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26 October–18 November 2023

Join us on this incredible tour as we visit North, South and Stewart Islands in search of such sought-after species as Blue Duck, Wrybill, Kea, three species of penguin, all five kiwi species and the critically-endangered Black Stilt. We will also take one of the world’s most famous pelagic trips out of Kaikoura, where we will be surrounded by albatrosses and a myriad of other seabirds – an unforgettable experience.

Days 1–2 Overnight flight from London via Singapore with late evening arrival in Auckland. Unfortunately, day two is mostly lost because of the 11-hour time difference but we do regain it on the way home! If you wish to travel out a day or two early so that you will be rested before the tour starts this can be arranged. Overnight in Auckland.

Day 3 This morning we will meet our New Zealand guide and begin our birding in a forested area near to central Auckland. Here we will be introduced to some of New Zealand’s forest species such as the North Island subspecies of Tomtit, New Zealand Pigeon and Grey Fantail. We will then head to a spot on the rugged west coast to one of New Zealand’s three mainland Australasian Gannet colonies. Superb views and photographic opportunities exist here, and we will also look for other common coastal species such as Pied Cormorant. Next, we will head for several wetland areas on the east coast to look for New Zealand Scaup, New Zealand Grebe, Grey Teal, Australian Shoveler, Pacific Black Duck, Paradise Shelduck and other water birds. We will also spend some time looking for Buff-banded Rail in likely mangrove habitat. Continuing northwards, we will head for Kerikeri, where we will check into our accommodation and rest before our post-dinner walk to look for North Island Brown Kiwi. Overnight in Kerikeri.

Day 4 This morning we will head east to a small estuary which is one of the last places in which to see the critically-endangered davisae race of Australian Fairy Tern (currently only about 30–40 birds). Other waders we should see here include Red-breasted Dotterel, Black-winged Stilt and several Arctic migrants. Depending on time and whether we have been successful in finding Australian Fairy Tern, we may also check some estuarine areas farther south. We will check some nearby areas for the New Zealand subspecies of Australasian Pipit and Australasian Grebe before heading south to our base for the next two nights in Warkworth.

Day 5 We will spend today out on the water in the beautiful Hauraki Gulf. Leaving from Sandspit, we will head out towards Little Barrier Island and chum at several locations nearby. The main focus of the day will be to locate the seabirds which are most easily seen in the northern part of New Zealand, such as the recently-rediscovered New Zealand Storm Petrel (jointly rediscovered by our leader in January 2003), Parkinson’s Petrel, Flesh-footed Shearwater and White-faced Storm Petrel. Our eyes will not just be on the lookout for birds, as this area is also excellent marine mammal habitat. Both Common and Bottle-nosed Dolphins are possible together with Bryde’s Whales occasionally. As the Hauraki Gulf is relatively enclosed, even in poor weather we should be able to get out and explore at least some of the area.

Day 6 Today we will head to one of New Zealand’s most incredible birding locations. Tiritiri Matangi Island is truly a gem in New Zealand’s conservation crown. A short ferry ride out to the island should give us a chance to see White-fronted Tern and possibly Parasitic Jaeger. Upon arrival we will be met and given information about the island by Department of Conservation staff. Once farmed, the island is now an open sanctuary that has been extensively replanted, with some areas of original forest remaining. We will focus on seeing all of the endemics on the island, with North Island Saddleback, Stitchbird, South Island Takahe, Brown Teal and Red-crowned Parakeet all on our wishlists. Other, more common forest birds such as New Zealand Fantail, Grey Gerygone and North Island Robin should all be seen and we will also wait for Spotless Crake to appear at one of the small ponds. After dinner we will head out to look for Morepork and, hopefully, Little Spotted Kiwi. Tuatara, an endemic reptile related to the dinosaurs, is also present on the island and we will spend time looking for this while probably bumping into the odd Little Penguin. The night will be spent in accommodation on the island, this being limited to a communal bunkhouse with bunk beds in shared rooms. Although rustic, the experience is well worth it and not to be missed. We will take overnight bags with minimal gear. Bedding will be provided but, due to the shared nature of the accommodation, remember to bring some nightwear! If you wish to opt out of this, we can arrange overnight accommodation on the mainland and pick you up next day.

Day 7 Getting up early this morning will allow us to hear the dawn chorus before we leave Tiritiri Matangi mid-morning and head south to one of New Zealand’s premier wader sites – the world-renowned Miranda in the Firth of Thames. The Firth of Thames is listed under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international significance. We will check into our accommodation near Miranda and then head to the Miranda Shorebird Centre for information on the latest sightings before heading out to see what’s around for ourselves. We are likely to see Wrybill, Red-necked Stint, South Island Oystercatcher and Caspian Tern. During the summer months there are usually a few of the less common waders that visit our shores, such as Sharp-tailed, Pectoral, Marsh and Terek Sandpipers, and we will be on the lookout for these and other vagrants. Wader watching in this area is largely dependent on the tides, so we will be working around the high tide. We may also visit other nearby areas if time permits. Overnight near Miranda.

Day 8 The early risers among us will no doubt be up to have another quick look at the waders around Miranda before we all head across the Coromandel Peninsula to Whitianga. This afternoon will be spent out on a pelagic, specifically to target Pycroft’s Petrel which breeds on nearby islands, but it also gives us a second shot at all the northern breeding seabirds. We can expect to see Buller’s and Little Shearwaters and Grey-faced and Cook’s Petrels. Whitianga is where the first sighting that sparked the rediscovery of the New Zealand Storm Petrel was made in January 2003, so who knows what we may find! We will aim to be back in port in the late evening so that we have the opportunity to see Pycroft’s Petrels rafting up before heading to their breeding colonies in the evening. Overnight in Whitianga.

Day 9 Today we will head back across the Coromandel Peninsula, making several quick stops including one at a swamp to look for Australasian Bittern and other waterfowl. However, our main focus for the day is the Pureora Forest Park to the west of Lake Taupo. This extensive area of forest is one of the best places on the North Island to see the North Island subspecies of New Zealand Kaka, Long-tailed Koel and Shining Bronze Cuckoo among other, more common forest species. We will then head to Turangi in the early evening for an overnight stay.

Day 10 This morning we will concentrate our efforts around Turangi, looking for our most extraordinary waterbird – Blue Duck. Inhabiting swift-flowing mountain streams, these birds have declined markedly, even at sites where they were reliable only a few years ago. There are really only a handful of locations at which they can be seen without major hikes, and we will visit several locations to give us our best chance of watching these remarkable birds. We will then head east to a forested area between Taupo and Napier. As this is an intensively managed site where introduced mammals are controlled and fauna and flora have been able to flourish, we are likely to see more forest birds here than at other locations on the North Island. North Island Kokako has been reintroduced and we should have a chance of seeing this as well as Whitehead and Rifleman. New Zealand Falcon is also in this area and we will spend some time looking for this species. We will then head down to Napier, where, if time permits, we will check out an estuarine area for waders, or several wetland areas for waterfowl and other species. Overnight in Napier.

Day 11 Our focus for the morning will depend on what we have or haven’t seen to date. Options include visiting locations to look for waders, waterfowl and Australasian Bittern, having a second go at some forest species or taking it easy and heading slowly across to the Manawatu Estuary. This is one of the best sites in New Zealand for watching waders as the birds here are often very confiding, so we should get some great views of Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot and Variable Oystercatcher. Depending on the state of the tide and what’s around at the time, other birds like Pacific Golden Plover, Curlew Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone may also be present. Overnight in Foxton.

Day 12 Depending on tide times, we will call into the Manawatu Estuary again this morning. We will then head south along the scenic Kapiti Coast towards Wellington, making several stops on the way to see Black-fronted Dotterel and waterfowl. The inter-island ferry leaves from Wellington and heads across the Cook Strait to the South Island. The relatively stable platform of the ferry makes this an excellent body of water to scan for seabirds, with approximately half of the three-hour trip spent on open water in the Cook Strait. Spotted Shag and Fluttering Shearwater should be seen, while Common Diving Petrel and Little Penguin are often seen near the entrance to the Marlborough Sounds, and the latter often in the calmer, enclosed waters of the Sounds. Less common seabirds are often seen within this stretch of water, as are dolphins, so it is well worth being on the lookout. The ferry docks in Picton, where we will spend the night.

Day 13 Today we will head out onto the Marlborough Sounds, further exploring Queen Charlotte Sound. Our main target for the morning is the New Zealand King Shag, a rare endemic with a population of only about 650 birds. We will also be looking out for New Zealand Fur Seals and two dolphin species – the endangered endemic Hector’s Dolphin and the more common Dusky Dolphin. We have the opportunity to make stops at two small island sanctuaries where we will try for Orange-fronted Parakeet, South Island Saddleback and New Zealand Bellbird. We will grab some lunch back in Picton before heading south towards Kaikoura, stopping to visit a coastal area to search for waders along the way. There are generally Double-banded Plover, Black-billed Gull and sometimes other vagrant shorebirds here. A brief stop on the scenic coast just before Kaikoura will enable us to ‘forecast’ sea conditions for the following day’s pelagic trip. If time allows we will check the surrounding areas for the introduced Cirl Bunting and, after dinner, we will head out to look for the introduced Little Owl on neighbouring farmland. The once sleepy, but now bustling, town of Kaikoura will provide our base for the next two nights.

Day 14 It’s fair to say that this morning’s pelagic trip out of Kaikoura will almost certainly be the highlight of the tour for many people. Due to the depth of the Kaikoura canyon just offshore, we will be in water 4000m deep within just half an hour, allowing our boat to get in amongst the seabirds and give us stunning close-up views. Although the species list varies throughout the year, in any season we can expect to have at least three species of albatross as close as 1.5–2 metres away; the possibilities include Northern and Southern Royal, Antipodean, Black-browed, Campbell, White-capped and Salvin’s Albatrosses. Add in Cape Petrel, Westland and White-chinned Petrels, Northern Giant Petrel and the endemic Hutton’s Shearwater, which breeds in the spectacular mountains behind Kaikoura, plus the potential for other species like Southern Giant Petrel and Short-tailed Shearwater, and you have the makings of a truly unforgettable morning. The area is also renowned for Dusky and Hector’s Dolphins, and we may see these during our time on the water. The afternoon will be at leisure, giving us time to indulge in a range of optional activities such as another pelagic trip, whale watching (Sperm Whales are present year round), swimming with dolphins or just relaxing and enjoying the scenery. Note that any activities (other than the latter) undertaken this afternoon are not included in the cost of the tour.

Day 15 Our journey today will take us deep into the Southern Alps through some exceptionally scenic alpine areas to our overnight destination close to Arthur’s Pass. We will make several stops along the way to break up the journey, including a stop at an estuarine area where we will look for waders and terns. We may be lucky enough to find one of the most beautiful tern species – the Black-fronted Tern – which breeds nearby. Our main target bird for the day will be Kea, which we should be able to find near to Arthur’s Pass itself. We should also catch up with some of the South Island’s forest species, such as Pipipi and South Island Robin, before checking in to our accommodation. After dinner we will venture out to listen for Great Spotted Kiwi, which is occasionally heard nearby.

Day 16 This morning we will head up and over Arthur’s Pass and on to the stunning west coast. Once again our day’s itinerary will be dictated by our previous successes: we may head to forested areas to look for some of the South Island endemics; we may focus on the South Island subspecies of Fernbird and Weka; or we may visit some alpine areas to look for Kea while enjoying the views and making stops to take photos. Nearing our overnight destination (the town of Franz Josef), we may visit the glacial valley to admire views of the Franz Josef Glacier or head out to the coast to see Great Egret (modesta) and Royal Spoonbill in coastal lagoons. As we will be out late this evening, we will try to arrive at our accommodation in the late afternoon for a rest. After dinner we will head out to look for Okarito Brown Kiwi, the rarest of the three brown kiwis with an estimated only 400 birds remaining.

Day 17 Depending on how late we were out last night, we will head south towards the township of Haast, stopping at one or two places on the way. From Haast we will head inland through some spectacular mountain scenery to pay a visit to Haast Pass. This site is home to a number of forest species and has, in the past, held the endangered Yellowhead. More recently, the species has been very hard to find here, with the population struggling to hold its own against introduced predators. However, the site is also good for Yellow-crowned Parakeet and the South Island subspecies of Tomtit. We will stay as long as we can in this amazing forest before driving through to the beautiful lakeside town of Wanaka, our base for the night.

Day 18 Today will involve a fair bit of driving, but we will be passing through some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery en route to Milford Sound. Our primary goal for today will be to make a stop in alpine habitat for New Zealand Rockwren, one of the world’s most primitive passerines and related to the more common Rifleman. The day’s stops will largely be dictated by weather and our success with New Zealand Rockwren, which is not possible anywhere else on our journey. Although the day will be spent in stunning scenery anyway, if time permits we may head through to Milford Sound to view it from the shore. Overnight in Te Anau.

Day 19 Our destination today will be the third main island of New Zealand – Stewart Island. We aim to catch the ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island late this morning. There are options for stopping along the way, but it is likely that we will head straight through to Bluff to meet the ferry. The van will stay in a secure car park in Bluff while we board the ferry as foot passengers, with an overnight bag and the things we will need for our two nights on Stewart Island. Depending on the sea and weather conditions, the one-hour ferry crossing can be excellent for seabirds, with Mottled Petrel, Fairy Prion and Brown Skua among our likely sightings. We should also see Foveaux Shag either as we leave Bluff or when we arrive at Stewart Island. Upon arrival we will check into our accommodation and should be able to see the South Island subspecies of New Zealand Kaka and Tui around the township of Oban before heading to the nearby Ulva Island via water taxi. Ulva Island is another predator-free sanctuary and is home to some of the South Island specialities we may still need. Back in Oban we will have dinner and then head out to search for Southern Brown Kiwi – an unforgettable experience!

Day 20 Today’s plan is to do a pelagic off Stewart Island, but this is one part of the world in which you don’t want to be caught out by the weather. Therefore, we will head out to see what we can find, but the distance and direction of travel will depend entirely on the weather. If we hit it right, the results can be stunning. In such close proximity to the Southern Ocean, and with large seabird colonies on many of the surrounding islands, we should be able to find an excellent array of seabirds. Particular target species include Fiordland and Yellow-eyed Penguins and Broad-billed Prion. Other, more common species we will almost certainly see are Sooty Shearwater and Silver (Red-billed) Gull. Almost any vagrant Southern Ocean seabird is possible, and we will be keeping our eyes peeled for storm petrels and other albatross and petrel species. Depending on our success with Southern Brown Kiwi last night, and the possibility of cancellation due to weather, we may head out again after dark tonight as a back-up.

Day 21 We will leave the amazing Stewart Island on this morning’s ferry, hoping to catch up with a few more seabirds as we head to Bluff. We will then drive northwards towards Oamaru, taking in the very scenic Catlins Coast. This coastal section is renowned for its scenic views and rough, weather-beaten coastline. During a stop at one of the beaches along the way, we will search for the endemic Hooker’s Sealion, which is often found in this area. We will also stop at several other places en route to admire the scenery and look for forest birds. One of these stops will be at a beach to look for Yellow-eyed Penguins coming ashore. Depending on the weather and prevailing winds, seabirds may also be passing along the coast, with Otago Shag being possible. Overnight in Oamaru.

Day 22 Today’s journey takes us inland to one of the driest parts of the South Island – the arid Mackenzie Basin. With stunning glacial till-coloured lakes, mountains and red tussocks, the scenery and birds will be amazing. The focus of our day is the world’s rarest wader – Black Stilt. With a population of only around 100 wild birds, this is a species which has a considerable conservation effort invested in it. Depending on our luck, we may find the birds fairly easily at our first stop or they may make us work for it. Along the way we will also make stops for the introduced Chukar and waterbirds including Great Crested Grebe, Eurasian Coot (both of subspecies australis), and the ever-difficult Baillon’s Crake (affinis). On a clear day we should also have views of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook (Aorangi). Overnight in Omarama.

Day 23 Our journey northwards towards Christchurch will take us through agricultural country before we hit the coast and cross a large number of braided rivers that flow from the majestic Southern Alps to the sea. We may make stops here or at several coastal lagoons before arriving in Christchurch. We will then take an internal flight back to Auckland to connect with our international flight back to the UK arriving on day 24.

General Information The climate can vary from cold in the mountains on South and Stewart Islands to warm on the North Island with rain to be expected at any time. There will be a moderate amount of walking, mainly on good terrain. There are no special medical requirements and insects are not a major problem except for sandflies in one or two places. E-visas are required for most nationalities and cost around £6. Distances are quite long, but the roads are good and driving is relaxed, with plenty of opportunities to stop. Accommodation standards are good, with all motel and lodge rooms having en-suite facilities except on Tiritiri Matangi Island where there is a bunkroom with shared facilities. Expect to see around 155 species including 65 endemics and 25–30 species of seabirds.

Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 8 with 1 leader.

Southern Brown Kiwi

Southern Brown Kiwi

Recommended books available from NHBS