Hard to beat for spectacular scenery, New Zealand offers nutrient-rich blue seas teeming with whales, dolphins, and fur seals over which glide albatrosses, petrels, and skuas; shorelines of penguins; rugged coastlines and dramatic capes hosting gannet and tern colonies; estuaries for spoonbills, stints and tattlers; wetlands supporting bitterns, rails and crakes; mirrored lakes, sheep-grazed hills; mossy forests and ancient podocarpus forests where Kokako glide across the high canopy; alpine meadows and scree slopes; braided rivers spilling down from snow-covered mountains and hanging glaciers; geysers, hot springs, boiling mud pools and volcanoes; and endemic birds with strange names like Kea, Kiwi, Takahe, Tui, Weka, and Wrybill. Take a breath and enjoy it all!
Day 1: Our New Zealand tour originates in Auckland. Those travelers from our Sydney tour will be flying to Auckland this day and be transported to the hotel near Auckland harbor. Hotel in Auckland for two nights.
Day 2: Hotel breakfast will be provided, at which time we will conduct our tour orientation meeting. You have a choice of two itineraries for today. Tiritiri Mantangi Island is a must-visit site for birders and nature lovers hoping to see New Zealand endemics. We will take a 30-minute ferry ride from Auckland and a guided tour of the island that was once farmlands but now is native forests resulting from an enormous revegetation project from 1984 to 1994. Some 78 species of birds have been observed on or near the island, including endangered species such as Little Spotted Kiwi, Brown Teal, Takahe, Stitchbird, and Kokako. Other endemic species are New Zealand Pigeon, New Zealand Bellbird, Tui, New Zealand Robin, and Whitehead. A packed lunch will be included.
Alternatively, an on-off narrated bus tour of Auckland is offered for those less interested in seeing Tiritiri Mantangi. The tour includes Sky City, Auckland waterfront, Parnell Village, Kelly Tarlton's, Mount Eden, Auckland Zoo, and many more stops. Lunch will be included.
Day 3: We will be renting RV’s for travel, sleeping, and many meals. Typically, these are late model Class C turbo diesel vehicles accommodating two to four adults and including double bed, gas stove, refrigerator, microwave, shower, toilet, air-conditioning/heating, pressurized hot & cold water, and radio/CD player. Also included are linen, bedding, and kitchen equipment. We will pick up our RVs in the morning, get groceries, and head to the Firth of Thames where thousands of Bar-tailed Godwits gather in the Austral winter. At the Shorebird Centre a local naturalist will explain the godwits phenomenal migration flight across the Pacific from Alaska. The Centre offers an attractive gift shop and a wide selection of New Zealand nature books. At the estuary, we will especially seek out Wrybills, the unusual shorebird with a bill that hooks to the right. At our Miranda campsite we can luxuriate in a swimming pool filled from thermal mineral springs pouring in from below at a temperature of 97-100°. (Travel ~82 mi.).
Day 4: After revisiting the beach in early morning, we drive toward Waitomo. In the afternoon we take a guided walking tour through Ruakuri Cave, first discovered 400-500 years ago by a young Maori hunting for birds. This tour is followed by a boat ride through the underground Waitomo Glowworm Cave where we will marvel at these bioluminescent insects (Arachnocampa luminosa) illuminating Glowworm Grotto. We camp at Waitomo for one night. (Travel ~100 mi.).
Day 5: We have a leisurely morning start driving in the direction of Rotorua and stop at a raptor facility that raises endangered New Zealand Falcons for release into the wild. Here we will view a falconry training session, affording amazing close ups of these birds in action and flying freely. We camp at Rotorua for one night. (Travel ~90 mi.).
Day 6: Our travels today take us past Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, and on to Napier. Ahuriri Estuary offers birders a variety of birds such as Australian Shoveler, Rufous-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, White-headed Stilt, and Double-banded Plover. There will be time to check out the Classic Sheepskins Tannery where you could have a tour of the sheep tanning process and purchase sheepskin products, such as warm clothing made from the fur of Alpaca and possum. In the afternoon we have the unique experience of riding in a wagon pulled by a tractor, racing to beat the incoming tide along the narrow rock-strewn beach and vertical cliffs. Then we visit Cape Kidnappers for a view of largest mainland colony (7500 pairs) of Australian Gannets and a colony of White-fronted Terns. Camp at Napier. (Travel ~164 mi.).
Day 7: On the way to Wellington we will stop for lunch (optional) at a brewery named after a well-known bird, the Tui, which also can be found in the area. At a stop at Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre we will be introduced to the comical antics of the Kaka, cross a foot bridge over a pool filled with monster eels, and learn what are Takake and Kokako. Camp at Wellington for two nights. (Travel ~200 mi.).
Day 8: A site all enjoyed on our last trip is Kaori Wildlife Sanctuary. This unique protected area excludes the introduced predators that have plagued New Zealand endemics elsewhere on the main islands. A fascinating Kaori exhibition hall traces millions of years of natural history, giving real insight into New Zealand's loss of natural habitat and native animals. At the same time, the sanctuary illustrates the successful wildlife comeback in their exclosure. This sanctuary and its inhabitants are a delight to photographers. Here, in the wild, we can see Bellbird, Saddleback, Whitehead, New Zealand Falcon, Red-crowned Parakeet, and best of all, during a special night tour, Little Spotted Kiwi. We undoubtedly will hear many Morepork calling and might be lucky enough to see the owl as we did last trip. Here also are the prehistoric Tuatara that look like large lizards or small dinosaurs, but are neither.
Day 9: Cook Strait separates North Island and South Island. The 3-hr. car-ferry ride is touted to be one of the most spectacular ferry rides in the world. We have an excellent chance of seeing up to six species of albatross, Northern Giant Petrel, and Buller’s Shearwater as well as Common, Dusky and Hector’s Dolphins, and Killer Whales. Camp is on the South Island at Kaikoura for two nights (Travel by RV ~105 mi.).
Day 10: We’ll take a pelagic boat tour offshore from Kaikoura. These nutrient-rich waters are famous for Humpback, Killer, and Sperm Whales, often seen at close quarters. Albatrosses are notoriously difficult to see close up, but here many come close to the boat and we are likely to see Buller’s, Black-browed, and Salvin's, as well as Giant Petrels and lots of an oddly named petrel called a Cape Pigeon. Kaikoura, a small fishing town, is known for its crayfish (rock lobster) and also hosts a New Zealand fur seal colony.
Day 11: We travel to Christchurch, with a free afternoon to visit some sites on your own: the downtown area of this famous city or the impressive Antarctic Centre which includes a Blue Penguin rehabilitation facility. Camp at Christchurch. (Travel ~111 mi.).
Day 12: From Christchurch we travel into the Southern Alps to Twizel, Lake Ruataniwa, and in clear view of Mt. Cook at 12,136 ft. the highest mountain in Australasia. We will tour the Black Stilt Captive Breeding Centre and perhaps be fortunate enough to see these in the wild, the world’s rarest wading birds, in the shadow of spectacular snow-covered Mt. Cook. Last trip we found Pied Stilts and an odd hybrid crossed with Black Stilt. Camp at Twizel. (Travel ~177 mi.).
Day 13: Continuing through the Southern Alps, we pass a series of turquoise lakes and a salmon-raising pond, popular for New Zealand Scaup. Alongside the gravel strewn braided streams we can see Black-fronted Terns, Double-banded Dotterel, Skylark, Dunnoch, and the New Zealand rare Great-crested Grebe. The braided streams have become flowerbeds for colorful introduced lupines, pretty to view but environmentally disruptive. In the evening we will take a Lake Wakatipu cruise on a 1912 vintage steamer from Queenstown and enjoy a gourmet dinner prepared from locally grown fresh products. Camp in Queenstown, originally a sheep run, then a gold rush town and now South Island's most popular ski resort, set on Lake Wakatipu among rugged peaks and hills smoothed by glaciers. (Travel ~124 mi.).
Day 14: Passing through mountains, beside large lakes, and then descending to broad farmlands populated by thousands of sheep and large herds of Red Deer, we thread our way toward the west coast, stopping at Te Anau. In the afternoon we can explore part of the expansive 12,000-sq.km. Fiordland National Park, trying to catch a glimpse of Yellowhead, one of the hardest endemics to see. At The Tunnel, undoubtedly we will meet the comical Kea at the parking lot. An alpine parrot, it has a fascination for tires and windshield wipers. Camp at Te Anau for two nights. (Travel ~106+ mi.).
Day 15: The day is dedicated to exploring Fiordland National Park, encompassing wet forests, lakes, braided rivers, alpine meadows, glaciers, snow-capped peaks, and fiords. Rudyard Kipling described magical, unforgettable Milford Sound as the eighth wonder of the world and to this day it is one of the most famous attractions in New Zealand. We will cruise by tour boat through Milford Sound to the Tasman Sea, viewing glacier-capped mountains that rise a mile high directly from the sea. We have a chance at seeing Fiordland Crested Penguins and undoubtedly will find New Zealand Fur Seals lounging on the rocks. In the evening we can visit a favorite restaurant at Te Anau where locally raised venison is a specialty on the menu.
Day 16: After visiting Te Anau Wildlife Centre, we cross to the southeast coast of South Island at Dunedin, choosing among several routes, depending how much of the coastline you want to explore. Camp at Dunedin for two nights. (Travel ~177 mi.).
Day 17: On the Otago Peninsula we will visit the only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatrosses in the world. We will also see a nesting colony of Steward Island Shags, perhaps a few Spotted Shags, and get a close-up view of the rare Hooker's Sea-lion. At the time of our visit, New Zealand Fur Seals are giving birth and we can see the young, aged from a few hours to a few weeks, huddled next to their mothers. Best of all will be the march of the penguins; this is a must-see for everyone. Yellow-eyed Penguins–rarest in the world–emerge from the sea, pause to survey the beach for sea-lions, and then march across the sand to the grassy slopes where they spend the night in burrows. On the same hillsides we could find a few juvenile Blue Penguins, the smallest penguin species in the world. As we leave the peninsula in the evening, we might chance upon a Little Owl perched on a fence post.
Day 18: We follow the coast to Christchurch. In mid-afternoon you may wish to take the city bus to downtown and see the historic sites. Alternatively, you could visit the Antarctic Centre which includes a ride in the all terrain amphibious Hagglund. Both are optional. Camp at Christchurch. (Travel ~223 mi.).
Day 19: We will turn in our RVs and transfer to a Christchurch hotel near the airport. In the late afternoon and evening we will tour a small wildlife reserve with a captive breeding program for Great Spotted Kiwi, enjoy a cultural performance by native Maori people and celebrate our farewell dinner. In darkness only illuminated by dim flashlights, we will visit the Kiwi enclosures for our farewell to the national bird of New Zealand.
Day 20: Return flights from Christchurch.