The pros and con of touring in winter
As we approach winter in New Zealand, some people are struggling with the decision of whether or not to book in a day tour from Auckland given the weather and the possibility of a cooler day or rain.
If that’s you, take a look at our list of pros (and one con) when it comes to our nature tours through winter, and see if the trip is worth it for yourself!
First of all, the term ‘winter’ doesn’t mean quite the same thing in Auckland as it does anywhere else in the country. If you take a look at a map, you’ll notice that the City of Sails isn’t much further south than Sydney, and if you take a look at a weather forecast, you’ll see that the average low in Auckland is still double digits at around 11 degrees Celsius (52 degrees Fahrenheit). While that’s certainly cooler than summer, it’s still far from freezing. Plus, as we do some walking on our tours, the movement helps keep you that much warmer, too.
For the birders, it will be important to note that our local birds don’t go anywhere during winter. Our tours to Tawharanui, for example, are still packed with many of our favourite species.
Another of the big benefits of a tour during winter is that there are far fewer tourists around. New Zealand’s busiest travel season is through summer, so if you’re visiting anywhere in the country (apart from the skifields) during the colder months, you’ll likely have the place just to yourselves, or at least with hardly anyone else around.
For another pro, consider a tour during winter something completely different. Many people may take this time to stay still or visit indoor attractions such as museums. Why not take this opportunity to get off the beaten track (literally) and do something new during winter? As well as this, a tour where you get out and walk for part of the experience is a great way to fit some extra exercise into the winter months, as usually this is when our fitness levels drop as we stay indoors more often.
The only con: Alright, so you might encounter a day where Auckland sees some rain or is on the cold side. The answer to that is simply to rug up warm and wear your wet-weather gear. Because, as you can see from all the pros above, it’s really still worth going! That said, a lovely sunny day on tour is also wonderful, so perhaps you can catch us during summer, too!
Of course, it’s entirely possible that even though you book a tour for winter, you might still catch a sunny day in Auckland for the experience!
New Zealand winters run through June, July and August, and Habitat Tours take visitors out to see our wonderful flora and fauna throughout this time, rain or shine.
Bird of the month: The weka
The New Zealand weka is a small flightless bird that could be confused for a kiwi to the untrained eye. This month, we’ve chosen the weka as our bird of the month!
Here’s a little more about this sweet little bird that will help you learn more about it and perhaps even identify one if you see a weka in the wild.
This fantastic native species can be found in sub-alpine grassland areas, forests, sand dunes and even rocky shore areas around the coastline. They’re known to have cheeky natures, and will take the chance to steal food and/or shiny objects from you if you’re not careful.
As mentioned, the weka can look similar to the iconic kiwi. While they are shades of brown, small and flightless, the main giveaways are their size as they are larger than the kiwi, and their beaks, as they are short unlike the kiwi. And in fact, they are much closer to the banded rail species, which is considered their closest relative.
You might hear one before you see one, as they have a characteristic ‘coo-eet’ call that you’ll usually hear at dawn then again half an hour after sunset.
There are a number of spots around New Zealand where you might see a weka in the wild, such as on the Russell Peninsula, in Kawakawa Bay, in the Marlborough Sound, in Fiordland and on a number of islands around the country. They face threats such as predation and droughts and are listed as being ‘nationally vulnerable’.
Finally, the weka will eat pretty much anything it can find! This includes everything from insects and slugs to lizards, mice, small birds as well as berries and seeds.
As the weka don’t live around Auckland, we don’t tend to see them on our nature tours. However, you will still see plenty of other exciting New Zealand birds on a Tawharanui tour from Auckland!
How to find a kiwi in the wild
The kiwi is New Zealand’s gorgeous, flightless icon, but very few New Zealanders can actually claim they’ve seen one anywhere but in a zoo.
If you’re looking to spot a kiwi in the wild, try these tips!
Go to the right places
For a start, you’ll need to be in an area where kiwis are known to live. They prefer remote forest areas where they can scurry around looking for food, and nest in areas hidden away from plain sight.
Near Auckland, one of the best places is the Tawharanui Open Sanctuary, as this fenced-off area contains no pests or predators that will harm kiwi or other endangered wildlife. You can also try the Trounson Kauri Park in Northland, Aroha Island in Kerikeri, Okatiro in Franz Joseph, Tuatapere in Southland or on Stewart Island to name a few.
Don’t scare the kiwi away
Even when you’re in an area with kiwis all around you, you might never know it, as these birds are notoriously shy and hard to spot. Therefore, the trick is to not scare them away before you get a chance to see one.
Firstly, go at night-time as this is when the nocturnal kiwis are active. You may bring a torch (flashlight), but keep it off as much as possible and cover the light with red cellophane to avoid shining too much brightness into the bushes. Wear clothing that doesn’t make too much noise when you move, and walk extremely slowly and quietly, looking into the bushes around you for movement.
Take a tour
If you’re really keen to see a kiwi in the wild, one of the best (and easiest) ways is to take a tour. The day-night eco tours to Tawharanui with Habitat Tours often include kiwi sightings – roughly 70 per cent of the time in fact.
Your experienced guide will help give you the best chance of seeing a kiwi, and will tell you all about this wonderful bird as well!
Bird of the month: The albatross
What’s not to love about the albatross?
The albatross is the largest sea bird on the planet, and they spend as much as 85 per cent of their lives away from land. In New Zealand, there are fourteen varieties of this bird, the most famous of which is arguably the Royal Albatross, as this is the largest of them all.
Due to their time spent at sea, it’s likely that the only time you’ll get a chance to spot an albatross of any kind is when it returns to land to breed and hatch their young. Most albatross only breed once every two years, making them both a special sight – and a reasonably rare species due to their low productivity!
While they’re away, an albatross flies an estimated 190,000 kilometres every year. To put that in perspective, it’s approximately 2,200 kilometres from Cape Reinga to Bluff, so an albatross would cover that distance roughly 86 times every 12 months. What’s even more incredible is that a young bird will spend the first three to five years of its life out at sea, not once touching land for that time.
With a wingspan of up to 3.3 metres across, it’s hard to miss one of these magnificent birds. They are almost completely white, but the top sides of their wings are black. Should you see one walking around on land, it may look decidedly clumsy, but in flight they are something truly spectacular.
Additionally, many albatrosses live to be in their 40s, making them some of the longest-living birds on the planet.
One of the most common places to see an albatross is on the headland at Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula, where breeding birds arrive in September to nest. If you happen to be in the South Island around this time, a visit to the Royal Albatross Centre there is a must!
5 things to do in Auckland during the World Masters Games
The World Masters Games are coming to Auckland in April from the 21st to the 30th, and bringing with them 28 of the most exciting sports on the planet. With more than 25,000 participants and their slew of supporters and crew, it’s going to be one of the biggest, busiest and best events Auckland has ever seen.
If you’re in town for the games and are looking to see more of the city, here are five great things to do in Auckland during your stay!
1. Experience the Sky Tower
The Auckland Sky Tower is arguably the most iconic structure in New Zealand – and at 328 metres tall, it’s definitely the highest!
You can take the elevator up to the two viewing levels for unbeatable 360-degree views of the city. For something special, enjoy a dinner in the rotating restaurant at the top and dine in style as your table literally moves around the edge of the floor. Or get adventurous and try the SkyWalk outside the building 192 metres up, or go the whole way by leaping off the edge with the adrenalin-pumping SkyJump!
2. Spend a day at Mission Beach
Mission Beach is a short drive from Auckland city along the waterfront, and it’s a favourite spot for locals and visitors alike. Here, you can shop at the small stores, pick up an ice cream to enjoy on the beach, or grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants and cafes that line the shore.
Or, simply bring a book and settle down on the golden sands for a relaxing day at the beach with the magnificent Mt Rangitoto in front of you.
3. Visit the wineries of Waiheke
Waiheke Island is a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, and while the trip to get there is stunning in itself, this destination is truly something to write home about.
There are countless wineries on the island, and you could easily spend many days touring all of them. The island also boasts phenomenal beaches, art galleries, and a laid-back culture that will quickly make you feel at home.
4. Climb the Auckland Harbour Bridge
Adventurous types will love the Auckland Harbour Bridge and the chance to cross it on foot, climbing through the internal structure and over the very top of it with an experienced guide.
Normally, the bridge is closed to foot traffic, so this experience gives you a rare view of the inside of the bridge and from the top of the railings. Plus, your guide will talk you through some of the most interesting aspect’s of its history and engineering!
5. Take a tour with Habitat Tours
Take a break from the city life and discover the real New Zealand with an eco tour from Auckland that will introduce you to some of the most fantastic plant and bird life in the country.
Due to New Zealand’s geographical isolation, we boast a large variety of native and endemic species that you won’t see anywhere else in the world, and with an experienced and knowledgeable guide, you’ll learn all about them. Of course, one of the country’s most special inhabitants is the iconic kiwi, and you’ll have the chance to meet one outside of the zoo and inside its own native habitat on a Tawharanui day-night tour, where we encounter one of these birds approximately 70 per cent of the time.
No matter what you do, be sure to experience as much of Auckland as possible and enjoy every minute of it during your stay!
Unexpected discovery leads to breakthrough in pest eradication
The invention of the microwave, like many great human discoveries, was actually made by accident. Now, an unexpected discovery about New Zealand’s stoats may help in the battle to eradicate these pests from our country.
When the Auckland University and Landcare Research group conducted experiments on stoats, they found that - contrary to what you might expect – these pests are actually attracted to the smell of their enemies.
That is to say, rather than running from the scent of cats and ferrets, stoats will actually be drawn to areas that smell of their two common enemies.
The team discovered this after placing food sources in two locations; one that smelled of cats and ferrets, and the other where that scent was absent. Where the smell was present, the food was eaten faster.
While it’s not yet understood why stoats would opt for this option, the knowledge may now be used by conservation groups to help rid New Zealand of these pests.
Traps are a common form of predator control, and finding effective ways to lure stoats and other pests into those traps is an important part of catching as many as possible. Should the smell of cats and ferrets truly be an effective form of baiting, it could help the country work towards its predator-free goal by 2050.
Patrick Garvey, a university doctoral student working on the project, was optimistic about the discovery when speaking to the NZ Herald.
“It’s something new, and it’s something that can be used as part of other methods to ensure we do the best we can for conservation,” he explained.
Trapping is just one of many effective methods currently in use around New Zealand to help control and remove pests for the good of our native and endangered flora and fauna.
Could we have 100,000 kiwis by 2030?
Could New Zealand celebrate 100,000 kiwis (the feathered kind) by the year 2030?
That’s the lofty – and exciting – goal set out by the Department of Conservation’s new Kiwi Recovery Plan. This plan covers the decade starting in 2017, and has a $3.6 million research programme to help make those goals a reality.
Currently, there are an estimated 68,000 kiwis in New Zealand, and researchers believe that there haven’t been as many as 100,000 birds in the country for several decades, according to a recent NZ Herald article.
It’s also important to remember that there is more than one type of kiwi! Of those 100,000 the DoC plans to have roughly a third brown kiwi, a third tokoeka, almost 20,000 great spotted kiwi, and the rest made up of little spotted kiwi and rowi.
So how can New Zealand reach this goal?
One part will certainly be the continuation of work towards ridding the country of pests by 2050. This is being achieved through a range of methods, from government funding to community groups working to ensure our kiwis have the best chance of survival possible.
It also comes down to community education. Household dogs can pose a real threat to kiwis, so owners can learn about when those pets should be kept on a leash to avoid our favourite pooches from harming our national icons.
Volunteers can even get involved by contributing their time by helping set up pest traps to catch the stoats, possums, rats and mice that threaten the kiwi.
When the New Zealand Herald spoke to Kiwis for Kiwi executive director Michelle Impey, she was excited about the goal and said that it would take a lot of work but was certainly achievable.
"For those working hard on the ground, for those who donate time and money, for the corporate sponsors, and the volunteers, this is a huge recognition of the difference they've made, and great incentive to continue the good work," she said.
We are always excited to spot kiwis on our night-time eco tours in Tawharanui, and we certainly hope we’ll see more of these wonderful birds in future!
What parrots might you find in Tawharanui?
A nature tour from Auckland to Tawharanui is magical for many reasons. Perhaps your favourite part will be the abundance of lush New Zealand plantlife, or the smell of the forest and sound of the waves on the beach, or perhaps, your favourite part will be the gorgeous parrots you might find there.
Here are a few of the awesome parrots you might spot during a Habitat Tours excursion to Tawharanui.
The kaka is a large bird that’s from the same family as the cheeky kea, which helps explain their boisterous and entertaining antics. These birds are often spotted socialising in the early morning and late evening, and are generally only seen in forest areas around the North and South Islands.
There are an estimated 1,000 – 5,000 kaka left in New Zealand, which makes spotting one an even more special experience.
Red crowned parakeets
The red crowned parakeet – known as kakariki in Maori – is a smaller parrot that is mostly bright green with a distinctive red streak across its forehead.
They nest in holes in trees, but it’s not uncommon to see them foraging for berries, insects and seeds on the ground. Along with the yellow crowned parakeet, they are the only native New Zealand bird to be held and bred in captivity, which is helping to improve population numbers of these gorgeous birds.
An eastern rosella has the bright and colourful attractive appearance of a parrot, yet they do not have the usual chatty temperament of parrots and are not considered to be good pets.
The eastern rosella was introduced to New Zealand in the 1900s, and is now reasonably common throughout the country. They can be quite loud, so you may hear them before you spot them, and spotting them shouldn’t be a problem with their bright red and green plumage, and distinctive cream-coloured cheeks!
Pests get what’s coming to them in Wellington
As a company strongly invested in New Zealand and our many species of pests, we know all about their damaging and destructive behaviour.
While most New Zealand pests might fall to traps set out by the Department of Conservation, one Wellington example recently got another kind of surprise, according to a NZ Herald article.
Goodnature is a local conservation business in Wellington, and when thieves broke into a company car one night in August, they weren’t expecting to find an incredibly stinky surprise in the back seat.
Company director Robbie van Dam had left a box of experimental bottles of oil in the back seat of his car. He believes the burglars spotted the chemical symbols on the side of the box, then broke in hoping to find drug-making materials. Instead, the oils inside were actually extracted from the anal glands of stoats – and were remarkably pungent.
Should just one drop of the noxious oil escape one of the bottles, the stench would last for weeks, even in a fresh-air environment.
There’s no word on what the thieves did with the box of oils, but van Dam at least got a laugh out of thinking it may have thoroughly ruined the thieves’ plans.
The stinky oils are an experiment in attracting pests into self-resetting traps. The idea is to catch and destroy pests such as rats, stoats and possums to help rid New Zealand of its predators. They even smell so bad that Goodnature only works with them at an off-site facility to avoid any potential mishaps that would make working at their usual site almost impossible (as had happened once a couple of years ago).
One way or another, a few more of New Zealand’s pests got what was coming to them by a wonderful conservation group!
What makes New Zealand orcas so special
Whether you know them as killer whales or orcas, these gorgeous animals are something special – and this is even more true for those found in New Zealand.
Despite the name, they’re actually part of the dolphin family, and their distinctive black and white markings make them particularly easy to spot. Fortunately, they can be found just about anywhere around New Zealand’s coastline, as these are the the most widely distributed mammal on the planet (apart from humans) according the to Department of Conservation.
There are an estimated 150 – 200 orcas in and around New Zealand, and there’s one habit that sets them apart from orcas throughout the rest of the world: their hunting preferences.
Usually, orcas dine on a range of oceanlife, including fish, seals, and smaller dolphins. In New Zealand however, they have added stingrays to their menu.
One of the more common places to see this is in Wellington Harbour, where pods of killer whales cruise into the area to hunt down stingrays. Generally, this will only occur in the warmer months throughout spring and summer, and they seldom hang around for long.
If you’re in Wellington this summer, take a stroll around The Lagoon, Oriental Parade and Frank Kitts Park, as these are the most common places to see an orca. Note that they will usually travel in pods to hunt down their prey, so you may be lucky enough to see several at once!
Plus, if you simply love spotting wildlife, consider taking an eco tour with Habitat Tours in Auckland for the chance to spot many of New Zealand’s most precious animals – including the national icon, the kiwi!
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist