New Zealand: Birding Extravaganza
Dates and Costs
10 – 27 October 2022 – SOLD OUT
The 2022 departure is full, please consider booking for a future year
Price: NZ$11,699 / $8,520 / £6,169 / €7,181 per person sharing (8 – 10 participants)
Single Supplement: NZ$1,662 / $1,211 / £877 / €1,021
* Please note that currency conversion is calculated in real-time, therefore is subject to slight change. Please refer back to the base price when making final payments.
27 November – 14 December 2023
Price: NZ$12,635 / $9,201 / £6,662 / €7,756 per person sharing (8 – 10 participants)
Single Supplement: NZ$1,795 / $1,307 / £946 / €1,101
30 November – 17 December 2024
Price: NZ$TBC per person sharing (we expect 2024 prices to be 5-10% higher than 2023 prices) (8 – 10 participants)
Single Supplement: NZ$TBC
29 November – 16 December 2025
Price: NZ$TBC per person sharing (we expect 2025 prices to be 5-10% higher than 2024 prices) (8 – 10 participants)
Single Supplement: NZ$TBC
Duration: 18 days
Group Size: 8 – 10
Tour Start: Auckland, North Island
Tour End: Dunedin, South Island
Please note: The trip leaves Auckland in the morning (approximately 10am) on Day 1; therefore guests should arrive in Auckland a day early. If you need information about Auckland hotels, in the area where it would be easiest for you to be picked up, please notify us, and we will be happy to be of assistance.
All accommodation (as described above from day 1 through day 17 see note below)
Meals (from dinner on day 1 until breakfast on day 18)
Expert tour leader and fully licensed local guide
National park/birdwatching reserve/protected areas entrance fees
Interisland ferry (Wellington-Picton and Invercargill-Oban-Invercargill)
Private transportation during the tour and transfers (possibly shared) to and from the airports
Pelagic trips (Hauraki Gulf, Kaikoura, Stewart Island)
Locally guided kiwi excursions (Tawharanui, Kapiti Island, Paparoa, Okarito, and Stewart Island)
Boat trips as described in itinerary (Gulf Harbour-Tiritiri Matangi-Gulf Harbour, Marlborough Sounds, Otago Harbour, and Stewart Island-Ulva Island-Stewart Island)
International or domestic flights to get to Auckland and from Dunedin
Any pre- or post-tour accommodation, meals, or birding/sightseeing/etc. excursions
Optional glowworm cave boat trip on Lake Te Anau (estimated at NZ$100 per person in 2022)
Optional boat trip on Milford Sound (estimated at NZ$80 per person in 2022)
Visa if required
Items of a personal nature, e.g. gifts, laundry, internet access, phone calls, etc.
Soft/alcoholic drinks (drinking water is safe from the taps, please bring a refillable water bottle)
Personal travel insurance
Gratuities (please see our tipping guidelines blog)
New Zealand Birding Extravaganza
New Zealand is one of the most remote places on earth, and during 8o million years of isolation a fascinating and unique fauna has evolved. In the absence of mammals, except for bats and marine species, birds became the dominant animals, and they evolved to fill most available niches. Many became flightless, and some grew to be giants, including a huge eagle and the giant browsing moas. Sadly, with the occupation of New Zealand by Polynesians about 800 years ago and Europeans in the 19th century, many of the endemic species became extinct, including the eagle and the moas. Of those species that survived, some are still common, others are rare but still found on the larger islands, and many are only found in carefully managed populations on small predator-free islands. The stories of how New Zealanders have protected their birds are extraordinary, and these stories play an important role in our tour of New Zealand.
This itinerary is designed to find as many of the endemic species as possible, as well as species introduced by Europeans and the many species that have naturally colonized from Australia. Located in the Southern Ocean, New Zealand is also rich in oceanic species of birds and mammals, and our itinerary includes pelagic trips at three key locations.
The tour starts in Auckland where we will get this group birding tour underway with our first pelagic trip, in the Hauraki Gulf, where New Zealand Storm Petrel, a recently rediscovered species, is just one of our many target species. We will pop over from our base to Tiritiri Matangi Island, the first of three predator-free islands we will visit, to see rare endemics, including North Island Saddleback and Stitchbird, we will then start our journey south, our first stop on this journey being to the wader haven at Miranda.
Stitchbird is usually seen on predator-free Tiritiri Matangi Island.
Among the migratory waders we should find at the excellent Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Center and surrounding area, is the only bird in the world with a sideways curving beak, the Wrybill. In the temperate rainforests of the central North Island, such as at the stunning Pureora Forest Park, we hope to find North Island Kokako, New Zealand Kaka, and other forest endemics. In the nearby fast-flowing rivers we look for the very rare Whio – the Blue Duck.
Leaving the volcanic plateau, we will cross over to Kapiti Island, not too far from the city of Wellington on the southernmost tip of North Island. An overnight stay on Kapiti Island will offer us the chance of more highly sought-after endemics, including the gorgeous Little Spotted Kiwi.
After crossing Cook Strait, from Wellington to Picton, by ferry (offering more seabird opportunities), our tour continues on the South Island. During a boat trip in the Marlborough Sounds we visit a colony of New Zealand King (Rough-faced) Shag, which is only found in this isolated location and on Motuara Island, another predator-free reserve.
At beautiful Kaikoura on the east coast of South Island, a unique phenomenon provides the ideal location for our next pelagic cruise. This is the only place in New Zealand where there is no continental shelf, and the sea plummets 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) just offshore. Albatrosses, shearwaters, and petrels can be seen just minutes from the shore and give fantastic close views, and marine mammals are abundant. This experience is sure to be a tour highlight.
The sight (and sound) of the ginormous Antipodean Albatross bobbing around the back of the boat, along with many other stunning seabirds is sure to be extremely memorable.
Next, we cross the vast Canterbury Plains before bisecting the Southern Alps, the junction between two great tectonic plates. A visit to the stunning Arthur’s Pass National Park could give us views of the cheeky Kea! From here we will travel down the rugged and wet west coast (different habitats to those found on the east slope of the range) where we will look for both Great Spotted Kiwi and Okarito Kiwi.
We will cross back across the divide at Haast Pass and make our way to the MacKenzie Basin. This region takes some beating for its beauty, with its many turquoise lakes, braided rivers and the grand, snow-capped peaks of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. Birding here is a breathtaking experience, as we seek out mega birds such as the Critically Endangered (BirdLife International) Black Stilt, the unique Wrybill on its breeding grounds, and the striking Double-banded Plover.
Dropping down to the extreme south of South Island we will visit several spots, such as Taiaroa Head and the Royal Albatross Center, the only mainland breeding site of Northern Royal Albatross and a unique opportunity to observe these birds on land at their nests. There is also a colony of the endemic Hoiho – the Yellow-eyed Penguin here.
We will take the short ferry ride across to Stewart Island, New Zealand’s third-largest island. A different set of seabirds are on offer on our pelagic trip here and we will also look for Southern Brown Kiwi. From Stewart Island a short boat ride will see us visit the delightful Ulva Island, which is like stepping into an ancient forested world, and it’s great for rare endemic birds.
To end our tour we will visit the dramatic fjord called Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most stunning natural attraction, looking for Fiordland Penguin and, amongst the rocks en route, the tiny alpine New Zealand Rockwren. This must-see destination needs to be seen to be believed.
Milford Sound is a famous scenic spot, it is a beautiful area and one of many such sites that we will enjoy during the tour.
The food in New Zealand is legendary, especially the wonderful fresh seafood, the accommodations are varied and interesting, and the scenery is simply some of the most spectacular on the planet. This once-in-a-lifetime birdwatching holiday will live long in your memory, led by a cast of absolutely wonderful land and sea birds. We love this tour!
Itinerary (18 days/17 nights)
Day 1. Auckland to Gulf Harbour
A non-birding day. After your morning arrival into Auckland, New Zealand’s capital, on North Island, we will meet and transfer to the picturesque Gulf Harbour, just north of Auckland. We will check into our comfortable lodge in the afternoon for the first three nights of the tour. This location forms an ideal base for the next few days of birding.
If you would like to arrive into Auckland a day or two before the tour (maybe to relax after your flights or do some sightseeing, such as checking out fascinating Hobbiton for example – great for any fans of the Lord of the Rings movies and also some smart birds there too!), we can organize extra accommodation for you, just let us know when you book the tour.
Overnight: Whangaparoa Lodge, Gulf Harbour
New Zealand has many globally rare birds, and one of the rarest is New Zealand Storm Petrel, we will hope this species becomes an early tour highlight.
Day 2. Full day pelagic in the Hauraki Gulf
This is the first of three pelagic trips planned for this tour. Each pelagic trip offers different species, although there are a number of species we hope to find today that we are less likely, or unlikely to encounter elsewhere on the tour, these include Buller’s Shearwater, Fluttering Shearwater, Little Shearwater, Black (Parkinson’s) Petrel, Grey-faced Petrel, Cook’s Petrel (rarely even Pycroft’s Petrel and Black-winged Petrel), and White-faced Storm Petrel. However, one of the main reasons for a pelagic trip in this area is the chance to see the tiny, and Critically Endangered (BirdLife International), New Zealand Storm Petrel. This species was assumed to have become extinct, based on a lack of records since three specimens were collected (under dubious circumstances) in the 1800s. Amazingly, this species was rediscovered in 2003, with recent genetic work confirming species status, and then in 2013 a breeding site was spectacularly discovered on Hauturu Island (Little Barrier Island). An observation of this tiny seabird species will make for an early tour highlight. Other exciting possibilities on the water include Common Diving Petrel, Northern Giant Petrel, and our first albatrosses of the tour – Shy (White-capped) Albatross.
We could also see marine mammals on this boat trip, including dolphins and Bryde’s Whales, as well as other marine species. This will be a full day pelagic trip and we will return to the harbor in the late afternoon.
Overnight: Whangaparoa Lodge, Gulf Harbour
Day 3. Tiritiri Matangi Island
In the morning we will take a short boat ride to the excellent Tiritiri Matangi Island, a protected haven for endangered species and home to New Zealand’s oldest operating lighthouse. Tiritiri Matangi is a predator-free island, meaning the island is free of rats, possums, hedgehogs, cats, and stoats etc., thus providing a safe haven for many rare birds (many have been introduced or re-introduced to boost populations). We will visit several such islands during this tour. The restoration of the island started over 40 years ago and the progress made is incredible. We will spend the day on this picturesque island enjoying the bird song as we explore the regenerating forest on boardwalks and trails.
New Zealand has many unique birds and interesting bird names. This endemic and highly sought-after North Island Kokako has an amazing song and is a joy to hear in the dawn chorus.
This excursion will offer up our first chance for many exciting localized native land birds, many with intriguing and enticing names, such as North Island Kokako, Stitchbird, Whitehead, New Zealand Fernbird, North Island Saddleback, along with the more familiar-sounding North Island Robin. We will also come across more widespread endemic species such as Tui (a large spectacular honeyeater with an amazing duet), New Zealand Bellbird, New Zealand Fantail, and Grey Gerygone.
The island is also great for rare endemic non-passerines such as the hulking South Island Takahe (a giant swamphen), Brown Teal, and Red-crowned Parakeet. We may also find the widespread endemic Morepork (a Ninox hawk-owl) and the very cute Little Penguin.
The giant (25 inches/63 centimeters), flightless South Island Takahe was rediscovered in 1948 after being considered extinct for 50 years! It is considered Endangered (BirdLife International).
In the evening, back on North Island, we will take a trip out nearby our accommodation to look for North Island Brown Kiwi, our first example of this extremely bizarre (even by New Zealand standards), endemic family.
Overnight: Whangaparoa Lodge, Gulf Harbour
Day 4. Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Center
Leaving Gulf Harbour behind us for the final time we will drive to the south of Auckland and the excellent Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Center, an important feeding ground and roosting area for many shorebirds (waders) which migrate from the tundra of the Arctic to avoid the northern winter. One of the most famous northern migrants is Bar-tailed Godwit (read about the fascinating migration of this species here), others can include Far Eastern Curlew, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Red-necked Stint. There are also several interesting endemic shorebirds likely to be present here, such as the unique Wrybill (though we are likely to see more on their breeding grounds when we get to South Island), South Island Oystercatcher, and New Zealand Plover.
We will continue our journey to Lake Rotorua where we can find New Zealand Grebe and New Zealand Scaup among other waterfowl such as Paradise Shelduck, Australasian Shoveler, and Grey Teal. Rotorua is on the central plateau of North Island, with plenty of geothermal activity. We will also visit Waimangu Volcanic Valley, and the nearby boiling mud ponds!
Day 5. Pureora Forest Park and Tongariro National Park
The forests at Pureora Forest Park are often referred to as the ‘dinosaur forests’, because they are dominated by ancient conifers in the Podocarpaceae family. Podocarps were the dominant trees in Gondwana 100 million years ago and are still dominant in some of New Zealand’s rainforests today, and no more so than at Pureora. Our morning will be spent in this, one of the finest podocarp forests in the country, where we will experience the haunting call of the endangered North Island Kokako in its natural, misty rainforest environment. We will have most of the day here and will also look for New Zealand Kaka (an endemic parrot), Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Whitehead, North Island Robin, New Zealand Falcon, New Zealand Pigeon, the gorgeous Tomtit, Shining Bronze Cuckoo, with luck the secretive migrant Pacific Long-tailed Cuckoo, Sacred Kingfisher, and New Zealand’s smallest bird, Rifleman.
Later in the day we will finish up in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s oldest national park, where we will look for the rare Whio – or Blue Duck, they like the fast-flowing rivers coming off the volcano here and they are a very interesting, ancient species.
Overnight: Whakapapa Village
Day 6. Kapiti Island
We will drive south off the volcanic plateau and arrive at Paraparaumu Beach where we will take a short boat ride across to the island sanctuary of Kapiti Island for an overnight stay. While on this small island we will be looking for further views of South Island Takahe, North Island Saddleback, Stitchbird, Tui, Whitehead, Red-crowned Parakeet, North Island Robin, and New Zealand Kaka. However, the main reason for an overnight stay here is to seek out the nocturnal, Endangered Little Spotted Kiwi as well as Morepork, and Little Penguin.
Overnight: Kapiti Island
Day 7. Kapiti Island to Wellington, ferry to Picton, South Island
We will have the early morning on Kapiti Island, perhaps enjoying views of the species listed above, or something different such as a Variable Oystercatcher, Paradise Shelduck, White-fronted Tern, or a flock of Kelp Gulls before bidding farewell to the island in the mid-morning.
We should stand a good chance of connecting with the Little Spotted Kiwi (the smallest of all kiwis) while on Kapiti Island.
We will then board the large ferry in Wellington on the southern tip of North Island bound for Picton at the northern tip of South Island. The crossing of Cook Strait takes around three hours and it provides another seawatching opportunity with possibilities including Fluttering Shearwater, Hutton’s Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Black Petrel, Westland Petrel, Broad-billed Prion, Fairy Prion, Common Diving Petrel, Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua), Northern Giant Petrel, Antipodean Albatross, and Shy (White-capped) Albatross. We will stay overnight near the ferry terminal in town.
Day 8. Marlborough Sounds (Queen Charlotte Sound) then to Kaikoura
Our morning will be spent birding our way through Queen Charlotte Sound. We will have seen some of the area on the ferry the previous evening, as we came into Picton, but this will be a more specific birding trip and we will make our way to a small rocky island where a small colony of the very localized New Zealand King (Rough-faced) Shag breeds and roosts. We could also see the widespread Australian Pied Cormorant and Little Cormorant, and we may also encounter the interesting Weka, a flightless member of the Rallidae family.
In the mid-afternoon we will drive down the east coast of South Island to the famed town of Kaikoura (a pelagic paradise), where we will spend the next two nights.
Day 9. Kaikoura Pelagic
With a backdrop of steep mountains and the sea that plummets into a deep ocean trough, Kaikoura is not only spectacular to look at but also a perfect habitat for pelagic animals. Sperm Whales are resident, Humpback Whales are seasonal visitors, Dusky Dolphins are abundant, the tiny, rare Hector’s Dolphin is frequently seen, and there is a New Zealand Fur Seal colony close to the town. Pelagic birds, including albatrosses and giant petrels, are often seen from the shore. Hutton’s Shearwater breeds near the tops of the 8,200 foot (2,500 meter) mountain range behind the town and can often be seen in vast flocks wheeling around just offshore. Not surprisingly, Kaikoura’s economy is based on whale watching, swimming with dolphins, and albatross viewing, as well as commercial diving for crayfish and pāua (abalone).
An early-morning outing on the ocean from Kaikoura is the best possible way to start the day. Because conditions are so perfect for pelagic birds, we do not need to travel far, or for long, but we do see a lot of species. Possibilities include Antipodean Albatross, Northern Royal Albatross, Southern Royal Albatross, Shy Albatross, Salvin’s Albatross, Buller’s Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel, Northern Giant Petrel, Common Diving Petrel, Westland Petrel, White-chinned Petrel, Hutton’s Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater, and the abundant Cape Petrel.
Southern Royal Albatross is one of the many seabird species we should encounter on our Kaikoura pelagic.
The afternoon will be at your leisure to take a stroll on Kaikoura Peninsula or edit the hundreds of photos you will have likely taken on the boat trip!
Day 10. Kaikoura to Punakaiki
As well as targeting pelagic species at Kaikoura, we will also look for a rare introduced species, Cirl Bunting. Throughout our tour we will also see a number of species introduced from Europe, including Eurasian Skylark, Common Chaffinch, Yellowhammer, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Common Redpoll, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, House Sparrow, and Dunnock. These birds might not be of too much interest for European birders but might be so for birders from other parts of the world.
Our journey today takes us from the east to the west coast of South Island and carries us across the vast Canterbury Plains (look out for endemic and gorgeous Black-fronted Terns here). We will cross the staggeringly beautiful Southern Alps via Arthur’s Pass, an ancient route of travel once used by the Maori. Along the way, at Arthur’s Pass National Park we might find the Kea – the world’s only montane (and definitely cheekiest) parrot – it is also rather pretty, as shown on the itinerary front cover!
Our final destination for the day is Paparoa National Park and the small community of Punakaiki, which is famous for its unusual limestone formations known as the Pancake Rocks. The surrounding forests are home to the largest species of kiwi of them all, the Great Spotted Kiwi, which is the target of this evening’s nocturnal walk.
Day 11. Punakaiki to Franz Josef (via Okarito Lagoon)
We will drive south down the wild and wet west coast on roads lined by beautiful, lush rainforest (this side of the mountain range is notably different to that on the opposite slope). Stopping at Okarito Lagoon we might find the endemic New Zealand Fernbird along with Black-billed Gull, Great Egret, White-faced Heron, and Royal Spoonbill. In the adjacent forests we might also find a new endemic for our trip, Pipipi (New Zealand Brown Creeper), not a creeper like those from the rest of the world, this is actually part of the New Zealand endemic Mohouidae (Whiteheads) family, which has three members. By this stage of the tour, this species should be the second of the three for us.
Our main focus today is to see the Rowi – Okarito Kiwi, a relatively recent split from the South Island Brown Kiwi and we will look for this, the rarest of New Zealand’s kiwis on a nighttime excursion.
Overnight: Franz Josef
Day 12. Franz Josef to Twizel (via Haast Pass)
We continue south along the west coast (keeping our eyes peeled for anything interesting along the way), before crossing the mountains through Haast Pass. The vegetation changes dramatically after we pass through the divide due to the rain shadow effect from the mountains, and we will soon be in the rolling tussock grassland and landscape of schist rock. This is a land of clear turquoise lakes of the MacKenzie Basin, some natural and others created or enhanced by man for hydro-electric-power generation. The huge, braided rivers that bring the meltwater from the mountains are where our next target species lives. Time permitting, we will make a start on the birds listed below.
The tussocky grassland and braided river landscape we will be birding in whilst in sight of Mt Cook (the tallest mountain in New Zealand) is spectacular, and the birds are too!
Day 13. Twizel to Dunedin
There are many great birds on offer this morning, gorgeous Black-fronted Tern, New Zealand Pipit, South Island Oystercatcher, Paradise Shelduck, and Swamp Harrier. However, there are three species of endemic shorebird to be found here, and these will form the focus of our attention.
The Kaki or Black Stilt, which is one of New Zealand’s rarest birds, breeds along the rivers in this area, and we will spend time looking for this elusive bird. Like so many rare New Zealand birds it owes its survival to micro-management by conservation authorities, who operate captive breeding facilities, and private conservation groups.
We will also be searching around the braided rivers for breeding Wrybill and the pretty Double-banded Plover (a New Zealand breeding endemic which migrates to Australia during the non-breeding season).
Black Stilt (pictured) is deemed Critically Endangered by BirdLife International and there is a lot of work underway to try and prevent this very rare bird becoming extinct. One of the threats to the species’ survival is hybridization with its cousin, Pied Stilt, a recently self-introduced species from Australia (several other species we will see during the tour are also self-introduced from Australia). The survival of this species certainly hangs in the balance!
After concluding our birding here, we will continue to the city of Dunedin on the south coast of South Island. A charming cruise from Otago Harbour will take us around Taiaroa Head, the only mainland breeding site of Northern Royal Albatross, a huge bird with a wingspan of over 120 inches (three meters)! Here too, we will look for Spotted Shag, Otago Shag (another very localized endemic), and Silver Gull (of the endemic form, sometimes split and referred to as Red-billed Gull). Here we will also be on the lookout for Hoiho – Yellow-eyed Penguin and Little Penguin, both of which breed in the area.
Definitely one of the most highly sought-after species in New Zealand, the Wrybill.
Day 14. Stewart Island
We depart Dunedin for Invercargill, where we will board the fast ferry to Stewart Island. We will base ourselves in the village of Oban for two nights on this gorgeous, almost pristine, island. Although not a pelagic trip as such, this ferry ride does offer an extra chance for a few new seabirds, maybe Australasian Gannet, Salvin’s Albatross, or Buller’s Albatross.
The main activity in Oban will be a nighttime quest to find Southern Brown Kiwi, potentially the final of New Zealand’s kiwis on our trip. We will have enjoyed some great food during the tour and the fresh seafood in Oban is sure to rate as some of the best.
Day 15. Stewart Island birding, Paterson Inlet and Ulva Island
A charter boat will pick us up and we will delve into the South Pacific and Paterson Inlet. We will look for Yellow-eyed Penguin, Fiordland Penguin, Little Penguin, Foveaux Shag (a new English name for what was previously Stewart Island Shag, after the split of Otago Shag, a bird we will have looked for on the Otago Peninsula a few days prior), Buller’s Albatross, Shy (White-capped) Albatross, Salvin’s Albatross, Brown Skua, and Common Diving Petrel.
The New-Zealand-breeding subspecies of Shy Albatross is split by some authorities and called White-capped Albatross. It is easy to see why in this picture.
A treat awaits us in the afternoon on the island sanctuary of Ulva Island. This primeval forest on the island is amazing and a great trail network allows easy exploration. The island comes complete with some really special birds and many of these are extremely approachable allowing for great photo opportunities.
We will be on the lookout for as many of the specials as possible during our visit, depending on what we have seen over the previous two weeks of the tour. Potential targets include South Island Robin, South Island Saddleback, Yellowhead, Pipipi (New Zealand Brown Creeper), Tomtit, Grey Gerygone, Morepork, Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Red-crowned Parakeet, New Zealand Kaka, New Zealand Pigeon, New Zealand Bellbird, Tui, New Zealand Fantail, Variable Oystercatcher, and Weka.
Occasionally New Zealand Sea Lions might haul themselves out of the ocean onto the beaches of Ulva Island, a rather spectacular sight.
South Island Robin can be extremely confiding!
Day 16. Stewart Island to Te Anau
We will bid farewell to the beautiful Stewart Island (looking out for any further pelagic species on what will be the final ocean trip of the tour). Back on the mainland we will start a small loop of the southwestern section of South Island. We will be suitably enticed by the glacially sculptured mountains and valleys of Fiordland National Park (even more stunning scenery, to go with all of the rest we will have enjoyed during the tour). Not far from the town of Te Anau, our base for the final two nights of the tour, we will drop in to the beech forests of Eglinton Valley where we will look for Yellowhead, New Zealand Kaka, and Yellow-crowned Parakeet.
There is the optional-extra of a trip across Lake Te Anau in the evening to view the famed 12,000 years old Te Anau Caves and their glowworms (cost not included).
Overnight: Te Anau
Day 17. Milford Sound
Leaving Te Anau for the day, we will head towards Milford Sound. A drive along the Eglinton River to Hollyford Valley will delight us with spectacular mountain scenery. In the valley we will seek out some unique endemic species, with New Zealand Rockwren being one of the main targets. Also high on the ‘wanted list’ will be Blue Duck, which we should have already seen on North Island, but will not complain at another look at this rare bird. Other birds possible today include Tomtit, Rifleman, New Zealand Kaka, Kea, Pipipi (New Zealand Brown Creeper), and many more.
There is an optional-extra boat cruise on Milford Sound (which is actually an impressive fjord) in the afternoon, during which there is a chance of Fiordland Penguin and some great scenic photographs of hanging valleys and cascading waterfalls
Overnight: Te Anau
We will see New Zealand Kaka at several locations on the tour, they are always impressive.
Day 18. Te Anau to Dunedin where tour ends
We will reluctantly leave the land of fjords and complete this southwestern loop of South Island and indeed our whole New Zealand tour. We will return to Dunedin in the early afternoon where the tour will conclude; selecting the “bird of the trip” should be fun!
You can fly back to Auckland to connect with your international flight home, or you could extend your birding to somewhere else in the region such as Australia, Samoa, Fiji, or New Caledonia, we would be happy to arrange a private tour for you, or you might be able to hop onto one of our other scheduled set departure tours in the region.
Overnight: Not included
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.Download Itinerary
New Zealand – Custom Tour Trip Report, October 2019
18 OCTOBER– 4 NOVEMBER 2019
By Andy Walker
The Kea is the only alpine parrot in the world and is endemic to New Zealand!
This custom birdwatching tour in New Zealand commenced in Dunedin, South Island, on the 19th of October 2019. We birded around the city and the excellent Otago Peninsula (which included nesting albatross and penguin site visits) before commencing our journey south to the bird-rich Stewart and Ulva Islands where we took part in a pelagic trip and a kiwi safari. After our time on these smaller, wonderful islands we gradually worked our way north through South Island (taking in Milford Sound (spectacular), Omarama, Christchurch, and the world-famous Kaikoura for an incredible pelagic trip), before reaching the northern tip of the South Island and the town of Picton. After a boat ride across to Wellington in the south of North Island we flew to Auckland for a short circuit of that island where we took part in a Hauraki Gulf pelagic, visited the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre as well as Hobbiton from the Lord of the Rings movies! The tour ended back in Auckland on the 4th of November 2019.
A total of 122 bird species were seen (plus one species heard only), including many New Zealand endemics, as well as a wide range of seabirds and introduced and naturalized species.
Full species lists are provided at the end of this report.
Day 1, 19th October 2019. Arrival in Dunedin, South Island
We arrived in the midmorning in Dunedin, South Island, after an overnight international flight from Sydney, Australia, via Auckland, North Island.
After collecting our vehicle we headed along the picturesque Otago Peninsula toward the Royal Albatross Centre, where we spent the majority of the day enjoying the many incredible sights and sounds on offer. The main reason for visiting was for the chance to see the huge Northern Royal Albatross at its only mainland nesting site in the world. After an informative talk on the life history of these birds we headed to the observation area and were rewarded with four birds sitting on the grass. Just a remarkable sight! After enjoying the unique views of these birds we focused our attention on some of the other birds present, such as the endemic and local Otago Shag (a recent split from Stewart Island Shag, which has had an English name chance to Foveaux Shag and would be looked for later in the tour), Silver Gull (of the endemic form sometimes split and referred to as Red-billed Gull), and Kelp Gull.
After lunch we had a look at the nearby sea cliffs, where we found nesting Spotted Shags, Sooty Shearwater, New Zealand Fur Seal, and a patrolling Northern Giant Petrel. We also picked up a distant Northern Royal Albatross flying about; it was magnificent to see its shape cutting across the ocean.
A unique opportunity to observe Northern Royal Albatross on land!
New Zealand has a high number of introduced species of various forms, either brought over by man during the 19th century from the United Kingdom, brought over by man from Australia, or having made their way over from Australia by themselves, and over the course of the day we saw a number of these – in fact while loading our vehicle at the airport we found Song Thrush, Common Blackbird, European Goldfinch, Dunnock, Australian Magpie, Mallard, and Eurasian Skylark! These and other introduced birds would be a feature throughout the tour.
As the afternoon drew on we had one final stop at a private reserve, where we learned about and then saw five of the Endangered (IUCN) Yellow-eyed Penguins, a species in rapid decline globally and a real privilege to see. While here we also saw a couple of the much smaller Little Penguins that were also nesting in the area. A New Zealand Sea Lion was loitering on the beach too, presumably looking for a penguin-shaped dinner snack… As far as first days of a tour go, this was a pretty great start!
It was a real privilege to observe nesting Yellow-eyed Penguin.
Day 2, 20th October 2019. Non-birding morning and afternoon travel to Invercargill
In the afternoon we traveled to Invercargill in preparation for our boat trip the following morning. Along the route we made two stops, the first allowing us our first views of New Zealand Scaup and Black-billed Gull and the second giving us our first native passerines of the trip, Tui, New Zealand Fantail, and New Zealand Bellbird, as well as Australasian Shoveler, Silvereye, Common Chaffinch, and Lesser Redpoll.
Day 3, 21st October 2019. Stewart and Ulva Islands
We left our accommodation at Invercargill and drove the short distance to the harbor town of Bluff, where we met our ferry for the slightly choppy crossing to Stewart Island. A few birds were noted from the boat but it was a little unsuitable for viewing. Once we’d arrived and checked into our accommodation for the next two nights we hiked across the island and caught a water taxi to nearby Ulva Island, a predator-free wildlife sanctuary packed full of rare endemic birds.
As soon as the boat pulled into the tiny harbor on Ulva Island we noted South Island Robin waiting there to welcome us, along with a huge bull New Zealand Sea Lion. As we got our bearings and sorted out our gear we became aware of a Weka (a flightless rail) literally right beneath our feet, totally unconcerned by our presence. As we started our hike we found the huge New Zealand Pigeon sitting low in a giant tree. Over the course of the next couple of hours we found many of our target birds, such as Red-crowned Parakeet, Yellow-crowned Parakeet, New Zealand Kaka, Pipipi (New Zealand Creeper), Yellowhead, Grey Gerygone, Morepork, New Zealand Bellbird, Tui, Tomtit, New Zealand Fantail, and South Island Saddleback. Most of the birds seen were extremely approachable and gave great views. Furthermore the primeval forest was a real joy to walk in, and one could imagine what much of New Zealand must have been like in years gone by.
New Zealand Kaka is a large, endemic parrot that makes some remarkable sounds.
South Island Robin is extremely confiding!
South Island Saddleback was a highlight bird for us during the afternoon, along with a flock of Yellowhead and Pipipi.
Several other birds were noted as we made our way around the island, such as White-fronted Tern, Variable Oystercatcher, Paradise Shelduck, and Spotted Shag.
After dinner we took a night walk around part of Stewart Island and were rewarded first by several Little Penguins and second by our main target, the incredible Southern Brown Kiwi, a huge (for a kiwi), flightless, ancient bird. It was a real privilege to get such amazing views of a pair of birds. Just as we were leaving the area we were treated to a wonderful, clear, southern starry sky.
Southern Brown Kiwi gave outstanding views as one walked right up to us! (iPhone video-grab).
Day 4, 22nd October 2019. Stewart Island
We spent the morning on a boat from our base on Stewart Island, visiting various smaller islands and the seas in between and surrounding them. We found plenty of new birds and several we had seen before, with highlights including our first Fiordland Penguin, Shy Albatross (steadi subspecies, sometimes split and called White-capped Albatross), and Salvin’s Albatross. We also found Brown Skua (two subspecies) , Common Diving Petrel, Foveaux Shag (a new English name for what was previously called Stewart Island Shag after the split of Otago Shag, a bird seen on the Otago Peninsula a few days previously), Australian Pied Cormorant, Little Pied Cormorant, and Spotted Shag. Silver Gulls and Kelp Gulls were ever-present too, and we saw numerous small flocks of foraging Little Penguins.
The New-Zealand-breeding subspecies of Shy Albatross is split by some authorities and called White-capped Albatross. It’s easy to see why in this picture.
Fiordland Penguin was a bonus bird as we were looking for albatross.
As we walked to and from the boat jetty from our accommodation we found several endemic and introduced birds, highlights being Tui, New Zealand Pigeon, New Zealand Kaka, Grey Gerygone, New Zealand Fantail, New Zealand Bellbird, Variable Oystercatcher, and Paradise Shelduck.
Day 5, 23rd October 2019. Stewart Island to Te Anau
We caught the morning ferry from Stewart Island back to Bluff on the southern tip of South Island and then commenced our drive north, which would eventually see us cover the length of this long island.
The crossing was much smoother than the previous trip, and we were able to view some new seabirds along the way, the pick of these being Buller’s Albatross and Black-browed Albatross. We also saw more Shy Albatrosses (the White-capped subspecies again), Sooty Shearwaters, and Common Diving Petrels.
Back on dry land we started our journey towards Te Anau, picking up our first Black-fronted Terns along the way, along with numerous introduced species.
Our afternoon was spent near Lake Te Anau, where we walked through some native forest. Here we found Tui, New Zealand Bellbird, Tomtit, New Zealand Fantail, Grey Gerygone, Sacred Kingfisher, New Zealand Pigeon, Welcome Swallow, and a frustrating glimpse at a Rifleman that was unfortunately flushed by a jogger before we could all get on it.
Day 6, 24th October 2019. Milford Sound area
An early start from our accommodation on the picturesque Lake Te Anau saw us heading to the even more beautiful Milford Sound, which boasts some of the most impressive landscape views in the country.
Our journey started through pastoral farmland, where we found Yellowhammer, South Island Oystercatcher, Black-fronted Tern, and a brief New Zealand Pipit.
We continued through the increasingly beautiful mountains, where a stop at a river gave us our first good views of the endemic Kea, an incredibly tame parrot that seemed intent on wrecking our car, very interesting to watch!
The favorite pastime of the Kea is the destruction of motor vehicles, and we got to witness this firsthand as a flock descended on our car.
Here we also found the Endangered (IUCN) and endemic Blue Duck, a large bird with an interesting foraging habit that was fascinating to observe.
On arrival at Milford Sound the clouds were down, and the view was not as spectacular as we had hoped. However, twenty minutes later, after we had been enjoying views of Weka, Tomtit, and New Zealand Bellbird, the sun came out and the clouds shifted, giving us some seriously spectacular views of the lake and mountains. A tour highlight in its own right!
Weka – another confiding, flightless bird living on the edge.
Driving back to our accommodation we stopped in some moss-laden forest and found lots of endemic birds; the pick of these was multiple sightings of Rifleman, tiny birds with an extremely sharp bill and practically no tail, and New Zealand’s smallest (and possible cutest bird). We also found Tomtit, South Island Robin, Pipipi, Grey Gerygone, New Zealand Fantail, Tui, New Zealand Bellbird, New Zealand Kaka, and Yellow-crowned Parakeet.
Day 7, 25th October 2019. Te Anau to Omarama
The morning was spent driving between Te Anau and Omarama, and the route took us through plenty of stunning landscapes.
Our afternoon was spent birding along a braided river in some spectacular scenery. Here we searched for and found our main target for the afternoon, the Critically Endangered (IUCN) and endemic Black Stilt. While looking for the stilt we also found the highly sought-after endemic Wrybill, a unique shorebird with a sideways-curved bill, a very odd-looking bird with a unique foraging technique. Another new bird for us was the rather pretty Double-banded Plover, a New Zealand breeding endemic which migrates to Australia during the non-breeding season. It was rather numerous around the site, where much breeding was in evidence. Other birds noted here included Black-fronted Tern, South Island Oystercatcher, Paradise Shelduck, Swamp Harrier, and New Zealand Pipit.
The distinctive and rather unique shape of the bill of the Wrybill, along with its endemic status, makes is a huge target for visitors on bird tours. We enjoyed excellent, close views of several.
Day 8, 26th October 2019. Omarama to Christchurch
This was essentially a travel day as we made our way to Christchurch from Omarama. A stop at a wetland not far from our accommodation allowed us much closer views of three Black Stilts; it’s amazing to think there are only about 130 birds of this species left in the world!
With its tiny global population it was incredible to spend time watching three Black Stilts at close range all to ourselves in some stunning scenery.
We also saw three Black Stilt x Pied Stilt hybrids. Other birds noted while watching the stilts included New Zealand Scaup, Swamp Harrier, and Kelp Gull.
Our drive was fairly uneventful, with lots of common introduced species noted along the way. A brief walk near our accommodation during the late afternoon gave us looks at New Zealand Pigeon, New Zealand Bellbird, Grey Gerygone, and New Zealand Fantail.
Day 9, 27th October 2019. Non-birding morning, afternoon travel to Kaikoura
Non-birding morning. In the afternoon we traveled to Kaikoura. A brief look off the headland on arrival in Kaikoura filled us with excitement for our trip out to sea the following morning. Thousands of Hutton’s Shearwaters were flying around, and both Shy (White-capped) and Salvin’s Albatrosses were noted, as was White-chinned Petrel. A number of giant petrels were present but a little too far to ID them to species level.
Day 10, 28th October 2019. Kaikoura pelagic
We took a morning boat trip into the bay at Kaikoura. We didn’t have to go far before we started to see some good birds, with Caspian Tern in the harbor, quickly followed by a small flock of White-fronted Terns, our best view to date. As we left the harbor we found our first raft of Hutton’s Shearwaters in much lower numbers than the previous evening but much closer. A little farther and we were suddenly watching Northern Giant Petrel and Cape Petrel, from none to about forty of the latter in no time at all.
Cape Petrel was a constant feature on the boat trip.
With the increase in activity around the back of the boat we then found ourselves looking at a couple of Salvin’s Albatrosses, quickly dwarfed by several huge Antipodean Albatrosses. Westland Petrel put in an appearance, staying on the periphery for the early period. As we moved along a few birds came and went, more Westland Petrels came in, some even coming in quite close, a Grey-faced Petrel performed a fly past, and several boisterous Northern Giant Petrels jostled for position with several Antipodean Albatrosses and one Wandering Albatross.
Several Antipodean Albatross were present on the pelagic trip.
Wandering Albatross was a good record for the pelagic.
Two Northern Royal Albatrosses came in, one eventually sitting close to the back of the boat, with the other keeping its distance. A single Shy (White-capped) Albatross came in briefly, with a couple of others noted as we were transiting, but they seemed less bothered about our presence than the other birds. Cape Petrels and Salvin’s Albatrosses were ever-present and gave some incredible eye-level flight views at times. Both Kelp and Silver (scopulinus subspecies, sometimes split as Red-billed) Gulls were present at times too, and another highlight of the trip involved a close and breaching display from a pod of Dusky Dolphins.
After lunch we made the final leg of our northbound journey through the South Island to the village of Picton, our base for the night ahead of our travel to the North Island the following day.
Day 11, 29th October 2019. Non-birding morning, afternoon ferry trip to North Island
In the afternoon we took the 3.5-hour ferry across Cook Strait between Picton, South Island, and Wellington, North Island. During the crossing we saw Fluttering Shearwater, Hutton’s Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Australasian Gannet, Black Petrel, Westland Petrel, Broad-billed Prion, Fairy Prion, Common Diving Petrel, and Shy (White-capped) Albatross.
Day 12, 30th October 2019. Flight to Auckland and birding to the north of the city
We took an early morning flight between Wellington and Auckland, collected our new vehicle, and headed northwest to the coast. The reason for this birding stop was to view a breeding colony of Australasian Gannet and White-fronted Tern. It was rather windy, but we had some really close-up views of hundreds of nesting birds, many sitting on nests and others giving eye-level fly-past views, amazing to see them so close. After enjoying some time watching the breeding activity we continued our journey to the east coast for our base for the next couple of nights. We saw several new introduced species along the way, such as Common Pheasant, Wild Turkey, Spotted Dove, and Common Myna.
Getting to spend time in an Australasian Gannet colony was a nice treat with great flight views on offer as birds came to and from their nests.
Day 13, 31st October 2019. Hauraki Gulf pelagic
The Hauraki Gulf pelagic trip is always a fun day on the water, and today was no exception. Before we left the harbor we were watching close-up Buff-banded Rail, Australian Pied Cormorant, and Caspian Tern. We headed out to sea and soon were watching our first birds, numerous Fluttering Shearwaters and Common Diving Petrels, a few White-fronted Terns, and singles of both Northern Giant Petrel and Little Shearwater. As we moved farther out into the deeper water we started finding Buller’s Shearwaters and Cook’s Petrels. Once we had found White-faced Storm Petrel we started with our chum (food for the seabirds), and the numbers of birds increased, with Flesh-footed Shearwater and Fairy Prion joining the crowd. After a bit of a wait we were rewarded with our main target of the trip, the Critically Endangered (IUCN) endemic New Zealand Storm Petrel. Over the course of the next few hours we saw at least four of these birds, remarkable! Throughout the day we also found a few Shy (White-capped) Albatrosses and singles of Black Petrel and Parasitic Jaeger.
We stopped off at a couple of islands along the way, finding Weka, New Zealand Kaka, Tui, Paradise Shelduck, and Indian Peafowl. New Zealand Plover, Royal Spoonbill, and Bar-tailed Godwit were present on the beach as we came back into the harbor.
The main target of our pelagic trip was the Critically Endangered (IUCN) and very locally distributed endemic New Zealand Storm Petrel.
Day 14, 1st November 2019. Tiritiri Matangi Island
Once our ferry arrived to collect us for our short boat ride we spent the day exploring Tiritiri Matangi Island, a protected haven for endangered species and home to a 150-year-old lighthouse (New Zealand’s oldest operating lighthouse). We had four hours on the island and set off walking as soon as possible to find as many targets as possible. We did quite well despite the island being very busy with people during our visit. Some of our main highlights included Stitchbird, North Island Kokako, Whitehead, New Zealand Fernbird, North Island Saddleback, Brown Teal, and North Island Robin, all new birds for us on this trip with good views of all. Other, more familiar, species included our best views of Tui, New Zealand Bellbird, and Red-crowned Parakeet, along with New Zealand Fantail and Grey Gerygone. We also found a Spotless Crake while eating lunch in a quiet spot.
We were very happy to find the very rare North Island Kokako quietly feeding along the trail.
Stitchbird, a very rare and restricted-range endemic, giving great close views.
Before birding on the island we noted Eastern Rosella, Spotted Dove, and African Collared (Barbary) Dove along the roadside, and after birding we drove south through some traffic to Hamilton, our base for the next couple of nights.
Day 15, 2nd November 2019. Hobbiton
A non-birding day exploring the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film set ‘Hobbiton’ near Matamata. It was a great site to explore, and we had the bonus of a pair of New Zealand Grebes on the village pond outside the Green Dragon Pub!
New Zealand Grebe…. pretty cool to get a lifer while in Hobbiton!
Day 16, 3rd November 2019. Non-birding morning, afternoon at Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre
After lunch we drove to the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre, seeing several Wild Turkeys along the way. Once at the site we spent a couple of hours looking at distant shorebirds and ducks. These were not ideal viewing conditions, but we did get our best looks to date of New Zealand Plover, and our first Red Knot and Pacific Golden Plovers of the trip. A few thousand Bar-tailed Godwits were a bit flighty unfortunately, but we did find a close group that gave some good views. Around 20 Wrybills were present but distant, and we couldn’t better the excellent views from South Island. Ducks were numerous on one of the ponds, and we enjoyed seeing the pretty Australian Shoveler along with Paradise Shelduck and Grey Teal. White-faced Herons were numerous, and their habit of flying low seemed to be one of the reasons the shorebirds were so nervous. Grey Gerygone was in the waterside vegetation, as were Buff-banded Rail and Silvereye. Eurasian Skylarks were abundant and gave some great, close-perched views.
Day 17, 4th November 2019. Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre and travel to Auckland, where tour concluded
We had a final brief birding session at the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre, where we found a Broad-billed Sandpiper (a national rarity) roosting with a flock of over 40 Wrybills. We also saw a Marsh Sandpiper (an uncommon visitor), a family of Buff-banded Rails, and over 50 Australasian Shovelers.
After breakfast we continued back to Auckland International Airport, where this tour of New Zealand came to an end.
Bird of the trip was a tough call, with Kea and New Zealand Storm Petrel coming out on top, but there were several other candidates in the shortlist like Stitchbird, New Zealand Kaka, North Island Kokako, Wrybill, Black Stilt, Blue Duck, and of course the incredible Southern Brown Kiwi encounter! A special mention must also go to some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere in the world; it was a privilege to be birding in such a wondrous landscape. Even if it weren’t for the excellent birds, New Zealand (particularly the South Island) would be worth a visit just to marvel at the scenery.
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.