Sunday, 9 December 2018

Day twenty-one - kea and Christchurch

Another early start, as we left the Motel and headed back down the coast, the wind had risen and the cloud cover had increased.  We had milked the best weather the West Coast can have, and it was on the change.  We headed up towards Arthur’s Pass, and the cloud gradually increased as it built up against the Southern Alps.  Driving up into Otira, it blocked our views.  We made a quick stop, but distant calling kea were as close as it got.  Even they felt it wasn’t worth putting in an appearance.  But by the time we got to Arthur’s Pass town, the sky was blue and the sun was shining! And there were a couple of kea there to amuse us momentarily.  We enjoyed watching them play on the roof, before they then flew off.  A distant calling long-tailed cuckoo reminded us of our encounter in Pureora…that seems so long ago.  We have covered so much countryside since then, and seen so much.
We carried on down towards Christchurch, with sun shining and temperatures gradually warming.  We were still on the lookout for that elusive falcon, but it just wasn’t going to happen for us!  As we entered the outskirts of Christchurch we had to resign ourselves to the fact a glimpse was as good as it was going to get for us.
We unloaded the van at a Motel, said our goodbyes, hard to believe we had seen the country in 21-days together.  An excellent adventure, and one filled with memories and hopefully some incredible images. 

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Day twenty - reflecting

We were up early, and could still see the tops of Mount Tasman and Mount Cook (Aoraki) as the sun started to colour the sky.  We headed across to a site where we hoped a still night might have rendered a small lake perfect for reflections.  And indeed it had.  Walking through the forest on the way, we could see the crystal clear surface of the lake reflecting the surrounding forest.  From a viewpoint we had stunning views of the mountains, and their reflections, with just enough time before the sun peaked over the mountains.  Stunning.
We wandered back through the forest, enjoying a few birds as we went, with tomtit, fantail and a few other bits and bobs.  We headed back to the Motel, finished breakfast and packing our bags and then got on the road to head further north.  The sun was shining and it was another stunning day on the West Coast.  We drove through to Franz Josef and went for a little walk through more beautiful forest.  Lots of green-hood orchids in flower, and nice views from the top of a viewpoint area.  The Glacier really looks like it is receding fast, I wonder how long before it won’t even be visible through the valley?
We carried on up the coast after a quick coffee stop, and drove the beautiful road surrounded by huge trees and spectacular forest.  A detour out to a coastal lagoon brought a new bird for the trip – great egret – but not the hoped for fernbird…they were quiet today. Eyes were peeled for falcons, but again they were hiding.  We called in to another area with a short forest walk, and enjoyed more lovely forest and some great views of brown creeper and fantail, plus a weka came in to say hello.
We decided it was time for lunch, so we stopped in at a café and had a sit-down lunch, a rare occurrence on trips like this.  But we had a great lunch and a chance to relax before getting back on the road.  Now the road was more coastal, giving us in many places views up or down the coast, and so we made a couple of short stops to scan the sea.  Nothing much happening out there, but beautiful none the less.
We arrived at out Motel in Punakaiki, checked in and then relaxed for a little bit, before heading out to walk the Pancake Rocks walkway.  This beautiful piece of the coast was popular with other people, but the weka family (mum, dad and four small fluffy chicks) didn’t even seem to notice!  We had great views of them before heading on around the walkway…I wonder how many tourists thought they were kiwi?!  The white-fronted terns and red-billed gulls were nesting out on the rocks, and there were a lot of fluffy chicks of both species scampering around the place.  We enjoyed the coastal views, scanning for Hector’s dolphins, but nothing spotted.
After a bit more time at the Motel enjoying the scenery, we had a lovely last dinner together at a local café, and finished it off with local ice-cream.  An excellent last dinner and a great time to reflect on what an amazing trip we have had.  A real mix of weather, but some excellent photographic opportunities with many of the 143 species encountered on this tour!

Mount Tasman as the sun rises

Male paradise shelduck looking out for his flock

Reflections of the mountains and forest

Steam rising off the water, Mount Tasman on the left and Mount Cook (Aoraki) on the right

A little closer

A great egret takes flight 

Friday, 7 December 2018

Day nineteen - yellowhead and sunshine

We were up early and away, stopping at a bakery to grab some lunch, before heading out of town.  We skirted around Lake Hawea and then made a stop in the lovely early morning light to look for falcon.  Well no falcon, but we did have some lovely scenery to look at and a few common species to keep us occupied.
We carried on passing Lake Wanaka again and heading towards the West Coast.  Another scenic stop before a stop in the forest to walk a trail through some spectacular beech forest, with mosses galore and some nice birds.  We had good views of rifleman, and a family of yellowhead feeding two newly fledged chicks, plus heard yellow-crowned parakeet and tomtit.  Was lovely to walk through this beautiful forest and the sun was shining.
We headed on along the road, enjoying the stunning scenery and taking it all in. We made a stop at Haast township, where Sav had found a falcon chasing birds just a couple of days earlier, but nothing seen.  So we carried on our to Jackson Bay and enjoyed more beautiful scenery and managed to get great views of South Island tomtit.  We also scanned from a small beach and located at least a couple of Hector’s dolphins out in the surf, so nice to see these little guys a little bit closer.  We carried on up the coast, carefully searching for falcon along the way, but nothing seen.  The weather continued to be stunning and as we pulled into our Motel in Fox Glacier it was the start of a beautiful evening.  The views from the motel were pretty special, so we took photos of Tasman and Cook looming above us.  Then we headed to a spot with equally stunning views, looked for falcon as this was a site where we had seen them in the past, and then had dinner with the mountains as a backdrop.  Gorgeous as the sun got lower!  What a great day on the often wet, West Coast!

The coast, the mountains, the sky

Mt Tasman on the left, Mount Cook (Aoraki) on the right

Tasman and Cook (Aoraki)

The photographers

A spectacular evening on the West Coast

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Day eighteen - Wanaka

We decided to have a little lay in this morning, not a bad idea on a tour that has had some early mornings, and with the forecast as it was, it made sense also. We awoke to more rain, but that’s ok, we were heading to Wanaka, and the sun always shines in Wanaka!  We left Te Anau and headed out of town, and in several places north of Mossburn had water right across the road, and people controlling traffic.  Clearly the rain during the night had been pretty substantial in an already soggy district.
We made a few short stops along the way, and kept an eye out for falcon the whole way. Beautiful scenery and the weather was certainly improving as we headed north, with lovely views across Lake Wakatipu, with clouds shrouding the mountain tops.
We checked in to our accommodation, and then went for a burger lunch.  And then headed out of town to a site where falcons have been in the past.  But no sign of anything, so we headed to a spot on the lake where we knew there were some grebes and took a few shots of them doing their thing.  With a few late afternoon hours, a lazy afternoon was called for, before dinner at a superb local Indian Restaurant (Ashraf’s).
An early night and looking forward to a busy day tomorrow, after a somewhat restful one today.

A great crested grebe gives a yawn

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Day seventeen - wrens and kea

Surely it can’t be…I know what the forecast said, but surely we brought the sunshine from Stewart Island.  Nope rain on the roof during the night.  We woke to grey and drizzly skies, but don’t panic, it will be ok.
We quickly stopped at Miles Better Pies (nom nom nom) and then on the road super early, the pies were only just out of the oven!  We headed straight through to our first stop, a few rain showers on the way, and parked the van.  There was definitely some moisture in the air, but we donned our wet weather gear and headed out.  We had only just paused, when Jack said ‘Is that one there’ and there in the corner of some rocks was a male rock wren!!!  Right there in front of us, and we had only just got into place!  With warnings of “It could be several hours” this all seemed like a bit of an anti-climax!  We soaked in the views as it perched atop rocks and showed itself off, calling every now and then.  It gradually moved off up the hill and disappeared.  We waited and watched for another 45 minutes before it showed again, this time for a few minutes, and again then disappeared.  Fantastic! We had all had great looks and managed to get some lovely images.
Pretty soon the rain came in hard, so we decided to head back to the van and try for something a little different.  We drove a short way, and there it was – our prize.  If not THE, one of the smartest birds on our planet (smarter than some Presidents!) – the kea.  We jumped out of the van, guarding it against the attack of a bill capable of tearing out windscreen rubber in the blink of an eye!  It was fun to watch the antics of several of these birds, jumping around the place, investigating various vehicles, etc.  And it was even more fun to watch the owners/hirers of the vehicles grinning and laughing to start with, only to change into stern faces and scolds as the birds started to pry rubber from places it was never going to fit back into!  Gold!
We got some nice images and spent some time just watching and enjoying, before then continuing on our way.  We headed down into Milford Sound to take a look at this spectacle of nature, and enjoy a coffee and snack.  The weather had really improved and lulled us into a false sense of security, so we headed back up into the mountains.  We again stopped and made a walk to see if we could spot the rock wren again, after enjoying more antics of the kea.  But this time no sign of the wee green gems.
We carried on back towards Te Anau.  Stopping at a couple of spots along the way.  A beautiful walk through magical moss covered Nothofagus was gorgeous in the slight rain, but fairly quiet of birds.  We carried on back towards Te Anau and kept eyes peeled for the ever elusive falcon, before having a break at the Motel and then another lovely dinner in town!  Rain on the roof top as we crawled into bed…

A male rock wren looking cute amongst the moss and boulders

A kea circles above us in the spectacular alpine scenery

Kea and this my best side?

Stunning scenery of Fiordland in the rain

A moody landscape