Why you should know about Little Barrier Island
Little Barrier Island is a small place with a huge responsibility. Also known as Hauturu, it’s known as a ‘botanical paradise’ and is one of New Zealand’s most important native wildlife sanctuaries.
The island reportedly shelters more endangered birds than any other in the country, and the number of native plants and species found on the island is said to be roughly 400. As well as this, Little Barrier Island is the only known breeding ground in New Zealand for the critically endangered storm petrol – a species that was thought to be extinct for more than a hundred years until 2003.
Naturally, Little Barrier Island is a specially protected nature reserve, with high levels of care taken to minimise human impacts and prevent new species from finding their way to the island. If you wanted to visit, for example, you would need a special permit.
If you do ever manage a visit, you’ll see for yourself just why this area is such a paradise for birders, photographers, conservationists and anyone else devoted to New Zealand’s native habitats.
Just some of the bird species you could see include the pateke (brown teal), kakariki, kokako, rifleman, grey warbler, tieke, whitehead, korora (blue penguin), and even the precious kiwi. Many of these birds have been abe to thrive since the eradication of the Pacific rat and feral cats from the island in the 1970s.
One great way to see the island is to volunteer for the Little Barrier Island Supporters Trust. You would need to be fit and agile to make your way around the island, where you would be helping with tasks such as weed eradication and research. Volunteers also get some free time to enjoy birdwatching, walking, and swimming – a rare treat on a highly protected island!
Why agricultural checks are so important in New Zealand
When you first arrive in New Zealand, you may be surprised at the high level of security found in our airports. Many first-time visitors are surprised at the questions asking about time spent on farms or outside of cities, and many people are stopped at the airport because of it.
Trade and travel are vital for New Zealand, but they’re also the main reason why pests and diseases make their way into the country. If pests and diseases get into New Zealand, they can pose a threat to our unique and special flora and fauna, and they can even be dangerous for human health and our trade and economy.
As much as 80 per cent of the country’s trees, ferns, and flowering plants are endemic, and an estimated 1-15 per cent of the land is covered with native flora. On top of this, we have many endemic and native birds and creatures.
As New Zealand battles to both conserve what we currently have and repopulate the endangered species, we must do everything possible to ensure those efforts aren’t wasted by the introduction of foreign bugs and diseases.
That’s why, at the border, you must declare food of any kind, plants (alive or dead), animals (alive or dead), or any equipment used with animals or in the great outdoors.
For the most part, these items will clear customs straight away.
Some people will incorrectly think that declaring such items will mean the loss of those items, and fail to properly declare them. This scenario can result in an instant $400 fine, and lead to more serious fines – or even a jail term for extreme breaches of the biosecurity laws.
While all of this may sound severe, the point is to protect the natural, beautiful place we call home to ensure it’s just as wonderful (if not more so) for future generations.
Why you should visit these 5 national parks
New Zealand has a reputation as one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world. From the top of the North to the bottom of the South, we’d have to agree.
Here are just five of our stunning national parks, and why you should visit them!
1.Tongariro National Park
Established in 1887, the Tongariro National Park is both the oldest in New Zealand and the fourth oldest in the world. It’s home to almost 80,000 hectares of volcanic plains, including three active volcanoes; Ruapehu, Tongaririo, and Ngauruhoe. You can hike the magnificent Tongariro crossing throughout summer, or ski on the slopes of a live volcano on Ruapehu during winter. Here, you might spot native birds or New Zealand’s two bats species amongst the forests and alpine bushland.
2. Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
The Aoraki Mount Cook National Park features 23 mountain peaks – each of which is more than 3,000 metres high. Chief amongst them is Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. When mountains aren’t interrupting the view, you get to see of some of the clearest night skies in the world, as much of the country’s international dark sky reserve is found here. Closer to the ground, the area is known for its climbing, skiing and hiking opportunities, where adventurers can get up close and personal with more than 400 types of plants, from wild cherries to lupins. Plus, the Tasman Glacier comes in at 27 kilometres long and is the cherry on top to this breath-taking landscape.
3. Fiordland National Park
The Fiordland National Park is truly something magical to behold. It’s the country’s largest park at almost 5,000 square miles, and is one of the largest preserved areas of land anywhere in the world. That, and it’s absolutely stunning. It’s where mountains climb straight up to the sky amongst fjords and islands, and includes the gem that is the Milford Sound – a hugely popular attraction for locals and tourists alike. It’s a mix of lakes, mountains, lush forests, pouring waterfalls, endless hiking tracks (roughly 500km worth) and fascinating wildlife such as bottlenose dolphins, penguins and fur seals. Due to efforts to preserve this area, much of it looks identical to how it would have looked 1,000 years ago. The park was listed as a United Nations World Heritage site in 1990 and dubbed ‘Te Wahipounamu’, the place of greenstone.
4. Egmont National Park
Mt Taranaki, also known as Mt Egmont, is a volcano that looks almost too perfect to be real. It hasn’t erupted for almost 300 years, but is said to be roughly 120,000 years old. It’s known as being one of the most accessible – and therefore one of the most climbed – mountains in New Zealand. It’s decorated with forests of kamahi and rimu trees, waterfalls, dozens of walking tracks, and a magical ‘Goblin Forest’ that’s best experienced to be believed.
5. Abel Tasman National Park
At the other end of the spectrum, the Abel Tasman National Park is the smallest of the 14 parks found in New Zealand. That said, it’s one of the most famous. Renowned as much for its scenic walking track as it is for the golden sand beaches and countless sunny days, the Abel Tasman National Park is a mecca for hikers and nature lovers. Stay in a cabin or sleep under the stars – you won’t be disappointed by this park.
Habitat Tours' bird of the month: The Saddleback
This month, the bird of the month is the saddleback, also known as the tieke. This species belongs to the wattlebird family, and actually has two distinct species – the North Island and South Island saddlebacks.
Fun facts about the saddleback
The saddleback is an extremely easy bird to recognise thanks to the bright burnt red colour splashed across its back, on the tip of the tail and on the wattles.
If you don’t see them first, you will likely hear them, as the tieke is known for being quite vocal. The males in particular are very noisy when sorting out disputes and during mating season.
You can see the saddleback in only a few places on the mainland or out on one of the protected islands. The best place to spot one in the wild is likely at Tawharanui behind the predator-proof fence. We visit this area during many of our day tours from Auckland, and occasionally get a glimpse of this rare bird.
Like many of New Zealand’s species, the saddleback has struggled with its population. There was a time when there were no tieke to be found anywhere on the mainland, when both the North and South Island species were endangered almost to the point of extinction. At that time, you could only find them on three small islands off the coast of the South, and in limited places off the coast of the North. Much of the threats to the species come in the form of pests such as rats.
Fortunately, the NZ Wildlife Service undertook a bold move by translocating the remaining birds from Hen Island to Whatapuke Island in the North, and from similarly rat-infested islands to predator-free ones in the South. As a result, there are now more than 700 saddlebacks in New Zealand – all of which stem from just 36 individuals back in the 1960s.
The stuff of legend
One thing we particularly love about the saddleback is that it even has its own place in Maori legend. The most well-known character from Maori legends is Maui, and as the story goes, Maui had a pet tieke.
The tieke would sit on Maui’s shoulder and keep him company as Maui made plans to make more sunlight hours each day by crafting a net and using it to catch the sun as it passed overhead.
When the time came to capture the sun, Maui’s pet tieke was there once again. However, as the heat from the sun become too hot and started to burn Maui’s hands, he repeatedly told the bird to go home, as he feared its feathers would catch fire. When the tieke refused to listen, Maui used his burned hands to grab the tieke and throw him back to earth.
That’s why, to this day, the saddleback has a distinct red patch across its back.
How to find nature tours wherever you go in the world
When you’re in New Zealand, Habitat Tours is the easy way to take a day trip out of Auckland and see some of the wonderful plant- and wildlife that’s right here on our doorstep.
But when you’re travelling around the globe, how can you find similar experiences?
Fortunately, there’s a handy website that can help you track down all the nature tours you could ask for.
Its called Blue Sky Wildlife, and it has just launched its website to the world.
At the time of launch, there were 33 established and trusted wildlife tour operators listed in locations in 24 different countries. Of course, Habitat Tours is one of them, but there are also experiences such as safari tours in Namibia, canoeing trips in Australia, and photography adventures in Colombia.
You can search by your location, by your interests (such as walking, photography, or ecotourism), or even by the species you most want to see!
When you click into a tour company that appeals to you, you can take a close look at the experience to see if it’s the one for you. For example, you can browse their tour options, have a look at the wildlife you might encounter, learn about the company’s involvement in conservation projects, read through customer reviews, and even enquire about a booking once you’ve made your decision.
Plus, each tour operator appears with a collection of beautiful images taken during previous trips, so you can get a visual ‘feel’ for what you might expect on tour!
Chris Larsen, of Blue Sky Wildlife, explained the company’s intentions in launching this helpful website:
“We were inspired to launch this website as there was nothing like this for the wildlife
industry and to elevate conservation as a selection criteria for nature travellers without
compromising on their overall wildlife experience,” he said.
The best places for an Auckland picnic
As fantastic as many of the restaurants and cafes are around Auckland, there’s nothing quite like a simple picnic amongst New Zealand’s stunning scenery. Our sunset picnics on the beach during our Tawharanui tours from Auckland are often a highlight of the trip – even though our guests are only there for the wildlife and scenery!
So pack up a basket, get some friends together, and head to one of these idyllic spots around Auckland for your next picnic.
Take the ferry across Auckland Harbour into Devonport. The ride itself is a treat, but keep walking when you get off the boat and head to the hill just behind the town. It will take 20-30 minutes to get to the top where you will be richly rewarded with a 360-degree view of Auckland City, the harbour, and the Hauraki Gulf. There are plenty of grassy areas to sit down and take it all in with your picnic.
Less than 10km from the city centre, Mission Bay is most popular on warm, lazy Sundays. This small but beautiful beach is buzzing with atmosphere, and you can either stretch out on the golden sand by the water or find a patch of grass under the cool shade of a tree. Make sure you finish your picnic with a delicious ice cream from one of the waterfront shops!
Kitekite Falls is found on one of the most popular walking tracks of the Waitakere Ranges. There are six cascading drops, all of which fall into a large lake-like pool at the bottom. It will take roughly 45-mnutes to walk there from the car park, and you can enjoy a refreshing dip in the water to cool off once you arrive.
The Te Henga Walkway
The Te Henga Walkway is one of New Zealand’s most famous, following the rugged coastline between Bethells and Muriwai Beach. The entire walk would take four hours each way, so you can make a full day of it, or you can simply walk until you find a suitable spot for your picnic and head back. This might sound easier than it is, because the entire track offers incredible views!
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist