Text and Pictures by B A Mahipala
I together with Lilani and my long-standing friend from USA, Dr Mahilal and his wife, Ramani, visited New Zealand from 16th March this year for two weeks on a holiday. But my focus was on the native birds of the two main Islands. One was the Kaka, the two subspecies of the endemic parrot evolved on the Islands, the North Island Kaka and South Island Kaka. in addition, I was very keen to see the endemic Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot, inhabiting high altitude forests and the alpine herb fields of the South Island. The Kea is closely related to Kaka, which lives in forest at lower altitude. Apparently, ten percent of the world’s endangered bird species are from the New Zealand region.
On the 16th March, we landed in Auckland where we were greeted at the airport by Dr Jayantha, a relative of Mahilal, living in Auckland. It was the first time we stepped on New Zealand soil. Later, Jayantha hosted us to dinner at his residence. The meal prepared by his wife Surangika was excellent, and we had a good white wine from New Zealand to go with it. The following day, we spent time with a friend of ours, Wilfred, who studied together with Mahilal and me at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka in the late 1960’s, presently living in New Zealand.
After two nights in Auckland, we boarded a flight to Napier on the morning of March 18th. There we rented a SUV and in the afternoon, we drove to Hawke’s Bay to join a Gannet safari tour to Cape Kidnappers. I was told that the Australasian Gannet Colony at Cape Kidnappers is the world’s largest, and most accessible Gannet nesting place. It was a great experience for all of us to be close to these beautiful birds with their chicks and to photograph them.
Following morning we headed towards Wellington, Capital of New Zealand, while we stopped at Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre where we saw one of the Island’s native birds, the North Island Kaka that flew from the surrounding forest to the wildlife Centre. The naturalist at the Centre kept food at a feeding station to attract the Kaka. The colours of the wings are very beautiful when they are fly. We also saw the Brown Kiwi at the Centre but under captive conditions.
That night we stayed in Wellington and the following afternoon we returned the vehicle to the rental agent at the ferry terminal, and took the ferry to land in the South Island at Picton. This ferry ride took over three hours. Once again, we rented a vehicle from Picton. Thereafter we spent two nights in Marlborough, in the wine county famous for the white wine of New Zealand. On the 21st morning, I joined a half day boat tour from Picton to visit Motuara Island searching for endemic birds. Here I was able to photograph another endemic bird, the New Zealand Tomtit.
On the 22nd morning we headed towards Christchurch, and en route spent a night in a coastal town called Kaikoura, famous for its sperm whale population. Unfortunately, the weather was not conducive for a boat tour.
We spent two nights at our next stop Christchurch. We detoured to visit Authur’s Pass which is at an elevation of 750 meters above sea level, in search of the endemic Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. We were fortunate to spot two parrots at a look out point after passing the Authur’s pass village. Kea is rated as one of the most intelligent birds in the world. During our stay in Christchurch, we visited the famous museum in the city where we experienced New Zealand’s cultural and natural heritage with rare Maori artefacts and stories behind them.
On the 25th morning we boarded a flight from Christchurch to Dunedin where we stayed two nights in the downtown area of the city. During our stay in Dunedin, my focus was on the sea birds at Otago Peninsula, while the others visited the museums and other tourist attractions in the city. I was able to see two penguin species in the Otago Peninsula. One was the smallest species of penguin, the Blue Penguin at Taiaroa and the other was the endemic Yellow-eyed Penguin close to Taiaroa. In addition, I was able to photograph the Northern Royal Albatross.
After two memorable days in Dunedin, we drove to Queenstown on 27th March. This is one of the most beautiful cities in New Zealand. We were there for two nights and spent time sightseeing. Thereafter, we flew back to Auckland for a night where we had a delicious Sri Lankan dinner at Wilfred’s residence before returning to Sri Lanka on the 31st March 2018.
Apart from the very enjoyable bird watching and photography experience, New Zealand made a very positive impression on me as one of the best countries I have
visited with the awe-inspiring beauty of its natural landscapes, the pristine lakes, and uncrowded clean cities with good food and wine.