Tuesday, December 29, 2015


In the last hour of our visit to New Zealand, after 5 happy weeks of touring and before flying back across the dateline and the equator to North America, I thought I'd upload some images of scenic Akaroa, where we spent 3 days at the lovely Twin Gullies B&B. Definitely one of the highlights of our trip!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Birds of New Zealand

New Zealand, long separated from ancient Gondwana, has had the chance to evolve its own unique species of birds without mammal predators. It's home to the flightless kiwi - which I heard one night but did not see -  and was home to the largest bird ever known, the moa, which unfortunately was hunted to extinction by early Maori.

Being interested in birds wherever I go, I was keen to learn about the avifauna of NZ. Below are images of local birds, both native and introduced, that I was able to photograph while traveling for around the North and South Islands. Click on a photo to enlarge. Click on the name to learn more about the particular specie.

Eastern Rosella
Red-billed gull


California quail



White-fronted tern




Pied shag

New Zealand pigeon





Pied oystercatcher

South Island robin

New Zealand scaup

Yellow-eyed penguin

Royal spoonbill

Royal albatross

Blue penguin

Pied stilt

Swamp harrier

White-faced heron

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Royal Albatross

Royal Albatross are the graceful giants of the southern oceans. On a 10 foot wingspan they circle Antarctica each year before returning to New Zealand's Otago Peninsula to reunite with their life-mates and raise a new generation.

From a viewing room at the Royal Albatross Centre, we were able to quietly observe as the juvenile birds gathered together on the headland slope to socialize and practice their flying skills.

The winds were strong the day we were there which made taking off and gliding seem effortless.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Curio Bay

Curio Bay lies on the southern coast of New Zealand, about as far south as you can go. There were three reasons to stop there for the night: penguins, dolphins and a petrified forest.

The resident penguins are a very rare type called the yellow-eyed penguin. Their numbers are dwindling because of avian diphtheria. It is estimated that there may be only 4000 of these endangered birds remaining.

hector's dolphin captured from a video frame

Hector's dolphins, the world's smallest, come to the area to raise their young in the calm shallow waters. Naturally curious, they will often swim around the visiting humans.
humans are no match for these natural surfers

petrified log

When the tide is out, the remains of a 180 million year old forest is revealed. Logs and stumps have turned to stone and are preserved where they grew. Fascinating!

petrified tree stump

Sam is a Department of Conservation volunteer. He spends a month on the shores of Curio Bay  protecting the nesting yellow-eyed penguins from encroaching tourists.

He was happy tell us what he knew about the penguins, dolphins and the petrified forest... and have his picture taken with Gail!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Milford Sound

Carved out of the Southern Alps by enormous glaciers, the stunning landscape of Milford Sound is the highlight of their journey for many visitors to New Zealand. Rudyard Kipling called it the "eighth wonder of the world" but for us it was a very cloudy, rainy day that revealed little of the majestic mountains that surrounded us as we cruised the length of the fiord.

Because of all the rain, we were treated to some mighty waterfalls that descend 150 meters down the sheer cliffs before dispersing in a furious spray.

When the rain stopped, the clouds began to lift revealing a serene tableau of mountains and mist over the calm waters of Milford Sound.

One last treat in Milford Sound was to see a kea, the curious parrot of south-west New Zealand. He was just as interested in us as we were of him!

The Cardboard Cathedral

We arrived in Christchurch, NZ today. It's Christmas eve. and Gail was interested in doing "something Christmasy". So we decided to attend the Carol Sing at the Christchurch Transitional Cathedral, aka the Cardboard Cathedral, as that's what it's partly made from.

It's a modern, airy space with cardboard tubes soaring up to a central peak. It wasn't particularly well-suited to acoustics but the church choir did a fine job of singing carols.

The original Anglican Cathedral was severely damaged during 2011 Christchurch earthquake as was much of the city. Today there is an ongoing debate about whether to restore the old structure or build a new permanent cathedral.

Tomorrow we'll wander the streets of Christchurch and see how the city is pulling itself together after the recent devastation.