magnificent birds flying only a few feet above our heads. We also saw hundreds of Yellow-eyed Penguin (our only sighting) at their nearby breeding colony. We had our second sighting of Royal Spoonbill together with numerous other “lifers” already added to our list since 23rd November.
Dunedin (12/12) Taiaroa Head apart, we found birding around the city uneventful. The following morning we
returned to Auckland for our final night in New Zealand before moving on to
New Zealand Sites Map
David & Amanda Mason
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