New Zealand 2014

With its incredible endemic bird life and spectacular scenery, New Zealand is a nature lover’s paradise.  Our itinerary takes us across both the North and South Islands, as well as to several offshore islands, in our hunt for the country’s scenic and wildlife highlights.  We take in New Zealand’s natural beauty, whilst maximising our chances of locating as many of the New Zealand endemic and native birds as possible.  We aim to see members of the four endemic New Zealand bird families – kiwi, New Zealand wrens, New Zealand wattlebirds and the newly revised stitchbird which is now in its own family.  In addition to birds, we also hope to see several species of whales and dolphins during our boat trips, including dusky and Hector’s dolphins and Bryde’s whale, as well as New Zealand fur seal and Hooker’s sealion.  Rarer mammals, including leopard seal and Southern elephant seal are also possible.

Day 1;                        November 2nd

Our adventure starts this morning in Auckland.  One of our first stops will be a forested area near to central Auckland where we get an introduction to some of New Zealand’s forest species, such as tomtit, New Zealand pigeon, grey fantail, and grey gerygone.  We continue to a spot on the rugged west coast, home to one of New Zealand’s three mainland Australasian gannet colonies.  Whilst here we also look for other common coastal species including pied cormorant, red-billed gull, and white-fronted tern.  We then drive back across to the east coast, through an area renowned for laughing kookaburra (introduced from Australia), to wetland areas to look for New Zealand scaup, New Zealand grebe, grey teal, Australasian shoveler, Pacific black duck, paradise shelduck, and other waterbirds.  Buff-banded rail can also be found in this habitat.

Continuing northwards we drive to Trounson where we check into our accommodation and have some time to rest before our post-dinner walk to look for Northern brown kiwi.  We will certainly hear, and hope to see, morepork as well this evening.

Day 2;                        November 3rd

This morning we journey eastwards to a small estuary which is one of the last places to see the critically endangered fairy tern, as well as other shorebirds, including New Zealand dotterel, variable oystercatcher, pied stilt and Arctic migrants, such as bar-tailed godwit and red knot.  We visit other areas close by to look for New Zealand pipit and Australasian little grebe, before heading south to our accommodation in Warkworth where we spend the next two nights.

Day 3;                        November 4th

Today we spend the day out on the water in the beautiful Hauraki Gulf.  Leaving from Sandspit we motor 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, as well as black and Cook’s petrel, Buller’s, flesh-footed, fluttering and little shearwaters, and white-faced storm-petrel.  Pyecroft’s petrel is also possible here.  Eyes will not just be on the look-out for birds, as this area is also excellent marine mammal habitat, with both common and bottle-nosed dolphins, Bryde’s whales and occasionally killer whales.

Day 4;                        November 5th

After breakfast we 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 gives us a chance to see fluttering shearwater, white-fronted tern, and possibly parasitic jaeger (Arctic skua).  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 focus on seeing all of the endemics on the island, with North Island saddleback, kokako, stitchbird, takahe, brown teal, and red-crowned parakeet being present.  Other more common forest birds such as whitehead, tui, bellbird, grey fantail, grey gerygone, and New Zealand robin can also be seen, and we will also wait for spotless crake to appear at one of the small ponds.  After dinner we go out to look for morepork and, hopefully, little spotted kiwi.  Tuatara, an endemic reptile related to the dinosaurs, are also present on the island and we will spend time looking for these, as well as seabirds such as little penguin, grey-faced petrels and common diving-petrels which nest on the island.  The night will be spent in a bunkhouse on the island with shared facilities.

Day 5;                        November 6th

Getting up early will allow us to hear the dawn chorus, and we leave Tiritiri Matangi mid-morning, heading south to one of New Zealand’s premier shorebird 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 are likely to see wrybill, bar-tailed godwit, red knot, red-necked stint, ruddy turnstone, New Zealand dotterel, banded dotterel, variable and South Island pied oystercatcher, black-winged stilt, black-billed gull, and Caspian tern.  During the summer months there are usually a few of the less common shorebirds that visit our shores, such as sharp-tailed, pectoral, marsh, or terek sandpipers, and we will be on the look-out for these and other vagrants.  Shorebird watching in this area is largely dependent on the tides, so we will be working around the high tide, and may visit other nearby areas if time permits.

Day 6;                        November 7th

Today we visit one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions, the thermal area of Rotorua, home to hot springs, geysers and boiling mud pools, and the place where the turbulent forces that formed New Zealand are most evident.  Rotorua is also the ancestral home to the Te Arawa people who settled here more than 600 years ago.

Day 7;                        November 8th

This morning we leave Rotorua and drive to the Pureora Forest Park to the west of Lake Taupo.  This extensive area of forest is one of the best places in the North Island to see New Zealand kaka, yellow-crowned parakeet, long-tailed koel, shining bronze-cuckoo and rifleman, as well as other more common forest species.  We will also be on the look-out for New Zealand and New Zealand pipit.  We spend the night in Turangi, on the south side of the lake, which is a good area for New Zealand fernbird and Australasian bittern.

Day 8;                        November 9th

After breakfast we drive back to Taupo along the eastern shores of Lake Taupo, looking for little black cormorant.  We make a stop along the lake to look for New Zealand grebe, common coot, and New Zealand scaup.  From here we continue east to a forested area between Taupo and Napier.  The forest here has been intensively managed, with introduced mammals being controlled to allow native fauna and flora to flourish, and so  we are likely to see more forest birds here than at other locations in the North Island.  New Zealand robin and kokako have been reintroduced, as has Northern brown kiwi, and we have a chance of seeing the former two, as well as New Zealand pigeon, long-tailed koel, shining bronze-cuckoo, whitehead, tomtit, tui, bellbird, and rifleman.  Our destination for the night is Hastings, on the shores of Hawkes Bay.

Day 9;                        November 10th

The focus for today is New Zealand’s most extraordinary waterbird, the blue duck.   Inhabiting swift-flowing mountain streams these birds have declined markedly, and there are only a handful of locations they can be seen.  We visit several locations and spend time watching these remarkable birds.  The spectacular backdrop of the three central North Island volcanoes, Mt Ruapehu, Ngaruhoe, and Tongariro should make for fantastic views if weather permits.  Depending on how the day progresses there are also other areas we can stop at to catch up with some of the more common forest dwelling species, or the introduced eastern rosella and sulphur-crested cockatoo (both from Australia).  We stay the night in Foxton.

Day 10;                      November 11th

Depending on tide times we will call into the Manawatu Estuary, one of the best sites in New Zealand for shorebird watching.  Shorebirds at this location are often extremely confiding, and we can see bar-tailed godwit, red knot, variable oystercatcher and wrybill.  Other birds including Pacific golden plover, sharp-tailed and curlew sandpipers, ruddy turnstone and red-necked stint may also be present.  We continue south along the scenic Kapiti Coast towards Wellington, making several stops on the way to see black-fronted dotterel and other waterfowl.

The Interisland ferry leaves from Wellington, heading across to the South Island via the Cook Strait.  From the relatively stable platform of the ferry, this is an excellent piece of water to look for seabirds, with approximately half of the three hour trip spent in open water in the Cook Strait.  Spotted shag, fairy prion, fluttering shearwater, and white-fronted tern should be seen, and (depending on weather conditions and prevailing winds) Gibson’s (wandering), white-capped and Salvin’s albatrosses, northern giant-petrel, Westland petrel and sooty shearwater are all possible.  Common diving-petrel and little penguin are often seen near the entrance to the Marlborough Sounds.  Cetaceans can also be seen within this stretch of water so it is well worth being on the lookout.  The ferry docks in Picton, and we have a very short drive to our accommodation on the shores of the Marlborough Sounds.

Day 11;                      November 12th

Today we 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 5-600 birds.  We will also be looking for two endemic dolphin species, the endangered Hector’s dolphin, and the more common dusky dolphin, as well as little penguin, fluttering shearwater, spotted shag, and Australasian gannet.  New Zealand fur seals are also present.  We make a stop at a small island sanctuary which has saddleback, New Zealand robin, and other common forest species such as New Zealand pigeon and bellbird.

Back in Picton we drive south towards Kaikoura, stopping along the way at a coastal area to search for shorebirds.  There are generally ruddy turnstones, red-necked stint, banded dotterel, black-winged stilt, black-billed gulls, and sometimes other vagrant shorebirds.  A brief stop on the scenic coast just before Kaikoura gives excellent views of New Zealand fur seals and spotted shags, and enables 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 can head out to look for the introduced little owl in neighbouring farmland.  We spend the next two nights in the once sleepy, but now bustling, town of Kaikoura.

Day 12;                      November 13th

This morning will be spent on one of the best pelagic trips you are ever likely to encounter anywhere in the World.  Due to the depth of the Kaikoura canyon just offshore we are able to be in water 4,000 m deep within half an hour.  This allows us to get amongst the seabirds and, although the species list varies throughout the year, in any season one can expect to have at least 3 species of albatross around the boat, normally as close as 5-6 feet away, including northern and southern royal, Gibson’s (wandering), Antipodean (wandering), black-browed, Campbell, white-capped, and Salvin’s albatross.  On top of this add 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 grey-faced petrel, southern giant-petrel, sooty, short-tailed, flesh-footed or Buller’s shearwater, and you have the makings of a truly memorable morning.  The area is also renowned for sperm whales and dusky and Hector’s dolphins, and we may see these along the way.  The afternoon will be at leisure, with time for a range of options, including another afternoon pelagic, whale watching, swimming with dolphins, or just relaxing and enjoying the scenery.

Day 13;                      November 14th

Today we drive over the Southern Alps through Arthur’s Pass to the West Coast, making several stops along the way, and passing through some exceptionally scenic alpine areas.  Our target bird for the day will be kea, which we should be able to find near Arthur’s Pass.  On the way we pass several rivers that are breeding sites for black-fronted tern, and we will try to locate what is almost certainly one of the most beautiful terns.  We should also catch up with some of the South Islands’ forest species, such as New Zealand brown creeper and New Zealand fernbird, and, once on the West Coast, should find the flightless weka.  Nearing our destination town of Franz Josef we can head into the glacial valley to admire views of the Franz Josef glacier, or head out to the coast to see great egret and royal spoonbill in coastal lagoons.  After dinner we head out to look for morepork and try to find Okarito brown kiwi, the rarest of the four brown kiwi, with an estimated 200 birds remaining.

Day 14;                      November 15th

After breakfast we continue south towards the township of Haast, where during October and November Fiordland crested-penguins breed at sites along this coast.  From Haast we head inland through some spectacular mountain scenery to Haast Pass.  This site is home to a number of forest species, and has in the past had the endangered yellowhead.  However, 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 New Zealand kaka, yellow-crowned parakeet, rifleman, tomtit, New Zealand brown creeper, and long-tailed koel.  This afternoon we drive to the beautiful lake-side town of Wanaka where we stay tonight.

Day 15;                      November 16th

Today will involve quite a bit of driving, but we pass through some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery, and there will be plenty of time for photographs.  As we drive we go through good areas for kea, yellow-crowned parakeet, rifleman, New Zealand robin, tomtit, and long-tailed koel.  We also make stops in alpine habitat for rock wren, one of the World’s most primitive birds, and which can only be found in this area.  We spend the next two nights in Te Anau.

Day 16;                      November 17th

Today takes us to Milford Sound, one of several fjords that push their fingers into the south-west coast of the South Island.  Milford Sound is one of the most scenically breathtaking regions in New Zealand, and was judged the top travel destination worldwide by TripAdvisor.  The Sound runs 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea, and is edged by sheer rock faces rising more than 1,500m from the water.  With an average rainfall of nearly seven metres this is one of the wettest places on Earth, but the tumbling waterfalls and lush forest clinging precariously to the cliffs make up for any bad weather.  The best way to experience the beauty and majesty of the Sound is by boat, and during the cruise we will look for dolphins, seals and penguins, as well as seabirds.

Day 17;                      November 18th

We leave Te Anau this morning on our way to catch the ferry to Stewart Island.  Along the way we have time to visit a wetland, or spend some time at coastal areas where we can search for shorebirds and terns.  Depending on the sea and weather conditions the one-hour ferry crossing can be excellent for seabirds, with albatrosses (Northern royal, white-capped, and Salvin’s), giant-petrel, mottled petrel, Cape petrel, common diving-petrel, fairy and broad-billed prions, sooty shearwater and brown skua all possible.  Stewart Island shag is usually found along the coast.

On arrival we look for New Zealand kaka, New Zealand pigeon, and tui around the township of Oban, but most of the afternoon will be spent on Ulva Island, another predator free sanctuary, and home to some of the South Island specialties we may still need.  Yellowhead, South Island saddleback, and some of the more common forest species such as brown creeper, red- and yellow-crowned parakeets, kaka and rifleman can all be found here.  After dinner in Oban we will be met by a local operator who will take us out in search of Southern brown kiwi, an unforgettable experience.  We spend the next two nights in Oban.

Day 18;                      November 19th

Today we aim do a full-day pelagic, but this is dependent on the weather, and so how far and where we go depends on the conditions.  With such close proximity to the Southern Ocean, and large seabird colonies on many of the surrounding islands, we hope to find an excellent array of seabirds.  Target birds for the day are Fiordland crested penguin, yellow-eyed penguin, northern and southern royal albatross, white-capped and Salvin’s albatross, both northern and southern giant-petrel, mottled and Cook’s petrel, broad-billed and fairy prion, and common diving-petrel.  Other more common species we will almost certainly see are Cape petrel, sooty shearwater, spotted and Stewart Island shags, brown skua, white-fronted tern, and red-billed gull.  Almost any vagrant Southern Ocean seabirds are possible, and we will be keeping our eyes peeled for storm-petrels, and other albatross and petrel species.  If the weather is really good it may be possible to get round the island far enough to find Antarctic terns.  A range of cetaceans is possible during the cruise.  We aim to be back in Oban by late afternoon.

Day 19;                      November 20th

We leave the wonderful Stewart Island on the morning ferry, hoping to catch up with a few more seabirds as we head to Bluff.  From here we drive northwards towards Oamaru, taking in the very scenic Catlins Coast.  This coastal section is renowned for its spectacular views and rugged coastline.  During a stop at one of the beaches along the way we search for Hooker’s sealions (a New Zealand endemic) which are often found on this section of coastline.  We can also stop off at other places on route to admire the scenery and look for forest birds.  Our goal is to arrive at Oamaru in the late afternoon and head to a beach where we can watch yellow-eyed penguins coming ashore.  Depending on the weather and prevailing winds, seabirds may also be passing along the coast, with species such as giant-petrels and Stewart Island shag being possible.  Our accommodation is in Oamaru.                 

Day 20;                      November 21st

Today we head inland, this time into one of the driest parts of the South Island: the arid MacKenzie Basin.  With stunning glacial lakes and mountains, the scenery here is quite amazing.  The focus of the day is the world’s rarest shorebird, the black stilt, with a population of only around 100 birds.  Along the way we will be keeping a lookout for New Zealand falcon, which is regularly found in this area, as well as the introduced chukar partridge, and other waterbirds, including great crested grebe, common coot, and the difficult Baillon’s crake.  On a clear day we have views of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook (Aorangi).  We spend the night in Omarama.

Day 21;                      November 22nd

Heading northwards towards Christchurch we pass through agricultural country before reaching the coast and crossing a large number of braided rivers that flow from the majestic Southern Alps to the sea.  Many of these rivers are good breeding sites for wrybill and black-fronted terns, and we can makes stops here, or at coastal lagoons, before arriving in Christchurch this afternoon where our tour ends.

Trip pricings:

Wildlife Quest trips are budgeted for small groups. To avoid having to cancel trips with fewer members, we charge more for smaller groups to cover the fixed costs of the trip.

The cost is in New Zealand Dollars (NZ$) since that is the currency used by the ground operator.  In the final invoice the cost will be converted into US Dollars at the prevailing exchange rate to avoid having to second-guess currency fluctuations.  As of August 2013, NZ$1 buys US$0.78 – which makes the price per person for 6 participants US$11,540 for the 21 day trip.

Cost per person sharing:

 8 participants                       NZ$  13,795.00  5 participants                      NZ$  15,295.00
 7 participants                       NZ$  14,295.00  4 participants                      NZ$  15,495.00
 6 participants                       NZ$  14,795.00  Single supplement              NZ$    1,995.00

Included in the itinerary:

  • All accommodation
  • All transfers and transportation, including transfers for the group flights to and from the airport at the start and end of the tour
  • All park entrance fees
  • All meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
  • Drinking water
  • Services of Holly Faithfull and local guides throughout
  • Tips for local guides, porters etc

Not included:

  • International air fare to and from New Zealand
  • Beverages, other than drinking water
  • Items of a personal nature, such as phone calls, laundry etc
  • Airport departure tax
  • Trip cancellation or interruption insurance

What is the trip like?

New Zealand is an easy place to travel, with just normal good health necessary.  Flexibility, sense of humour, and open-mindedness are always required, since changes to the itinerary can happen.  Wildlife viewing takes place during nature walks, by boat and in vehicles.  Since we will be taking a few boat and ferry trips it would be advisable to bring some sea-sickness medication if you are prone to sea-sickness.  The walks cover a variety of terrain and are usually on well-marked trails.

Accommodations are generally comfortable lodges, all with private bathrooms, electricity, hot/cold water.  The only exception is our one night on Tiritiri Matangi Island where we go in search of little spotted kiwi.  Our lodging there will be in a bunkhouse with shared facilities.


New Zealand has a temperate climate, with temperatures in the 60s generally while we are there.  In the mountains it can be cold, and you should also be prepared for cold temperatures when we are on boat trips.  Come prepared with a fleece, windbreaker, hat and gloves.  There can be rain at any time.

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