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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones

Birding On My Own
Australia &
New Zealand 2002
Emmalee Tarry
Revised 2015

Trip Reports

Table of Contents


Chapter 17

New Zealand Summer

East Coast of South Island

South Island
Timaru Wetlands
Omaru - Two Penguins
Moeriki Boulders
Tairoa Head Albatross Colony
Yellow-eyed Penguin
Stewart Island Ferry
Ulva Island

Moerik Boulder field

Moericki Boulders Beach

Comments to webmaster

Map of south island New Zealand

South Island  Summer Trip East and West coasts

I arrived in Christchurch in early November.

After a day in the city, I drove south following the coast road to Omaru, Dunedin. and Invercargill.

I went to Bluff and took the ferry to Stewart Island.

On return from Stewart Island I went west and north to Te Anau, Milford Sound, Queenstown and down to the tropical west coast to visit Franz Josef, Hokitika and Greymouth.

I returned to the east coast over the mountains by way of Arthur's pass to Hanmer Spring and Kaikoura. After a few days in Kaikoura,
I drove to Picton to take the ferry to Wellington on the north island

At the Christchurch airport, I picked up my car from EZi Rental Cars and drove to downtown Christchurch to find the YHA. Finding the downtown YHA proved difficult so I ended up at the Alcala Motor Lodge for NZ$80 per night. There are actually two YHA's in Christchurch. The easier one to find is right across from the museum and there is limited parking. The city center YHA is on a very busy street has no parking.

The next morning I went to the Botanical Gardens in Hagley Park. I toured the gardens reacquainting myself with the common garden birds of New Zealand such as Common Blackbird, Chaffinch, Song Thrush, Grey Teal, Mallard, Greenfinch and Silvereyes.In the wintergarden there was a display of air plants Tillandsia in the Bromeliad Family which includes Spanish moss.

At the edge of the botanical gardens is the Canterbury Museum. Admission NZ$5 donation. Birders will find this museum most interesting. There is a display of skeletons of the eleven known species of Moas. The Moas were a group of large flightless birds that flourished on the island until the Maori arrived. The Maoris built their culture on exploiting the Moa. They ate eggs and meat, used the egg shells for water vessels, feathers for decoration, and made tools from the bones. The Moas ranged in size from 1 to 3 meters.

As the Maori population grew, they put more and more pressure on the Moas and finally drove them to extinction 500 years ago. The skeletons and feathers from costumes are as close as you can get to seeing a real Moa. The museum has wonderful exhibits of Maori culture and tools. Bird Hall exhibits Albatross and most of the birds of New Zealand. I was also enchanted by a movie made by the captain of a Clipper Ship rounding the horn in 1929.

Across the street I visited Rutherford's Den. This was the first laboratory of Ernest Rutherford who won Nobel Prize for splitting the atom. He was actually at Canterbury, England when he won the Nobel Prize, but grew up and started his career in Christchurch. The old classroom where he used to teach is open and you can listen to a recording of a reenactment of one of his lectures.

Cathedral Square is a gathering place. I watched a chess game and wandered in The Church of England Cathedral for which the square is named. In the evening I went shopping at a discount store and bought a sheet, pillow slip and an inside sleeping bag. This will enable me to stay in cabins in campgrounds and will be useful at hostels which do not provide sheets and bedding

Akaroa is 75 Km south of Christchurch at the far end of the Banks Peninsula. The bay is an old volcano crater open on one side to the sea. I took the 11 AM Canterbury Cat cruise. It was quite rough on the sea so the boat did not go outside the bay.

We saw two
White-flippered Little Penguins a subspecies of Little Penguin and several Hector's Dolphins, a small dolphin with a rounded dorsal fin. The boat went very close to cliff nest of Spotted Shags and we saw these fish farming pens inside the bay.

Spotted Shags New Zealand Fish farming pens

Timaru Wetlands
At Timaru I stopped along the road at the Timaru Wetlands. I could find no entry into this area so scoped from the gate. There was a walker and biker inside the fence so there must be some way to get in. Perhaps I should not have been so intimidated by the no trespassing sign on the gate. From the gate I saw Paradise Shelduck, Pied Stilt, Spur-winged Plover, Pied Oystercatcher, Black-backed Gull ,Yellowhammer ,and Purple Swamphen.

Omaru - Two Penguin Town
Entering the small town of Omaru, I followed a sign for the Penguin Colony. This led me to the visitor's center for the Omaru Penguin Parade. Omaru was one of the best surprises in New Zealand.

There is a small colony of Little Penguins in an old rock quarry not far from the center of town. The visitors center has exhibits including a live TV camera in one of the artificial burrows in the colony outside. An adult penguin was preparing the nest for a second clutch of eggs. There was even more to the Omaru Penguin story.

I learned there is a colony of Yellow-eyed Penguins at Brushy Beach a short distance from the visitors center. The guide told me how to see both penguins in one night. The Yellow-eyed Penguins begin arriving at the beach about 3 PM and continue returning to their nests until after dark. At 6 PM and again at 7 PM a guide takes people close to the nests.

The Little Penguin visitors center reopens about 8 PM for the evening parade. A ticket to watch the penguins parade ashore cost NZ$10. So Omaru is a two penguin town.

I went back into town and got a bed at the Red Kettle YHA. I met a young woman from Korea and invited her to the two penguin evening. This is one of the smaller YHAs and it is best to have a bed reserved. As I traveled from YHA to YHA I always asked the host to make a paid reservation for me at the next town.

This is Brushy Beach from the bird hide. Yellow-eyed Penguins nest in the woods usually under fallen logs. In most of New Zealand the land has been cleared down to the beach destroying the penguins habitat. The Penguins must climb higher and higher to find suitable nesting sites.Here at Brushy Beach the cliffs were never cleared perhaps because they are too steep. The entire colony nests on the slopes in this picture. The colony here was almost destroyed by domestic dogs which keep the penguins from coming ashore freely. Before it was too late, dogs were banned from this beach.

At the north end of Brushy Beach, this bird hide sits on the top of the cliff. You need to arrive here about 3 PM to wait for the first penguins.

The Yellow-eyed Penguin is unique is two respects. First it nests in small colonies of from 2 to 40 pairs of birds and each pair like their nest to be completely hidden from the others. Second unlike other penguins, the Yellow-eyed Penguin returns to its nest all year long spending days at sea feeding and nights roosting at the nest.

The hide is very small and the night I was there was filled with spectators. Several Penguins had already come across the beach by the time I arrived at 3:30 PM.Here comes the first Yellow-eyed Penguin of the evening. This is the view from the hide. To see it well you will need a scope. About 5:30 Jim the volunteer guide shows up and recruits people to take his tour for NZ$8. He offers two tours the first at 6 PM and the second at 7 PM. Photographers will want to take the 6 PM tour before the light dims. Each tour accommodates 12 people so make sure you volunteer quickly. Do not take your scope on the tour.

Jim's walk goes back to the entrance and takes the unpaved path to the right. The walk is downhill and somewhat slippery. At one point we had to climb over a fallen tree.At a good sitting place Jim gives a talk about the penguins and his involvement in the restoration of Brushy Beach. Twenty three pairs of birds nest at Brushy Beach under Jim's care. Twenty years ago there were 15 pairs found here. Since then the area has been fenced. Dogs have been banned from the beach and intensive trapping has removed feral cats, ferrets.

Brushy Beach from viewing bench.

Viewing platform Brushy Beach

First penguin comes ashore Brushy Beach

There are only 4,000 Yellow-eyed Penguins left in the world. It nests only on the south east coast of the south island, on Stewart Island and on the subantarctic islands of Auckland and Campbell.The Yellow-eyed Penguins troubles began when the Maori settled on the island and introduced dogs and rats. Their troubles intensified 150 years ago when Europeans cleared the forests down to the beaches for sheep pastures. The penguin needs woods for protection from predators and from the heat.

The Yellow-eyed Penguin nests under fallen logs or under thick shrubs. This bird's nest is right next to the seating area where Jim gives his lecture. He or she remained on the nest and seemingly ignored our presence..Jim allows flash photographs and I used a fill flash to take this photo and the next one.

Close up of the Yellow-eyed Penguin on the nest. Notice the metal tag on the wing.The Black phase of the Variable Oystercatcher was seen on the beach from the penguin colony.

Penguin egg
Yellow-eyed Penguin egg
Yellow-eyed Penguin Omaru Brushy Beach Omaru Yellow-eyed Penguin Brushy Beach

Little Blue Penguin Parade
The Yellow-eyed Penguin is only the first penguin of the evening. After the 6 PM tour, we went back to the Visitor's Center and paid NZ$10 for the evening Penguin Parade. The center closes about 5 PM and reopens at 8 PM for the parade.

Like Phillips Island, Omaru has spectator bleachers for the penguin parade. The present structure seats about 50 people, but they are building a larger concrete stand behind the present stand. The best seats are in the front row on the ocean side. The Little Penguins will not come ashore until dark. Non-flash photography is allowed but I did not have a camera suitable to take pictures in the dim light.

The show is much like the one on Phillips Island with the first birds arriving about 9 PM. The young penguins are older and some of them are outside the burrows waiting to be fed by the adults. The adults cross the road in front of the viewing stand and walk through holes in the fence to the artificial burrows in the old quarry.

My companion from Korea was thrilled with the evening and so was I. Although you will have another chance for Yellow-eyed Penguin on the Otago Peninsula outside Dunedin, I strongly recommend an evening in Omaru. It is cheaper and you get to see the Yellow-eyed Penguin in a more natural setting. For more information see the web page http//

Moeriki Boulders
On the way to Dunedin, the highway passes the Moeraki Boulders Scenic Reserve. The moeraki boulders are a set of rounded stones formed in the ocean and deposited in sediments now above sea level. Gradually erosion exposes more and more boulders. There is a restaurant with public toilets and a track down to the beach. On the coast of Northern California at a place called Sea Ranch there is a beach with similar boulders. Locals call it Bowling Ball Beach. It is open to the public, but not advertised.

This is a shot of the boulders on a rising tide about an hour away from high tide. Obviously it is better to view the boulders at lower tide, but you can still see them at high tide. Originally there were many more boulders, but the smaller ones were taken as sourveniers to decorate lawns and gardens.
The boulders were formed in ocean deposits that are now above sea level. As the cliff behind the beach erodes more and more boulders are exposed. The picture at the top of the page is a boulder that is not fully exposed.

Moeriki Boulders Beach Moeriki Boulders Beach Stolen Moeriki Boulder decorates a driveway

In Dunedin I visited the train station. It is a remarkable preservation with stained glass and tiles. The Dunedin YHA near the city center, was filled with a school group from Timaru. The director of the YHA kindly upgraded me to a private room at the same cost as the female dorm so I was spared sharing a room with the kids. There were some other interesting people at the YHA that night including two couples from India and two school teachers from Malaysia.

Tairoa Head Albatross Colony
The next morning I drove the length of the Otago Peninsula stopping first at Hoopers Inlet on a rising tide. There were Pied Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwit, Pied Stilt, Spur-winged Plover, White-faced Heron, Black Swans.

The main attraction of the Otago Peninsula is Tairoa Head and the Northern Royal Albatross Colony there. Unfortunately it is November 11 and the viewing platform in the colony is closed every year from September 23 to November 24 because the birds are selecting nesting sites and they want to encourage them to select sites near the viewing platform.

There is a visitors center with films about the birds and a tour for NZ$15 of the restored fort which features a huge disappearing gun. A disappearing gun is a huge cannon mounted so that after it fires it drops down in a pit and is hidden from view. From the visitors center you take a path up to the fort. The path to the albatross viewing platform branches off this path. Usually the tour will do both the albatross and the fort.

The lighthouse at Tairoa Head built in 1850 was preceded by a Maori settlement. Later in the century the fort was built when it was feared that the Russians would expand in the area.There is no mention of an Albatross colony on Tairoa Head during this time. And nobody knows why in 1920 a pair of Royal Albatross built a nest and laid an egg. It was stolen, but the birds persisted and laid again next year. Predators and humans continued to take the eggs until in 1935 the first chick was hatched. That chick was killed. The Albatross colony became an attraction and carriages brought people out from Dunedin to see the nest.

In 1936, Dr. L.E. Richdale found the Albatross incubating an egg and resolved to protect the birds. He began to camp out on Tairoa Head alongside the nest. In 1938 the first young Albatross flew from the nest.Here a pair of Royal Albatross on their nest site taken from the boat trip later in the afternoon.

I was disappointed that the albatross viewing platform was closed, but took the fort tour anyway. From the observation window of the fort I watched the Albatross while the guide was explaining the history of the fort. On the grass outside the window Skylarks were putting on good show as well. On the ocean I saw thousands of Shearwaters flying back and forth.

I took the boat trip out to the end of Tairoa Head on the Monarch for NZ$26.On the boat trip thousands of Shearwaters were flying over the ocean just outside Tairoa Head.Other birds seen on the boat trip were: Stewart Island Shag, Royal Albatross, White-fronted Tern, Silver Gull, Black-backed Gull, Little Penguin. You will also see Fur Seals on this trip.

This is a shot of a Royal Albatross taken from the boat. If this captain would get the idea to use a basket of frozen chum like the boat at Kaikoura this boat trip could certainly rival Albatross Encounters.

Tairoa Head Lighthouse

Royal Albatross pair Tairoa Head

Royal Albatross flying

Yellow-eyed Penguin
The Otago Peninsula was once covered with forest and home to many Yellow-eyed Penguins. Extensive sheep farming cut the forest to the water edge restricting the penguins to nests high on the rugged hills. The more energy penguins have to expend climbing to the nests, the less productive they are and remember these penguins return to the nest every night.

A tour operator and a farmer cooperated in a private conservation effort to build an artificial penguin nesting reserve of 27 hectares right in an existing sheep pasture. The tour NZ$28 starts with a film and a lecture by the guide. A bus takes you across the ridge where you walk down to the colony first on a path and then through a covered tunnel to a dugout from which you can observe penguins sitting on their nests in artificial shelters. Fencing keeps dogs out and sheep in and trapping is used to remove feral cats. The tour guide said that "We want sheep, penguins, and people there. Nothing else." Even if you have seen the penguins at Omaru, you may enjoy seeing this excellent example of cooperative conservation between agriculture and tourism.

Sinclair Wetlands
On the way to Invercargill, I saw a sign for the Sinclair Wetlands and followed it down a paved road and then 14 km along a gravel road. It was a rainy day. There is a bunk house here and powered camp sites. This is owned and run by the Maori. The guide books mentions seeing Fernbird here, but I was not able to find it and the attendant was totally uninterested in helping me unless I paid to view a video. I didn't mind paying a few dollars to see the wetlands but I was not interested in seeing the video. He didn't understand this and refused to answer any more questions like where do I see the Fernbird? This is a good place for ducks and duck hunting is their big season April - May. My distinct impression is that management is not interesting in bird watching.I walked the dikes and saw: Canada Goose, Cape Barren Goose, Pied Oystercatcher, Grey Teal, Australian Shoveler, New Zealand Scalp, Paradise Shelduck, Purple Swamphen, Yellowhammer, Song Thrush, Spur-winged Plover, Common Blackbird.

Stewart Island Ferry
I visited the Invercargill museum where the main attraction is the living Tuatara exhibit. The Tuatara is a reptile that looks like an ordinary lizard, but actually belongs to the order Sphenodontia most of which became extinct with the dinosaurs. These remarkable animals are said to live 200 or more years and are mainly nocturnal. They were quite widespread in New Zealand but of course now are very endangered.

The YHA in Invercargill is called the Tuatara. It is in downtown Invercargill next to the library and a parking garage. On the second floor of a building, it was recently renovated and was one of the nicest YHA facilities. Parking is a problem as they have only a small lot behind the building and during the daytime it is usually filled with workers cars. There is a parking garage next door.

It was here that I tried to make reservations to see the Kiwi on Stewart Island only to find out that at this time of the year, the trips are fully booked. There are several big tour groups in New Zealand at this time and they may have filled the Stewart Island trips. There is an operator offering a kiwi trip that requires 12 km of walking at night. She will offer the trip if at least 2 people sign up. I afraid that 24 km in one night is more than I can do.I am extremely disappointed, but decide to go to Stewart Island anyway. There is no YHA on Stewart Island at present although there are plans to add one. The manager makes a reservation for me at a Backpackers called Ann's Place.

The ferry leaves from Bluff at 9 AM an easy half hour drive from Invercargill. The cost is NZ$70 for YHA guests and the YHA will make your reservation. There is secure parking at the ferry terminal and I left my car there. I don't remember exactly what the parking cost but it seems like about NZ$13.It is a nice .boat with an outside lower deck. The trip takes about an hour. On the way over I saw several smaller Albatross, Cape Petrel, and lots of Sooty Shearwaters.

On Stewart Island I took a taxi to Ann's Place which is not far from the boat dock but up and over a steep hill. I got there early in the morning and was able to select a bed. No bedding is provided here so I needed my sheets and sleeping bag. Ann's Place is good for birds. Tui were all over her garden. I dumped my stuff and walked back into town. I saw Chaffinch, Tomtit, Black Oystercatcher, Kingfisher, Kaka, Bellbirds. At the information center I made arrangements for a taxi ride to the Golden Bay boat dock and a water taxi to Ulva Island for the next day. I tried again to get on the Kiwi tours with no success.

Ulva Island
The next morning it was cold and threatening to rain. The water taxi is a very short ride to the dock at Ulva Island. There is a company that gives guided tours of the island and I could have opted to get on the tour, but decided to go it alone.Ulva is an open island sanctuary like Tiritiri Mantangi. Rats have been eliminated and endangered birds like the Saddleback and Brown Kiwi have been introduced here. At the information center on the main island I bought a guide book to the tracks on Ulva Island
.You cannot miss the Weka a large flightless rail. You will most likely see your first Weka on the beach as you arrive. The Kaka is a large parrot which I actually saw back at Ann's Place, but also saw here on the island. Also Tomtit, Red-crowned Parakeet, Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Bellbirds.
There are beautiful tracks to follow on the island. Just make sure you are back at the dock at the arranged time for the return trip. I was disappointed not to see the Stewart Island Robin. Sixteen robins were released on Ulva in 2000. The tour guide and several other people claimed to have seen it, but every bird I saw was the similar Tomtit with white on the wings.Back on Stewart Island, I walked back up the steep hill from Golden Bay to a shop at the top called the Fernery. I went across the street to a public toilet in the community ball field. I closed the door to the toilet, but did not try to lock it. I didn't need to because when I tried to get out I was locked in and no one was around. All I could do was stand on the toilet and yell "Help" out the window. This went on for over an hour.

Just when I was thinking about how cold and uncomfortable I would be in the toilet all night, two young men heard me calling and came to investigate. One of them kicked the door open. I exited quickly and began to thank my rescuers profusely. They were very surprised and the dazed expressions on their faces caused me to say "I guess I will make your journals tonight." They both agreed that was a fair statement. All the young travelers I met were keeping journals. Some made entries every day as I did, but then there was the guy who was trying to catch up for the last 15 days.

I went to the information center and reported the problem. It turned out the same thing had happened the day before to a worker from the shop across the street. I raised quite a fuss about this incident reporting it to the store owner and to the owner of Anns Place. If there is a lesson here it is to not close the toilet door when you are alone. Especially if it seems to be an old door with a key lock on the outside. To this day, I have a great fear of bathroom doors.

On the return ferry trip I saw 3 Fluttering Shearwaters and more Short-tailed Shearwaters.

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