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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

New Zealand

Island Endemics and Seabirds

Friday 7 February to Friday 28 February 2025
with Brent Stephenson as leader
Friday 6 February to Friday 27 February 2026
with Dave Howes as leader

Price: $9,290* (02/2025)

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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 New Zealand Pigeon, Grey Fantail, and Grey Gerygone (Grey Warbler). Or we may 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 may 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. Our accommodation is not far away, and we will have a good night’s rest before our first pelagic tomorrow!

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 (which Sav and Brent rediscovered in January 2003), as well as Black and Cook’s Petrel, Buller’s, Flesh-footed, Fluttering and perhaps 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 being present in this area. As the Hauraki Gulf is relatively enclosed, even in poor weather we should be able to get out and explore some pelagic waters. The night will be spent at the same accommodation 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. On the way north we may stop at other estuarine areas enroute depending on time and tides. Other areas close by can be checked for New Zealand Pipit and a small wetland for Australasian Little Grebe and other waterfowl. It will be a relaxed day of birding, in a variety of habitats, before heading further north 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 1000, 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. And, as with our previous pelagic, there is a chance of marine mammals and other marine life along the way. We will overnight in the town of 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 small areas of original forest remaining. We will focus on seeing all of the endemics on the island, with North Island Saddleback, Sokako, 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 may 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. 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 may 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, 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 Red-necked Stint, 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. We will head to our accommodation in Turangi in the late afternoon.

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 encounter good numbers of forest birds. 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.

Next, we will 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 and wetland birds, and we have the day to head 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 another great site for shorebird watching. Shorebirds at this location are sometimes 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, Sharp-tailed 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, or just 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: 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 700 birds. We will also be looking for two dolphin species, the endangered endemic 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 will likely also make a stop on a small island sanctuary, where we will try for Orange-fronted Parakeet, Weka and South Island Saddleback, and other common forest species such as New Zealand Pigeon and Bellbird. Back in Picton at midday, we will grab some lunch and then head south towards Kaikoura, stopping to eat along the way, and making a few other stops to look for waterfowl. A brief stop on the very 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 days’ 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 will spend the night in the once sleepy, but now bustling town of Kaikoura, where we will have two nights in the same accommodation.

Day 13: Today will be spent doing one of the great New Zealand pelagics. Due to the depth of the Kaikoura canyon just offshore, we are able to be in water over 1,000 m deep within half an hour, allowing us to really get amongst the seabirds, and although the species list varies throughout the year, in any season we can expect to have at least 4 species of Albatross, normally as close as 5-6 feet away, including Northern and Southern Royal, New Zealand Wandering, Black-browed, Campbell, White-capped, and Salvin’s Albatross. On top of this add Cape Petrel (Pigeon), 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 and Short-tailed Shearwater, and you have the makings of a truly memorable morning. The area is also renowned for dusky and Hector’s dolphins, and we may see these along the way.

The afternoon will be at your leisure, with time for a range of options such as relaxing and enjoying the scenery, doing another afternoon pelagic, whale watching (sperm whales are present year round), or swimming with dolphins (these afternoon activities are optional and not included in the tour cost). Night in Kaikoura.

Day 14: Today we will head deep into the Southern Alps through to Arthur’s Pass, 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 itself. On the way we will make short stops to break up the journey, including a stop at an estuarine area, where we will look for shorebirds and terns. We may be lucky enough to find what is almost certainly one of the most beautiful terns, the Black-fronted Tern, which breeds nearby. We should also catch up with some of the South Islands’ forest species, such as New Zealand Brown Creeper, Yellow-fronted Parakeets, and South Island Robin, before checking in to our accommodation near Arthur’s Pass. After dinner we will venture out in the evening to try and listen for Great Spotted Kiwi, which are occasionally heard nearby. Night in Arthur’s Pass. 

Day 15: This morning we will head west, up and over the Pass and on to the stunning West Coast. Our days’ events will be dictated by our previous successes, and we can head to forested areas to look for some of the South Island endemics, such as New Zealand Brown Creeper, New Zealand Fernbird (South Island subsp.), and Weka; and, to alpine areas to look for Kea again, and enjoy the views, making stops to take photos. 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 for a forest walk. As we will be out late tonight we will try and be at our accommodation around late afternoon for a rest. Our accommodation is on the outskirts of Franz Josef township, and after dinner we will head out to look for Okarito Brown Kiwi, the rarest of the three Brown Kiwi, with an estimated 600 birds remaining. Night on the outskirts of Franz Josef township.

Day 16: Depending on how late we were out the previous night, we will head south towards the township of Haast, stopping at one or two places on the way. During October-November, Fiordland crested penguins breed at sites along this coast, and we should be able to see them. Later in the summer our best bet is further south, where we might find one or two birds close to shore.

From Haast we head inland through some spectacular mountain scenery, with our focus being a visit 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. Still, the site is also good for New Zealand Kaka (South Island subsp.),  Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Rifleman, South Island Tomtit, New Zealand Brown Creeper, and Long-tailed Koel (Cuckoo). We will stay as long as we can in this area, making the most of our time in this amazing forest. We will then drive through to the beautiful lake-side town of Wanaka, just over an hour away, to our accommodation. Night in Wanaka.

Day 17: Today will involve quite a bit of driving, but we will be passing through some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery, heading towards Milford Sound. We will pass through likely areas for Kea,  Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Rifleman, South Island Robin, Tomtit, and Long-tailed Koel (Cuckoo). One of our key stops will be in alpine habitat for Rock Wren (South Island Wren), one of the World’s most primitive passerines, and related to the more common Rifleman. Recently, access to the site that this species is most accessible at has changed, and is only possible when several streams are able to be safely crossed. Therefore, the ability to have a chance at finding this bird, and the rest of the day’s activities, will depend on this. 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. We will spend the night in Te Anau.

Day 18: Today we are heading for the third main island of New Zealand – Stewart Island. We aim to catch the ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island mid- morning. There are options for stopping along the way, but it is likely we will head straight through to Bluff to meet the ferry. The van will stay in a secure carpark in Bluff, and we will board the ferry as foot passengers, with luggage for our two nights on Stewart Island.

Depending on the sea and weather conditions the one-hour ferry crossing can be excellent for seabirds, with Albatross (Southern Royal, White-capped, and Salvin’s), Giant-petrel, Mottled Petrel, Cape Petrel (Pigeon), Common Diving-petrel, Fairy Prion, Sooty Shearwater, and Brown Skua all possible. We should also see Foveaux Shag, either as we leave Bluff or on arriving at Stewart Island.

Upon arriving we will check into our accommodation, and should be able to see New Zealand Kaka (South Island subsp.), New Zealand Pigeon, and Tui around the township of Oban, before heading to nearby Ulva Island via water taxi. Ulva Island is another predator free sanctuary, but 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 Parakeet, Kaka and Rifleman can all be found here.

Back in Oban we will have dinner, after which we will head out to search for Southern Brown Kiwi, an unforgettable experience. Night in Oban.

Day 19: Today we plan to do a pelagic, but this is one part of the World you don’t want to be caught out by weather. Therefore, we will head out to see what we can find, but the distance and direction of travel will depend entirely on the weather. However, if we hit it right, the results can be stunning. With such a close proximity to the Southern Ocean, and large seabird colonies being on many of the surrounding islands we may be able to find an excellent array of seabirds. In particular target birds for the day are Fiordland Crested Penguin, Yellow-eyed Penguin (now becoming rarer), Southern Royal Albatross, White-capped, Buller’s and Salvin’s Albatross, Northern, and if lucky, 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 (pigeon), Sooty Shearwater, Spotted and Foveaux 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.

Depending on our success with Southern Brown Kiwi the previous night, and the possibility of cancellation due to weather, we may head out again after dark as a back-up. Night in Oban.

Day 20: We will leave fantastic Stewart Island on the early morning ferry, hoping to catch up with a few more seabirds as we head to Bluff. We will then head northwards towards Oamaru, taking one of two different routes depending on timing and target species. We may make a stop at a scenic beach along the way, or can also stop off at several other places on route to admire the scenery and look for forest birds. We will also stop at a beach to look for 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 Otago Shag being possible. Night in Oamaru.

Day 21: We again head inland, this time into one of the driest parts of the South Island – the arid Mackenzie basin. With stunning glacial till-coloured lakes, mountains, and red tussocks, the scenery and birds will be amazing. The focus of the day is the worlds’ rarest shorebird, the Black Stilt. With a population of around 100 wild birds, they are a species which has a considerable conservation effort invested in them. Depending on our luck, we may find them easily at our first stop, or they may make us work for it.

Along the way we will be keeping eyes peeled for New Zealand Falcon, which is sometimes found in this area, as well as stops for the introduced Chukor, and waterbirds, including Great Crested Grebe, Eurasian Coot, and the ever difficult Baillon’s Crake (Marsh Crake). On a clear day we should have views of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki-Mount Cook. Night in Twizel.

Day 22: Heading northwards towards Christchurch we will head through a lot of agricultural country before hitting the coast and crossing a large number of braided rivers that flow from the majestic Southern Alps to the sea. Mostly our morning will be spent heading ever closer to Christchurch. We may make some stops along the way, but this will depend on any species we still need. We will end the tour at the International Airport in Christchurch around 1pm.

Created: 09 April 2024


  • 2025 Tour Price : $9,290
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $1,290


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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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