Day 1 – Arrival
Arrival day for those who were not on the Hauraki Gulf Pelagic. You will meet the guides and other participants on our New Zealand birding tour the following morning. Night in Auckland
Day 2 - Trounson Kauri Park
We leave our hotel after breakfast after a meet-and-greet with those who were on the pre-tour pelagic. We first visit Ambury Farm Park which lies among the southern suburbs fronting the Manukau Harbour. Ambury is a significant habitat for shorebirds such as oystercatchers and Spur-winged Plovers, and we have our first chance at Wrybill. Also, the coast has excellent examples of basalt lava flows. We then head north through Auckland and out to the Muriwai gannet colony which currently has about 1200 nesting pairs. Afterwards we continue north to Trounson Kauri Park, where we stay the night. We will take the kiwi tour in the evening with a good chance of encountering North Island Brown Kiwi as well as a variety of other night critters like Cave Weta (giant cricket), Morepork (owl), and native freshwater eels.
Day 3 - Transfer to Orewa
We have a morning walk around Trounson Kauri Park, which protects some of the last of the mighty kauri forests of New Zealand’s Northland region. These magnificent trees are among the most ancient species in the world—some boasting trunks measuring over 5m in diameter! The wood is highly prized as a valuable timber and thus most of NZ’s kauris were heavily logged until a moratorium was established in the 1970s. We then head over to Waipu Cove for Fairy Tern, with a detour to look for Australasian Grebe, and take the scenic coastal route via Mangawhai Heads (another locality for Fairy Tern) to Orewa. Time permitting, we may take in Wenderholm Park for commoner landbirds and shorebirds. Night in Orewa.
Day 4 - Tiri Tiri Matangi Island
Today we take the boat ride to Tiri Tiri Matangi Island—one of the greatest bird conservation success stories in New Zealand. What was once an overgrazed islet supporting little birdlife, is now a predator-free sanctuary covered in native plants, all supporting a vibrant bird community including some of the countries rarest endemics like Stitchbird, Kokako, and the iconic Takahe (giant flightless swamphen). We’ll spend most of the day exploring this lovely little island then return to our accommodation in the late afternoon. Night in Orewa.
Day 5 - Miranda
We leave early and drive through Auckland to our next destination at Miranda. Our day will be partially organized around the high tide here. The coastal mudflats and saltmarsh of Miranda (NZ’s most famous shorebird hot spot) support Bar-tailed Godwits (who fly non-stop from Alaska—11,000+km—to winter here!), Red Knot, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Wrybill, New Zealand Dotterel, Banded Rail, Pied Oystercatcher, and White-fronted Tern. If we’re lucky there might be a few other Siberian waders here such as Marsh Sandpiper or Greater Sand Plover. Night in Taupo.
Day 6 – Pureora Forest
Pureora Forest Park straddles the Hauhungaroa and Rangitoto Ranges between Lake Taupo and Te Kuiti, and is renowned for its towering trees - totara, rimu, matai, miro and kahikatea up to 40-60 metres. There is rich native bird life in this forest including the Kokako and the Kaka, Kakariki (Yellow-crowned Parakeet), Long-tailed Cuckoo, Whitehead, Rifleman and North Island Robin. The Waipapa Walk is a loop that begins along the edge of the Waipapa Ecological Area, and it offers the best chance of finding Kokako. Later in the day we plan on stopping at Whakamaru Dam, for waterbirds and perhaps a rarity such as Caspian Tern. Night in Taupo
Day 7 - Tongariro and Turangi
Today we visit Tongariro National Park with its spectacular series of snow-capped volcanoes including Ngauruhoe (Used for “Mt Doom” in the Lord of the Rings movies). We stop along the Tongariro River to look for the rare and declining Blue Duck (or “Whio”)—a highly specialized endemic of NZ’s mountain rivers. Depending on time we can check out a few forest and alpine trails in the park. Night in Palmerston North
Day 8 – Waikanae and Ferry Crossing to South Island
We start off the morning by heading to the west coast of North Island and checking out wetlands and shorebird hotspots such as Waikanae and the Manuwatu estuary. We then head to Wellington for the Interisland Ferry across the Cook Straight Crossing to Picton during which we are likely to see another fine array of seabirds and perhaps whales and dolphins. Night in Picton.
Day 9 - Marlborough Sounds
We take a morning cruise through the magnificent Marlborough Sounds, looking for Fluttering and Sooty Shearwaters, White-fronted Terns and especially New Zealand King Shag, a highly endangered species. Hector’s Dolphins occur here also. We may stop at Motuara Island and bird the ancient woodlands there for South Island Saddleback, New Zealand Robin and Bellbirds. Night in Picton.
Day 10 - Across the Southern Alps to Westport
We leave Picton and head southwest across the Southern Alps to the west coast. We’ll be making a few stops along the way to look for birds and to take in the stunning mountain scenery. Night in Westport.
Day 11 - Down the West Coast to Franz Josef
The next day we'll be driving south from Westport stopping at the seal colony (if we didn't visit the night before) then heading to Punakaiki to check out the famous pancake rocks. This location can get very busy with tourists so we'll aim to arrive early. From here we'll make our way down the stunning west coast highway to Hokitika where we'll stop for lunch (a great place to buy local jade jewellery). After lunch we'll make our way to Franz Josef where we'll get settled at our accommodations before heading off on an optional tour to find the rarest of the Kiwi species the Rowi or Okarito Brown Kiwi. Night in Franz Josef.
Day 12 - Franz Josef Glaciers and Haast Pass
We plan to visit Franz Josef Glacier this morning and then take a short walk in the swamp forest along Ship Creek as well as Fox Glacier and its awesome scenery. We travel today along the coast of the Tasman Sea whose isolated beaches and old-growth tree-fern forests give us a taste of what the rest of New Zealand might have looked like before human settlement, and then through the beautiful mountain forests of Haast Pass where, time permitting, we may take a short walk or two. Night in Wanaka.
Day 13 - Around Twizel
We spend the day in the Twizel area, a land of rivers, lakes, marshes, and inland deltas. We look for one of the world’s rarest shorebirds—the Black Stilt, as well as the unique Wrybill (the only bird with a bill bent sideways—always to the right!). If we have a clear day, then we should enjoy views of towering Aoraki (Mount Cook)—the highest peak in Australasia. Night in Wanaka.
Day 14 – Travel to Te Anau via Mount Aspiring National Park
We leave the Wanaka area and travel through the bustling tourist capital of Queenstown (the “Banff of New Zealand”), nestled along the shores of mighty Lake Wakatipu, the scenery dominated by the aptly named ‘Remarkables’ mountain range. Further north of Queenstown we explore the tiny settlements of Glenorchy and Paradise where we have lunch and a birding stop in scenic Mount Aspiring National Park. Forest birds like Long-tailed Cuckoo, Yellow-crowned Parakeet, and the always sought-after Mohua (Yellowhead) are possible, along with many others. We then drive to Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park. This is a spectacular park – unrivalled mountain vistas, enormous glaciers, wild rivers, lowland podocarp forests, alpine flora of daisies and buttercups, and superb silver beech forests. We spend two nights in this charming area. Time permitting we could take an optional afternoon walk along start of Kepler track at south end of Lake Te Anau. Night in Te Anau
Day 15 - Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound
We travel the famous Milford Road past superb meadows, forests, and boulder fields through the Upper Hollyford Valley, stopping at Monkey River to look for Blue Duck if we haven’t already found this species, and in high altitude rocky basins for the famous Kea and the rare and declining NZ Rock Wren. We pass through the Homer Tunnel and descend to iconic Milford Sound (technically a fjord). In the afternoon, we board a comfortable vessel where we cruise out to the Tasman Sea, passing mile-high rock walls, spectacular waterfalls, as well as rocks in the ocean which belong to different tectonic plate. We have opportunity for Fiordland Crested Penguin, which can sometimes be seen loafing along the rocky shoreline of the fjord. Night in Te Anau.
Day 16 – Ferry to Stewart Island and Kiwi excursion
We drive from Te Anau to Bluff. From here we take the 1 hour Ferry to Oban on Stewart Island for a two-night stay. This Ferry ride is a great opportunity to view large numbers of seabirds including several Albatross species and Diving-Petrels. Upon arrival, the rich native plant and bird life should be evident even around our accommodation in Oban—especially the raucous and inquisitive Kaka (parrot) whose silvery-white crown and flashy pink underparts make it an instant fan-favourite among visitors to Stewart Island. In the evening, we will take a 45 minute boat trip to a remote beach to look for Stewart Island Brown Kiwis (largest of the kiwis) with a chance at hearing or seeing other night birds and critters. This is always a wonderful and memorable experience. Night in Oban/Halfmoon Bay
Day 17 - Ulva Island and Stewart Island Pelagic
We take a water taxi to the small offshore island of Ulva, a predator-free island with numerous endemic birds – Weka, Red-crowned Parakeet, NZ Fantail, Pipipi, Tui, South Island Saddleback, the Stewart Island race of New Zealand Robin, perhaps even the highly endangered Mohua (Yellowhead). After lunch we will take a half-day pelagic cruise out around the muttonbird islands to the east of Stewart Island. This area provides a wonderful feeding ground for a variety of pelagic birds including several species of Albatross, Petrel, Diving-Petrels and Prions. There is also a good chance of finding the much sought after Fiordland Crested Penguin. If we were rained out the previous night, we will reschedule the kiwi exploration for tonight. Night in Oban/Halfmoon Bay.
Day 18 - Ferry to Bluff, the Catlins and Dunedin
After breakfast, we take the ferry back to Bluff, and travel the scenic southern route through the Catlins region—famous for its lush beech forests, hidden waterfalls, and wild Pacific coastline - to Dunedin. Night in Dunedin.
*Depending on the weather the previous day, we may reschedule our half-day pelagic after breakfast before taking the ferry back to Bluff.
Day 19 - Albatross and Penguins on the Otago Peninsula
Today we travel along the scenic Otago Peninsula to visit the Taiaroa Head—the site of the World’s one and only mainland albatross colony! The Royal Albatross is the second largest albatross in the world, boasting a wingspan of 3 meters! As we watch the colony we should also get great looks at both Stewart Island and Spotted Shags (endemic cormorants). From there we’ll travel a short distance to take a guided hike to the nesting sites of the largest penguin species north of the Subantarctics—the scarce endemic Yellow-eyed Penguin. Here also is the World’s smallest penguin—the aptly named Little Penguin. Night in Dunedin
Day 20 - Birding around Dunedin, Flights home
We have the morning free before we catch our mid-afternoon flights from Dunedin to Auckland and on to International destinations. We’ll aim to check out a few local birding spots to round up any species we may have missed. Alternatively we may visit the botanical gardens or carry out some sight-seeing in Dunedin itself. Thus our incredible New Zealand birding tour draws to a close and we head home after such an amazing experience.