Day 0 - Arrival in Auckland
Our pre-tour starts in Auckland at our hotel for a welcome dinner. Night in Auckland
Day 1 – Hauraki Gulf Pelagic
For those taking part in this pelagic trip, you are in for a treat! The list of potential seabirds is very impressive, with a multitude of albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels and storm-petrels. We have a chance to see endemic specialties like Parkinson’s Petrel, Cook’s Petrel, Pycroft’s Petrel, and Buller’s Shearwater. The most famous bird on this tour is the New Zealand Storm-Petrel which was only re-discovered in 2002 (presumed extinct since 1850). Predator eradication efforts on Little Barrier Island (now known to be their breeding site) have led to an increase in numbers and this means that we stand a good chance to see some today! There’s always a good chance for a variety of marine mammals.
Once back on land, we plan to have dinner at Warkworth, and then head back to our hotel in Auckland, arriving fairly late, and we will join the main tour at breakfast the following morning.
Main Tour Itinerary
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’ll stop at Blumine Island and bird the forest edge looking for Orange-fronted Parakeet and Yellowhead. After lunch, we drive to Kaikoura - world famous for its sea-life as the continental shelf is just over 1 mile offshore. This means you can expect a wonderful variety of seafood on the menu this evening, and it also means that there are a lot of seabirds out there on the waves! We’ll enjoy a casual evening on the waterfront, perhaps with an optional visit to the Point Keane seal colony where we may find Double-banded Plovers and Ruddy Turnstones foraging along the shoreline. Sometimes albatross are visible from shore and perhaps we’ll be able to see large rafts of Hutton’s Shearwaters—a Kaikoura endemic. Night in Kaikoura.
Day 10 - Pelagic birding
It’s albatross fiesta time! Kaikoura is touted by many as the pelagic capital of the world, so you can expect to see a variety of seabirds at close-quarters today including the massive Wandering Albatross, with a wingspan of 3.5m! In addition to the albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels, and penguins we might encounter, there is a chance we might see marine mammals including several dolphin species and even a Sperm Whale or two! In the afternoon, we have an optional afternoon birding hike in nearby Fyffe/Palmer reserve, or perhaps out to the seal colony at Point Keane if we did not visit yesterday. Night in Kaikoura
Day 11 - Across the Southern Alps to Arthur’s Pass
We leave Kaikoura, and head south, stopping at a few coastal birding hotspots such as St Ann's Lagoon in Cheviot along the way where we may be able to add species like Cape Barren Goose, Far Eastern Curlew, and possibly Pacific Reef-Heron. We then head inland to spend the night at Arthur’s Pass.
Day 12 – Arthur’s Pass and Franz Josef Glacier
This morning we explore the alpine meadows and shaded forests of Arthur’s Pass National Park. This is a fantastic time of year for blooming flowers and the birding should be fun too with cheeky Keas stirring up mischief and the possibility of NZ Falcon and NZ Rock Wren in the area. We then head down to the coast and drive south to our overnight accommodation at Franz Josef Glacier. We will schedule an optional evening outing to Okarito to try to find the rarest of the kiwis, the Okarito Brown Kiwi (Rowi). Night in Franz Josef Glacier.
Day 13 - 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. 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 looking for Brown Creeper and Yellowhead. Night in Wanaka.
Day 14 - 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 15 – 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 16 - 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 17 – 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 18 - 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 19 - 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 20 - 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 21 - 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.