New Zealand

21 Days from
$10,795 CAD | $8,760 USD
Australasia
Land Tour
Highlights

Highlights

  • 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
Map

Map

Tour Overview

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.

Itinerary

OPTIONAL Pre-tour; Day 0 - Arrival in Auckland

Our pre-tour starts in Auckland at our hotel for a welcome dinner. Night in Auckland

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.

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

Black-billed Gull, New Zealand

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.

Gannet colony, New Zealand

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.

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.

Takahe, New Zealand

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.

Bar-tailed Godwits and Red knots, New Zealand

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.

Kokako

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.

Blue Duck New Zealand

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.

New Zealand

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.

King Shag New Zealand

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.

New Zealand Albatross

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.

Arthur's Pass

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.

Kea

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.

Boardwalk at Ship Creek New Zealand

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.

Wrybill

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.

New Zealand

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.

Milford Sound New Zealand

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.

White-capped Albatross

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.

Fiordland Penguins, New Zealand

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.

Nugget Point

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

Spotted Shag New Zealand

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

What's Included

Tour 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 Does Not Include

  • Travel to and from start/end location
  • Travel Insurance
  • Items of a personal nature
  • Optional Pre-tour

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 evening forays to look for kiwis and possibly owls: evening ventures are optional. 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. 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. Our itinerary includes one open ocean pelagic trip as well as inshore cruises and a three-hour ferry ride between North and South Islands. 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.

Around noon, we stop for a picnic lunch at a scenic spot or stop for a sit down meal at a local restaurant. 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. 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.

Featured Wildlife

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)
  • Weka
  • Takahe
  • Black Stilt (Kaki)
  • Wrybill
  • Kea
  • Kokako
  • Saddleback (Tieke)

Past Tour Checklists

View the list of birds and other wildlife we encountered on our past tours.

Tour Reviews