Trip report: New Zealand 2018 by Tropical Birding

Guided by Lisle Gwynn. This was a custom tour.

New Zealand, or Aotearoa as the Maori call it, consists of two islands. The North Island is lush and green, sub-tropical and humid. The South Island, is not; it is a land of scree slopes and frigid snowy Alpine peaks, dank fern forests and storm-beaten Southern Ocean coasts. Both transport you to another world, in another time. Everything about this land is ancient and unique, featuring 3 endemic bird families, nearly 80 endemic bird species and a whole host of endemic-breeding seabirds. Of course many of these species are found on the subantarctic and subtropical islands surrounding the two main islands. This tour was arranged to compliment an expedition cruise that visited most of those islands and so served as a custom clean-up attempt to add as many extra endemics as possible.

Compared to a standard tour we focussed less on seabirds, as Sonia had seen them all in the weeks previous, and more on the mainland endemics which she was yet to see. We skipped pelagics at Kaikoura, as it would have added more time for no extra birds, but focussed more time as back-up in case we missed anything on our run-around. Attempting nearly every endemic in 12 days is quite some task and involved a lot of intense field days, little to no down time, late nights looking for kiwi, a lot of travel in the duller midday hours, and a whole load of fun. The general itinerary began with a visit to Stewart Island, then returned to the South Island visiting Te Anau, Milford Sound and the legendary Mount Cook, before crossing the mountains to the west coast and Okarito, then dashing back across the Southern Alps to Christchurch to fly to Auckland. On the North Island we visited the unbeatable Tiritiri Matangi sanctuary, a mainland Australasian Gannet colony at Muriwai and then travelled north via some important birds to Kerikeri for our fourth and final kiwi. We then travelled south again to Miranda Shorebird Reserve and finally visited Turangi to try for the bizarre Blue Duck. We birded hard and fast until the very last minute, racking up an impressive list and even more impressive given the relatively short duration of the tour. Nothing eluded us; quite remarkable.

New Zealand is one of my favourite countries to bird in. What it lacks in numbers, compared to the tropics, it more than makes up for in uniqueness and endemism. Almost everything you look at is endemic, and it’s an amazing feeling to experience. Add to that a whole host of exciting seabirds, several endemic bird families, some bloody good looking birds, THREE penguins and FOUR kiwis, as well as obscenely wonderful scenery, and you have the core ingredients for a truly epic birding adventure.

Click this link to view the full New Zealand trip report. (7MB PDF file)