Archive for May 22nd, 2019

This is the final birdwatching entry from our Southern Swing 2018-2019.  A few previous posts discussed the North Island, Stewart Island, and our Pelagic bird-watching.  The focus of this trip on the South Island wasn’t really about the birds but just experiencing everything the island had to offer.  We did take every opportunity to view the birds when we were at different locations.   I also mentioned earlier that it was ‘possible’ for us to see around 150 birds … but I thought 75 was the more realistic goal, so that’s what we went after!   At the end of our trip we counted up and had 80 birds on our New Zealand list.  Wow.  A great number considering it wasn’t our primary focus.  Of those 80, 59 were brand new birds.  We finagled a few new ones on the South Island but the majority really came from the previous three trips.

There were only two or three native birds we didn’t see that I thought we had a chance: 1) Kea, 2) Shining Cuckoo, and 3) Fernbird.  Otherwise, we saw all the other common native birds.  The Moorpork (Owl), Kiwi, and Takahae were in captivity but cool to see anyway.  Here are a few pictures of birds from the South Island not in previous posts.

First off is this little guy: the Rifleman.  This bird is about the size of my thumb … just a tiny fellow!  We felt very fortunate to be able to call them in and get these photos.  They are almost as active as a hummingbird so never sitting still.  Enjoyed seeing them on Stewart Island and on the South Island.

This is a set of birds that were “imported” from Europe.  The European Goldfinch, the Green Finch, and the Yellowhammer.  We saw several others to include Starlings, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, etc.  Pretty birds nonetheless … just not native.

Here are the Takahes.  There are about 300 of these birds alive — captive or otherwise.  They were originally considered extinct but were discovered in a remote area of the island and are now being bred back to a sustainable level.  A beautiful, big flightless bird.

Another couple of native birds.  The Tomtit … just a wee fellow.  About the same size as the Robin.  We saw him in the mountains in New Zealand.  We also saw this Blue Duck, a rare native as well.  A strange looking duck.  We saw this native Stilt: a Pied Stilt; also known as a Black-winged Stilt.

This is an Australasian Crested Grebe.  I felt fortunate to see it — twice!  Hard to photograph, but cool!


As with most things, when you are seriously always looking for birds you’ll see what you want to see!  I saw these two “ducks” below — and still photographed them.  I think I need to get my prescription updated …


Well, that wraps up the birdwatching portion of our Southern Swing.  Eight countries, six guided trips, and a whole lot of leg work, photography, and sorting in four months.  We saw over 410 new birds.  It was just an incredible trip and a fantastic birdwatching adventure.  Until next time!

Stumbling Piper


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Our final big adventure in New Zealand was a fully-supported six-day cycling trip from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean.  It covered over 300 kilometers with the majority of the riding on gravel paths and country roads.  It was guided by the good folks from Adventure South NZ–Rachel and Howie were fantastic tour guides and kept the tour flowing from beginning to end.

We were picked up in Christchurch and began our journey in the van with the other 12 people on our trip — there were New Zealanders, Australians, English, and Americans with us … a good group … and we think we were the youngest!  Six of the participants rode electric-bikes — the rest of us were just pedaling along.

Day 1 … Christchurch to Tekapo.  We drove along the same route we had driven the previous day … all the way back to Geraldine … this part of the journey was interesting because our tour bus was having a few “issues.”  However, we made it to the first ride destination and toured our way into Fairlie.  While we were getting this “warm up ride” out of the way, the tour bus was fixed and we drove to Tekapo, our first overnight stop.  The food was quite pleasant all the way through–I made it a point of having a big breakfast every day to prep for the next day’s ride!  Each day we would have a sheet come around and you would sign up for your dinner and breakfast options.  More on that later … “French Toast” (below) for breakfast!


Day 2 … Tekapo to Twizel.  The second day of our tour ended up being a long one!  With the bus problems, we postponed part of the first day’s ride and added it to this day … for a total of about 50 kilometers … that’s a big start to the tour.  However, the imagery was stunning and the riding was good.  For the most part, there was flat, easy riding past salmon farms to the edge of Lake Pukaki.

We then jumped on the lakeside cycle trail with spectacular mountain vistas.

Here I am (above) practicing my Tai Chi to keep myself loose for this ride!

Typically on this ride they stop at Lake Pukaki for lunch, drive up to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, then continue the ride to the next stop (Twizel). We decided to finish the ride after lunch (all the way to Twizel across the Pukaki Flats) and then drive up to the Alpine Center.

This was the best way to do this, I think … none of us would have wanted to ride after that trip.  There are stunning views of the 26 km long Tasman Glacier and Mt Cook–but you have to hike up about 200 feet!  In the sequence below, you can see the glacier in the distance (dirty section at the front of the dirty lake).  You can see the scale when you look for the boat in the picture below.  Just beautiful views in every direction you looked!

So we finished up with an easy dinner to ourselves and relaxed into our “motel.”  Ready for what the next day would bring!  There was a disc golf course in this town … too bad I didn’t have any discs.  While we were checking out the course, Deb noticed this cool cloud and funny statue … the combination made for an interesting effect!

Day 3 … Twizel to Omarama

After a great big breakfast, we started out in the cool morning air for a ride past Lakes Ruataniwha and Ohau, mostly on cycle trail, to Lake Ohau Lodge for lunch.

Pretty good distance already and, after a couple of beers, we decided to take on the challenge for the day — ascending to the Tambrae Saddle.  At 900m (2,700ish feet) this is the highpoint of the whole Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail.  Deb and I (plus two more and the tour guide) were the only brave souls to continue on this section.  Of course, one of those brave souls was 72 years old (the dude in the yellow jersey below)!  Wow.

I found that, often, I had a sunscreen mustache … lol.  I had to wear a lot and my whiskers made it stand out.  Fortunately, Deb wouldn’t let me suffer too long without telling me I needed to fix my makeup.

At the top, we were rewarded with stunning views across the Mackenzie Basin.

From the saddle, we bombed downed the backside to mee the rest of the crew out in the middle of nowhere.  We had some crazy speed on some of these descents … really a cool section — The older gentleman was just as crazy, bombing down (first time, really, mountain biking).  Deb had to stop and pick up his saddle bag, a banana, a water bottle, and a few other items that bounced off his bike on the way down.  We almost had to pick him up but he just bounced way up in the air and landed back on his seat.

We arrived all in one piece and one group and those who were still riding (about 9 of us) finished out the “descent” to our next destination: Omarama.

Omarama is called “Place of Light” in Maori terminology, a reference to its extraordinarily pure and clear sky.  Halfway through and it has been awesome.  Longest ride to date, but the next day was even longer!

Day 4 … Omarama to Kurow

Check it out — another great breakfast on the trip!


We set off today following the trail to Sailors Cutting, along the shores of Lake
Benmore.  There was a lot more on-road or near-the-road riding for this section.  Not really our favorite but still great views!  We made our way (on the road) up to the Otematata saddle and roared down the other side towards Aviemore Dam (my top speed was 44.1 MPH / 71 KMH).  We stopped for a photo op and allowed everyone else to regroup.


Then we climbed UP to the dam (you can see the dam in the picture above) and down the other side.  We cycled to a campground somewhere for lunch.  All on-road riding again.  This was the only time we were rained on during the ride … but it was a short rain and the rest of the time was beautiful!

After lunch, we made it to a new section of the trail (still near the road) and finished out cruising to Kurow.

Day 5 … Kurow to Burnside

We had a great stay in Kurow, started with a hearty breakfast and then rode off on the trail.  We cycled along the banks of the Waitaki River and through the Kurow vineyards.  Yes, we stopped for a wine tasting!

We passed by a Maori rock art site–we couldn’t really see the art.  We kept going to Duntroon and then began cycling across the countryside through a mixture of trails and quiet rural roads.  We stopped at an unusual rock formation known locally as Elephant Rocks for lunch.

The port-a-john … hilarious … out here in the middle of nowhere.  We had a love-hate relationship with New Zealand rest-stops.  There usually weren’t enough toilets for us (yes, we stop a lot!)  But when there was a toilet, it was typically in fantastic condition and well-stocked.  Just like this one …

From here, we climbed up the road (again!) and made our way over to a short section of old branch railway line and through Raki’s tunnel before a downhill ride into the settlement of Windsor.  Interestingly, Deb and I were the only ones with a headlight to see where we were going.  I ended up escorting two groups through the tunnel.

We spent our last evening together at the historic Victorian Burnside Homestead (enjoying a celebratory dinner at the local pub)–we finished with an awesome breakfast in the homestead dining room, the host and hostess dressed in period costumes.

Day 6 … Windsor to Christchurch, via Oamaru

After a well-stocked breakfast (from the garden of the owners), we rode the last 13 kilometers to the city of Oamaru.  We had been here before but this time we took the tour of the Steampunk Museum and finished out our trip with lunch at the local brewpub.

We loaded up and made the drive after lunch back to Christchurch satisfied that we completed this journey of over 300 kilometers.

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