New-Zealand


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Our journey from France to New-Zealand.  We returned home via the northern route.

If you want to go directly to the list of birds observed, please click here.

From 08 January to 09 February 2009 included.

This journey was organised by our association "Les Oiseaux Migrateurs", created after we had met in Mongolia and then travelled to Namibia. Our aim was to visit both islands, to get better acquainted with the Maori culture and to learn more about the birds of this country which is for us, the most distant place in the world. We were a party of 8 people.  As we also had to bring our luggage, it was impossible for us to travel in 2 ordinary cars.  We had therefore rented, from France, a normal car plus a van, both equipped with a GPS device, which we found very useful in cities or remote places.  The best rates were found with Rentadent, and Cathay Pacific offered a reasonable rate for their flight to Auckland, provided we made our reservation a year ahead.  We had also made reservations through the net with Interislander for the ferry crossing between the two isles.

We booked various visits and shows through the Internet, which we didn't need to have done but we thought it was better to play it safe.

We had booked our hotels six months ahead through Nouvelles-Frontières, a travel agency in Angers, France.  We had asked for good hotels, which didn't mean we wanted anything luxurious and all these hotels met our expectations. If you want to visit large cities, ask the hotel if they can reserve a place for your car in their car-park.  



Masque maori

Figurehead of a Maori War canoe (Photo Danielle Joannès)


The journey
:

08 January 2009: Paris 

The temperature was minus 4°C in Paris and the fields were covered with snow but the seats in the first class compartment were comfortable and we were already anticipating the summer beneath our feet, on the other side of the earth.  We met part of our friends at Roissypôle where we were accommodated at the hotel Ibis.  The rooms are small and expensive but the airport is very easy to reach from the hotel.  


09-10 and 11 January 2009: Paris - Auckland via Hong-Kong

After 11 hours of a very calm flight, we landed in Hong-Kong at day-break the following day for an 8-hour stopover.  While we had our meal in a restaurant I spotted 2 Black-eared Kites flying by. I hadn't expected to see this species on this trip even if I had already seen in Mongolia.  We took a quick nap on the airport seats and then took another plane for a flight that was to last 10 h and 20 minutes to Auckland where we landed in the early morning, in the rain. We were somewhat disappointed because the landscape looked like Lorraine and we had expected a lot of sun.  It was just like home so far. 

11 January 2009: Auckland              

Arriving in New-Zealand was a bit of a nuisance.  We had had to fill in the biological control forms which aim at preventing all kinds of vegetal or animal pests to enter the New-Zealand territory.  We were tired, pressed by time, we had not read the forms very carefully and ticked the "no" box for each question about plants, drugs, weapons and animals.  In the middle of this heterogeneous list of things which we had said we didn't have with us, there were walking boots. We had skipped this item but the officer in charge was punctilious enough and threatened us with a 300 dollar fine.  He finally accepted to let us in after he had meticulously cleaned Danielle's boots.  I still don't understand why he totally ignored the ones I had on however.  Marie-Yvonne was also suspect because being a great traveller, her passport was full of official stamps. She was detained for half an hour, all alone, questioned in English and finally released as nothing could be upheld against her. So be careful when you fill in those administrative documents in the plane and answer neither "yes" nor "no" if you have the slightest doubt.  They'll open your cases and soon see if you are a terrorist or not. 

We waited for François and Huguette to arrive from Nouméa and in the meantime, we collected the cars we had rented and tried to familiarise ourselves with the automatic gearbox and driving on the left. I then decided to take a walk around the airport to catch a glimpse of the local avifauna.  The first birds I saw which had not been introduced from Europe were a Pacific Swallow and a Red-Billed Gull.  I was lucky because these 2 species are quite tame and I had plenty of time to watch them. 

Mouette argentee

Red-billed Gull (Photo Danielle Joannès)

Once our friends had arrived, we went to the Grand Chancellor Airport Hotel to leave our luggage and although we were very tired we drove off to visit the Auckland area.  We had decided to live normally in our new time zone as soon as possible but we thought a short trip to One-Tree Hill was enough for the first day.  I twitched my first Australian Magpies and Tuis.  I also saw a couple of California Quail, introduced there, close to a group of children playing in the grass. 

We had some trouble sleeping soundly during that first night because of the jet lag but we managed to get some rest all the same. 

12 January 2009: Auckland

We parked our vehicle in the middle of the city, in the car park of the famous Sky Tower from which a few young people, looking for thrills, sky dive hanging on some improved bungee.  

Sky tower

Sky Tower Auckland (Photo Danielle Joannès)

We enjoyed the view from the observatory and it was a lot of fun to look down at the street through the glass floor, some 200 meters below.  We then took a stroll along the waterfront and went to the War Museum. There is a Maori show on there but we found it was the least interesting of all those we were to see later on.  In the museum park, I twitched an Eastern Rosella.  Auckland is a large city but in spite of this, it is a pleasant place to live in.  The weather is mild and the city spreads its modern buildings all over the hills in the middle of the sea.  

Perruche omnicolore

Eastern Rosella (Photo Marie-Yvonne Ciaravola)


13 January 2009: Auckland - Paihia    
We drove off, heading north for the real beginning of our journey.  The scenery was different already and the roads were lined with tree ferns or agapantha flowers. From time to time we saw a Swamp Harrier flying slowly above us and huge New-Zealand Pigeons. We stopped for a while to visit the public restrooms at Kawakawa.  They are special because they were decorated by Hundertwasser, the Austrian artist.


 Toilettes Hundertwasser

The public toilets at Kawakawa (Photo Danielle Joannès)


After lunch, we had our first "Flat White", which is a cup of milk coffee often adorned with the drawing of a fern.  I also observed my first Pied Cormorants,  White-Faced Herons and  Purple Swamphens.  

The aim of the day was the 
Waitangi Treaty Centre, where the Maoris signed a treaty with the British in 1840.  In this very beautiful park, we saw many Tuis.  These birds sport a white tuft on their chests and their songs are just incredible for a European birdwatcher.  They are also highly visible which adds to the pleasure you have watching them.


Tui cravate-frisee

Tui (Photo Huguette Rambaud)


I also saw the Grey Gerygone, a much less conspicuous species, but we were first of all attracted by the Waikokopus, magnificent trees covered with red blossoms, which were already withering at such latitudes.  We were to see more of them, much more beautiful, in the South Island a few weeks later.  At the end of the day, we arrived at the 
Haruru Falls Resort Hotel in the Paihia area.  It was still early enough for me to find the Sacred Kingfisher and the Grey Fantail and then we went to bed.  The Kingfisher was perched on the top of a tree and was quite noisy while the Fantail was much more discreet but remarkable with its long fanned out tail.

 
14 January 2009: Paihia – Auckland          

I got up early to go bird watching near a beautiful waterfall not far from the sea but didn't see anything new.  Just before visiting a replica of a small Maori village near Kerikeri, I twitched the first of a long series of Masked Lapwings, and the Silvereye.  We crossed many beautiful hills covered with huge ferns then drove along a few mangroves and finally reached the Opononi sand dunes where we had our picnic in gorgeous surroundings. There I spotted a Tomtit and far out at sea, an Australian Gannet.  After lunch we went to Matakohe to visit the kauri museum.  This huge tree yields gum resin which is used to make jewels and all kinds of carved artifacts.  We were back in Auckland late in the afternoon.  

Dunes d'Opononi

Opononi (Photo Danielle Joannès)

15 January 2009Auckland – Mt Maunganui, near Tauranga
We wanted to visit an ornithological hotspot on that day and found it with our GPS, although with some difficulties.

The Miranda Shorebird Centre is located north of Miranda, west of Thames, in the Coromandel Peninsula. No need to go to the centre itself to see the birds because you can park your car on the side of the road 2 km south of it and watch them from this place. If you do go to the centre, follow the posts with the orange tops and walk for a good twenty minutes.  The visit is free but donations are welcome. Waders and gulls are usually there in good numbers.  We saw about 3000 Bar-Tailed Godwits flying over us and making a lot of noise and many Black-Winged Stilts but I was especially interested in the Variable Oystercatchers and Double-Banded Plovers.  


Huitrier variable


Variable Oystercatcher (Photo Marie-Yvonne Ciaravola)


I was also lucky enough to see a Red-Breasted Plover and a Wrybill.  There must have been others but we were short of time.  We left the coast and crossed the Coromandel Peninsula in its middle.  This was a lucky idea because the road which was lined with blue hydrangeas on either side soon became a gravel road that went through gorgeous sceneries. We stopped for a short time in the Waipoupa reserve but didn't really visit it because it looked too much like a zoo.  We had some fun when an unexpected visitor, a fearless New-Zealand Kaka, didn't hesitate one moment and landed onto our table to steal what food it could catch.  We spent an hour or so in Katikati to look at the murals painted on the house fronts depicting scenes of everyday life and then arrived in Tauranga where we shared a small suite in the hotel  Ambassador Motor Inn.  


16 January 2009
: Tauranga – Rotorua

The weather was nice so I got up early and took a stroll along a river.  A Grey Gerygone was flying from one Pohutukawa to another while a Sacred Kingfisher sang its typical song. Oddly enough, it was standing in the mud.  After breakfast we went to Te Puke where we visited a kiwi plantation and then reached Rotorua, a famous spa where we visited the museum close to the magnificent Government Gardens.  We experienced a mock earthquake, a remembrance of what happened in this place in 1886 and it was quite easy to imagine what it must have been like as we could smell the odour of sulphur everywhere around us.  I left my friends for some time and decided to go to the lake where I saw several Black Swans and New-Zealand Scaups

Cygne noir

Black Swan (Photo Huguette Rambaud)

It was very easy to get near the many Purple Swamphens foraging on the lawns near the lake but I had to hurry to meet the rest of the party at St-Faith church.  This is a very beautiful Maori church, standing out in the middle of fumaroles and wooden statues pulling out their tongues, as usual.  As it is situated on the edge of the lake, I also saw Little Pied Cormorants and a Little Black Cormorant. After that, we visited the town, going from boiling sources to sulphurous steaming places.   We had walked a lot so we all the more enjoyed eating the huge steak which we roasted ourselves on a white hot stone before going to the Kingsgate Hotel.

17 January 2009Rotorua     

We were the first to enter the Waimangu Volcanic Valley and we could therefore film, take pictures or just watch all the volcanic and geological phenomena  of this area without being disturbed by anyone.  Just like the day before, we could smell the odour of sulphur and the steam emitted by all these boiling spots gave the scenery a very peculiar atmosphere.  We felt as if we were visiting some dantesque hellhole.  We had to walk for about 4 km before we reached a lake where we took a bus to return to the entrance but it didn't seem very long because there were so many things to see.  As for birds, I heard numerous Chaffinches and other many species introduced from Europe and I also saw a few California Quail which had apparently well adapted to their new country.  

Colin de Californie

California Quail (Photo Marie-Yvonne Ciaravola)

Back in Rotorua, we visited the site of Te Puia where we admired the geysers which reminded me of Yellowstone Park in the USA. The one named "Pohutu" is undoubtedly the most spectacular. 

Geyser Rotorua

Pohutu Geyser (Photo Danielle Joannès)

Waimangu

Waimangu (Photo Danielle Joannès)

Several Silvereye and Pied Cormorants flew above the place.  We were also able to watch Brown Kiwis but unfortunately, they were captive birds. These birds feed at night and the only possibility to see them in the wild is to go out with a party of birdwatchers and we didn't have enough time to do this. In the afternoon we were invited to the welcome ceremony of the Maoris who also presented us with an excellent show and, of course, the haka was the highlight of this performance.  We didn't eat at the hotel on that day because we had paid for a hangi, a traditional Maori meal including meats and vegetables cooked in an underground oven on hot stones.  We'll remember this meal for a long time.  Many organisations put on such performances but they are not all very good.  We chose Mitai and were pleased with it. Among all the performances we saw, this show was the most comprehensive and it had the best quality-price ratio.  The bonus, compared with other shows, was the arrival of Maori warriors in a war canoe. We also took a walk in the woods at night to see glow-worms but there were too many of us and we frightened most of them away.   

18 January 2009:      Rotorua – Tongariro National Park near Whakapapa Village

The weather was overcast but the visit of the site of Wai-O-Tapu, near Rotorua was still very pleasant.  We walked for about 3 km on a real pressure cooker.  It was somehow impressive to know that the earth was boiling a few metres under our feet.  This actually didn't seem to disturb birds because we saw a Black-Winged Stilt walk about very calmly with its chick at the edge of a sulphurous lake and, not far away, I twitched my first Australasian Pipit.

We were disappointed with "Lady Knox" geyser after what we had seen the day before because it is triggered off artificially by a guard who pours a chemical product into its mouth.  We then went on to the "Huka Falls" and stopped for a windy picnic on the shore of Lake Taupo where we fed the Red-Billed Gulls before we left for the Skotel Alpine Resort which we reached late in the afternoon.  It was much cooler then because we were at an altitude of 1100 m.  We had no sooner put our luggage into our rooms when we went out for a two-hour walk in the alpine meadows and the forests.  We heard the melodious songs of Grey Gerygones all along the path and returned just before the rain that poured down heavily that night, not annoying us in the least.

19 January 2009: Tongariro National Park – Napier 

We left the mountains of Whakapapa National Park driving on a beautiful winding road going through hills covered with grass that the sheep seemed to enjoy. We had our picnic lunch between two showers and all along the road I saw several Swamp Harriers, Masked Lapwings, Australian Magpies, Common Redpolls and again a few Australasian Pipits

Cassican flûteur

Australian Magpie (Photo Marie-Yvonne Ciaravola)

We arrived in Napier late in the afternoon.  This city was rebuilt in the Art Deco style after the earthquake which destroyed it in 1930.  We had left the mountains and were now at the seaside and the weather was much warmer. From the Blue Waters hotel I saw Black-Billed Gulls and even an Australian Gannet but I knew I would see many more of them on the following day.  

20 January 2009: Napier 

We had booked a tour with Gannet Safari Tours in order to see the Australian Gannet colony.  We were taken there in a 4X4 bus on the grounds of a huge farm because this is a private site. The dust road goes up and down and the views on the rocky coast of Cape Kidnappers is just incredibly beautiful. Once on the spot, we wad plenty of time to observe from very near the colony of near 20,000 birds nesting there.  They were not very shy and flew only a few metres above our heads.   You can make them out from the Northern Gannet because of their black secondary remiges.  The chicks were fed by adult birds and the din was unbelievable.  Once we had left this place we visited a fruit plantation in the region of Hastings and then a wine estate. 

Fous austraux

Australian Gannets (Photo Huguette Rambaud)


21 January 2009: Napier – Wellington       

We drove further down south and as it was getting less and less warm, the landscape changed and Common Mynas were getting less common then. Tuis, however, were still as numerous.

Martin triste

 Common Myna (Photo Marie-Yvonne Ciaravola)

We had a picnic lunch at the Bruce Wildlife Centre where we could see, among other birds, the famous Takahe but it wasn't a wild bird in this conservation centre and the New Zealand Kaka we saw afterwards wasn't either.  We arrived in Wellington, the administrative capital, late in the afternoon.  We were accommodated at the Ibis hotel, which is beautifully located but we had some problem finding a car park as we hadn't reserved anything from France. 

GD

On the black sand beach in Napier (Photo Rosy Grillo)

22 January 2009: Wellington – Kapiti Island Wellington          

That day was devoted to birdwatching.  If you want to go to Kapiti Island, not far from Wellington, you have to get a permit from the Department Of Conservation and pay an entry fee.  You must also reserve your crossing, which we had done from France.  Once on the beach, we boarded a small boat placed on a trailer towed by a tractor which backed into the sea to put the boat in the water.   During this operation, I watched a few dozen White-Fronted Terns resting on the beach.  A quarter of an hour later, we set foot on this rocky forest-covered island.  We had decided to go to a point called Rangatira rather than to the north of the island where you can see mostly waders.  Before visiting the island, you have to listen to a guide briefing you about what or what not to do once you are on your own.  As Kapiti island has been freed of all unwelcome animals that might endanger endemic birds, you must also have made sure that no rodents have crawled into you backpack.  We started walking towards the top, at an elevation of 521 m, and took the steepest trail.  We soon came across a few birds.  The first of them was the Weka, always ready to steal some food.    

 

Rale weka

Weka (Photo Danielle Joannès)

We then saw a few Red-fronted Parakeets, Whiteheads and New Zealand Bellbirds.  A small black bird, very tame, landed near the path: it was a New Zealand Robin.  Everybody climbed at their own pace and little by little, the party split up.  François and Huguette caught up with us near a small table where we had our picnic lunch, which immediately attracted a Weka and a New Zealand Kaka. That cheeky bird landed on Danielle's back, then on François', hoping they would be frightened enough to drop some food.  They stoically resisted and didn't feed the bird which finally gave up, not before it had turned over the pages of my bird guide.   This is the place where you can find a sugared water distributor that attracts Stitchbirds and we did see them.  We then climbed toward the top of the mountain but the mist covered everything so we went down again.  Rosy and Marie-Claire were lucky enough to see a Saddleback when they came to the lower part of the path and Huguette and François saw a Takahe.  As a matter of fact, most birds can be found in the first part of the path to the summit, so don't worry if you don't make it to the top. Waiting for the boat to leave the island, we remained on the beach where we found many Kelp Gulls and a few Variable Oystercatchers.  

Goéland dominicain

Kelp Gull (Photo Marie-Yvonne Ciaravola)

We then drove back to Wellington, the well-named windy city, and enjoyed the view from the Marine Drive before returning to the hotel. 


23 January 2009: Wellington  
After breakfast we took the cable car to go to the Botanic Gardens.  The trees there are splendid, just like the flowers.  The gardens are worth seeing, if only because of a bed of hydrangeas which is a real beauty.  Close by, a Tui was emitting incredible sounds.  We then went to the Te Papa Museum to see the rooms about the history of the country, its nature and paintings.  This museum would have required more time to pay it full credit but we were in a bit of a hurry because we also wanted to see the Parliament buildings, especially the one built like a beehive.  We did some shopping, made a few photos of the city and the day was over.

24 January 2009Wellington – Picton - Nelson 

We got up at 5.30 a.m. to be at the harbour on time.  We had a boat to take because we were going to the South Island.  Reservations had been made with Ferry Interislander from France and we didn't want to be late.  

I had thought I would see many birds during the crossing of the Cook Strait which is a good 3-hour trip but it wasn't the case.  The wind blew very strongly and although I opened my eyes wide looking for petrels and other sea birds, I only saw a few Fluttering and Sooty Shearwaters, Australian Gannets and Spotted Shags.  Fortunately enough, when we reached the coasts of the South Island I saw 4 Fairy Prions, an Arctic Skua and a beautiful Little Penguin, very easy to determine because of its slaty blue colour.  We left the boat in Picton and took the Queen Charlotte Drive from which we had splendid views, all the more so as the weather was gorgeous.  

Queen Charlotte Drive

Queen Charlotte Drive (Photo Danielle Joannès)

On our way, I saw a Caspian Tern and a few New Zealand Pigeons.  We were accommodated at the Kingsgate Beachcomber Hotel but couldn't have dinner there because the restaurant is closed on Sundays.  We therefore went to the Hot Rock Gourmet Pizza Pasta Bar. I'd advise you not to go there!

 25 January 2009Nelson – Greymouth 


We were now driving towards the south of this island, on the west coast.  All along this road, we saw birds we had seen before: mainly Swamp Harriers, Purple Swamphens, Masked LapwingsAustralian Magpies and Tuis. Many roads were under construction, which slowed us down a little, but not the locals who still didn't mind speed limits.  We arrived at Cape Foulwind, in the Tauranga Bay, and saw many New Zealand Fur Seals swimming nimbly between the rocks and the heavy waves.  The sky and the sea were blue, there were fat plants and fern trees here and there and the whole scenery looked like a postcard.
 


Tauranga
Tauranga Bay (Photo Danielle Joannès)

At Punakaiki, we took some time to look at the blower holes through which the waves jumped at the sky and the "Pancakes", those layers of limestone that look like pancakes and make this site so famous.  We arrived at Greymouth at 9.30 p.m. and it was still daylight.  Once more, we had booked rooms in a Kingsgate hotel.

26 January: 2009: Greymouth – Franz Josef        

In the morning, we visited Shantytown, a replica of a gold mining town.  It is quite artificial, all right, but still pleasant to see.  I took some pleasure in learning how to pan for gold and I have learnt it is not that easy to separate gold from gravel.  I managed to find a few gold flakes and have kept them as a souvenir. We then followed the coastline down to Lake Ianthe where I saw a Little Black Cormorant and many other birds we had seen before.  In the area near Hari Hari however, I saw a new species, the Paradise Shelduck. The female is visible from afar with its white head but the drake sports duller colours, which is not often the case with ducks. We saw more and more Red Deer herds, raised for their meat which is exported all over the world, and finally made it to the glacier area.  The first of them was Franz Josef which we saw after we had taken a gravel road winding through tree ferns.  The contrast between the tropical vegetation and the glacier was astonishing.  We took a walk to get nearer and I saw a few more Grey Gerygones on our way.  After that walk, we went to the coast again and made a stop near Gillespie Beach.  I saw a parrot flying above us and it uttered its telltale cry: "Kea Kea".  This was my first contact with a Kea

It was raining softly when we arrived at the hotel bearing the appropriate name of  Rain Forest Retreat.  We had a very pleasant view on the lush vegetation and as I still had some time before dinner, I went out.  I had a close view of 4 Silvereye and a New Zealand Pigeon. I also heard other birds like the Eurasian Blackbird or Chaffinch but this was too much like home. 

Carpophage de NZ

New Zealand Pigeon (Photo Marie-Yvonne Ciaravola)

 27 January 2009: Franz-Josef Haast 
Just like for Franz-Josef Glacier, you must take a gravel road to reach Fox Glacier. This glacier is even more beautiful and you can have a second viewpoint from a site named Glacier View.  The weather wasn't very good but we nevertheless enjoyed the walk in the rain forest and we felt deep inside that we really were in a different country there.


Glacier Franz Josef

Franz Josef Glacier (Photo Danielle Joannès)


Near the glacier I spotted a few Common Redpolls and a Tomtit.  After a short walk, we drove on southwards and walked round Lake Matheson, which was very pleasant.  Not far from there I spotted about 20 Paradise Shelducks, a few Pacific Black Ducks, a New Zealand Bellbird, several Grey Gerygones and a White-Faced Heron.


Aigrette à face blanche

White-Faced Heron ((Photo Marie-Yvonne Ciaravola)


We had a very nice view of Mount Tasman from Lake Matheson where we had lunch.   


Mont Cook

Mount Tasman (Photo Danielle Joannès)


Further down south, towards Lake Paringa, we were annoyed by sandflies but I had expected something worse.  After Lake Moeraki, we went to the seaside again and saw a few New Zealand Fur Seals.  The waves were high, there was a lot of wind but in spite of that, the sky was blue.  In the distance I saw a few albatrosses and shearwaters but couldn't identify them correctly.  

Late in the afternoon we reached the World Heritage hotel, located in the middle of nowhere in the Haast region.  This hotel is surrounded with meadows where I saw Masked Lapwings, Double-Banded Plovers, Variable Oystercatchers, Purple Swamphens and, curiously enough, a bird which is usually found at higher altitudes in our part of the world, the Common Redpoll.  True enough, we were now deep in the south, which corresponds to the north of Europe. 

28 January 2009: Haast – Queenstown

We left the coast and drove inland through the Haast Pass and took the highest road in New Zealand near Cardrona.  Nothing new as for birds, the countryside or culture except that there were fewer and fewer Maoris who live essentially in the North Island. We arrived in Queenstown, a beautiful city on the edge of Lake Wakatipu where we saw a lot of Black-Billed Gulls and New Zealand Scaup.   

Queenstown

Queenstown (Photo Danielle Joannès)

This city is a favourite haunt of young people because this is the place for extreme sports, like bungee jumping for instance. We took a cable car to the summit of Bob's Peak from which we had a splendid view of the region.  Back down at the edge of the lake, we went to "Pier 19" where we had a good dinner.  We spent the night at the Mercure Hotel Resort, on a hill with a view on the lake.

29 January 2009: Queenstown – Te Anau                    

We went shopping in Queenstown in the morning because we needed a few souvenirs.  The weather wasn't very nice and it even rained a little.  Early in the afternoon, we drove towards Te Anau among hills covered with yellow grass dotted with a few green conifers and bushes.  A Great Crested Grebe was looking after its chick on the Te Anau Lake and I could also see the usual Little Pied Cormorants, New Zealand Scaup and Black-Billed Gulls.

We spent the night at the  Luxmore hotel.   

30 January 2009: Te Anau – Milford Sound 

We got up before 5 a.m. because we didn't want to miss the boat.  We had reserved a cruise on the Milford Wanderer and the winding road leading to the famous Milford Sound might have been congested. We also wanted to make the most of the marvellous sceneries all along the road.  Because of the latitude, the landscape was like Northern Europe.  We first stopped at Lake Mistletoe where we found a few Canada Geese, Silvereye, Grey Gerygones and Common Redpolls. We made another stop at Mirror Lakes where we saw Paradise Shelduck and Pacific Black Duck.  Of course, from time to time we had to brush away those pricking sandflies but they are part of the local fauna and we had to get used to them.  There were more of them in the splendid red beech rainforest which we visited following the Gunn Lake Nature Walk.  There were huge trees, covered with moss, some of them rotting standing or lying on the ground. We expected monsters to appear any time at the next curve, as if my magic. I spotted a Tomtit and a Rifleman and I heard other birds I had already seen singing in the canopy.  

We then drove up a pass where we stopped for a short while, being held up by a red light at the Homer tunnel.  This tunnel is over one km long and on no account does it meet European safety regulations.  It was bored directly into the rock, is not lit and goes down following a steep gradient to the other side of the mountain. As it is very narrow and because the road is in a poor state of repair, cars move in or out in turns to reduce risks.  Exhaust gases are not, or only poorly evacuated and you really feel like going to hell when you drive to Milford Sound.  Fortunately enough, once you are out, the scenery is just gorgeous and you are surrounded with high mountains covered with glaciers.  In the meantime, we waited and watched the 5 Keas which were as cheeky as the ones we had seen in the North Island. 

When we arrived in the fjord, we had lunch in the local restaurant and boarded the Milford Wanderer.  It is a nice two-master sailing boat but nevertheless equipped with an engine and the sails are there just to decorate the ship.  We had booked two cabins with bunks for four people and we were very surprised to see that we were the oldest passengers on board.  The cabins were very narrow and not very comfortable but we didn't care as we were closer to the sea than in a luxury boat and we experienced sensations we would never have felt in one of them. 

We soon set off and sailed along the steep cliffs of the fjord.  As it was drizzling, the clouds hid part of the summits of the mountains but the mist hanging on their slopes added a touch of mystery to the landscape. Hundreds of waterfalls swollen by the rain plunged into the sea.  We got as near to them as possible and those who remained on the deck were soon drenched.  We saw a few White-Fronted Terns, Black and Red-Billed Gulls, and New Zealand Fur Seals.  The boat docked in the middle of a quiet stretch of water and we spent the night aboard.


Milford Sound

Milford Sound (Photo Danielle Joannès)
  

31 January 2009: Milford Sound Te Anau  Invercargill                      

We did manage to get some sleep but the cabins were narrow and some parts of the boat were noisy.  In spite of that, we got out onto the deck to watch a young girl hoist the sails, just for the fun of it.  We sailed up the fjord as far as the open sea and the boat rocked more and more.  The weather was misty and there was little wind but in spite of that, the waves were 2 metres high and it was great fun to stand at the prow while the boat hit the water.  We imagined what it must be like to sail in this area when the wind really blows.  There were few birds in sight and the waterfalls were not as big then because it had stopped raining. 

We returned to the harbour and disembarked, ready for the rest of our programme. We drove up to the Homer tunnel again and when we came out of it, a Kea was waiting for us on the roadside.  We caught the last glimpse of the mist-covered mountains and drove down into the valley.  

We took the scenic route, heading for Invercargill and saw the usual birds again.  There were numerous Kelp and Black-Billed Gulls, Masked Lapwings and Swamp Harriers.  The roads are good and almost empty in this area.  When we arrived at Te Waewae Bay we were astounded to see tens of thousands of Sooty Shearwaters flying above the sea, all in the same direction, forming a ribbon 200 metres wide.  They had been passing by non stop for already half an hour when we decided it was time to leave.  We arrived in Invergargill, a very plain town, in the rain and the wind.  We left our luggage at the Kelvin Hotel and in spite of our being really tired we made it farther down south to Bluff from where we had a nice view of Stewart Island.  I saw more Sooty Shearwaters, Black-Winged Stilts and about 10 Masked Lapwings

Hull

Near Hull (Photo Danielle Joannès)

01 February 2009: Invercargill   Dunedin            

 We were in the south of the South Island and driving eastwards along the coast, on small gravel roads.  The landscape is very flat there and it was quite windy.  Again we saw a good thousand Sooty Shearwaters and also Spotted Shags and we decided to go as far as Slope Point, the southernmost spot of the South Island. We were at the top of a small cliff and a very strong gale was blowing.  It was difficult to just stand upright and we had a good laugh.  We then took the Catlins Road driving north-east, stopping here and there to watch the scenery or a few birds.  This is how I saw my first Royal Spoonbills. There were about 20 of them and they didn't seem to mind the strong wind. Far off at sea, I saw a few albatrosses but they were too distant to determine them for sure even if I had an inkling of what they could be.  New Zealand Fur Seals were lying on the top of huge rocks and I wondered how they had managed to climb there with their webbed feet. They do look clumsy when you see them crawling on the ground but they can reach incredible places.  Not far from them I twitched the Bronzed Shag.   

Cote NZ

A view from the coast (Photo Danielle Joannès)

We finally made it to Dunedin where we were accommodated at the The Brothers Boutique Hotel.  The tenant is a very nice man and the hotel has a lot of class but they don't serve meals there so we went downtown to get something to eat and have a glimpse of the buildings whose architecture is definitely British in style.

02 February 2009Dunedin 

We decided to go to the OCTAGON, that's to say the city centre.  It is a pleasant area, strongly influenced by the Scots, which is proved not only by the statue of the poet  Robert Burns which you will find in front of Saint-Paul Cathedral but also by the architecture of most important buildings, like the Municipal Chambers, the First Church and above all the magnificent Railway Station. 

Dunedin

The Octagon in Dunedin (Photo Huguette Rambaud)

In the afternoon, we visited Larnach Castle, just outside the city, on the Otago Peninsula.  We went there by the upper road and came back by the lower road in order to make the best of the scenery.  As for birds, nothing new, which doesn't mean that we didn't see a single bird. 

03 February 2009: Otago Peninsula                            

That day was devoted to bird watching and while driving to the Otago Peninsula, we saw 5 Black Swans, Little Pied Cormorants, White-Fronted Terns and rather common sea birds.  

Cormoran pie

Juvenile Little Pied Cormorants (Photo Marie-Yvonne Ciaravola)

We first went to a rehabilitation centre for the very rare Yellow-Eyed Penguin.  This bird nests in the sand dunes and forests along the sea and doesn't breed in colonies and it is therefore difficult to count and protect them.  We did see a few of them of course, but most of them where young chicks, waiting for their parents to feed them and they do this only in the evening. Our money will help protect this bird and make the owner of the place richer.  Let's hope the greater part of this fee will be used first and foremost to protect the biotope of this beautiful penguin because it is becoming rarer and rarer as coastal forests disappear.

Waiting to enter the private place where the Royal Albatrosses nest, we watched a few Royal spoonbills and numerous Spotted Shags which were flying backwards and forwards in front of the cliff.  We feared we might be disappointed another time because these albatrosses also feed their young late in the afternoon.  When the first of them flew past the window of the hide where we were waiting everybody  shouted for joy. The bird was really marvellous with its long narrow wings and a wingspan of almost 3 metres in length.  It hovered effortless and moved its wings only to slow down at landing.  Sometimes landing wasn't that easy by the way.  When a male came, it was welcomed by the female and both of them then shouted and pointed their bills towards the sky. We were lucky and saw at least ten of them fly past just in front of us.  

Albatros royal

Royal Albatross  (Photo Marie-Yvonne Ciaravola)

We also saw a colony of Bronzed Shags but they just couldn't bear comparison.  We then visited Fort Taiaroa and the poor guide who explained how the cannon worked had a lot of trouble catching our attention as we were still thinking of the birds. 

04 February 2009: Dunedin - Omarama 

On our way, we stopped to see the famous Moeraki Boulders.  You can see photos of them everywhere in New Zealand guidebooks and we had expected much bigger rocks.  What is more, you have to pay to get access to the beach. 

We crossed a cattle area where they also raise deer and sheep.  At Oamaru, we saw that we might have watched Yellow-Eyed Penguins for free when they come to the beach to feed their young.  The problem is they do this only late in the afternoon and we didn't have enough time to wait.  You can also find the Little Penguin in this area and the best time to find them is around 8 p.m. . We spent some time visiting the town which has a lot of class.  It was a very prosperous place some time ago and you can still see very beautiful buildings here and there.  There are also a few sculptors working in warehouses and works of art are exhibited in old industrial sites.  As for birds, nothing new.  At Takiroa, we stopped for a short while to have a look at a cliff where Maori paintings have been reproduced. The original ones were looted or are now safely exhibited in a museum.  In the afternoon, we reached Omarama where we were accommodated at the  Heritage Gateway hotel.

As the weather was nice and it was still early in the afternoon we went to the Clay Cliffs which are impressive rocky formations the water has carved in the pudding stone. To get information about this site, approach the Caltex service station just at the entry to the town and make sure the road to this private site is open.  To get there, head for Twizel and 5 km after Omarama, take Quailburn Road on your left, then Henburn Road on your left again. You have to deposit an entry fee in a box at the barrier and then you drive to the second barrier or even farther if you are lazy and have a 4X4 vehicle.  We decided to walk it and enjoyed the scenery.  

Clay Cliffs

The Clay Cliffs (Photo Danielle Joannès)

05 February 2009: Omarama – Lake Tekapo  

The road between Omarama and Mount Cook is very wide, very straight and the New Zealanders drive pretty fast there.  As we were on holiday we didn't follow suit.  We stopped several times and photographed Mount Cook from many different angles. 

Mont Cook

 Mount Cook (Photo Danielle Joannès)

In the plain, we saw a few Paradise Shelducks and about 80 Canada Geese, together with a definite number of European introduced species.  We took a very pleasant and easy walk in the Mount Cook area on a path leading to Kea Point, near a lateral moraine of the Mueller glacier which we could see on the mountain side. I tried to find new rock species but in vain and finally decided to leave this idyllic place.  We decided to go and picnic in the Tasman Valley and took a dusty road which reminded me of the Plaine des Sables on Réunion Island.  Once we had eaten our lunch we took a steep path to a promontory from which we had a very nice view on the valley and the glacier.  A few small icebergs had broken off and were at present floating on the muddy waters. 

I wanted to find the very rare Black Stilt and I knew I could see it in Twizel but again, these birds would probably be captive animals.  As we had to drive in that direction, I tried a spot 500 metres north of Glentanner, near Lake Pukaki. I had been tipped by a birdwatcher and I was lucky.  We saw about 8 birds in very good conditions.  There were also Canada Geese, Paradise Shelducks and a few species I had already seen elsewhere.  Please do not walk into the meadows when the birds nest.  You can see them from the roadside if you do look for them.


Echasse noire

Black Stilts (Photo Marie-Yvonne Ciaravola)

We were very excited when we found them and were still thinking about them when we arrived at the Lake Tekapo Scenic Resort hotel where we spent the night.

 
 06 February 2009: Lake Tekapo  Christchurch   

We left Lake Tekapo to go to Christchurch, the largest city of the South Island.  We went to Geraldine and took the smaller inner roads to avoid the highways where people drive too fast without paying any attention to the landscape.  It was a public holiday in New Zealand but the important ceremonies took place in the North Island.  

We saw many Australian Magpies and Masked Lapwings but I was especially happy to twitch the Black-Fronted Tern.  Four birds were flying over a field when I saw them from a distance.  We arrived pretty early in Christchurch, which left us plenty of time to visit the city.  It seems to be a pleasant place to live in, with its beautiful gardens, its statues and the opportunities to row on the river Avon.  Temperatures were around 30°C and we appreciated this all the more as we had recently been used to colder weather.  We settled in the Quest Apartment and started thinking about reserving a taxi for the airport because we had to return our smaller car in the evening before our departure. 

Christchurch

Christchurch (Photo Danielle Joannès)

07 February 2009: Christchurch – Akaroa – Christchurch

We drove across the Banks Peninsula on very narrow dusty roads where it was very difficult to pass cars coming the other way and it was even worse when we met a motor home which had absolutely no right to be there.  I had to manoeuvre our van past this heavy vehicle, being careful not to fall into the ravine but after some time, I managed to do it and we had a good laugh and enjoyed the scenery. There were numerous Canada Geese on the sea side, White-Fronted Terns and Purple Swamphens.  I was also pleased to see a Sacred Kingfisher again just before reaching Akaroa. This town was inhabited by the French a long time ago and many buildings or streets still bear French names.


Waikokopu

A Waikokopu (Photo Huguette Rambaud)


We would have liked to spend more time there and I would have liked to have a closer look at the coast along the winding road but we had to rush to return the car to the Christchurch airport.  I was heavy on the accelerator, which is not something I like doing in normal times and my passengers were jolted in all directions on the ever winding and hilly roads.  We had just time enough to collect the second car at the hotel and race to the airport.  We had logged in 5600 km and we thought we had a good knowledge of New Zealand at the end of our stay.  

08 – 09 February 2009: Return trip                              

We had reserved a big van instead of a normal taxi and we put all our luggage in a trailer.  We had been advised to reserve a taxi at the hotel but our solution was much cheaper.  At 6 a.m. sharp the van was there, on time.  We first took a plane for Auckland and were surprised to learn that Air New Zealand asked 15$ for two items of luggage per person, 65$ for 3, with a maximum weight of 25 kg.  If you travel alone, don't bring 2 small suitcases with you. After Auckland, we flew to Hong-Kong, then to Paris, which meant 27 hours on board different planes plus the time for stopovers.  All our future journeys will seem much shorter now. 

List of species observed.

I used the revised edition of the "Field Guide to the Birds of New-Zealand", by Heather, Robertson and Onley, published by Penguin.  It's a good, very detailed guide, which you can easily take with you.  The authors have added the Maori names to the names commonly used. 

01 Brown Kiwi Apteryx australis A rare endemic bird which we only saw behind a glass screen.  To see it in the wild, ask local birdwatchers to take you out at night.  
02 Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus One bird with a chick on Lake Te Anau.
03 Royal Albatross Diomedea epomophora A very impressive bird.  We saw some of them far off at sea but the best place to find them is at the Otago Peninsula.
04 Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus Very common in certain areas.
05 Fluttering Shearwater Puffinus gavia A few birds seen mainly in the Cook Strait.
06 Fairy Prion Pachyptila turtur A few birds, especially in the Cook Strait.
07 Yellow-eyed Penguin Megadyptes antipodes Rare endemic bird.  Seen only in a rehabilitation centre.
08 Little Penguin Eudyptula minor One bird seen in the Cook Strait.
09 Australian Gannet Morrus serrator Common.  A large colony at Cape Kidnappers.
10 Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Rather common but not the commonest cormorant.
11 Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax varius Common.
12 Little Black Cormorant Phalacrocorax sulcirostris Not very common? You can easily mistake it with a juvenile Little Pied Cormorant.
13 Little Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax melanoleucos Common. Juvenile birds can be mistaken with Little Black Cormorant. 
14 Spotted Shag Stictocarbo punctatus Common. Sometimes in large numbers. 
15 Bronzed Shag Leucocarbo chalconotus In the south of the South Island.  A colony nests along with Royal Albatrosses on the Otago Peninsula.
16 White-faced Heron Ardea novaehollandiae Very common and tame.
17 Royal Spoonbill Platalea regia A few birds in colonies in the south.
18 Black Swan Cygnus atratus Very common introduced species. 
19 Canada Goose Branta canadensis Very common introduced species. 
20 Paradise Shelduck Tadorna variegata Rather common endemic species.  You can even find it in parks in the centre of cities.
21 Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Very common introduced species. 
22 New Zealand Scaup Aythya novaeseelandiae Endemic species seen in pretty large numbers on big lakes.
23 Swamp Harrier Circus approximans Very common species.
24 California Quail Callipepla californica Introduced species.  A few birds here and there.
25 Weka Gallirallus australis Endemic species seen a few times. Very tame.
26 Takahe Porphyrio mantelli Rare endemic species.  Seen on Kapiti Island.
27 Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio Very common and very tame.  Often found in meadows or parks.
28 Common Coot Fulica atra Common.
29 Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus Common species.  Can be confused with Variable Oystercatcher.
30 Variable Oystercatcher Haematopus unicolor Endemic species seen several times. The light phase can be confused with Variable Oystercatcher.
31 Masked Lapwing Vanellus miles Common bird.  Seen several times.
32 Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus Seen several times even in volcanic sites.
33 Black Stilt Himantopus novaezelandiae Rare endemic species.  Seen north of Lake Pukaki.
34 Double-banded Plover Charadrius bicinctus Seen several times.
35 Red-breasted Plover Charadrius obscurus Rare endemic species which I rarely saw.
36 Wrybill Anarhynchus frontalis Rare endemic species which I rarely saw.
37 Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica Seen in large numbers at Miranda Shorebird.
38 Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus One bird in the Cook Strait.
39

Kelp Gull

Larus novaehollandiae Very common.
40 Red-billed Gull Larus scopulinus Very common endemic bird.
41 Black-billed Gull Larus bulleri Common, especially in the North Island.
42 Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia Not very common.
43 White-fronted Tern Sterna striata Very common.
44 Black-fronted Tern Sterna albostriata A small group seen above a field.
45 New Zealand Pigeon Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae Common endemic bird.  Truly a big pigeon.
46 Rock Pigeon Columba livia Very common introduced species. 
47 African Collared-Dove Streptopelia roseogrisea An introduced species.  Rarely seen.
48 Kea Nestor notabilis Very tame endemic species seen several times.  Only in the South Island. I found it was less green than in my guide.
49 New Zealand Kaka Nestor meridionalis Very tame endemic species seen several times.   I found it was less green than in my guide.
50 Eastern Rosella Platycercus eximius Introduced species, seen several times.
51 Red-fronted Parakeet Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae Seen several times.  Quite common on Kapiti Island.
52 Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus Pretty common bird, especially in the North Island.  You often hear it before you see it.
53 Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica Common.
54 Rifleman Acanthisitta chloris Endemic species seen once in a rain forest.
55 Silvereye Zosterops lateralis Very common species.
56 Grey Gerygone Gerygone igata Very common endemic species.  Very pleasant song.
57 Song Thrush Turdus philomelos Very common introduced species. 
58 Dunnock Prunella modularis Introduced species seen once on the gravel of a car park.
59 Sky Lark Alauda arvensis Common introduced species. 
60 Australasian Pipit Anthus novaeseelandiae A few birds.
61 Whitehead Mohoua albicilla Endemic species.  A few birds on Kapiti Island.
62 Grey Fantail Rhipidura fuliginosa Common species.
63 Tomtit Petroica macrocephala Common endemic species.
64 New Zealand Robin Petroica australis A rather rare but very tame endemic species.  Seen on Kapiti Island.
65 Tui Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae Ubiquitous endemic species.  Very peculiar song.
66 Stitchbird Notiomystis cincta Rare endemic bird, seen on Kapiti Island.
67 New Zealand Bellbird Anthornis melanura Common endemic species.  Very pleasant song.
68 Saddleback Philesturnus carunculatus Rare endemic bird, seen on Kapiti Island.
69 House Sparrow Passer domesticus Very common introduced species. 
70 Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Very common introduced species. 
71 Common Redpoll Carduelis flammea Common introduced species. 
72 European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Very common introduced species. 
73 European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris Common introduced species. 
74 Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella Common introduced species. 
75 Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris Very common introduced species. 
76 Common Myna Acridotheres tristis Very common introduced species. Only in the North Island.
77 Australian Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen Very common introduced species. 
78 Rook Corvus frugilegus Introduced species.  A few birds.

Other animal species:

Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus).  

Wild Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).  

Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula).  I saw many Possums killed on the roads because car drivers don't do anything to spare them.  This animal was introduced from Australia and must not be confused with Opposums, which come from America.

New Zealand Fur Seal (Arctocephalus forsteri).  A very common species.  You can't miss it.



Otarie à fourrure de NZ

New Zealand Fur Seal (Photo Marie-Yvonne Ciaravola)





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