South West Pacific Odyssey

This absorbing cruise starts in Tauranga, in northern New Zealand, and works its way north to New Guinea, stopping en route at many islands, including New Caledonia the Solomons. Expect to see both a slew of seabirds on the oceanic crossings and many endemic landbirds confined to these remote islands. The cruise will be on board Heritage Expedition’s extremely comfortable Spirit of Enderby, a recently renovated, ice-strengthened vessel.

Great seabirds come quickly on this cruise, with early possibilities of the spectacular New Zealand Storm-Petrel and Gray Noddy, as we search the seabird-rich Hauraki Gulf off of New Zealand. Chumming sessions should increase our chances for many more tubenose species. The trip to Norfolk Island might produce some quality pelagic species, such as Black-winged and Cook’s Petrels, while on the island itself we’ll target Norfolk Island Gerygone, Norfolk Island Parakeet, and Slender-billed White-eye. This tour is especially good for gadfly petrels, and as we continue north to New Caledonia, we may see multiple species like Tahiti, Providence, Kermadec, and Gray-faced Petrels. On New Caledonia, a cast of more than twenty endemic landbirds is headlined by Kagu, the only member of its family. Other targets include Southern Shrikebill, Red-throated Parrotfinch, and the odd, tool-using, New Caledonian Crow. The Solomon Islands will beckon us northward, and Rennell Island will be visible for much of the journey, during which we should see more seabirds, like Collared Petrel and Lesser Frigatebird. The latter will herald our arrival in the tropics. In the Solomons we will visit the islands of Rennell, Makira, Guadalcanal, and Kolombangara, targeting the archipelago’s many endemics (over 70 are found here), such as Rennell Shrikebill, Silver-capped and Claret-breasted Fruit-doves, Finch’s Pygmy-Parrot, Cardinal Myzomela, San Cristóbal Melidectes, Makira Flycatcher, Solomon Cockatoo, and Ultramarine Kingfisher.

Kagu; an endemic family treat on New Caledonia
Kagu; an endemic family treat on New Caledonia (Sam Woods)

Moving north into Papua New Guinean waters, off the Bismarck Archipelago, we will switch our attentions again to seabirds. The rare and local Beck’s Petrel and Heinroth’s Shearwater are major targets around the island of New Ireland. We are likely also to run into cetaceans as we journey northwards, with Spinner Dolphins and Melon-headed, Dwarf Sperm, and Sperm Whales all found in these waters.

Day 1: Tauranga, New Zealand
Arrive in Tauranga and transfer to the Spirit of Enderby. Settle into your cabin and join your expedition team and captain for a welcome aboard as we cruise north up the coast of New Zealand.

Day 2: Hauraki Gulf
Cruise past the Mokohinau Islands where we look for Grey Ternlet, Little Penguin, Grey-faced and Black Petrels, Little, Fluttering and Buller’s Shearwaters, and the recently rediscovered New Zealand Storm-Petrel.

Days 3 to 4: At Sea
Keen birders will want to spend time out on deck for a good chance of seeing Gould’s, Black-winged, Kermadec, White-necked, Black and Grey-faced Petrels and Wedge-tailed and Short-tailed Shearwaters. During the days at sea our specialists will provide an entertaining variety of lectures on the history, culture, marine mammals and birdlife of the region.

Day 5: Norfolk Island
Norfolk Island’s rugged coastline, golden sand beaches, lush native bush and fascinating history also offers us a chance for three endemics – the Norfolk Island Parakeet, Norfolk Gerygone and Slender-billed White-eye.

Day 6: At Sea
Bearing north, we’ll cross a large underwater seamount where you are most welcome to join the expedition staff looking for wildlife from the bridge of the Spirit of Enderby.

A Black-winged Petrel cuts through the air in close to the ship
A Black-winged Petrel cuts through the air in close to the ship (Lisle Gwynn)

Day 7: New Caledonia
We will visit the forests of the Rivière Bleue National Park searching for New Caledonian endemics such as the unique Kagu and highly range-restricted Crow Honeyeater as well as the Horned Parakeet, Cloven-feathered Dove, Yellow-bellied Robin and New Caledonian Imperial-Pigeon.

Day 8: The Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia
Enjoy a glimpse into the Kanak way of life, which retains its authenticity on this remote island. Our day’s activity should include snorkelling the lagoons and coral reefs, jungle walking, Zodiac cruising mangrove wreathed lagoons and meeting the locals. Birders will want to look for the two species which are only found on this island, the Large Lifou White-eye and Small Lifou White-eye.

Remote landbirds also feature heavily like this Pacific Robin on the Solomons
Remote landbirds also feature heavily like this Pacific Robin on the Solomons (Keith Barnes)

Days 9 to 10: At Sea
Two leisurely days at sea offer time to relax, sort through photos, catch up on reading and sleep. We will also keep a look out for Polynesian Storm-Petrel and an interesting range of marine mammals and flying fish.

Day 11: Santa Ana, Solomon Islands
We land expecting the full village welcome on the small coral island of Santa Ana, with colourful warriors, music and rhythmic dancing. Once formalities are completed, enthusiastic children will be keen to show off their home as they escort us around the village. Try snorkelling at the reef edge or just stretch the legs on a walk across the island to visit the other settlements or look for a new selection of exotic birds.

Day 12: Anuta Island in the Makira Group
Anchoring at Anuta for a morning ashore seeking out the Sooty Myzomela, San Cristobal Melidectes, San Cristobal Starling, Makira Flycatcher, Makira Cicadabird, White-Collared Monarch, Mottled Flowerpecker, White-headed Fruit-Dove and Chestnut-bellied Imperial-Pigeon. Later we will visit the idyllic Anuta Village.

The Solomons has other attractions besides the birds...
The Solomons has other attractions besides the birds... (Keith Barnes)

Day 13: Honiara
Birders depart early for nearby Mount Austin known for an exceptional list of endemics and localised specialities including Ultramarine Kingfisher, Blyth’s Hornbill, Solomon Islands Cuckoo-shrike, Chestnut-bellied and Black-and-white Monarchs, Steel-blue Flycatcher and Yellow-faced Myna. The later risers enjoy a tour of Honiara.

Day 14: Santa Isabel Region, Barora Fa Island, Poru Channel
Explore Santa Isabel and its surrounding islands, said to be amongst the most picturesque places in the Solomon Islands. We will Zodiac cruise through an amazing channel where the rainforest comes down to the water’s edge and should see a range of parrots and other wildlife, including a chance of Dugong. We plan to visit Vakao Island where there will be an opportunity to explore the verdant rainforest and look for some localised birds such as Red-capped Myzomela and Yellow-throated White-eye.

A Tahiti Petrel comes close to the deck
A Tahiti Petrel comes close to the deck (Keith Barnes)

Day 15: Kolombangara Island
Kolombangara’s Imbu Rano Conservation Area offers a walk through dense forest to view picturesque waterfalls and grottos. More endemic birds can be found here including Pale Mountain Pigeon, Duchess Lorikeet and White-capped Monarch. An afternoon sailing finds us scanning the sea for dolphins and hopefully the highly localised and rare Heinroth’s Shearwater.

Day 16: Shortland Islands
We call in at the rarely visited Shortland Islands which was a Japanese seaplane war-time base and will have the opportunity to see the impact of World War II on the remote atolls and local settlements.

Day 17: Off the coast of New Ireland
Cruising off the coast of New Ireland gives us our best chance of finding the recently rediscovered Beck’s Petrel as well as Heinroth’s Shearwater. This region can also be excellent for cetaceans and previously we have seen Melon-headed Whales as well as both Pygmy and Dwarf Sperm Whales.

Days 18: Kokopo/Rabaul, Papua New Guinea
After breakfast we will disembark the Spirit of Enderby and the expedition concludes.