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Fjordland

     Te Anau to Milford Sound

For many tourists who traverse the length of the SH94 from Te Anau to Milford Sound, the 2½ hour journey has the sole purpose of reaching the cruise which then glides though the fjord for 3 hours. However, there are many noteworthy stops which can be made to turn the journey into a day out for its own pleasure, and then added on to that is the potential of some decent birds. Prime amongst these are Kea and Blue Duck, neither (particularly the latter) in the least bit guaranteed, but there are some good spots to search for both. Monkey Creek is the location with the possibility of both but encouraging signs not to feed the Kea always raise extra hope.

The journey is over 100km in length, and initially runs parallel to half the length of Lake Te Anau, then morphs into the wide Eglington base of Eglinton Valley, whose grand flat expanse forms an excellent habitat for the Swamp Harriers coursing over. It then gains a bit of height (and even more cloud and a smidgeon of drizzle on the day we visited), to run alongside Lake Gunn, before climbing even further within some spectacular mountainous scenery – most of which is forested. The Homer Tunnel bridges the gap between the very high peaks and runs steeply downhill through more forested mountain sides to the small hamlet of Milford Sound, which is no more than a cafe, some lodges, and the cruise terminal for the Sound itself.

First stop with birding potential was Lake Gunn, which has a 45 minute walking loop through red beech forest. It is quite an eerie atmosphere, with many seemingly dead trees covered in mosses and lichens, giving a deathly green visage in a humid feeling air. There are one or two good birds here though. A couple of South Island Robins added another early on when they chased off an interloper. Tomtits eclipsed the Robins in numbers fairly easily, although both laid claim to the most approachable – neither were shy! Prize here were a couple of separate Riflemen. Neither stayed in view for any extended period of time, but the small bundles of feathers which they portrayed were more than welcome. Just before this oasis from the masses were the Mirror Lakes – a small collection of almost roadside pools of water which were very popular with tourists unfortunately, but also a good spot for a couple of Pacific Duck and New Zealand Scaup.

Lake Gunn South Island Robin Tomtit

Woodland adjacent to Lake Gunn

South Island Robin Tomtit
Mirror Lakes New Zealand Scaup Pacific Duck

Mirror Lakes

New Zealand Scaup Pacific Duck

Monkey Creek had been much anticipated, since it is a potentially good spot for both Kea and Blue Duck. Visibility at this point was quite poor, with very low cloud and some drizzle putting paid to any hope of either species. Other locations or better weather on return were hoped for. Another tip for Kea was to look around the entrances to the Homer Tunnel. Great views in the rising clouds but no sought after birds. And so it was down the winding descent to Milford Sound. Plenty of tourists here, and also a short but interesting foreshore walk. This takes you quickly to the wet foreshore, with the superb vista of the fjord as a backdrop. Paradise Shelduck continued their wide distribution as the most obvious bird here, with a manic White-faced Heron trying to crash the party. A short walk along the shore found a few Variable Oystercatchers, but these were mainly of the pied variety, showing the indistinct border between black and white clearly. Tomtits continued to be very tame here, but biggest surprise was a Weka wandering around the steps of the cafe.

Monkey Creek Tomtit New Zealand Fantail

Monkey Creek

Tomtit New Zealand Fantail
Milford Sound Paradise Shelduck Variable Oystercatcher

Milford Sound

Paradise Shelduck male Variable Oystercatcher (pied phase)

So back tothe return journey. The ascent to the entrance of the tunnel was again increasingly one of more and more cloud. We then spotted the waiting time on the clock for our queue to turn to a green light at 2 minutes 40 seconds. A brief sigh was emitted before we saw what at first looked like Weka prowling the front of the queue, when we realised they were Kea. And there were even a couple eyeing us up on the verge opposite. That time on the clock all of a sudden seemed all too little, as cameras were groped for and the Keas photographed as the time ticked down. Result. A brief stop was made to look for more on the opposite side of the tunnel without luck. We also stopped to admire the impressive Lake Marion waterfall where Blue Duck had been seen some weeks before, and made a further search at Monkey Creek, again without turning up the quarry. The Kea would have to do, although a circling New Zealand Falcon further on in the journey was small compensation.

Homer Tunnel Kea Kea

Queue at Homer Tunnel entrance

Kea Kea


 

     Doubtful Sound


Doubtful Sound Doubtful Sound

QDoubtful Sound from the Wilmot Pass

Doubtful Sound

One of the main reasons for staying at Te Anau is to use it as a gateway to Fjordland National Park. Prime amongst this for tourists is a cruise along either Milford or Doubtful Sounds. The former we had seen from its departure point the previous day, following a day along the Te Anau to Milford Sound road. We decided on the latter for the cruise, partly due to its proximity to our accommodation (20 minutes), and also because it offered most on a full day out. The trip is in three phases – an hour or so on Lake Manapouri, then a bus drive linking that lake with the fjord, and then the cruise proper on Doubtful Sound. Birding wise, the former 2 have little to offer, and it truth be told, the main interest area for birds at the junction of the fjord and the Tasman Sea. One or two Shy Albatross had been seen just before here, but once the rougher waters are experienced and the small islets standing as guardians to the inlet are spotted, the birdlife becomes very interesting. At the correct time of the year (ie not during our visit but the Spring breeding period) it’s more than possible to spot Fjordland Crested Penguin. But not really during the end of March. However, this was more than made up for by the regular fly by of Albatross – some of the Shy that had been seen at Kaikoura, but also equal numbers of Buller’s, showing the narrower and cleaner lines on the underwings compared to Grey-headed, as well as a seemingly yellower bill edge. Also here were myriads of Sooty Shearwaters, often passing close to the boat in squadrons. On the rocks themselves were the famed New Zealand Fur Seals, which is likely to be the main reason the boat extends to this location.

Buller's Albatross Fur Seal Fur Seal

Buller's Albatross

Australian Fur Seal Australian Fur Seal
Sooty Shearwater Sooty Shearwater

Sooty Shearwaters

Sooty Shearwaters

Home

Paintings gallery

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Contact

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Content

Introduction

Singapore

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Wellington

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Fjordland

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Species list

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