New Zealand

Saturday 23 November - Thursday 12 December 2002

Jamie McMillan
Caren Shrubshall

Trip Diary

25th November


We emerged from the airport at 6.30 and met up with Caren in glorious sunshine. Our first bird, appropriately, was Welcome Swallow. Caren drove us through town with mostly European birds on view, and it wasn't until we got to Gulf Harbour that we saw our first real New Zealand birds including Variable Oystercatcher, Pied Shag and Sacred Kingfisher.

We boarded our fast 'gin-palace', sorry, boat, and were soon speeding across the bay to Tiri Tiri Matangi Island. landing at 10 and immediately seeing our first New Zealand endemics: Tuis and Red-fronted Parakeets, feeding in the flax flowers. We walked along the shore stopping to see Little Blue Penguins in nest-box burrows. Further along we saw Saddlebacks, Bellbirds and Whiteheads. As we walked up into the forest a Kokako flashed past.

We admired the excellent walkways through the tropical forest with tree ferns and New Zealand Christmas Trees coming into flower. Deeper in the forest we had good views of the local speciality, Stitchbird. We watched at least ten of these birds at close range. Emerging from the forest we walked across the lawns to the lighthouse and at least four Takahe joined us for lunch.

It was very hot, at least 25ºC, and we lunched in the shade by the café while Caren went off to search for more local birds. She soon found some, and led us down a steep track to a pond where two Brown Teal, another endemic, were quietly preening in the shade. We walked back through the forest down to the quay and, just as we heard the horn of the boat trying to hurry us, Jamie found a Spotless Crake on the last pool, seen by the tail-enders. It was a nice boat ride back in calm conditions, with Australasian Gannets and a few Little Penguins, before we drove back to the city centre. What a superb start!

26th November

Auckland - Miranda - Taupo

We were up late to rest from our journey and set off at 9.00 to drive through the lush volcanic sheep farming country south of Auckland. In brilliant sunshine we stopped for three Australasian Harriers circling and then headed on to Miranda.

A pool near the Visitor Centre held over 100 Pied Stilts with two Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and, best of all, a Wrybill, that weird asymmetrical bird, giving excellent scope views on the near shore. We then headed on to the Centre for morning tea. Here there were lots of insects in the sunshine including many damselflies and cicadas calling from the poolside. Then we were off to the salt marshes where over seventy White-fronted Terns lifted off the beach along with Caspian Tern. Here we had superb views across the Firth of Thames to the jagged Coromandel Hills capped with a string of brilliant white clouds, who knows, could this be the very place which gave the country its Maori name Aotearoa "land of the long white cloud"?

Back to the mangroves where Roger found a Banded Rail in the open which the rest of us glimpsed as it headed back into the vegetation. We drove north and stopped to walk to a point with hundreds of roosting Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit, the latter showing the grey rump of the eastern race in flight. We looked on the beaches for New Zealand Dotterel without success before heading back for a late lunch at the Centre.

We then began the four hour drive to Taupo, first through lush dairy county including the area used as the Shire in Lord of the Rings, then hilly forests and finally to Lake Taupo with snowcapped volcanic peaks across the lake to the west. The hotel had Californian Quail on the lawn and in the rooms were baths the size of a small swimming pool (well almost) which could be filled with hot spring water for a wonderfully relaxing end to the day. After supper some of us walked by the lake enjoying the sunset over the distant volcanic peaks and flocks of New Zealand Scaup and Black Swan close into the shore parts of which were steaming with hot springs.

27th November

Taupo - Purora - Rotorua - Taupo

A 5.30 am start, and a misty one, clouding over as we reached Pureora Forest, where the air was alive with bird song and calls. In quick succession we heard Shining Cuckoo, New Zealand Robin, Grey Warbler and Kaka, and saw Tom Tits and New Zealand Pigeons. After a while in the clearing we went into the damp Podocarp Forest where huge Remu Trees festooned with ephiphytes soared above us as we pushed through the tree ferns.

We watched New Zealand Robin close and then heard a Kokako approaching. As we watched this shy denizen of the New Zealand forest glided into the trees overhead, clambering its way up the branches, giving good views of its black mask and blue wattles, its mournful calls echoing through the trees. Then it was time for a veritable feast of a breakfast in a forest clearing.

We walked along a forest trail marvelling at the richness of the lowland Podocarp Forest which at one time had covered most of the country. We then drove to Rotorua stopping at Whakamoru Pools for an excellent variety of waterfowl including Grey Teal and NZ Shoveler before heading for Lake Rotorua for lunch. Caren remarked that the lake was 'not too smelly' today, although the air certainly had a tang of sulphur. A short lakeside walk amidst masses of gnats gave us loads of birds including three species of cormorant, a few Black-billed Gulls and a family of NZ Dabchick. There were also a pair of Shining Cuckoo give excellent views in a lakeside tree. To complete a varied day we stopped at pools of bubbling steaming mud on the way back to Taupo.

28th November

Taupo - Wellington - Ferry to South Island - Blenheim

A relatively late start enabled several of the group to photograph Californian Quail on the hotel lawn and Silvereyes in the Bottlebrush Trees. After breakfast we set off for the long journey south in overcast but calm conditions. A stop at Waiotaka produced good sightings of Fernbird. Then we headed up onto the desert road with its open expanses of Red Tussock Grass and heathland. From here we had stunning views of the two snowcovered volcanoes Ruakepu and Tongariro, the latter with its near perfect andesite cone.

We continued on through areas of Manuka scrub and down into the "gumboot" dairy farm country of Taihape. Near the west coast we made a stop at Bulls Bridge, walking down to a river for views of the attractive Black-fronted Dotterel. We then headed south along the coast to Foxton Beach where low tide produced masses of shore birds feeding on the mud as well as Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits were six Pacific Golden Plover, a Banded Dotterel and three Red-necked Stints together with a Royal Spoonbill.

We finished lunch here and continued to Wellington for our ferry crossing. It was calm with sunny spells as we set off into Wellington Harbour and out into the Cook Straits. Past the rugged headland we ran into sea mist, but as it closed in Fairy Prions appeared alongside the ship, with up to sixty flying with us, giving superb close views until we reached the Marlborough Sounds of South Island. Just before they left we passed through a flock of hundreds of Fluttering Shearwaters together with a few Sooty Shearwaters and Giant Petrels. We had supper on board and landed at Picton in the dark, heading for Blenheim where we spent the night.

29th November

Blenheim - Marlborough Sounds - Kaikoura

It was a dull overcast and drizzly start to the day as we headed back up to Picton to board Felix the Cat, our boat into the Marlborough Sounds. Almost right away we were passing through hundreds of Fluttering Shearwaters with a few Spotted Shags. We slowed down as we saw a group of dolphin. At first they all seemed to be Dusky Dolphins, then we saw the characteristic "Mickey Mouse" ear fin and pale body of a Hector's Dolphin, a New Zealand endemic. One eventually leapt clear of the water showing how tiny and pale it was: a privileged sighting of a rare mammal. Other birds included Arctic Skuas, several Gannets and Little Blue Penguins in the water.

It got a bit rougher as we sped out to the White Rocks where we saw the rare New Zealand King Shag in one of its few breeding colonies. Then it was rougher still with water slopping round our boots as we headed back to the shelter of the Sound to land at Motuara Island. Here we climbed a steep track through the natural forest seeing New Zealand Pigeon and South Island New Zealand Robin and finally an immature South Island Saddleback, distinctively unsaddled. We sped back to Picton for lunch which we shared with Red and Black-billed Gulls. We then drove south through the dry Blenheim wine country and dry grassy hills. After reaching the east coast we stopped at Kekerengu for a look at New Zealand Fur Seals. There were more Hector's Dolphins offshore and thousands of Hutton's Shearwaters gathering, before flying up to their nesting sites in the Kaikoura seaward range. We also saw a very tame Banded Dotterel. We continued stopping briefly at Oahu for more Fur Seals before reaching Kaikoura in late afternoon sunshine.

30th November


It was sunny and calm for our boat trip. We assembled at the Kaikoura quay and were briefed on the potential birds, meeting Garry and Simon our two boatmen. We were soon speeding out to the edge of the continental shelf and, twenty minutes later, even before we released the chum we had seen Cape Petrels and both White-chinned and Westland Black Petrels close into the boat. Then the chum was released and within minutes we had our first Shy Albatross. We were to see both Salvin's and White-headed races. There were also both Northern and Southern Giant Petrels.

The birds came incredibly close, the petrels coming almost within touching distance. The feeding grew to a frenzy especially around the basket of chum, with both Wandering and Royal Albatross coming close in. We stayed for about an hour with seabirds all round us giving fantastic views and resulting in reels of film being used up, with the snow-capped Kaikoura peaks making a spectacular backdrop. Other species included Grey-faced Petrel and Flesh-footed Shearwaters.

At the end of our stay the swell had increased to two to three metres and at least one of us had gone several shades of green. Garry decided to let the rest of the chum go in for a final frenzy. In the melee an Antarctic Fulmar came in for a great finale.

We sped back bouncing on the wave tops for a trip along the spectacular Kaikoura coast seeing Reef Egret and getting close to Fur Seals before going back for a café lunch.

After lunch we learned that it would be too rough for any whale trip so all of us headed up to Mount Fyffe in the coastal mountain foothills. Here we walked through forest in sunshine; however there were few birds. We then headed back to the peninsula point where we could see how rough the sea was. There was surf pounding against the limestone rocks of the shore but we had superb vistas of the bay. The shore had a few waders including a Grey-tailed Tattler as well as another Reef Heron. We headed back to the hotel in the late afternoon, some walking back from the town in the bright sunshine.

1st December

Kaikoura - Canterbury Plains - Arthur's Pass - Hokatika

We left Kaikoura as it clouded over and headed south in drizzle. Our first stop was at St Anne's Lagoon, an attractive pond set in park-like surroundings alive with birdsong. Cape Barren Geese were new here. Then we headed south to the Canterbury Plains stopping for lunch at Rangiora, thence to the Arthur's Pass road and sunshine as we headed up into the Southern Alps.

It became increasingly spectacular as we reached Porter's Pass. We got out for a quick botanical stop and Caren found an Alpine Weta. On to Lake Pearson where we saw Great-crested Grebes and one of the many species of Blue butterflies. Then the road wound through awesome snowy mountains and southern beech forest and braided river systems in superb sunshine as we reached Arthur's Pass. Here in the village Caren stopped and immediately pointed out a Rifleman; in fact two were feeding young in a nest. By the car park further along she had another surprise for us: a Kea was eyeing up the picnic tables, eventually flying round and flying off with a stray paper bag.

We continued on up to Arthur's Pass itself still in hot sunshine. Lots of native flowers were here including Mount Cook Lily, New Zealand Foxglove and one of the native Sundewes - a superb spot. We then headed down through the steep curves of the pass, eventually getting to the coast and heading south to Hokatika where we had dinner looking out across the Tasman Sea and an orange sunset.

2nd December

Hokatika - Okarito - Fox Glacier - Lake Moeraki

It was sunny and warm again as we left Hokatika on what turned out to be a public holiday for the town's anniversary. The beach was thick with driftwood and the still smouldering remains of last night's barbeque.

We drove to Lake Ianthe for morning tea. Here there were Great Crested Grebes and dragonflies in the hot sunshine. We then headed for Okarito where across a bog beside one of the forests Caren heard a Long-tailed Cuckoo. This responded well to her tape and flew right over our heads. We had already seen one Great White Egret in a roadside marsh and another was here on the coast as we set up our picnic tables and tucked into lunch. Information display boards in the beach shack showed pictures of the old gold mining days here and we had our first view of Mount Cook - a very unusual sight from this side.

We headed on to Fox Glacier, where we walked up the ice-carved valley, again in incredible weather to see the ice, perhaps disappointingly a bit muddy and then we drove the final leg to Lake Moeraki, a superb wilderness lodge set in native forest.

After dinner we went out along the road in the dark for wonderful views of southern sky and innumerable Glow-worms shining at us through the forest, almost like stars on the forest floor. These are actually fly larvae tricking nocturnal midges to fly into their sticky traps. Around us we heard the sound of sadly invisible Morepork Owls.

3rd December

Lake Moeraki

A damp overcast morning with lots of birdsong saw us going out, believe it or not, to watch Eels being fed. First a huge trout came into bread, and then the smell of the venison attracted huge thick Eels which lurched onto the shore, jaws snapping, for more meat. After this aquatic Serengeti we breakfasted and then went down to Munro Beach. Here there were annoying sand flies and plenty of seabirds offshore, mainly Sooty Shearwaters. We stayed here for quite a while but there was no sign of the Fiordland Crested Penguin, except for two in the water that refused to come in.

We walked back for lunch and then went out again with local guides to a different beach. Here we almost immediately struck lucky with a penguin swimming in and then walking along the tide line towards us, giving us superb views. Another soon came out and then one more waddled through the forest heading for the sea. Together with three loafing birds out to sea we saw seven in all from this beach. We got back to learn that Roger and Malcolm had been fishing, and had managed to hook themselves but little else. In the evening we went on another Morepork excursion without success, although the little devils were calling outside our rooms again right through the night.

4th December

Lake Moeraki - Haast Pass - Wanaka - Twizel

One of the things we tell clients is that there is not a lot of running on Travelling Naturalist trips, so it was a somewhat unusual optional start when three members of the group, at least two of whom should have known better, decided to jog down to the beachÖ. but they did see three penguins! They then had to jog all the way back to breakfast.

However they had plenty of time to recover in the bus as we set off in low cloud along the coast. Out first stop was at Knight's Point. This produced a new mammal in the shape of a pod of Pilot Whales offshore, together with Dusky Dolphins: distant views but very visible in the flat calm conditions. Further along we stopped at Ship's Creek, an area of sand dunes. Here the sand flies were ravenous, but the Hector's Dolphins just offshore were a good reward.

We then turned inland and broke clear of the coastal cloud to bright sunshine and could begin to see the huge peaks around us as we headed up the Haast Pass. A quick stop at the Fantail Waterfall for coffee was followed by a walk at the top of the pass in ancient southern beech forest. Here we heard and saw the rare Yellowhead almost straight away but not everyone saw them before they disappeared again. Rifleman and Brown Creeper followed, but it took us over an hour to catch up with the Yellowheads again giving superb views just over the road. On to Wanaka for a late lunch and a chance to soak up the hot afternoon sun amidst superb alpine scenery on the lakeshore. Then up through the tussock lands over the Lindis Pass stopping for a quick look for some native lizards, we found a McCanns Skink before heading down through the Lupin-bedecked pastures of the McKenzie Basin to Twizel. After supper Caren took us out to Lake Pukaki for a fabulous view across to Mount Cook in the evening sun. It was another clear and brilliantly starry night.

5th December

Twizel - Hooker Valley - Twizel

A dawn start and a fine one for our trip to Ohau Pools in the river plain, where there were plenty of birds in the golden morning light. Unfortunately campers were at the Bittern site so no luck there, but we did find a family of Marsh Crakes with four black chicks scuttling amongst the rushes at the edge of a pool, as well as numerous hares running about.

Then on to the delta area by the lake where we soon saw various stilts, one of which was a superb adult Black Stilt, but it was hard to sort out the various black and white juveniles and hybrids. Back for a late breakfast and then we drove up Lake Pukaki with wonderful views of Mount Cook from Peter's Lookout. On the way up Caron taught us to sing 'Run Rabbit Run' in Maori. Who could forget the songÖ.. however hard we tried to.

We dropped Roger off for a helicopter flight and headed up to the Mount Cook village where it was already clouding over. A Maori elder that Caren knew from Dunedin joined us for morning tea and then we headed up to the Hooker car park where Roger suddenly emerged from a minibus; the rapidly increasing clouds had put him off the flight.

We then had a four-hour walk up the superb Hooker Valley with many flowers out including the lovely Mount Cook Lilies and snowfields and glaciers above us. Several times we saw and heard avalanches of snow roaring down from the mountaintops. Lunch was at a glacial lake with icebergs carved from the glacier front dotted around the blue water. The glacier itself was, it has to be said, somewhat grubby, covered with black rocks that it had carried in its rapid advance, and Mount Cook itself was shrouded in mist. However this was still a superb walk in truly fine scenery. At the end we pottered about the car park finding several impressive Alpine Weta's and a couple of Common Geckos.

6th December

Twizel - Moeraki Boulders - Otago Peninsula - Dunedin

Another sunny day and, phew, it was hot as we headed down the Waikaki Valley to the coast. We stopped at Duntroon for Maori rock drawings and tea, reaching Moeraki with its famous and impressive Boulders for an early lunch. It was very warm at the beach as we crept up on the timid Boulders, but we all eventually had good views.

On to Dunedin, Caren's home town, and she showed us around some of the high spots including the world' steepest street (no, Jamie could not be persuaded to run up it) and the impressive railway station. We stopped off at the hotel to drop our bags and headed for the Otago Peninsula, stopping for Caren's special treat at her favourite ice-cream shop. The Otago Peninsula itself is yet another dramatic bit of coast, and we drove past Caren's house in an enviable location where she could see albatrosses and Southern Right Whales from her kitchen window.

We drove past a few inlets with good views of Royal Spoonbill and then headed out to the quay where the Monarch, our boat for the cruise to Taiaroa Head, was waiting. It was still hot on the boat as we headed out on the glassy waters of Dunedin Harbour, immediately seeing several Stewart Island and Spotted Shags before going for a closer look at the colony. Further out we looked at the Head to see the Royal Albatrosses strutting about, but only one flew in the very light winds. Out of the harbour mouth there was an impressive swell and it was hard to stand up. We had excellent views of two albatross giving a courtship display in the water and close views of Sooty Shearwaters. We then headed back into calmer waters for a close look at the Royal Spoonbills, rather improbably breeding on the clifftops, and the Stewart Island Shag colony. We then drove back along the harbour up to the Pacific Park Hotel for a nice but somewhat noisy dinner in the middle of a Christmas party.

7th December

Dunedin - Invercargill - Stewart Island

It was still sunny and warm (!), as we drove south and west towards the Catlins. The first stop was at Kaka Point for tea, and then out to Nugget Point, a lovely scenic headland. We walked out to the lighthouse watching seals below us. The stacks offshore had shags and more nesting Royal Spoonbills. Seals were actually pupping on the rocks below and we watched a newborn pup being nuzzled by its mum into taking its first few steps or slithers along the shore.

We then went onto Picnic Point by the Caplin River, appropriately for lunch, where Jamie disgraced himself by his scone, ginger jam and cream consumption. We then got to Invercargill Airport mid-afternoon and went through the check-in formalities for our flight to Stewart Island: "Just chuck your bags on the trolley and listen up for when the plane is going" was the gist of it.

We were on two Islander aircraft, twenty minutes apart, flying above the treacherous waters of the Foveaux Strait and glad that we were not on a boat in this weatherÖ and I guess so was the dog in the front seat of our plane. A minibus took us down to the hotel in Oban, the only town on Stewart Island and strangely reminiscent of parts of the Isles of Scilly. It is a delightful spot and we were immediately struck by the abundance of native bird life: Tuis, Bellbirds and the very evident Kakas.

After supper we headed for the quay with high expectations and met Philip Smith, our boatman and guide, who welcomed us on board. It was getting dark as we headed across the calm waters and small bays to a promontory where we tied up and had tea while Philip briefed us about Kiwi searching techniques. We were all issued torches and started off in single file up the trails and along the beaches while Philip searched every nook and cranny with his powerful torch beam. Midnight came and went, and while Pam and Caren glimpsed a Kiwi deep in the forest the rest of us had seen nothing except a couple of Possum. It was well after one a.m. and absolutely pitch black when, with torches fading, we decided to call it a day. What a disappointment! Although it had been a fascinating night, with sounds including the eerie calls of Sooty Shearwaters returning to the nest, but it was the first time that Caren had ever missed Kiwis with a group and one of only a score of times that Philip had not managed to find one in his twelve years of operating.

On the way back there was a bonus in that we tried to spotlight seabirds from the boat and saw Diving Petrels, Prions and a rare Mottled Petrel. We might well have seen Cook's Petrel as well. Back in Oban Caren took us up the road where we had superb consolation views of Morepork hunting moths by a streetlight before we headed for bed at two thirty a.m.

8th December

Stewart Island

A late start after the Kiwi search, and we headed down to the Quay at ten a.m. to meet Philip again. Out in the bay we were soon seeing Little Blue Penguins in the water and on one of the small stacks we saw our first Brown Skua. It was about the third island we checked where we found Yellow-eyed Penguins. Philip took the boat in close for excellent views of several of these handsome birds walking and jumping about on the boulders. One was standing right next to a Fiordland Crested Penguin, just like a plate from a field guide, a rare sight for two species that do not usually associate.

Then it was the turn of seabirds on the move as Philip took us out into the 'shearwater stream', with a constant passage of Sooty Shearwaters moving through along with Shy Albatross and Diving Petrels. We had already seen good numbers of Shy Albatrosses close up to the boat and were constantly entertained by the effortless flight of these ocean wanderers in the perfect flying conditions today. At one point we saw a Cape Petrel feeding on a dead Diving Petrel, which we scooped up with a net giving the group a chance to see several features you would not normally notice as these tiny auk-like seabirds whiz past at sea, notably its bright blue feet but also some blue skin around the beak.

We reached more sheltered waters for lunch and then tied up at Ulva Island for a two hour stroll. From offshore we could see a lady on the quay apparently with a couple of bantam hens scampering around her feet. It turned out to be Gina who had arrived earlier, conversing with two Wekas. These flightless rails were constantly approaching us as we walked through the forest. In fact one seemed to want to join the group so much, I was thinking of giving it a booking form.

Caren showed us a few orchids and we watched Kakas extracting grubs from dead wood and more Wekas laying into the rotten wood on the forest floor. Malcolm pointed to some rotten stumps with holes in, "a good example of Weka work" he muttered. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the lovely beaches and forest of Ulva at the end of an excellent Stewart Island day. In the evening the waitress at the café told about the Maori tradition of 'muttonbirding': taking Sooty Shearwater chicks on the Titi Islands to the east. However, why we decided to imitate penguins on the way back down the hill to our hotel is lost to the memoryÖ but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

9th December

Stewart Island - Invercargill - Queenstown - Te Anau

It was a glorious sunny start as the pre-breakfast wanderers took in their last views of Kakas and Stewart Island before heading up to the airstrip. It was a superb flying day with great views all round, out to the Titi Islands and over the Foveaux Strait. As we landed at Invercargill a press photographer approached us and wondered what we had been doing. He wanted to take a photo of us with our optical gear for the local paper, the Southland Times and this duly appeared a few days after we got back home.

Soon we joined up again at Invercargill and were heading north to Queenstown. Change of plan today!. We stopped for photos amongst increasingly dramatic scenery still in sunshine, gasping at the jagged remarkable range as we turned the corner into Queenstown itself. The town has probably the most spectacular setting of any I have encountered in my travels and we enjoyed a sunny lunch by the waterfront before heading up the hills to the wildlife park: yes, we were determined to see a Kiwi! Here the birds are on display in nocturnal enclosures and after getting used to the dim light we could watch them as they probed at the soil and rotten logs. An information lecture also showed us the superb Tuatara, one of the New Zealand specialities we had no hope of seeing in the wild.

We headed south again and then north-west for a late-ish arrival at Te Anau Downs where the weather had suddenly closed in to low cloud and drizzle. We said that it was Richard's fault, as he had been wishing for rain so he could see waterfalls tomorrow.

10th December

Te Anau - Hollyford Valley - Milford Sound - Te Anau

It was still raining as we headed off up the Hollyford Valley in the rain this morning, but we forgave Richard as the scenery became fabulously spectacular with waterfalls pouring down the sheer granite rock faces. We stopped at a bridge to try and look for Blue Ducks in the rain, but to no avail, and we headed up the valley stopping and scanning various parts of the fast flowing river.

After a short coffee break we headed up to the awesome tunnel entrance where a huge jumble of boulders all around were the habitat of Rock Wren. Finding these is a real needle in a haystack job, and we tried without success, but still enjoyed the amazing spectacle of the glaciers and waterfalls and the huge mountains surrounding us.

Then through the tunnel and down to the Milford Sound Quay where we boarded a boat and, amazingly, the sun came out. The cruise up the Milford Sound was fantastic with the sheer sides of the fiord gleaming in the sunshine. We stopped at the underwater observatory and headed down under the waters of Milford Sound for a view of some of the amazing marine life, including corals and several very primitive marine creatures that are hard to see elsewhere in the world, and then it was back to just enjoying the cruise and gazing at the scenery. We saw a single Fiordland Crested Penguin near the mouth of the Sound, but it was the mountains and glaciers and waterfalls that really stole the show here.

It was raining as we went back through the tunnel and tried again to look for Blue Ducks along the river, although we started out with some confidence as it was just the right time of day and in very good conditions to see Blue Ducks, but as the evening drew on it became clear that we were going to miss this very sought after but elusive duck on this occasion.

Just as the light was fading we had our second media hit of the trip when a television crew approached us and asked us if they could film us looking for Blue Ducks as they were doing a documentary. Jamie's attempt at doing an interview did not go too well. In answer to the question "why do you Brits want to come twelve thousand miles just to see a duck" all Jamie could think of was "because we are mad, I guess". Just how right he was, was to be proved after dinner when several members of the group were called upon to perform a party piece, in which it has to be said that Sheila's rendition of 'Albert and the Lion', Malcolm's poetry and Peter's limericks were somewhat outclassed by Caren's singing and guitar playing; but it was certainly a wonderful and memorable end to a memorable day.

11th December

Te Anau - Dunedin and flight home

It was quite a subdued group on the bus as we headed back to Dunedin, as this was to be our last day and our last look at New Zealand. Caren's Maori farewell song at the airport made us go even quieter as our trip of nearly three weeks was at this point seeming much too short. Even more poignant was that it was to be Caren's last trip for a while, as she was about to get a job at Fiordland National Park - their gain, but what a loss to the tour leading business!

Mark Hanger, whose firm Naturequest organised the trip so brilliantly for us, was at the airport to meet us and join Caren to pay us farewell.

And then the long flight home - the crossing of the international date line giving those who were still awake an unusual opportunity to write down tomorrow's birds in the checklist!

Thanks to the group for your companionship and good cheer throughout the tour. Thanks to Mark for the organisation, to the local guides and boatmen who were all so helpful to us, and most of all to Caren, who not only worked so hard to ensure a successful tour, but was a constant source of information and entertainment throughout. I don't remember a tour that was more fun to lead!

Jamie McMillan

January 2003



KIWIS Apterygidae

Brown Kiwi Apteryx australis Sadly, only seen by two members of the group on Stewart Island.

PENGUINS Spheniscidae

Fiordland (Crested) Penguin Eudyptes pachyrhynchus Total of 9 seen at Lake Moeraki on 3rd Dec, with early risers seeing 3 the next day. One on boat trip. Stewart Island 8th, one in Milford Sound, 10th

Yellow-eyed Penguin Megadyptes antipodes Total of 6 seen on Stewart Island boat trip.

Little (Blue) Penguin Eudyptula minor Seen in nest boxes, Tiri. One Wellington Harbour. Three Marlborough Sound. Two Dunedin, 6th. Most in and around Stewart Island with max 20 + on 8th.

GREBES Podicipedidae

New Zealand Grebe (Dabchick) Poliocephalus rufopectus Four on Lake Rotorua, 27th.

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus Up to 3 per day on 5 dates on South Island inland waters.


Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans Two at Kaikoura. Fifteen on and around Taiaroa Head Dunedin

Royal Albatross Diomedea epomophora Three at Kaikoura.

Shy Albatross (Mollymawk) Diomedea cauta 15 at Kaikoura (- Salvins - White L). Three off Moeraki, 20 + off Stewart Island included 1 Salvins.


Southern (Antarctic) Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus One in Cook Straits, 18th. One off Kaikoura, 30th.

Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli One in Cook Straits; c10 Kaikoura; One off Taiaroa Head. One off Stewart Island.

Southern (Antarctic) Fulmar Fulmarus glacialoides One off Kaikoura, 30th.

Cape (Pintado) Petrel Daption capense C70 off Kaikoura, 30th, with one from the shore there next day. One off Taiaroa Head; c5 off Stewart Island.

Great-winged Petrel(Grey-faced Petrel) Pterodroma macroptera One off Kaikoura, 30th.

Mottled Petrel Pterodroma inexpectata One seen in the spotlight from Stewart Island boat early am. on 8th was identified as this rare endemic by Phillip Smith. A possible Cook's Petrel was also seen.

Fairy Prion Pachyptila turtur At least 60 from Cook Straits ferry, giving superb views alongside. Two in Marlborough Sound.

White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctinalis C30 off Kaikoura.

Westland (Black) Petrel Procellaria westlandica C10 off Kaikoura.

Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus carneipes 3 off Kaikoura.

Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus A handful in Cook Straits, Marlborough Sound, and Kaikoura 50 + off Moeraki; 20 off Taiaroa Head. Hundreds at Stewart Island.

Short-tailed Shearwater Puffinus tenuirostris Were heard calling at night on the Kiwi Walk.

Fluttering Shearwater Puffinus gavia Hundreds in Cook Straits and Marlborough Sound. Possibly this or the next species seen off Taiaroa Head.

Hutton's Shearwater Puffinus huttoni Thousands gathering off Kaikoura each day prior to flying in to their nests high in the Kaikoura Seaward Range.

DIVING-PETRELS Pelecanoididae

Common Diving-petrel Pelecanoides urinatrix One, Marlborough Sound. Seen in spotlight from Stewart Island boat, and c20 the next day, including one freshly-killed fished from the sea.


Australasian Gannet Morus serrator Up to 5 seen off coast on 7 dates - became scarcer further south.

CORMORANTS Phalacracoracidae

Little Black Cormorant (Shag) Phalacrocorax sulcirostris Widespread - noted 12 days.

Great Cormorant (Black Shag) Phalacrocorax carbo Widespread - noted 10 days.

Pied Cormorant (Shag) Phalacrocorax varius Noted on coasts at Auckland, Marlborough Sound, Kaikoura and Stewart Island.

Rough-faced (NZ King) Shag Phalacrocorax carunculatus C30 seen in Marlborough Sound.

Bronze (Stewart Island) Shag Phalacrocorax chalconotus Many at the Taiaroa Head colony; also seen Nagget Point and Stewart Island.

Spotted Shag Phalacrocorax punctatus Seen on coasts from Wellington southwards.

Little Pied Cormorant (Shag) Phalacrocorax melanoleucos Widespread - noted 11 days.


Great White Egret Egretta alba At least three seen at Okarito Lagoon.

White-faced Heron Egretta novaehollandiae Widespread and common. Noted 12 dates. Max 50 + at Miranda.

Eastern Reef Egret (Heron) Egretta sacra Two at Kaikoura.

IBISES & SPOONBILLS Threskiornithidae

Royal Spoonbill Platalea regia One at Foxton Beach, 28th; one on the Otago Pennisula with 3 Taiaroa Head, 6th; six on offshore stacks, Nugget Point, 7th.


Mute Swan Cygnus olor Two seen on 27th on North Island. One near Lake Moeraki, 4th.

Black Swan Cygnus atratus Widespread - noted on 8 dates.

Greylag Goose Anser anser Feral birds noted 7 dates.

Canada Goose Branta canadensis Feral birds noted 7 dates, max 30 at St. Anne's Pool, 1st.

Cape Barren Goose Cereopsis novaehollandiae Five, St. Anne's Pool, 1st.

Paradise Shelduck ("Watsit Duck") Tadorna variegata Widespread and common. Noted 15 dates.

Grey Teal Anas gracilis Three Whakamoura, 27th; three St. Anne's Pools, 1st; three Ohau Pools. 5th

Auckland Islands (Brown) Teal Anas aucklandica Three on Tiri.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Common and widespread. Seen each day except at Moeraki.

Pacific Black (Grey) Duck Anas superciliosus Widespread in small numbers. Seen 6 days.

Australian Shoveler Anas rhynchotis Seen at Whakamoura, Kaikoura and Ohau Pools.

New Zealand Scaup Aythya novaeseelandiae Widespread and common - noted 12 dates.

HAWKS Accipitridae

Swamp (Australasian) Harrier Circus approximans Up to 25 noted each day except at Moeraki.

FALCONS Falconidae

New Zealand Falcon Falco novaeseelandiae Two at Pureora; one at Fox Glacier; one at Hooker Valley.

NEW WORLD QUAILS Odontophoridae

California Quail Callipepla californica Seen from Taupo to the south of North Island, and a few in Kaikoura area.

TURKEYS Melagrididae

Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo 'Wild' or at least extremely free-range birds seen Taupo and en route to Wellington.


Brown Quail Coturnix ypsilophora At least 10, Tiri.

(Common) Pheasant Phasianus colchicus A few seen in Auckland area.

RAILS & COOTS Rallidae

Weka Gallirallus australis Three Western race seen south of Hokitika. C10 from Stewart Island race on Ulva Island.

Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis Three seen (mostly glimpsed!) at Miranda

Spotless Crake Porzana tabuensis One on Tiri Tiri Matangi

Baillon's (Marsh) Crake Porzana pusilla A pair with at least 4 chicks seen at Ohau Pools, Twizel.

Purple Swamphen (Pukeko) Porphyrio porphyrio Widespread and common. Noted 10 days.

Takahe Porphyrio mantelli At least 4 joined us for lunch, Tiri.

Eurasian Coot Fulica atra C10 noted Whakamora and St. Anne's Pool.


(Australian) Pied Oystercatcher Haematopus longirostris Noted 10 days - widespread.

Variable Oystercatcher Haematopus unicolor Noted 13 days - widespread.

AVOCETS AND STILTS Recurvirostridae

Black-winged (Pied) Stilt Himantopus himantopus Noted 10 days - widespread.

Black Stilt Himantopus novaezelandiae Five, including one full adult, seen at Ohau Pools, Twizel

PLOVERS Charadriidae

Spur-winged Plover Vanellus spinosus Common - seen daily.

Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva Six at Foxton Beach, NI

Double-banded Plover (Banded Dotterel) Charadrius bicinctus Seen at Foxton Beach, North Island, then at many sites on South Island. Max on lawns at Twizel, where 30 +.

Black-fronted Dotterel Elseyornis melanops One at Bull's Bridge, North Island.

Wrybill Anarhynchus frontalis Two at Miranda, North Island.

SANDPIPERS Scolopacidae

Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis Three at Foxton Beach, North Island.

Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica Hundreds of the eastern race seen at Miranda. Also noted at Foxton, North Island and Ohau, South Island.

Grey-tailed (Siberian) Tattler Heteroscelus brevipes One at Kaikoura.

(Ruddy) Turnstone Arenaria interpres Seen at Miranda and Kaikoura.

Red Knot Calidris canutus Hundreds at Miranda. Also at Foxton, North Island.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata Two at Miranda, NI

SKUAS Stercorariidae

Antarctic (Southern Brown) Skua Catharacta antarctica Three on Stewart Island boat trip.

Arctic Skua (Jaeger) Stercorarius parasiticus Seen Marlborough Sound (3), Moeraki (3), and Ship Creek (1)

GULLS Laridae

Kelp (Dominican) Gull Larus dominicanus Very common. Seen daily.

Silver (Red-billed) Gull Larus novaehollandiae Seen almost daily.

Black-billed Gull Larus bulleri Noted on 6 days, both on coast and inland lakes. Both islands.

TERNS Sternidae

Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia Up to 4/day noted on 8 dates.

White-fronted Tern Sterna striata Widespread on the coast - noted on 13 days. Hundreds at Miranda and in Marlborough Sound.

Black-fronted Tern Sterna albostriata Up to 5/day noted on South Island.

PIGEONS & DOVES Columbidae

Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia Seen most days.

New Zealand Pigeon Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae Widespread in forests and some suburbs. Noted 11 days.

PARROTS Psittacidae

New Zealand Kaka Nestor meridionalis Seen Pureora (North Island), and many on Stewart Island and Ulva Island.

Kea Nestor notabilis Noted mainly in the car parks in mountain areas (SI). Up to 3 per day on dates.

Eastern Rosella Platycercus eximius One glimpsed in Auckland.

Red-fronted (-crowned) Parakeet Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae Many on Tiri (North Island). Also seen on Ulva and Stewart Islands.

Yellow-fronted (-crowned) Parakeet Cyanoramphus auriceps Seen at Pureora (North Island) and Haast Pass (South Island)


Shining (Bronze-)Cuckoo Chalcites lucidus Seen Pureora and Rotorua (North Island) and Moeraki (South Island). Heard at Kaikoura and Dunedin.

Long-tailed Koel (Cuckoo) Eudynamys taitensis One seen at Okarito (South Island)

TYPICAL Owls Strigidae

Morepork Ninox novaeseelandiae Heard at Moeraki. Seen by street-light on Stewart Island.

HALCYONS Dacelonidae

Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus Widespread. Noted 9 days.

NEW ZEALAND WRENS Acanthisittidae

Rifleman Acanthisitta chloris Two seen well at Arthur's Pass. Two at Haast Pass.

LARKS Alaudidae

(Eurasian) Sky Lark Alauda arvensis Widespread. Noted 13 days.

SWALLOWS Hirundinidae

Welcome Swallow Hirundo neoxena Widespread. Noted almost daily.

WAGTAILS & PIPITS Motacillidae

Australasian (NZ) Pipit Anthus novaeseelandiae Singles at Miranda and Desert Road (North Island).

ACCENTORS Prunellidae

Hedge Accentor (Dunnock) Prunella modularis Seen almost daily on South Island.


(Common) Blackbird Turdus merula Very common. Seen daily.

Song Thrush Turdus philomelos Very common - seen daily.


Fernbird Megalurus punctatus Four at Lake Taupo. One at Lake Moeraki.


Gray Gerygone (Warbler) Gerygone igata Widespread - noted 10 days.

Whitehead Mohoua albicilla 20 + on Tiri (North Island), with one at Rotorua.

Yellowhead Mohoua ochrocephala At least two seen Haast Pass.

NZ Brown Creeper Mohoua novaeseelandiae Singles at Moeraki, Haast Pass. At least 12 seen on Ulva Island.


(Grey) Fantail Rhipidura fuliginosa Seen on 9 dates, NI, SI and Stewart Is.


Tomtit Petroica macrocephala North Island Race seen Pureora ; South Island Race seen 4 dates (SI) and Stewart/Ulva Is.

New Zealand Robin Petroica australis North Island race seen Tiri and Pureora; South Island race seen Motuara Is, and Ulva Is.

WHITE-EYES Zosteropidae

Silvereye Zosterops lateralis Common and widespread. Seen almost daily

HONEYEATERS Meliphagidae

Stitchbird Notiomystis cincta At least 20 seen Tiri.

New Zealand Bellbird Anthornis melanura Widespread. Noted on 13 dates.

Tui Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae Widespread, but seemingly less common than Bellbird. Noted 8 dates.

KOKAKOS Callaetidae

North Island Kokako Callaeas cinerea c6 seen Tiri. One seen and heard at dawn, Pureora

Saddleback Creadion carunculatus North Island race seen Tiri. Juv of South Island race seen Motuara Is. Adults on Ulva Is.


Australian Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen Widespread in farmland. Noted daily except Lake Moeraki.

JAYS & CROWS Corvidae

Rook Corvus frugilegus One seen near Miranda (NI)


Common (European) Starling Sturnus vulgaris Common and widespraed in farmland. Noted daily except Lake Moeraki.

Common/Indian Myna Acridotheries tristis Seen daily on North Island.

TRUE BUNTINGS Emberizidae - Emberizinae

Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella Widespread. Noted on all but two days.

Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus Heard at Kaikoura

FINCHES Fringillidae

(European) Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Widespread and common. Seen daily.

(European) Greenfinch Carduelis chloris Widespread and common. Noted on all but 4 days.

(European) Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Widespread and common. Noted every day except on Stewart Is.

Common Redpoll Carduelis flammea Remarkably common and widespread. Noted on all but 3 days.

SPARROWS Passeridae

House Sparrow Passer domesticus Widespread and common. Noted daily except Lake Moeraki.


Brush-tailed Possum Trichosurus vulpecula Corpses seen daily; 2 live ones seen Stewart Island.

Western Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus Corpses seen frequently

New Zealand Fur Seal Arctocephalus forsteri Many around Kaikoura; also at Munro Beach, Knight's Point, Taiaroa Head, and off Stewart Island. Newborn pups seen at Nugget Point.

Dusky Dolphin Lagenorhynchus obscurus One Wellington harbour; three Marlborough Sounds; hundreds at Kaikoura

Hector's Dolphin Cephalorhynchus hectori Two seen superbly in Marlborough Sounds, several Kaikoura; At least 10 close inshore at Ship's Creek.

Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melaena At least five off Knight's Point.

Brown Hare Lepus europaeus One at Mt Fyffe; several Ohau Pools; one between Dunedin and Invercargill.

Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus Noted 10 dates both NI and SI.


McCann's Skink Oligosoma mccannii One at Lindis Pass

Common Gecko Hoplodactylus maculatus Two at Hooker Valley car park.

Tuatara Sphenodon punctatus One in captivity at Queenstown Wildlife Park


Whistling Frog Litoria ewingi Both Aus. intros heard at Te Anau

Green Bell-Frog Litoria aurea


Long-finned Eel Lake Moeraki Lodge

Brown Trout Lake Moeraki Lodge


Common Copper Lycaena salustius Seen on 4 dates, both NI and SI

Boulder Copper sp. Bouldenaria boldenarum One Lake Pearson; at least 10 in Hooker Valley.

Small White ('Large White') Artogeia rapae Widespread but not numerous. Noted 12 dates.

Monarch Danaus plexippus Seen Auckland and Rotorua (NI)

NZ Red Admiral Bassaris gonerilla One Mt Fyffe; one Porter's Pass; one Moeraki Lodge; one Ohau Pools.

Magpie Moth Nyctemera amica Seen Pureora, Dunedin and Stewart Island

Ghost Moth sp. Hepialidae One in the bus, Hokitika


Little Grass Cicada Kikikia muta Identified near the centre, Miranda

Blue damselfly Austrolestes colensonis Miranda

Red damselfly Xanthocnemis zealandica Miranda

Cave Weta Gymnoplectron sp. One Pureora

Alpine Weta One Porter's Pass. At least 10 in Hooker Valley car park.

Sand Fly Austrosimulium sp. All too abundant at Lake Moeraki and area.

Glow-worm Arachnocampa luminosa Spectacular display of these larvae at Lake Moeraki


Burrowing mud-crab Miranda

Sea Tulip (a tunicate, but not one you tie round your arm..) Moeraki boulders beach; Stewart Island

Bruce Several spotted by Caren during the trip

SOME PLANTS (in no particular order)

Matai Prumnopitys taxifolia Hammer-marked bark aka Black Pine

Kahikatea Dacrycarpus dacrydioides White pine, found in swamps

Rimu Dacrydium cupressinum Weeping foliage on young trees.

Ponga Cyathea dealbata One of the many tree-ferns. Silvery foliage

Wheki Dicksonia squarrosa Another tree-fern

Wheki-ponga Dicksonia fibrosa 'Skirts' of dead fronds in which we looked unsuccessfully for Morepork

Cabbage Tree Cordyline australis Ubiquitous

Dracophyllum species The 'grass-trees'

Irishman Discaria toumatou


Five-finger Pseudopanax arboreus Fruits attracting Kokakos

Lancewood Pseudopanax crassifolius The narrow-leaved spiky young plant contrasting with the broader-leaved adult, Moa-adapted

Toothed Cottonwood Pseudopanax ferox

Kamahi Weinmannia racemosa Pink feathery flowers - lots along the road.

Parotara Leucopogon fraseri

Native Jasmine Parsonsia heterophylla Big, thick leaves.

Pohutukawa Metrosideros excelsa The NZ Christmas tree, just coming into flower

Rata Metrosideros sp. Red flowers - southern species seen in Sound

Coprosmas The 'coffee' bush

Turpentine shrub Draeophyllum

Broadleaf Grisellenia littoralis

Korokia Corokia buddleioides Yellow starry-flowered shrub

Mt Cook Lily Ranunculus lyalii World's largest ranunculus

Mountain Foxglove Ourisia macrocarpa

Hebes Especially abundant at altitude

Tree Fuchsia Fuchsia excorticata The world's biggest fuchsia, seen frequently

Whiteywood Melicytus ramiflorus The Mahoe

Southern Beech Nothofagus spp. Various species seen

Tree Daisy sp Olearia

Kaikoura Rock Daisy Pachystegia insignis

Everlasting Daisy Helichrysum bellidiodes

Marlborough Daisy Celmisia lindsayi

NZ Violet Viola cunninghami

Harebell Wahlenbergia

Remuremu Selleria radicans White 'finger' flowers

Tutu Coriaria arbora Broad-leaved popisonous shrub.


Spathulate Sundew Drosera spathulata Okarito

Alpine Sundew Drosera arcturi Arthur's Pass

Kanuka Kunzea ericoides

Manuka Leptospermum scoparium The honey bush

Snowberry Gaultheria antipoda

Mountain Snowberry Gaultheria depressa

NZ Flax Phormium tenax

Native Spinach Tetragonia sp.

Supplejack Ripogonum scandens Vine

Creeping Pratia Pratia angulata

Puawhananga Clematis paniculata White-flowered conspicuous cle-mate-iss.

Forest Floor Lily Arthropodium candidum

Bamboo orchid Earina mucronata Yellow-green fls at Pureora

Spider Orchid Corybas ?rivularis Seen on Ulva Island

Greenhood Orchid Pterostylis ? banksii Seen on Ulva Island

Red Tussock Grass Chionochloa rubra

Red Mistletoe Elytranthe tetrapetala. Red-flowering epiphyte seen at Lake Moeraki Lodge and elsewhere.

Tree Nettle Urtica ferox Really fierce nettle on Munro Beach

Piripiri Acaena sp. Low-growing, with burrs. Introduced into UK.

Wood Rose Dactylanthus taylori Non-flowering lumps of this parasitic plant shown by Caren at Pureora

Climbing fern Pyrrosia sp.

Hen-and Chickens Fern

Filmy Fern Hymenophyllum sp. Seen on Ulva Is.

Umbrella Moss Hypnodendron/Hypoptrygium sp.


Sooty Mould Found on trees inhabited by Scale Insects

Strawberry Fungus Cyttaria gunni On the beech forest floor at Haast Pass

© The Travelling Naturalist 2002