This 40-day holiday with my wife Meryl was almost a year in the planning (with a fair bit of help from Trailfinders, who did a good job with the plentiful detailed arrangements). Having been to New Zealand before 15 years earlier to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, but never to Australia, we decided to combine the two while still spending more time in NZ than we had before, so it was always going to be a long one.
In retrospect, the itinerary (involving 12 flights, 19 accommodations and 3,000 miles driving in three separate hire cars) was perhaps a little over-ambitious for a couple of 60-somethings. Next time (if there is one) we’ll feed in a few extra days
Nevertheless, that and a cancelled flight were the only slight negatives in a truly memorable journey, as each day rewarded us with either amazing scenery, jaw-dropping city-scapes, fascinating cultural tastes and, for me at least, above all exciting and varied wildlife at every turn.
We had stopovers in Singapore on the way out and Bangkok on the way back. Here are a few pictures that give a flavour for the brilliant time we enjoyed ……
This pair of Yellow-vented Bulbuls posed beautifully for me in the Gardens by the Bay, which was just a short walk from our centrally-located hotel in, and big enough to swallow up all the joggers, cyclists and tai-chi exponents and still leave plenty of space, peace and quiet for the surprisingly plentiful wildlife. Meryl and I really enjoyed the city, which is forensically clean (don’t take chewing gum – you might get arrested!), but also an exciting and vibrant place with amazing buildings and creative attractions for locals and tourists alike …
… and here is one of those buildings, the amazing Marina Bay Sands hotel (pictured during one of the regular light shows at the inner harbour), which cost $8 billion to build, has over 2,500 rooms, and its extended roof platform towers 200 metres above the ground, has an infinity pool and gardens of its own, including full-sized palm trees!
This striking Black-naped Oriole, a fairly common site in Singapore’s green spaces, was one of 24 species I managed to log during a brief two-day stay in the city state.
This holiday’s plentiful new entries to my lifetime bird list began to accumulate during our week in the north island of New Zealand, when we stayed in Auckland briefly en route to Paihia in the Bay of Islands and Whitianga in the Coromandel Peninsula, but it wasn’t until we got to magical Stewart Island, located off the southern trip of south island, that the ‘lifers’ really started to arrive thick and fast. On a late evening boat trip, we caught up with a small colony of these Fjordland Crested Penguins ….
…. plus some New Zealand Fur Seals before landing on a remote beach and tracking down a few Brown Kiwis, which seemed unaware of the spooky red torchlight that was just about good enough to enable a snatched photo or two …
Large groups of Kaka parrots were a regular sight on Stewart Island as they tore into the seemingly-endless swathes of giant flax and other vegetation with their powerful beaks. New Zealand has a number of endemic parrots including the Kea, which enjoys mountains and snow (we’d seen them at Fox Glacier on a previous trip, but not this time around), and the endangered Kakapo, a huge flightless parrot whose population has been decimated by ground-dwelling mammals.
Having been brought to the edge of extinction, Kakapo conservation is focused on on a few remote islands where stoats and possums have been eradicated. I discovered that one of these – Codfish Island – is just off Stewart Island.
Although a rarity is general terms, the Saddleback with its prominent wattles can be fairly readily seen on conservation-conscious Stewart Island; I saw a few of these on another of Stewart Island’s own offshore wildlife havens, Ulva Island
Another iconic New Zealand endemic is the Tui, after which a rather pleasant beer is named! The Tui with its rich array of unusual calls, including mimicking human voices, is seen throughout New Zealand. It is one of the larger members of the honeyeater family and because of its trademark white throat tufts was called parson bird by early settlers.
In New Zealand I saw 83 bird species, including several lifers despite having previously visited the country.
Australia was the most daunting – and, at the same time, exciting – prospect when it came to birding ‘down under’, not least because there are over 900 species to go at, all beautifully detailed in the 1.5kg field guide I had to lug around in my rucksack (yes, I should have downloaded an app!). There are some 60 species of Honeyeater alone, and one of my earliest spots was this New Holland Honeyeater, feeding on nectar just outside our hotel window on Kangaroo Island …
Possibly the most amazing bird in terms of behaviour was this Satin Bowerbird, with its bewildering range of calls, many unbird-like and some sounding almost human. Bowerbirds are noted for creating elaborate courtship ‘bowers’. Although I’m slightly cheating here, by photographing a bird in a walk-through aviary, I did see this species in the wild too – and it was, true to form, picking up debris left by humans in a car park.
After first seeing Koalas in a wildlife park, which we’d visited in frustration after initially seeing more road-kill than live animals, we then began to see them (and other indigenous wildlife including wallabies, kangaroos and echidnas) more regularly in the wild. This mother and youngster were in the Tower Hill Wildlife Park, one of the best and most natural reserves I’ve ever visited …
Royal Spoonbills were an impressive sight, seen here with some of the Australasian White Ibises that could be found almost anywhere – including rummaging through rubbish bins in the centre of Sydney!
The almost prehistoric looking, stiff-tailed Musk Duck was completely new to me, and this male (I hesitate to say ‘handsome’!) was about to launch into a courtship display which involves erecting its tail and inflating the leathery lobe beneath its bill …
Surely the most colourful bird I saw in Australia – not an easy claim to maintain with so many species with outrageous plumage – was this Rainbow Lorikeet, which were readily seen in Sydney and Melbourne.
The prettiest bird in my wife’s eyes (and why not!) was this Splendid Fairy Wren. I saw them most places we visited in Australia, and I did get closer views, but this was my favourite shot ..
My Australian species total eventually reached 104.
The Asian Koel is widespread across Asia and often heard rather than seen as the male is very vocal during the breeding season. It is a large cuckoo and, typical of the family, it is parasitic, laying a single egg in the nests of birds such as crows and shrikes. This bird, a female, is attractive enough, but possibly not as striking as the all-blue-black male with its beady red eye).
I was quite surprised to see this Chinese Pond Heron right slap bang in the middle of a well-peopled Bangkok park. Away from water, it was probably looking for a reptilian snack …