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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

New Zealand

Island Endemics and Seabirds

Friday 9 February to Friday 1 March 2024
with Brent Stephenson as leader
Friday 7 February to Friday 28 February 2025

Price: $9,150* (02/2024)

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Wrybill is a fascinating New Zealand endemic. Photo: Brent Stephenson

A birding tour to New Zealand is packed full of highlights: albatrosses so close you can count the droplets of water on their feathers, the deafening calls of New Zealand Bellbirds ringing through the forest at dawn, a confiding New Zealand Robin standing guard on a forest path, a Kiwi snuffling through the leaf litter. All of these classic images come to life on the remote Pacific islands of New Zealand. 

Bordered by the Tasman Sea on the west and the South Pacific on the east, New Zealand stretches almost 1,000 miles north to south. Eons of isolation have given the three main islands and a multitude of smaller islands a unique avifauna, with six endemic families, and more than 25% of the islands’ species are endemic breeders, many of them globally threatened. We’ll visit remarkable sanctuaries, breathtaking scenic parks, and old-growth forests in search of land birds, and sail the coastal waters looking for some of New Zealand’s remarkable concentrations of seabirds and sea mammals.

Day 1: This tour begins this evening at our hotel in Auckland. Night in Auckland.

Day 2: After breakfast, we’ll embark north to Warkworth. One of our first stops may be at a forested area near to central Auckland where we will get an introduction to some of New Zealand’s forest species, such as North Island Tomtit, New Zealand Pigeon, Grey Fantail, and Grey Gerygone (Grey Warbler). Or we will head to a spot on the rugged west coast to one of New Zealand’s three mainland Australasian Gannet colonies. Superb views and photographic opportunities exist, and we will also look for other common coastal species such as Pied Cormorant, Red-billed Gull, and White-fronted Tern. We will then head back across to the east coast, to several wetland areas to look for New Zealand Scaup, New Zealand Grebe (Dabchick), Grey Teal, Australasian Shoveler, Pacific Black Duck (Grey Duck), Paradise Shelduck, and other waterbirds. We will also spend time looking for Buff-banded Rail (Banded Rail) in likely mangrove habitat, and likely enjoy an afternoon at a predator-free sanctuary looking for forest birds. Night in Warkworth.

Day 3: Today we will spend the day out on the water in the beautiful Hauraki Gulf. Leaving from Sandspit we will head 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 (rediscovered in January 2003), as well as Black and Cook’s Petrel, Buller’s, Flesh-footed, Fluttering and Little Shearwater, and White-faced Storm-petrel. 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.  As the Hauraki Gulf is relatively enclosed, even in poor weather we should be able to get out and explore at least some of the area. Night in Warkworth.

Day 4: This morning we will head north to an estuary which is one of the last places to see the critically endangered Fairy Tern (currently only about 30-40 birds), as well as other shorebirds, including New Zealand Plover (New Zealand Dotterel), Variable Oystercatcher, Black-winged Stilt (Pied Stilt) and Arctic migrants such as bar-tailed godwit and red knot. Several estuarine areas further south may also be checked depending on time and whether we have been successful in finding Fairy Tern. Other areas close by can be checked for New Zealand Pipit and Australasian Little Grebe. It will be a relaxed day of birding, in a variety of habitats, before heading to our accommodation in Kerikeri.

After dinner, we will head out to look for our first Kiwi, Northern Brown Kiwi. We will certainly hear, and may see Morepork as well. Night in Kerikeri.

Day 5: This morning we will head south to a small harbour on the East Coast, called Marsden Cove. We aim to be boarding our second pelagic at around mid-morning, and heading out into the north-western part of the Hauraki Gulf. Although a similar body of water to that we were on just two days ago, this pelagic is designed to specifically target Pycroft’s Petrel and Little Shearwater which breed on nearby islands. However, it also gives us a second shot at all the northern breeding seabirds, including anything we missed on our trip from Sandspit. Having another chance to explore the northern waters is always good, as no two days on the water are the same! It is quite a scenic area as well with some beautiful islands and a stunning coastline. Night in Whangarei.

Day 6: Today we will 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 should give 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 will 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, New Zealand Fantail, Grey Gerygone, and North Island Robin will be seen, and we will also wait for Spotless Crake to appear at one of the small ponds. After dinner we will head out to look for Morepork and hopefully Little Spotted Kiwi, as well as perhaps Tuatara, an endemic reptile related to the dinosaurs, and Little Penguin as well.

The night will be spent in accommodation on the island, with this being limited to a communal bunkhouse, with bunk beds in shared rooms. Although rustic, the experience is well worth it, and not to be missed. An overnight bag will be taken with minimal gear, and bedding will be provided.

Day 7: Getting up early will allow us to hear the dawn chorus, and we will 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 will check into our accommodation near Miranda, and then head to the Miranda Shorebird Centre to get information on the latest sightings and then head out to see what’s around for ourselves. We are likely to see Wrybill, Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot, Red-necked Stint, Ruddy Turnstone, New Zealand Plover, Double-banded Plover (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 Sandpiper, 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. Night in Miranda.

Day 8: Depending on the tides and successes at Miranda, we may head back early morning for another look, before heading south towards the centre of the North Island. We will likely make some quick stops along the way, however, our main focus for the day is 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 (North Island subsp.), Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Long-tailed Koel (Cuckoo), Shining Bronze-cuckoo, Rifleman, and we will also encounter other more common forest species. We will also be on the look-out for New Zealand Falcon which inhabits this area, and New Zealand Pipit may be seen on the roads in the area. Night in Turangi.

Day 9:  This morning we will concentrate our efforts around Turangi looking for our most extraordinary waterbird, the Blue Duck. Inhabiting swift-flowing mountain streams these birds have declined markedly, even at sites where they were reliable only a few years ago, and there are really only a handful of locations they can be seen without major hikes. We will visit several locations and spend time watching these remarkable birds.

We will then head east to a forested area between Taupo and Napier. As it is an intensively managed site where introduced mammals are controlled and fauna and flora have been able to flourish, we are likely to see more forest birds here than at other locations in the North Island. North Island Robin, Kokako, and North Island Kaka have been reintroduced, and we should at least have a chance of seeing these, as well as New Zealand Pigeon, Long-tailed Koel (Cuckoo), Shining Bronze-cuckoo, Whitehead, Tomtit, Tui, Bellbird, and Rifleman. New Zealand Falcon and New Zealand Fernbird are also in the area and we can spend time trying to locate both of these species.

We will then head down to Napier, where if time allows we will check out an estuarine area for shorebirds, or several wetland areas for waterfowl and other species. Accommodation for the night will either be in Napier or nearby Havelock North. 

Day 10: The focus for the morning will depend a little on what we have or haven’t seen to date. There are locations for shorebirds, waterfowl and bittern, we can have a second go at forest species where we were the day before, or we can take it easy and head slowly across to the Manawatu region and head to the Manawatu Estuary for more views of wrybill and other shorebirds.

We will stay the night in Foxton, very close to the Manawatu Estuary, which is one of the best sites in New Zealand for shorebird watching. Shorebirds at this location are often extremely confiding, and we will see Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot, Variable Oystercatcher, and probably Wrybill. Depending on the state of the tide, and what’s around at the time, other birds like Pacific Golden Plover, Sharptailed or Curlew Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstone, and Red-necked Stint may be present. Night in Foxton.

Day 11: Depending on tide times we will call into the Manawatu Estuary again. We will then head south along the scenic Kapiti Coast towards Wellington, making several stops on the way to see Black-fronted Dotterel and 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 New Zealand Wandering, White-capped, and Salvin’s Albatross, 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, and the latter often in the calmer enclosed waters of the Sounds. Less common seabirds are often seen within this stretch of water, as are dolphins, so it is well worth being on the lookout.

The ferry docks in Picton, and we have less than a 5-minute drive to our accommodation in Picton.

Day 12: We’ll head out onto the Marlborough Sounds for further exploration of Queen Charlotte Sound. We’ll be looking especially for New Zealand King Shag, a rare endemic with a population of only about 650 individuals. We’ll also be looking for two dolphin species, the endangered and endemic Hector’s Dolphin and the more common Dusky Dolphin. New Zealand Fur Seals are also present. We have the opportunity to make stops at an island sanctuary, where we will try for Orange-fronted Parakeet, South Island Saddleback and New Zealand (South Island) Robin. After returning to Picton for lunch, we’ll journey south towards Kaikoura. Along the way we’ll visit a coastal area in search of shorebirds. There are generally Banded Dotterel, Black-Winged (Pied) Stilt, Black-billed Gulls, and sometimes other vagrant shorebirds. A brief stop on the scenic coast just before Kaikoura will allow excellent views of New Zealand fur seals and Spotted Shags, and enable 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 neighboring farmland. Night in Kaikoura. 

Day 13:  This morning will be one of the best pelagic trips you’re likely ever to take part in anywhere in the world. Thanks to the Kaikoura Canyon just offshore, its takes only about half an hour to reach waters that are some 13,000 feet deep, really getting us out among the seabirds. The species list varies over the year, but at any season we can expect to have at least 3 species of albatross around the boat, normally as close as ten feet away, including Northern and Southern Royal Albatrosses. On top of this, we should have Cape Petrel, Northern Giant-Petrel, and the endemic Hutton’s Shearwater and Westland Petrel; the shearwater breeds in the spectacular mountains behind Kaikoura, Westland Petrel in the west coast’s temperate rainforest. There’s always the potential of other species like Gray-faced or White-chinned Petrels and Sooty, Short-tailed, Flesh-footed, or Buller’s Shearwaters. On our return, the afternoon is available for relaxing and enjoying the scenery, or whale watching, swimming with dusky dolphins, etc (these afternoon activities are optional and not included in tour cost). Night in Kaikoura. 

Day 14:  Leaving Kaikoura, we’ll travel deep into the Southern Alps to Arthur’s Pass, driving through some exceptional landscapes and making several stops along the way. Our target bird will be the Kea, which we should be able to find near the Pass itself. On the way we’ll pass several rivers that are breeding sites for Black-fronted Tern. In the course of the day we should catch up with such South Island forest species as New Zealand Brown Creeper, Yellow-fronted parakeets, and New Zealand (South Island) Robin. After dinner we’ll head back out to (hopefully) hear Great Spotted Kiwi. Night in Arthur’s Pass. 

Day 15:  This morning we’ll head west, up and over the Pass and on to the stunning West Coast. Our birding stops will be dictated by our previous successes; there will be opportunities to look for more South Island endemics such as the South Island subspecies of New Zealand Fernbird and Weka, a remarkably fearless, flightless rail. As we near our destination of Franz Josef, we can head into the glacial valley to admire views of the Franz Josef glacier or go to the coast to see Great Egret in coastal lagoons. After dinner we’ll venture out to look for Okarito Brown Kiwi; with only 400 surviving individuals, this is the rarest of the brown kiwis. Night on the outskirts of Franz Josef township. 

Day 16:  We’ll have a late start as we continue towards the township of Haast, stopping at one or two places on the way to look for forest birds, and enjoy beautiful forests. From Haast we’ll head inland through spectacular mountain scenery, with a visit to some spectacular Southern Beech forest, home to a number of forest species, including the stunning and endangered Yellowhead. The site is also good for the South Island subspecies of New Zealand Kaka, Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Rifleman, the South Island subspecies of Tomtit, and Long-tailed Koel. We’ll stay as long as we can in this area, making the most of our time in this amazing forest before driving to the very attractive lakeside town of Wanaka, just over an hour away. Night in Wanaka. 

Day 17:  Today will involve a few hours of driving, but we’ll pass through some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery. We’ll stop in the dramatically beautiful alpine landscape to search for the primitive South Island (Rock) Wren, a relative of the more common Rifleman. The day’s stops will largely be dictated by weather and success with Rock Wren, which is not possible anywhere else along the way.  Although the day will be spent in stunning scenery anyway, if time allows we may head through to Milford Sound to view it from the shore. Night in Te Anau. 

Day 18:  Our main aim today is to catch the late-morning ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island. Depending on the sea and weather conditions, the one-hour ferry crossing can be quite good for seabirds. In addition to second chances at birds we’ve already seen. We’ll also see Foveaux Shag as we leave Bluff or arrive at Stewart Island. After checking into our hotel, we’ll go out to look for the South Island subspecies of New Zealand Kaka, New Zealand Pigeon, and Tui around the township of Oban before heading to nearby Ulva Island via water taxi. Declared rat-free in 1997, Ulva Island was established as an open sanctuary in 2004. Several species of bird have been reintroduced, and the island gives an excellent impression of what southern New Zealand must have been like before the arrival of Polynesian and European settlers. This is a great place to spend most of the afternoon walking, observing, and taking photos. Back in Oban, after dinner we’ll be met by a local guide who will take us out in search of Southern Brown Kiwi; an unforgettable experience. Night in Oban. 

Day 19: The main plan today is a pelagic trip. The distance traveled and the areas visited will depend on the day’s weather. This part of the country is prone to stormy conditions and rough seas, but we hope to be able to get to some areas for seabirding. Thanks to the proximity of the Southern Ocean and the presence of large seabird colonies on surrounding islands, we should find an excellent array of species, including good numbers of Fiordland Crested Penguin and perhaps a Fairy Prion. Almost all of the vagrant Southern Ocean seabirds are possible, and we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for storm-petrels, albatrosses, and petrels, including Broad-billed Prion and Mottled Petrel. Depending on our success with Southern Brown Kiwi the previous night, we’ll have another opportunity this evening. Night in Oban. 

Day 20: We’ll leave fantastic Stewart Island on the morning ferry, and then head northwards towards Oamaru along the weather-beaten Catlins Coast. We’ll stop at one of the beaches along the way to search for the endemic Hooker’s sea lion, and at several other places to admire the famous scenery and to look for forest birds. We plan to arrive at Oamaru in theearly evening after watching Yellow-eyed Penguins come ashore. We will also be on the lookout for Otago Shag along this part of the coast. Night in Oamaru. 

Day 21: We’ll visit a very different environment today, this time one of the driest parts of the South Island—the arid Mackenzie Basin. The region features amazing scenery and birds with striking “glacial milk” colored lakes, mountains, and red tussocks. It is also the last stronghold of the world’s rarest shorebird, the Black Stilt, with a population of only around 100 wild individuals. The area’s lakes are also good habitat for Great Crested Grebe, Common Coot, and other waterbirds, and we’ll also visit a location for the ever difficult Baillon’s Crake. If the weather is clear, we should have views of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook (Aorangi). Night in Twizel. 

Day 22:  Our last day will be spent traveling back to Christchurch. Along the way we may make stops at various braided rivers and wetlands, good breeding sites for Wrybill and Black-fronted Terns, before we reach Christchurch where the tour concludes around midday with stops at the airport or a hotel if you plan on spending extra time in the city.

Updated: 09 January 2024

Prices

  • 2024 Tour Price : $9,150
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $1,290

Notes

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Questions? Tour Manager: Stephanie Schaefer. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size eight with one leader.

This tour is organized by our New Zealand partner, Wrybill Birding Tours.

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