A night walk in search of kiwis

Most "kiwis" of the human kind have never seen a kiwi of the feathered kind in the wild. A guided tour near Auckland offers this opportunity.

The promise of experiencing “The real New Zealand with Auckland’s leading nature tour company”, spotting endangered birdlife with a good possibility of seeing kiwis, of the feathered kind, and some stunning landscape attracted me to Habitat Tours.

Habitat Tours run two tours here at Tawharanui, I had chosen the day/night as it gives everything that the day tour does plus the nightlife; and the nightlife is really worth hanging around for.

Our tour starts early afternoon.  En-route to Tawharanui we make a stop to view some giant kauri trees, they are truly magnificent.  Tristan takes this opportunity to introduce us to some New Zealand history, going back 800 years to pre-human times when the country was covered with these magnificent trees and thick native forest which was full of birds.  No snakes and virtually no predators were around, the only mammal being some tiny native bats. I’m beginning to understand why the kiwi didn’t need to fly.  We then learn about the devastation to the birdlife and flora when humans arrived and with them the many pests such as rats, possums, cats etc. Many birds became extinct and many more on the verge of extinction, it’s mainly due to several outlying islands that some of these birds survived.

We stroll through the native bush, hear and see a few native birds, which our guide points out, while soaking up the beauty before we move onto our main destination of Tawharanui.

Some 30 minutes later we arrive at the entrance to Tawharanui Regional Park, the view from the top of the peninsular is spectacular with farmland with sheep grazing, amazing ocean views, outlying islands and not a building in sight. !  I can’t wait to explore all this natural beauty, which is home to several of New Zealand’s endangered birds having been reintroduced and now protected in this predator free ‘mainland island’.

During our guided day time walk we were lucky enough to see the rare brown teal duck (Pateke), the 4th rarest waterfowl in the world, the saddleback (which has been missing from this area for 150 years and now thriving at Tawharanui), the endangered dotterel, the North Island robin, the bellbird (the birdsong was unbelievable), overhead the kaka did a fly over (one of NZ’s 4 parrots) and much more.  I was truly in bird heaven!

I get the feeling of being so far from the big city, which in fact is only one hour away.  We are here on a weekday and there’s virtually no one around.

Early evening we settle down looking out over the beach and marine reserve, listening to the ‘dusk chorus’ (the birds don’t seem to stop singing here) as our tour guide brings out our picnic dinner – what a sumptuous picnic; we’re told all home made, two salads, a tart, sliced meatloaf, bread rolls, Anzac biscuits, chocolate, fruit, coffee, selection of teas.  It’s worth the tour just for the food!  Tristan needs to move us on, we’re all getting quite settled, the kiwi will start calling soon and we need to get back into the bush, but not before we climb a hill and watch the sunset behind us. 

The daytime birds slowly quieten, the kaka fly overhead, clearly late to settle.  We turn on our headlights, our bodies are finely tuned to every sound; we see a Morepork (NZ owl), silently flying overhead, we hear a strange sound in the bush, Tristan tells us its wetas and that we’re in for a real treat!  Most of the spiders in the bush are nocturnal and now in the dark we find that the large webs we saw during the day are indeed inhabited!  We’re led under a fallen tree to be greeted by what seems to be a weta convention.  These large insects date back to the Triassic period and some of the species are the largest insects in the world, the reactions of our group vary from disgust to total wonderment.

It is a moonless pitch-black night; with just a headlight for vision our tour guide confidently leads us down a track through the New Zealand native forest.  We are on constant alert for the telltale signs of kiwi; sometimes the distinctive call, or a snuffling sound but tonight the sound is not at all subtle, as it sounds like a kiwi is ‘bush-bashing’ it’s way through the undergrowth. 

One of our number holla out “kiwi”, so much for staying quiet!!

Remarkably the kiwi hangs around, despite the ‘boomer’ and the red headlamps we are wearing.

The North Island brown kiwi seems to nonchalantly carry on with its night routine wandering through the bush, and then emerges onto the pathway right in front of us, stops – looks then disappears into the undergrowth.

Our guide, Tristan, tells us that not many ‘kiwis’, of the human kind, have ever seen a kiwi, of the feathered kind, in the wild.  How chuffed do I feel!

We had been warned before the tour that there’s no guarantee of seeing a kiwi and really this was the absolute icing on the cake as this place offers so much more.

What a thrill and what a finish to a brilliant day/night tour with Tristan from Habitat Tours, Auckland, New Zealand.

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