Monday, 1 March 1993

1993 New Zealand Part 6

North Island

After leaving Kaikoura I headed further north toward Picton where I would stay for one night and then leaving my car on South Island catch the ferry across the Cook Straits to Wellington on North Island and pick up another hire car. The crossing was a smooth one and took around 3 hours through the picturesque waters including Queen Charlotte Sound.

It is possible to try and see New Zealand King Cormorant in the area as it breeds on a small island on the northern part of south Island. You have to take a mail boat which runs on a Fri and Tues for the best chance of seeing the bird, although it can be seen in Alexandra Bay, apparently the best place to ask is in the doctors office on Picton. Unfortunately, I didn't have time.

In the straits I recorded: Pied cormorant, fluttering shearwater, Buller's Shearwater 2, flesh-footed shearwater 1, westland petrel 2, Australian Gannet 30, dusky dolphin 2 and macronectes sp. 2.
Wellington was a far busier and larger port than Picton and luckily my car was there to greet me. Wellington ferry terminal

I was on my way to the Pureora Forest Park between Lake Taupo and Te Kuiti to try and see a rare bird called a kokako. On the way I stopped off at yet another youth hostel this time to find I was the only person staying there in fact I didn't even see the warden. It was a little creepy having the whole place to myself and I was quite pleased to be moving on the next day.
The creepy youth hostel.

Driving through the center of north island the landscape is dominated by Mount Ruapehu which is a volcano and rises up from a flat but impressive desert plateau area.
Desert Plateau

The volcano itself is one of the worlds most active and has been showing signs of increased activity since late November 1994.
Mount Ruapehu

The landscape also holds a few rivers with some impressive gorges.

I finally arrived at the Pureora Forest Park and went to the headquarters building to enquire my best strategy for seeing a kokako. The forest is one of the largest tracts of native forest on North Island but unfortunately this wasn't to be my lucky trip as a cyclone was approaching Aukland and the wind strength was set to increase making the chances of seeing anything in the area slim. The kokako is an extremely arboreal bird and doesn't really do the flying thing if it can help it so my chances of seeing that were even slimmer, bugger!

I think the wardens took pity on me as they allowed me to stay at the headquarters and the next morning I was up early in an increasing breeze/strong wind to try and see/hear what I could. The forest was amazing and the extremely tall and ancient trees were starting to get hammered by the winds on the edge of the cyclone. It wasn't safe to enter the forest but I did manage to see: Tui 3, bellbird, long-tailed cuckoo 3, silvereye, tomtit 1, rifleman 10, New Zealand pipit 4, North Island kaka 3, grey warbler and fantail.

Maybe if I managed to stay for a second day the wind might subside, no such luck. The next day saw the arrival of heavy cloud and rain all day, it was time to move on and accept that I was not going to see a kokako, with my next port of call being the Maori cultural centre of Rotorua.
On the way though I bumped, although thankfully not literally, into a shepherd, his horse, his dogs and his flock.

On the way I also visited Lake Rotoiti and saw: New Zealand little grebe 3, tui 1, bellbird, silvereye, little pied cormorant, coot, New Zealand scaup, grey duck and pukeko 4.
Part of the Rotorua experience is to go and see the geo-thermal activity that is almost part of the town itself. The geo-thermal park provides hot springs, boiling mud and geysers and quite a lot of steam.

One evening I went to a Maori cultural event, it was one of the regular touristy things but was interesting as it included some traditional Maori dancing and entertainment. During the evening I found myself on stage receiving a traditional Maori welcome of a tattooed warrior in skirts giving me a loud foot stomping welcome with tongue waggling and face pulling. Part of the ceremony was the handing over of a fern leaf and this signified that the welcome was over and we were now friends. I must admit that I did enjoy being on the receiving end and in fact the guys performance was quite intimidating.
With most of New Zealands native flora and fauna under threat most of it is very difficult to see in the wild and the Takahe is no exception. I ended up going to a wildlife park in order to try and at least see one. In the end, despite being more or less in a zoo, it was a great experience. The takahe is flightless, brightly coloured with massive legs and bill. Once again a species thought to be extinct in New Zealand but re-discovered in 1948m surviving west of Lake Te Anau where its main habitat is the tussock grasslands of the valleys at 600-1000m.

This was one of a small group is a circular enclosure. The enclosure had a small wooden door set in it and this one was quite close to it. I don't know why but I decided to lightly tap the door to see how the bird would react and to my delight it tapped the door back with its huge bill, also giving off a few low and quite clucks. I tapped the door again and from the other side a return tap, it was such a privilege to be able to interact in this albeit 'odd; way with an animal that was quite literally on the edge of precipice of life. On peeking back over the edge of the enclosure there it was giving me the eye.

From Rotorua I headed north toward a place called Miranda where I hoped to see one of the wader gems of New Zealand a small grey bird called a wrybill. Part of my problem with this section of the trip was that there was no youth hostel anywhere near to Miranda in fact it looked to me that there really wasn't anywhere close were I could stay. I drove to the visitors centre which was being refurbished and extended. I got talking to the on-site staff and managed to make an arrangement whereby if I gave the local 'Miranda Naturalists Trust' who were having a meeting there that evening I could sleep on the floor for a couple of nights in one of the dormitories that they were building. So that evening I gave a very ad lib talk on the birds of the UK and what it was like to be a birdwatcher in Britain, it seemed to go down well and that night I snuggled down in my sleeping bag and fell asleep amongst the nails and sawdust on the wooden floor.

Next morning and at high tide, I ventured along the shoreline of the shoreline of the Firth Of Thames just near to the visitor centre and made for the hide located overlooking one of the areas of salt marsh.
You can just make out the hide on the left of the picture.

For the most part I was the only person there so I ended up leaving the hide and sitting down on the edge of the salt marsh to get closer views of the waders that were roosting in front of me. The wrybills were there and very cute they looked too. On my first day I saw: wrybill 1,000, caspian tern 4, little tern 2, terek sandpiper 2, curlew sandpiper 20 and plenty of bar-tailed godwits.
In 1960 the total population of wrybill based on wintering counts was estimated at 5,000 so 33 years on I was doing well to see so many.
Part of the roosting flock of wrybills, very cute little fellas with bill tips angled to the right.

The bar-tailed godwit flock was impressive with the birds still in winter plumage ready to start the migration north to breed. The sub-species here is larger than that found in western Europe, in fact it is larger the the eastern form of bar-tailed godwit.

On my second day at Miranda the high tide roost gave: wrybill 2,000, bar-tailed godwit 6,000, red-necked stint 2, terek sandpiper 1, curlew sandpiper 20, knot 2,000 and caspian tern 4.
My time at Miranda had been great, the local naturalist group were a nice bunch of folks, the centre was great the birds and estuary superb, it was a wrench to leave but I now had to head for Aukland and the cities youth hostel.
Auklands youth hostel was essentially a tower block and it was quite busy. I still had a couple of target bird species that I wanted to see, namely New Zealand dotterel and brown teal and luckily I had some gen that indicated where I could see them. So the next day I headed for Mimiwhangata Farm Park, north of Whangarei. The area of coastline at Okupe Beach is good for New Zealand Dotterel and their is a small lake on a trail which is good for the teal.
Paradise Shelduck, female

Paradise Shelduck, male

Okupe Beach, home to the New Zealand Dotterel

New Zealand Dotterel

In the Mimiwhangata Farm Park area I managed to see: paradise shelduck 2, New Zealand dotterel 2, brown teal 4, kingfisher , New Zealand pigeon.
That was the end of my trip with regard to wildlife, back in Aukland I visited the museum and marvelled at the Maori cultural effects. It is hard to imagine these Polenesian peoples discovering New Zealand with its giant Moa birds and amazing forests and other birdlife some of which I had been lucky to glimpse in my short stay.
Maori Canoe

Maori Ceremonial Hut