- Lots of very special and unique birds and wildlife, including kiwis, penguins, parrots, superb seabirds, astonishing Tuis and Kokakos, and the bizarre shorebird, the Wrybill!
- Boat-trips to predator-free islands with numerous endemic birds
- World class pelagic trip off Kaikoura
- Pelagic cruise off Stewart Island
- Spectacular scenery from snow-capped mountains to rugged coastlines and volcanically active highlands!
- Visit several National Parks including Fjordlands, Mount Aspiring and Tongariro
New Zealand – a land of remarkable and spectacular landscapes, from volcanoes and hotsprings to steep, deep fjords, snow-capped mountains and huge glaciers. The flora and fauna of these islands are equally remarkable and unique. Over 40 endemic bird species occur on the main islands, including quintessential New Zealanders – the Kiwis, those flightless, wingless, long-beaked ground-dwellers after which New Zealanders are named.
There are amazing birds here – New Zealand wrens and wattlebirds including the endangered Kokako, Saddlebacks and Stitchbirds, the world’s rarest penguin – Yellow-eyed, the inquisitive parrot the Kea, flightless Takahe, the scarce Blue Duck, the remarkable Wrybill – surely one of the strangest of shorebirds, the critically endangered Black Stilt, as well as diverse seabirds – albatrosses, shearwaters, storm-petrels, petrels. New Zealand is a land of ancient conifers, magnificent Kauri Pines so important in naval history, Southern Beech forests, magical rainforests of huge podocarps, splendid Tree Ferns, and fields of endemic sub-alpine shrubs and alpine flowers.
Our New Zealand birding tour takes in both North and South Islands, and offshore Stewart Island, each with its own special attractions and natural wonders, from rugged Fjordland National Park, Milford Sound and splendid Mount Cook in the south to the volcanically active central highlands, thermal geysers and primeval forests in the north.
Day 1 Travel to Tutukaka
Our New Zealand birding tour begins today and we will meet at 3 pm in Auckland to drive north to the seaside town of Tutukaka. Our guide can collect you at the airport or at the hotel where we have booked participants wanting pre-tour nights. This is about a 3 hour drive and we will not be stopping to bird along the way so that we can arrive in Tutukaka and rest up for the next day. We’ll have plenty of time for birding on the rest of the tour! Night in Tutukaka.
Day 2 Optional pelagic birding trip
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.
The pelagic departs about 7 am and returns in the late afternoon. If a full-day pelagic is not of interest, you can do some walking and exploring of the beautiful town and beaches of Tutukaka. Lunch on your own if you are not on the pelagic.
Our group will gather again for dinner this evening and discuss the adventure ahead. Night in Tutukaka.
Day 3: Trounson Kauri Park
We will leave the hotel after breakfast and check the immediate area for Reef Heron. We will then make our way towards Dargaville for lunch with a stop or two along the way depending on recent bird sightings. We will proceed north after lunch and will scour the accommodation grounds for native eels and native birds (Grey Warbler and Silvereye). Trounson Kauri Park will be our destination in the evening to look for Morepork (owl), Weta (cricket) and North Island Brown Kiwi. Night in Trounson Kauri Park.
Day 4: 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 5: 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 6: 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 7: 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 8: 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 9: 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 10: 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 11: 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 12: 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 13: 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 14: 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 15: 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 16: 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 17: 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 18: 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 19: 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 20: 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 21: 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 22: 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.
Departures & Prices
Tour Price Includes
- Three Kiwi excursions included (weather permitting)
- All accommodations (Moderate to good quality hotels and lodges)
- All meals included
- Ferry, cruise and pelagic boat trips included
- Ground transportation
- Guides: 4 - 7 participants with one guide and vehicle, 8 - 12 with two guides and vehicles
Tour Price Does Not Include
- Travel to and from start/end location
- Travel Insurance
- Items of a personal nature
- Optional Pre-tour
What to Expect
What to Expect
The daily travel schedule on our New Zealand birding tour will vary to account for weather, tides, the previous night’s expeditions, bird species and travel times.
You can expect some early morning, pre- breakfast walks, as well as three optional evening forays to look for kiwis and possibly owls. Around noon, we stop for a picnic lunch at a scenic spot or stop for a sit down meal at a local restaurant. In the evening we relax at the hotel restaurant, or at a local dining place. At this time we discuss the day’s activities and review the list of birds and wildlife we have encountered. We will outline the events for the next day, preparing you for another round of excitement and discovery.
The tour will generally involve easy to moderate walking; two of the night-time forays will involve some steep trails, and walks of up to 4 kms. When at higher elevations, we keep our walking to a slow pace, doing most of our observation from the vehicle. In general, we keep all our nature study to a reasonable pace, maximizing the number of things we see and allowing enough time to properly enjoy them.
We have a number of long drives as we travel almost the length of the country, from Stewart Island off the south coast to Dargaville on North Island.
Our itinerary includes one open ocean pelagic trip as well as inshore cruises and a three-hour ferry ride between North and South Islands.
The weather will vary from warm to hot on North Island, to warm to cool on South Island; rain is likely, especially on the west and south coasts of South Island. The pelagic trip is likely to be cool, as are the night-time forays to look for Kiwis. It is best to dress in layers.
Even though we cannot guarantee a sighting of the animals below, we feel quite confident that an encounter with the ones listed below is quite likely.
- Over 60 endemics possible including: (Maori name in parentheses)
- North Island Brown Kiwi
- Okarito Brown Kiwi (Rowi)
- Great Spotted Kiwi (Roroa)
- Royal Albatross (Toroa)
- New Zealand Storm Petrel
- Yellow-eyed Penguin (Hoiho)
- Fiordland Crested Penguin (Tawaki)
- Blue Duck (Whio)
- New Zealand Falcon (Karearea)
- Black Stilt (Kaki)
- Saddleback (Tieke)
Past Tour Checklists
Past Tour Checklists
View the list of birds and other wildlife we encountered on our past tours.