New Zealand

Thursday 4 - Tuesday 23 October 2001

Caren Shrubshall

Thu 4 - Sat 6 October

In flight

Sat 6 October

Auckland: Muriwai, Cascade Kauri Forest

The Travelling Naturalist group met their tour guide, Caren Shrubshall, on a damp and windy Auckland day, that showed no sign of easing for a boat trip to Tiritiri. Instead, we passed a refreshing first day on Auckland's west coast. We ambled amongst giant tree ferns, tropical Nikau palms with their ringed trunks, and elegant sprays of Earina orchids. These hung from the tall trunks of ancient podocarps in a remnant Kauri forest, dripping in the day's ethereal light. A flowering tree daisy (Olearia) and the curious climbing ratas (Metrosideros spp) also attracted our attention. Nearby on the coast, we walked in the same blustery winds that buffeted the handsome Australasian Gannets as they hovered over the rugged basaltic promontory. Our 'Trav Nats' were suitably gobstruck, stopping in midsentence upon the sudden sight of thousands of the caramel heads and black and white wings bobbing and cackling...!!

Sun 7 October

Tiritiri Matangi Island

Tiritiri Matangi put on a good show of island weather for us, walking in a lovely moist forest then along the ridge in pure sunshine. We were gifted with wonderful close views of many species now endangered on the mainland. The Saddleback (not the pig!) laughed us down the tracks, the sturdy Takahe loitered on the ridges, and a Stitchbird (Hihi) came right over our heads, almost leaving one of us with an unexpected souvenir..! Spring was in the air too: we observed courtship feeding in a pair of Hihi, and North Island Robins, aww. We found a neat parasitic native wasp, numerous copper butterflies, and a weta (of the cricket family), hidden on a small shrub. The vistas of the gulf back towards Auckland were lovely- aqua and deep cobalt stripes as a foreground to Rangitoto, a gently sloped volcano.

Mon 8 Oct

Rotorua- Pureora Forest

In Pureora forest just on dawn, the haunting sound of the Kokako rang through the tall, mist-shrouded podocarps. Our sleepy eyes soon de-dusted as the blue-wattled 'crow' squirrelled its way through the canopy above us, feeding on foliage and berries. After about half an hour we left it alone, going off to forage also - a luxury of breakfast in the rainforest, while spotting kingfishers, Tuis and Bellbirds. A stroll in the forest introduced us to this ancient forest-type, with its old trunks housing food and nest sites for all sorts from the noisy Kaka (a parrot), to the tiny grey springtails we found, and the strange (but elusive) peripatus. The lushness and height of the vegetation impressed, and we especially enjoyed the umbrella mosses at our feet. After lunch by a lakeside, we enjoyed nesting little pied shags by lake Roto, and saw a little black shag amongst them. A pair of NZ Dabchicks were foraging in the shallows here too.

Tues 9 Oct

Rotorua - South Island

Our drizzly travelling day was broken up with a stop at a big bubbling pool of porridge-like mud (the Scots would be proud) just south of Rotorua, at a site for Fernbird, chirping as we arrived, and the black fronted dotterel and pipit on a riverside. To our delight there were a flock of the endemic Wrybills amongst feeding waders on Foxton beach. On the Cook strait crossing a few Shy Mollymawks bid us hello, and there were numerous Fairy Prion, gliding along the surface of an almost glassy sea.

Wed 10 October

Marlborough Sounds-Motuara Island - Kaikoura

This misty moisty morning saw us out braving the rolling waters of the Marlborough Sounds, where we passed flocks of Fluttering Shearwaters having morning ablutions, Gannets diving sharply into the sea, Diving-petrels like miniature bullets, and Spotted Shags in smudgy post-breeding plumage. The hills around were clothed in scrub and a gentle mist as we headed to the breeding rocks of the rare King Shag, whose striking largesse and smart plumage evoked many aaahs. Soon landing in the shelter of Motuara Is, we walked amongst calls of the South Island Saddleback, curious robins, and bellbirds. The local guide pointed out poke holes and guano of Brown Kiwi, on the track! From the top of the island we could see for misty miles, towards the King Shag roost and the North Island. Returning to the wharf, we stopped at a salmon farm, on the poles of which were three rock-grey Reef Herons. On the way to Kaikoura we stopped for Dotterels, Pied Stilts and Fur-seals lounging on rocks.

Thurs 11 0ctober


Though sheltered by the limestone cliffs of Kaikoura Peninsula, we knew that the blustery southerlies and 4m swells out at sea were best left to the birds (!), so we walked in forest on the foothills of the seaward Kaikoura range. Amongst the vines and podocarps were chirping Brown Creepers, Fantails, Riflemen and a boisterous Shining Cuckoo passing through. We returned here later in the day to search again for a roosting Morepork, and at last, diligent eyes spotted one in a mahoe tree, sleeping sheltered from overhead drips. Also sleeping, despite the windy wet conditions on the peninsula, were the sleek fur seals. Beyond these rocks were abundant slim silhouettes of seabirds tossing in the winds at sea - albatross, giant petrels, shearwaters - barely a wingflap in sight! Closer to shore were swathes of the locally breeding Hutton's Shearwaters, rafting on the water like gnats.

Friday 12 October

Kaikoura-Arthurs Pass- Greymouth

While the cornflower-blue Kaikoura ocean rolled us about, we delighted in cackling flocks of Cape Petrels, Westland Black Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, Shy Mollymawks, and the impressive Royal and Wandering Albatross. A Black-browed Albatross circled the boat once or twice, as did the three subspecies of Wandering Albatross, and a small pod of Dusky Dolphins was the icing on the cake!

After a lagoon for waterfowl and introduced geese, our journey carried us up to the main divide. At Arthur's Pass we walked in subalpine herbfields, admiring the tough beauty of the alpine flora, and willing the foxgloves' (Ourisia) flowers to open (where was the portable UV light when you needed it!). We saw the footed seeds of an alpine podocarp (totara), albeit on the pages of the guide's book: a 'virtual' alpine experience! An alpine grasshopper clumsily crossed our path, and one pair of keen eyes picked out the tiniest little fruiting bodies of a lichen. And the west coast, for now, was free of rain!

Sat 13 October


We trundled southwards from Greymouth. At Lake Ianthe we grebed over a cup of tea, and at a pebbly beach at Okarito were White Herons, a Banded Dotterel and a Caspian Tern flowing past and diving for fish. After lunch we were intrigued by Fox Glacier and the scraped valley sides it had left behind. We found two new everlasting daisies (Asteraceae) today - Helichrysum near the glacier, and the white blobs of Gnaphalium along the mossy roadsides. We also met the Kea (alpine parrot) at Fox Glacier. To our amusement, one of two jostling young Kea slid down a minivan's windscreen in front of us! We walked down through dripping rainforest to Monro's beach for a late evening touch of penguin spotting. One Fiordland Crested Penguin was in a nearby crevice, and another arrived soon after we did, waddling up from the rough tumbling ocean to its colony on the bank.

Sun 14 October

Lake Moeraki

Though today was moist, interspersed with droughts of half an hour then many more refreshing showers... we all thoroughly enjoyed the peaceful setting and lushness of forest mosses and ferns. Walks during the day saw us feeding fingers (not really!) to native eels, wandering through the forest, and learning about the lifestyle in this secluded place. Some of the group had another encounter with a Fiordland Penguin, and exploration of the area's geology. A passing campervan driver quipped "don't jump!" as he drove past the group on the skinny bridge. In the evening we walked amongst a magical display of twinkling stars, in the sky as well as in roadside overhangs, where glow worms lay amongst their sticky 'fishing' lines. Luckily, quipped one of our group, their lights hadn't been fizzled out by the rain! The Moreporks whoowhooed in the bushes around, the swans flapped as though in applause, and we saw a freshwater crayfish (Koura) in a small pool.

Mon 15 October

Moeraki - Twizel

Back on the road again under moist skies, we admired sea views and foraging Hectors dolphins in the mintgreen shallows. Driving inland and over the Haast Pass, we viewed the Fantail Falls, then travelled along two glacial lakes before lunch and a winery visit at Wanaka. At Lindis Pass we met the prickly Spaniard, a surprising member of the carrot family, and red tussocklands. Further into the MacKenzie Basin we watched Black-fronted Terns diving against a backdrop of sandy and grey pinnacles - the eroding 250 million year old sandstone and gravel 'badlands' of the Clay Cliffs. A search in the local ponds and rivers yielded Pied Stilts (one on a nest), Grey Teal, Banded Dotterels, and darting Chaffinches.

Tues 16 October

Aoraki (Mt Cook) National Park

First thing this morning we checked the local ponds again, and found the endangered Black Stilt, feeding and fluttering with 3 Pied Stilts. Up at Aoraki National Park we enjoyed more Keas, cooing and wawaing. We walked in the Hooker Valley amongst scrubby alpine shrubs with names like Wild Irishman, Porcupine Scrub and Spaniard, and we spotted violets (Viola cunninghamii) and Mt Cook 'lilies' (Ranunculus lyallii) in the moraines. The clouds granted us surreal glimpses of black rock streaks in the snowfields high above, on Sefton, though Aoraki itself remained hidden. The rumbles of avalanches turned our heads several times, and from a distance we watched one tumble down! Riflemen flitted nearby us on the path, and we found a young gecko (Hoplodactylus maculatus) underneath a rock.

Wed 17 October


Today we left the Mackenzie Basin, heading down past the dams of the Waitaki valley, and stopping to admire maori paintings on limestone. Today's star species was the Flying Pig of a small town where we had morning tea! The concentric and intriguing Moeraki boulders graced our lunchspot view. In coastal Dunedin we embarked on a boat cruise around Taiaroa Head, nosying at the nesting sites of Stewart Island and Spotted Shags, and admiring swooping northern Royal Albatross in flight around their only mainland nesting site, and on land where they made mere specks of the gulls! One shag we observed was fiercely protecting a flat fish it could not possibly fit down its throat in one piece!

Thurs 18 October

Dunedin- Catlins - Stewart Island

A glorious day, we departed Dunedin for stunning Nugget Point, with its impressive tilted rockstacks providing hangouts for many shags, gulls and terns. Fur seals were also on the rocks, in the most precarious positions it seemed. We almost could not believe the beauty of the ocean's blue today. Through the Catlins National Rainforest Park, we stopped at an estuary for lunch, Lake Wilkie, and Tautuku beach for fabulous views.

We braved the Foveaux Strait breezes, and once on Stewart Island had the long-awaited fish'n'chips, and stepped in another boat. Clinging onto the wharf piles were the strange tunicates- sea tulips- wafting in the currents. This boat took us out across Paterson's Inlet, and alongside gangs of Little Blue Penguins making their way to their burrows for the night. We even passed a Yellow-eyed Penguin, porpoising alongside the boat at great speed!

At the jetty, we heard about the ecology of the Stewart Island Brown Kiwi and the introduced mammals that threaten its populations. Then the skipper, Philip, bounded up to check his traps, bringing back a dangling ships rat for us as evidence! We all traipsed up through the grass tree and muttonbird scrub forest, trailing as fairy lights, then walked along Ocean Beach. At last we saw a Kiwi, the real thing, feeding on hoppers in the sand. After a while we left it feeding, and wandered back to the boat under the stars, to dream of shaggy flightless birds.

Friday 19 October

Stewart Island

So entertaining was today's boat trip that we very nearly forgot lunch! We hummed around the coast, and out on a silvery languid sea. We couldn't get enough of the Little Blue Penguins just peeking above the waves, and we had good looks at Fiordland Crested and Yellow-eyed Penguins (Hoiho) swimming. Two Hoiho were standing on the shore, a proud pair, facing our way. Three Brown Skua were guarding a nest on a small island, and flew down and over us with Philip's encouragement.

Out at sea we were grinning and pointing like excited kids at the small diving petrels, flitting about like buzzy bees, the cape petrels, and the sooty shearwaters gliding past. We saw a few Shy Mollymawks, then to our delight, the striking golden-edged bill of a Buller's Mollymawk. Stewart Island Shags and Spotted Shags were common shooting across the water, and we came near to breeding colonies of each.

On Ulva Island we walked through deliciously green forest, where Kakariki (red-crowned parakeets) hung on lianas, Kaka swooped past before us, and Brown Creepers, Grey Warblers, Bellbirds and Tuis were up to their usual melodious tricks. One of our party spotted a splotch of Kiwi poo on the track. By the landing a Weka was up to mischief, pecking into a box of food supplies for local conservation staff. Weka are rather partial to bananas it would seem!

From the boat at the landing during lunch, we enjoyed an array of marine life. Last night's dinner (blue cod) swam by a few times, as did numerous spotties and striped parrotfish (wrasse). A paua (abalone) sparkled through the clear water, showing up its not-so-glamorous neighbour, a sea cucumber. Two stars were there- a sun star (Stichester sp.) and a brittlestar (probably an oar star: Ophiopteris antipodum).

Saturday 20 October

Stewart Is - Te Anau

Our air journey was smooth back to the mainland, and we headed up to the misty Fiordland area. On the banks of the Aparima river, we stopped to look at Black-fronted Terns and Banded Dotterels, and Spurwing Plovers provided a constant zeep zeep in the background. A colony of nesting Black-billed Gulls made a striking picture in a swampy paddock near the road to Te Anau, and we lunched by the lake soon after.

Up at Lake Gunn, in the Eglinton Valley, we walked through the mossy, ferny 'goblin' forest of Southern beech trees, with their huge, gnarly trunks and evocative figures. A Tomtit sang its tweedilee song above us, and we laughed as its tail shimmied in time with the warble, then flicked as if to punctuate!

Sunday 21 October

Eglinton/ Hollyford valleys, Milford Sound.

This morning was still and silver, and we drove again up into the Eglinton Valley. After searching (without success) for Mohua (Yellowheads) in the beech forest, we carried on around over the Divide into the Hollyford Valley, where the sky was a colour strangely unfamiliar to us. Our memories soon let us realise it was BLUE, and there was this thing called 'sunshine' everywhere! Unfortunately, this weather was suboptimal for Blue Ducks, but in the carparks at viewing spots, there were plentiful Kea up to mischief, with their curious gaits and funny wails.

We walked around the boulderfields near the Homer Tunnel, admiring the sprays of Mt Cook Lilies (Ranunculus lyallii). We lunched here, hoping to catch the tiny Rock Wren but not hearing a peep. Soon we drove through the dripping tunnel and the Cleddau valley, embarking on a boat for a stunning cruise down the fiord (Milford Sound), with its sheer cliffs diving straight into the sea. We saw more Fiordland Crested Penguins on the shore, sleek and shining, before we headed back to shore and the Divide. Not easily beaten, we searched again in the late afternoon light for the Blue Duck, and at last were rewarded - with a spectacular fly-by! Two Blue Ducks flew up the river and passed so closely we could hear the male's quiet "whio whio" and the whisp of their wings. What a treat, icing on a gateau of a day!

Mon 22 October

Te Anau - Dunedin

We listened again to no avail for Yellowheads, but were pleased anyway by the gorgeous early morning light on the peaks in the Eglinton Valley. Heading back east, we stopped by the Oreti River for more terns on the pebbly riverside, and in Balcultha we watched mallard ducklings feeding. Soon the group farewelled the spring-sprung countryside and the kiwi Caren, for their journey back home, arriving Tuesday 23 October.

Species lists


Brown Kiwi

Yellow-Eyed Penguin

Little Blue Penguin

Fiordland Crested Penguin

Great Crested Grebe

New Zealand Dabchick

Wandering Albatross

Royal Albatross

Black-Browed Mollymawk

Buller's Mollymawk

Shy Mollymawk

Northern Giant Petrel

Cape Petrel

Fairy Prion

Westland Black Petrel

White-Chinned Petrel

Flesh-Footed Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Fluttering Shearwater

Hutton's Shearwater

Common Diving Petrel

Australasian Gannet

Black Shag (Great Cormorant )

Pied Shag

Little Black Shag

Little Pied Shag

New Zealand King Shag

Stewart Island Shag

Spotted Shag

White-faced Heron

White Heron (Great Egret)

Reef Heron

Black Swan

Mute Swan

Canada Goose

Cape Barren Goose

Paradise Shelduck


Grey Duck

Grey Teal

Australasian Shoveller

Blue Duck

New Zealand Scaup

Australasian Harrier

NZ Falcon

Brown Quail

Feral Turkey



Eurasian Coot



Pied Oystercatcher

Variable Oystercatcher

Spur-Winged Plover

Banded Dotterel

Black-Fronted Dotterel


Bar-tailed Godwit

Lesser Knot

Pied Stilt

Black Stilt

Brown Skua

Black-backed Gull

Black-billed Gull

Red-billed Gull

Black-fronted Tern

Caspian Tern

White-fronted Tern

NZ Pigeon

Feral Pigeon

Barbary Dove

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo


Kakariki (Red-crowned Parakeet)

Kakariki (Yellow-crowned Parakeet)

Eastern Rosella

Shining Cuckoo


Sacred Kingfisher



Welcome Swallow


NZ Robin



Grey Warbler

Brown Creeper


Song Thrush


Hedge Sparrow

NZ Pipit


NZ Bellbird








House Sparrow



Australian Magpie




NZ Fur Seal

NZ Sea Lion




Dusky Dolphin

Hectors Dolphin

Other vertebrates

Blue cod (Parapercis colias)

Striped parrotfish (Notolabrus sp)



Yellow admiral butterfly

Common copper butterfly

Parasitic wasp (Ichneumonidae)

Tree weta (Hemideina sp)

Alpine grasshopper








Sunstar (Stichaster sp)

Brittlestar (probably Ophiopteris antipodum)

Sea cucumber (Stichopus mollis)


Sea tulips (Boltenia pachydermatina)

© The Travelling Naturalist 2001