New Zealand Highlights Nov 02—16, 2006
Posted by Dion Hobcroft
Our “new” New Zealand program proved to be highly successful, as this fascinating island country lived up to its reputation for special birds, great food, and excellent accommodations. We recorded 120 species, including representatives of the three endemic families.
We started in the North Island with a three-night stay in Whangaparoa. Our hosts looked after us beautifully and the weather was very kind to us. Our day on Tiri Tiri Island produced not only the hoped for Brown Teal, Saddleback, and the incredible Kokako and Stitchbird, but also an amazing Spotless Crake that wandered right up to us in the open.
On a pelagic trip in the Hauraki Gulf we had fascinating encounters with the recently re-discovered New Zealand Storm-Petrel. We also enjoyed exceptional close-up views of White-faced Storm-Petrel, Black Petrel, and Cook’s Petrel, but it was, perhaps, the spectacle of a thousand gannets and fifty dolphins working schools of fish in a show of energy that really brought this seascape to life.
After detouring north successfully for the hoped for New Zealand Dotterel and endangered Fairy Tern, we journeyed to Rotorua. After experiencing the traditional Maori welcome and a fine geothermal cooked feast, the next day we tracked down the New Zealand Grebe, New Zealand Robin, and a beautiful pair of Yellow-crowned Kakariki.
The next two nights were spent on the island sanctuary of Kapiti Island where again our hosts were superb. Everyone enjoyed the chance to be close-up to so many special birds including boisterous Kaka, Red-crowned Kakariki, Weka, Takahe, and handsome New Zealand Pigeons. Our nighttime excursion provided a good but brief view of the Little Spotted Kiwi, and there were some flight views of the elusive Long-tailed Koel.
We crossed Cook Strait and spent two nights in Kaikoura. Here the pelagics were truly wonderful, of short duration, and totally action-packed. Wandering Albatross, Westland Petrel, and Cape Petrels squabbled within a meter of us for food, while on the second day we saw a killer whale, a fur seal smashing and eating a large octopus, and enjoyed the acrobatics of a large pod of dusky dolphins.
Continuing south, we rambled through the braided rivers of Lake Tekapo surrounded by the Southern Alps. We found Wrybill, the critically endangered Black Stilt, nesting Black-fronted Terns and Double-banded Plovers, and special wildflowers and butterflies.
We made it through to Te Anau for a two-night stay. Our day at Milford Sound and Fiordland was perhaps the best day I have enjoyed birding in this country. A fabulous Fiordland Penguin and a vagrant leopard seal started us off on the right track. The special bird called the Rock Wren popped up right on cue, whilst a band of mischievous Keas inspected our van. A pair of Blue Ducks began to add icing to the cake, when the script came to a fairy-tale conclusion with a superb view of Yellowhead and three New Zealand Falcons.
Our final day concluded with superb Yellow-eyed Penguins and Northern Royal Albatross in Dunedin. A special dinner and evening in the incredible Larnarch Castle was quite a fitting venue for our very special tour. I am looking forward to revisiting this special country on our 2008 tour.