Archive for February, 2019

If you’ve made it this far in the blog, then you know we are at our final location … the South Island. However, we picked up a rental car in Invercargill and are making a big swing around the South Island. I’m going to abbreviate it NZ(SI). Too hard to type it all!

As I stated we picked up a Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross as our rental car … here’s a picture of it. I always thought Eclipses were sports cars … I guess they were reworked and now they are SUVs. This one has worked brilliantly for us.

We picked it up in Invercargill, I got in on the right side to drive and off we went! Our first destination was Te Anau. This small town in the Fiordlands gave us access to a couple of places on our list. Many people visit Milford Sound from here — we went to Doubtful Sound instead. The other thing on our list was the Glow Worm caves. We also saw some birds but they are for another post.

We checked into our hotel that first night and were planning a hike on the Kepler track the next day. However, the weather didn’t look agreeable and so we decided to visit the Bird Sanctuary instead. We made it there and for a short hike before it started raining. We were keeping our fingers crossed that our trip to Doubtful Sound the next day would go ok.

We were picked up by the tour bus the next morning for our journey to Doubtful Sound. The name of our company was “Real Journeys” so we felt we were in good hands. To get to Doubtful Sound is a little like a movie … you take the bus to a pier. You then take a boat (large catamaran) across this lake to another pier.

You get on a bus and they drive you up over a pass and down the other side to get on the final boat for your tour of Doubtful Sound. This was basically a six-hour journey. As I said, we were picked up by the bus and dropped at the pier and then boarded our first boat. This boat ride was about 40 minutes across this large lake … about 35 minutes into the ride, the boat suddenly turned around and started heading back. The Skipper came on the line and said they had a rock slide on the road over the pass and we couldn’t continue with the tour. Fortunately for us, we had left a little flex in our schedule. We had booked this tour and the Glow Worm tour as a set with this same company. We got back to the dock and worked it out with them to tour the glow worms that day and come back for another try at Doubtful Sound the next day. All good …

Our next challenge was getting the 15 kilometers back to our hotel. Our original bus driver was nowhere to be found … we saw a guy in a big bus about to leave and asked him if he’d give us a lift. He said “ok” and dropped us off right across from our hotel. On the way back to the hotel he filled us in on all the great places to ride and visit on the South Island … this all matched up with everything we had planned. Fantastic!

We waited until the afternoon to go see the glow worms and made our way over to that dock. Here’s a couple of photos of that journey.

You can’t take photos in the glow worm caves. This was an interesting trip as well. As you can see above, we had a 30 minute boat ride across the lake (a different lake) to the Cavern House. We made our way inside and they immediately broke us up into groups of about 10 people. They give you a quick safety briefing and then you head into the cave. This cave was carved out by the glacial waters from high in the mountains. About a half mile inside the cave is where they have the glow worms. You walk along these steel grate paths until you get back to a small lake. They ask everyone to be quiet, you enter the boat and sit down, they turn off all the lights and then (I assume) the guide uses ropes to pull the boat along so you can see the “glow worms.” I thought there’d be thousands of these things in the ceiling … not really … more like several hundred or so. It is beautiful … but once you find out that these are fly larvae (maggots) it kind of puts you off a little. So we floated under the maggots for about 10 minutes and then back we went for the hike out. We had another story at the end, got our 30 minute boat ride back and called it a great day. We were ready for the second chance at Doubtful Sound!

The third day was a charm as we headed over for our Doubtful Sound tour. Everything went along smoothly–both bus trips and both boat rides! We were there early and ready to go … what a beautiful Sound (or Fiord or whatever). Here are some photos to give you an idea of the beauty …

This place was quite magical … even the views from inside were stunning.From the rain the previous day there were hundreds of temporary waterfalls. Low lying clouds added to the mystique and mist formed on several mountains.Just incredible scenery the whole time …Around every rock or mountain was more gorgeousness …Just amazing.The mist and clouds made it a special time.Some of the imagery even looked fake.We did have to bundle up a little but it was worth the effort to see these sights.We went all the way to the end of the sound and saw a few seals …

Just a wonderful, relaxing trip. The ship’s captain took the boat up into one of the arms of the fiord and turned off all the engines … we just floated there in the quiet and beauty listening to the waterfalls and bird song.

We cruised back to the pier, caught our bus back to the next boat, enjoyed that ride, had a bus the second time and were dropped off right at our hotel.

Wow, we had an excellent adventure in Te Anau. With this as a kickoff for the next five weeks we felt we were in for a treat the whole time. Next up — Glenorchy!


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Our journey continued from the North Island in New Zealand … we were flying to the bottom of the South Island and then catching a flight the next day to Stewart Island … even further south. We had a late flight from Wellington landing in Invercargill around 8:30 pm. Deb had recommended we buy some food to have with us on the flight so we wouldn’t have to look around for supper. Once again, I should have listened to her!

We had booked a bed and breakfast not too far from the Airport since we were flying the next day. As we landed it began to rain … my plan was to grab a taxi to our B&B, walk over for some dinner at a local restaurant, and then head to the airport somehow the next day. We ran out into the rain, grabbed a cab, and told him where we were headed. It was kind of out in the middle of nowhere … since it was raining, I asked if he would wait while we dropped our bags and then we could go grab some dinner. He said, “Sure” and we knocked on the door. A young Asian girl answered and didn’t know who we were … we started to get a little worried; then an older man appeared and he was also confused. His wife usually ran the business and she was out playing bridge. He showed us to what he thought was our room and left it at that. Unsure of things, we left our bags and hopped back in the cab (with the meter running). We drove off to find some dinner … we didn’t know, but this day happened to be a federal holiday … all of the restaurants were closing early or closing right at 9pm. We had no idea what to do … however, Deb had seen a take-out place so we stopped there (still with the cab running …). It turned out to be a Chinese place. We asked for the fastest item on the menu … they said Fish and Chips … we said we’ll take two! So off we went with our Chinese Fish and Chips back to the B&B. The young lady (who was a surprise guest at the house) showed us where to get plates. We ate dinner, went to bed, all without knowing if this was really our B&B. We did meet the lady the next morning over breakfast … we swore off B&Bs, she dropped us at the airport (after a detour to show us some of the local beaches). We arrived about 30 minutes before our flight … no real issue; there was no security and we and the other 6 passengers were heading out to board our tiny prop plane. Funny thing again … there was some weather in the area … the winds were really gusting … around 50 miles per hour! We took off and our pilot said he wasn’t sure we’d land but he’d give it a go! Deb was seated in the co-pilot’s seat and they chatted the whole way … he was showing her pictures on his phone, flying with one hand … come to find out, he had about forty years of experience. He brought us in for a crazy sideways landing and said “Welcome to Stewart Island!” This video will show you how windy it was.

So … we made it to Stewart Island! Our plan here was really to just birdwatch and hike a couple of tracks. We had several birds on our list (to include the Kiwi) and we were getting after it!

We spent some time the first day walking around town and saw a few birds to add …

We walked along the inner harbor.I’m sure it looks like I’m lost … but I’m not!Don’t even ask …This beautiful ship was out in the harbor.

A special bird that first day was the Blue Penguin. We walked down to the pier that night, braved the rain and wind, and saw two of these little penguins coming in to shore.

We saw these wonderful Variable Oystercatchers (the Black variant).We also saw this black-billed Gull.Here is the red-billed Gull.I captured this Little Tern from a distance. Quite windy so he is hunkered down.That evening we saw these little blue penguins. Here he is coming up out of the water.You can see his gullet is full of food for the young ones …Just before he hops down into his hiding place …Oh, we also saw another Kaka … this guy flew right up to us. No way I was going to reach out and see if I could touch him! Look at that beak!

The following day was to be a hike day but it rained the whole day. We had hoped to head out that evening to see some Kiwis but we just couldn’t brave the cold and wet again.

On our second full day we had nice weather in the morning so we booked a ride on a ferry to Ulva Island.

This island is predator-free and has a lot of native birds as well.

We were able to spend the full morning walking around this beautiful island; well, at least a small section of it. There were so few people it seemed like we were there alone. We identified all three of the whitehead species here: the Whitehead, the Brown Creeper, and the Yellowhead. Deb identified the Rifleman call and we were able to track these tiny birds down. They are just a tad larger than my thumb … I was able to capture a couple of photos. All in all it was a great trip to Ulva Island.

This is the South Island Saddleback.Here is one of the New Zealand flightless birds, the Weka. It was very curious … check out these photos of its curiosity.Deb had sat down to grab a quick bite … see the Weka looking up at her? Haha. He wanted something to eat. Oh, and that was the last time we saw that little booklet!She finally had to get up and move … they were right up on her!This was a deserted beach and we were here at low tide. Check out the mussels in this picture.

This is a South Island Robin … has to be one of the cutest, tiniest birds ever.Here is the Yellowhead. A little fuzzy, I know. This is the brown creeper … again fuzzy … but all these little birds moved so fast!I couldn’t pass up posting another Wood Pigeon photo. So pretty.This is the Bellbird … a lovely green color …Here is the Rifleman … so tiny …One more shot of the Rifleman.

We made our way back to the ferry and caught a ride back to Stewart Island. We saw our first Albatrosses here … both right before boarding and on the ferry ride. These are White-capped Mollymawks.

The weather was cooperating so we walked around a little more checking out the sights. It clouded up and rained again that evening … another night we couldn’t get out for the Kiwi! Aaargh. Oh well … you can’t win them all! It was an awesome trip and we had a relatively smooth flight back to Invercargill to begin our South Island adventure!


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I knew coming to New Zealand that I had already surpassed my goals for birdwatching and that anything here would be the cherry on top. I bought a bird book for New Zealand when we were in Auckland. As usual, I didn’t look real close at the book on the inside; I just bought it for the size and cool cover. The back cover said it contained images and information on 374 species … I thought, wow! I’ll really add to my life list total here … that all matched up with my goal to see 75 new birds in New Zealand. Then I looked at the contents … it seems that 170 of the birds listed are either extinct, very rare, or rare. Also, about another 50 are to be found on some tiny island off the main islands. Soooo …. I’m really working with about 150 birds … which is just fine … like I said. Anything here is extra!

I’m breaking this blog post up into three: 1) The North Island (this one), 2) Stewart Island, and 3) the South Island. Those are the three largest islands and, fortunately, we visited all three.

With these numbers to work with and knowing our destinations we headed off on this leg of the adventure. As stated in the previous post, we first went to Rotorua–this village is right on a lake so it provided an opportunity to see both land and shore birds — it didn’t disappoint. We were able to add quickly to the list. Here are a few photos from there.

Here in New Zealand, they call the Cormorants “Shags.” This is a little Shag.We saw both the Little Shag and the Little Black Shag in Rotorua.This is the Pied Stilt … he was a long way away … but I got him with my big telephoto!We saw plenty New Zealand Scaups.All of the Black Swans we saw were so beautiful and elegant.This guy was hiding up under the reeds … New Zealand Dabchick (what I would call a Grebe).This is a Silvereye.We loved this bird … first real photo I captured … so beautiful. It is a Tui. This is called Pukeko … commonly known as a Purple Swamphen.See it’s enormous feet? Very cool bird.

The second place we stopped was Tongariro … that was more about hiking and a lot less about birding, but I think we were able to add one or two as well.

After we had hiked the first day, we decided to try and see some Kiwi in that area … we asked around and folks just kind of laughed and said “good luck.” We knew we were finished with the big hike so we changed our plans and went to Wellington a day early to visit this place called “Zealandia.” It is a very large wildlife preserve that has an 8.6 kilometer predator fence around it. They’ve introduced native species and bird life in this preserve and they are thriving … we were able to see quite a few native birds on the North Island. Here’s a couple of those images.

The preserve had feeders set up … we saw this Kaka (parrot) by the feeder. Here’s another shot of the Kaka from the front. Beautiful.This is one of our favorite birds in New Zealand … the Fantail. I caught this one in full display. They were so curious … they were always coming around when you called.This is the North Island Saddleback … a rare bird making a comeback!This is the Hihi (Stitchbird). I caught this Pied Shag jumping up out of the water…This lovely bird is the New Zealand Wood Pigeon … an extremely large bird.This is a small little bird … the North Island Robin. He was just as curious as the Fantail. He would walk around your feet looking for insects you disturb by walking.Here’s another shot of the fantail from the side … a lovely little bird.This guy is the Tui mentioned above. I added this picture so you could see his two puff-balls on his chin. His song is quite lovely … they mimic all kinds of sounds.

Overall, we had a great experience on the North Island with birds. We came away having seen 42 birds with 24 of those being new to us. Yeah! On to Stewart Island!


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Here we are in New Zealand after months of travel–exciting! We studied long and hard to see what would be the best way to travel and where to go. As many of you know, New Zealand is a destination for avid Lord of the Ring fans. All the movies were filmed here and opportunities abound to visit the sites and picture yourself in the locations. However, neither Deb nor I were that interested in visiting those sites. It’s been so long since I’ve watched the movies that I can’t remember what the different geographies looked like … plus I read the books first so I already had an image in my mind of the places and the characters … none of which matched up here. So we kept our eyes open as we drove by the sites but we really wanted to experience the country itself.

That’s why we decided to visit the three largest islands … the North Island (1 week), the South Island (5 weeks), and Stewart Island (4 days). We started on the North Island …

We flew from Sydney to Auckland and stayed in the city one night. We found it to be a lovely city. We find ourselves frequently saying that we would have stayed somewhere longer … but you never know until you get there. We picked up a few items to use during our stay and visited an iconic brewery bar (see my beermentor.me page for that post).

The next day we picked up a rental car and drove to Rotorua. This was the start of our New Zealand birding … that’s for another post. We used the two days we stayed here to recharge our (human) batteries. We walked around the lake a little and checked things out in town. Probably wouldn’t go back unless it was to mountain bike in the Redwood forest ….

The lake had all kinds of character … from flat to wind-blown … the views were nice.You can see by the color of the water that it is full of minerals.Part of the lake is fed by these thermal springs … with a sulphuric smell.Obviously, you had to be careful around this area.It was a quaint town …

From there we went to the National Park in the middle of the island (kind of) to hike the Tongariro Crossing. This is a 20 kilometer Alpine Hike across the Volcanos. It was fantastic! I did it with about 1,000 of my closest tourist friends. Haha. It was so crowded and there were people from all over the world doing this crossing. It was still a great hike and it thinned out after we crossed the highest point (at 6,134 feet). Many people turn back at that point because they aren’t prepared for the weather or the altitude … here’s a sample video and a few photos.

https://1drv.ms/v/s!Al8npXcTM1M4huUBLnNlnhab_0YWig (Link to the Video)

Ok, I said it was 20Km … it’s only 19.4 Km.From the top of the hike looking down on the Emerald Lake.This is “Mount Doom” … inspiration for Mordor in Lord of the Rings.Hiking across the big crater (Caldera) at the top of this active Volcanic region.

We had scheduled ourselves for two full days to allow for changes in the weather. Since we were able to do the hike on the first day we changed plans and headed to Wellington a day early. It was a pleasant drive and we were able to visit a nature preserve right in the city — Zealandia. More about that in the birding post.

We visited Zealandia, turned in the rental car, and flew out the same day. It was very strange at the airport … we showed up early to prepare for the security checkpoint. There wasn’t one. You check in, drop your bags, and then off you go to the gate. Apparently for domestic flights to smaller destinations you don’t go through security. So … off we flew to Invercargill! Stand by for that post …

Stumbling Piper

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If you looked at my beer mentor page (www.beermentor.me) you would have seen a couple of posts for Sydney already. This is such a diverse city it would be difficult to categorize it.

As mentioned in one of the birding posts, we started our stay in Australia up above Cairns in a small town called Port Douglas. This gave us access to the Daintree Rainforest and to the Atherton Tablelands. Here we had 3 different environments to explore — the beach (with crocodiles/Jellyfish), the Rainforest (with crocodiles/spiders/snakes), and the Tablelands (spiders/snakes/but no crocodiles). We were happy to have only seen one snake and one crocodile while there.

It was fun walking on the beach and checking out the shells and rocks.We also saw these tiny crabs all over the place.And yes, we saw some Jellyfish washed up on the beach.The rainforest was beautiful.And up on the tablelands we saw either Kangaroos or Wallaby. We weren’t sure what these were–pretty sure Kangaroos.We are pretty sure this was a Wallaby!Beautiful views up on the Tablelands….

We had a rental car in Port Douglas so we were able to drive to all of these different places … that made it easy — however, driving on the left side of the road did take a little getting used to!

From Port Douglas we drove to Cairns and then flew to Sydney. We didn’t stay in Sydney at first — we took the train to Katoomba (up in the Blue Mountains). We wanted to hike (and eventually bike [see previous post]). So no rental car here — we just hiked/walked all over the place. It was an amazing location–we stayed right near the canyon rim wall and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Off in the distance you can see the Three sisters … this is all sandstone so it continues to get shaped and reformed. Our Bed and breakfast was very near those pillars.As you went down into the valley you sometimes had mist roll in … it would be clear then misty …We took the steepest train in the world down into the valley … this shot doesn’t doo it justice for how steep it is!We also hiked on some pretty incredible structures …Always having to stop for the view, because you don’t want to walk and look here.Reminded me of a green Grand Canyon.Looking out the roof of the train … gives you a little perspective on how steep it was.Here is the train platform …

It was such a beautiful area to hike and walk …

We took the train back to Sydney and hiked (with our 40 lb bags/packs plus our other backpacks) to our hotel. We were staying down in the heart of the city so that we could get around easier. Again, without a rental car we walked/hiked all over the place. We did take a taxi to Bondi Beach (and back) because we had a tight schedule that day. Otherwise we wandered around the city on foot. It was fabulous. We ended up spending a good deal of time in the Botanical Gardens.

This is over in the old quarter of the city … a view out to the harbor bridge.One of the displays at the Botanical Garden was on carnivorous plants … these are Pitcher plants.Of course, we had absolutely stunning views of the Opera House.And many other interesting things that show up in a harbor town.Looking from the botanical garden over to the opera house.

On this trip through Australia, we took planes, trains, and automobiles! Haha. It was such an amazing trip … I loved all the birds we saw and the scenery was spectacular.

On to New Zealand for the final leg of this Southern Swing!

Stumbling Piper

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While in Australia we decided a visit to the Daintree rainforest, north of Cairns, would be a good idea. I had wanted to drive up through the forest to Cape Tribulation to possibly see some Cassowaries but didn’t think we had the time. We decided to book an evening cruise on the River instead. I had hoped to have an opportunity to see the six different kinds of Kingfishers and possibly a Frogmouth or two. We made a day of it and leisurely drove up to the quaint village of Daintree. On our way, we made a few stops to see if we could identify some shore birds.

Once again, we were in the dreaded area of the Crocodile. I was completely oblivious to the fact that Deb was terrified (see previous posts) of these things. When we stopped at the mouth of the Daintree river to look for some birds one of the locals told us that a 20 foot crocodile usually hung out by the sand bar but they hadn’t seen it for a couple of days. I decided a jaunt over to the beach would be a good idea … and it was from a birding standpoint! Saw a couple of terns, an oystercatcher, and a couple of other shore birds. Deb was constantly watching for the croc … no sighting! Whew.

Here’s an osprey we caught at the shore … a different version than my normal one, so a new bird for me. Yes!My previous bird post for Australia has images of the birds we saw … This reef egret was a little bit of a loner.This guy was trying to sneak away so I only got a “Sasquatch-style” photo … but enough to identify him — an Eastern Curlew.

We drove up to Daintree and then poked around a couple of the roads there looking for birds. We didn’t have great success … there was the odd bird here and there. Just really enough to whet my appetite.

This stone curlew was always a pleasure to see.This Metallic Starling was pretty cool.

Around 5pm we were at the pier waiting for our guide to show up and take us for our river cruise … I was excited to see the birds. I saw a couple as we were waiting:

This is a Forest Kingfisher … one of six! This is an olive-backed sunbird … beautiful!

Well… let’s just say that it was us and the tour guide and he wasn’t really a birdwatcher. He wanted to just cruise us up the river, look for a few “animals,” show us the bats and return.

I was pretty disappointed initially. While Deb did see the most rare of Kingfishers, the Little Kingfisher, I was constantly just missing whatever birds there were and about 45 minutes later it was too dark to spot birds anyway.

Here we are cruising up a narrow section between the shore and an island.I did catch this little guy snooping around … a Brown -backed Honeyeater.I also saw this “leaf bird.” Haha. From a distance, I would swear that yellow stem was a bill on an a nice orange bird.And here was my problem … it just started getting too dark to identify any more birds.

As we cruised along, Dan, our tour guide, pointed out a crocodile cruising down the river … he wanted to know if we wanted to get closer … it was about 12 feet long. We said “Heck no!”

I kept asking myself why I was so disappointed … we were out on a boat in a river in Northern Australia doing something that few other people do … it was actually pretty amazing. I perked up and we saw an amazing display of these very large fruit bats leaving the roosting area for their nightly dinner.

It was a mass migration of thousands of bats. As we sat there, the only boat in the area, the bats would swoop down to the river and bounce in the water. They were collecting water in their fur so they could land and drink it. We had these bats flying overhead, bouncing on the water (right by the boat) all in the stillness and the quietness. I was happy that I had perked up and was just enjoying the moment. Check out this video of all the bats. And look at that sky! Wow!

I guess things sometimes don’t go they way you expect but they still turn out pretty nice. On the way back, we spotted a Nankeen Heron and a Radjah Shelduck … both new birds for me. A great way to end an excellent cruise on the river.

Stumbling Piper

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