New Zealand

Dunedin, set on the Eastern coast of New Zealand's South Island, covers the slopes leading down to the end of Otago harbour, a long, dog-legged stretch of water protected from the Pacific ocean by the Otago peninsula. At the seaward end of the peninsula is Taiaroa Head (see left) which is unique in having the only albatross colony in the world on a mainland!

The Royal Albatross (right) was circling around the headland on returning from a fishing trip, and eventually landed, neatly folding up its 9 feet of wingspan.

The Otago Peninsula is a superb location for wildlife. Below the headland (above left) is a small beach containing a colony of Fur Seals. From a car park, a path (left) leads down the side of the beach, and I noticed an area containing bird droppings. A closer look revealed a small burrow, which belonged to a family of Blue Penguins. The chick (right) was quietly waiting inside the burrow for its parents who would return from the sea at dusk with food.

Otago harbour belonged to shags (left), fishing busily or standing around on suitable roosts chatting. On the seaward side of the peninsula are remote beaches visited by the occasional sealion, backed by grassy slopes owned by Yellow-Eyed Penguin colonies. Rocky points are where Fur Seals congregate, while there are several inlets containing wide areas of mud flats on which many waders feed, including the elegant Pied Stilts (right).
South of Dunedin is the Catlins National Park where we spent a few days at Nugget Point. We visited McLean Falls, which was memorable for the approach walk through podocarp forest, so-called after the native trees it contains (rimu, miro and rata) which bear their fruit on the tips of the twigs. The ferns, particularly the tree ferns, gave the forest a unique character.
And so to Stewart Island, 1200 square miles of wilderness lying off the bottom of South Island. As we settled in to our accomodation in Oban, the only village containing the only roads on the island, we were greeted by the Kakas, parrots with the usual egregious characters of their kind. They indicated the bowl on the veranda which needed filling with sugared water, and the one pictured on the left is kindly pointing out his picture in the bird identification book!
Another nectar-eating bird which visited us regularly was the Tui, spruce and formal with their little white bib. They quarrelled vigorously over the sugared water with each other but sometimes a pair would cooperate in harrassing a Kaka into abandoning the bowl.
A Stewart Island Shag hanging his wings up to dry - a bird which fished all around Halfmoon Bay as well as the open sea. In the forest, the large and colourful New Zealand Wood Pigeon was equally common.
A number of native New Zealand birds are on the brink of extinction due to the pressure on their habitat, but particularly due to predators introduced by man, and the Department of Conservation has created several predator-free islands by intensive and continued trapping. One such island is Ulva Island, where three species at risk have been released in the hope that they can thrive there. As we were walking through the primeval forest (left), a party of Stewart Island Robins (right) came fluttering through the trees. They posed for me at a distance of about two metres, showing the fearlessness and curiosity that may perhaps be one of the reasons for their near extinction.
Harrold Bay was a highly atmospheric place, being the site of New Zealand's first European settlement by Lewis Acker. The hut he lived in was still there, but the piles for a quay and abandoned fishing gear which contributed to the atmosphere would have been of later date. The Fur Seal posed on the sand while half a dozen people admired it.
The ferry returned us to the mainland, and we set off for Fiordland, a huge area of mountains, deep valleys and fiords in the southwestern corner of South Island. You can climb mountains which are next to the only road through it, or accessible from one of the two walking tracks, but if you want to climb any other mountain, you need to get to it by helicopter. The forests covering the mountainsides are mostly of beech, but covered with ferns and moss.
The mountains are the home of Keas, parrots which have the character and intelligence of their cousins, but with a hard and piratical edge. They are accused of stripping the adhesive from car windows and other acts of vandalism. These Keas were high up by the Homer Tunnel, through which the road drops down to Milford.
Milford Sound is one of the most picturesque fiords in Fiordland. After driving through the mountains and the rain to the village of Milford, we travelled by boat up the sound, marvelling at the temporary waterfalls spilling over the edge of sheer walls. As we came to the open sea, the rain stopped, the clouds lifted and blue sky appeared.
On the way back up the sound, we passed a group of fur seals basking on a rock, one of the few places where the mountainside did not disappear into the depths at a near vertical angle. Without rain, many of the falls which collected their water from bare rock had stopped, but the most majestic cascades still roared from the mouths of inaccessible hanging valleys.
Red-Billed Gulls (left), can be found making a living on beaches and cliffs along the South Island coast, and also ambushing people with snacks in parks, like their brothers in the Northern hemisphere. In the fashionable resort of Queenstown, their place was taken by Black-Billed Gulls, here casting cold blue eyes over a spring roll.

All text and graphics © Pat Bennett 1996-2002

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