Kaikoura’s special seabirds, Hutton’s Shearwater, nest in mountains!

I’m reposting this with new photos after my summer holiday trip to Kaikoura earlier this month.

Here are the new photos of the Hutton’s nesting grounds on the peninsula — read more to learn about how these birds were translocated and why.



huttons penisuala site.JPG

The earthquakes of November 2016 wiped out huge numbers of the birds’ mountain colonies and I was pleased to see that this new peninsula one is thriving – including now grandchild chicks ie chicks of new colony-raised birds, being hatched successfully.

But, let’s go back to 2005 and see how it all happened…

Once upon a time, as many good stories begin, I went for a misty morning walk in Kaikoura, New Zealand , with members of the Sierra Club (USA).

We took photos of seals, climbed over styles, and walked around the headland of the Kaikoura Peninsula. At the top we came across an eerie scene. In the early morning light we could see people ‘doing something’ and stopped to try to work it out.

We wonder what's happening (2005) photo by Linda Werk
We wonder what’s happening up there in the mist! (2005) photo by Linda Werk

As we stood there, one of them came down. We’re told it was the Department of Conservation (DoC) and volunteers feeding baby birds sardine smoothies in their artificial nests.

The Hutton’s Shearwater chicks had been translocated from their mountain colonies to this newly formed colony as security. Their two mountain colonies are at risk from wild pigs rooting through the area, predators killing young chicks, or an earthquake destroying their habitat.  I later learn more.

In the meantime my American friends are impressed that someone emerged from the mist to explain what was happening: some of the women decided they needed to move to New Zealand if the local DoC staff were so handsome and friendly!

These 2005 photos are by Linda Werk.  The Sierra Club members were hiking in New Zealand for a couple of weeks.

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Since that surreal encounter I have learnt more about this amazing little seabird that lives in burrows in the mountains. This is the only seabird that nests in snowy mountains – in fact this bird only nests here so is absolutely, ‘Kaikoura’ s own bird.’ The species is classified as ‘nationally endangered’ because of its rapid rate of decline.  (For more info see this DoC site)

The artificial nest: they enter by a tube to replicate the burrow they usually build
The artificial nest: they enter by a tube to replicate the burrow they usually build

In April 2014 I was in Kaikoura for the weekend for Kaikoura Seabirds, Shearwaters, Science and Seaweek.  As well as a photography workshop with Peter Langlands, lectures and presentations, I also returned to the translocated site to “Farewell the Hutton’s” as they left for their winter holiday – mostly off the coast of Western Australia.

The ceremony required another early morning walk to the top of the peninsula where Brett Cowan (Takahanga Marae and DoC Kaikoura) led us through a moving event which concluded with us releasing feathers that had been gathered from the nests. He was wearing a new cloak made for DoC by a local PlayCentre woman.



Brett Cowan with the new cloak
Brett Cowan with the new cloak








A predator fence and eradication project has been successful and a trust was been set up to help these birds survive. Nicky McArthur, who owns Shearwater Lodge and the land in the Valley of the Gods, where the second mountain colony is, is the driving force behind the trust and this event.  See more and help save these endangered birds here.


We also saw a short film about Geoff Harrow. The Hutton’s shearwater/tītī were first described in 1912 but it was not until 1965 that their Seaward Kaikoura mountain breeding grounds were re-discovered by Harrow, an amateur Christchurch ornithologist and mountaineer.  It was lovely to meet such a charming man, who at 88 is still full of life.

Andrew Cutler President Forest & Bird with
Andrew Cutler President Forest & Bird with Geoff Harrow and a crash-landed Hutton’s Shearwater


Heather with
Heather with Geoff Harrow










I learn more: the adult birds’ travel about 20 kilometres to the Pacific Ocean, to eat fish and krill to feed to their young.  On their downhill flight they travel at up to 154 km/h, reaching the ocean in as little as seven minutes. The return trip, 1200 metres uphill and with a full tummy, takes around 38 minutes.

When the young fledge, in March and April, they then migrate to the fish-rich waters off the Australian coast. Young birds stay there for three or four years then return to Kaikoura to breed at five or six years old.

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From late-March, some Hutton’s shearwater chicks flying from the mountain colonies for the first time crash onto the land around Kaikoura. It’s thought that these young birds become disoriented by fog and town lighting.As these birds cannot take off from land, they need help from the local community.

NOTE: The first record they have of a translocated bird returning to the peninsula colony was in December 2008. More birds returned in summer 2009-10 and in November 2010 the first egg was laid by one of the translocated chicks. The years since have increased the success rate.

NOTE2: More blogs soon about Kaikoura. (e.g. Albatross Encounter, Kaikoura gains a green eco-award etc.)

Say goodbye to the Huttons Shearwaters in Kaikoura (they’re off to Aussie for a while!)

Looking up to the endangered shearwater colony high in the mountainsThe Hutton’s Shearwater Charitable Trust are celebrating the Translocation of 102 Shearwater Chicks from the Kowhai Colony to the Peninsular Colony last week. This is extremely exciting for us as Trust and will greatly increase the long-term viability of the peninsular site. This is outstanding in both scientific terms and for Kaikoura as a community as ‘Kaikoura is their last place on Earth’ Nicky McArthur (Shearwater Lodge) invited me to the annual Farewell to the Hutton’s next weekend – daylight saving change weekend – Sunday 1st April 2012. (Note: the farewell and welcome are always on the change of daylight saving weekends) I can’t go but maybe you can!

Huttons Shearwater - thanks to Denis Buurman for this fabulous photo

KiwiRail and the Coastal Pacific rail journey

I’m happy to hear KiwiRail’s new scenic carriages have just entered service on the Coastal Pacific journey between Christchurch and Picton – and I hope to use them soon as the Coastal Pacific is a wonderful journey – maybe in April so I can travel from Picton to Kaikoura attend the annual Farewell to the Hutton’s shearwater as they head for Australia.

The new purpose-built (NZ built) scenic carriages have 52 square metres of glass in panoramic side and roof windows, ceiling mounted HD screens, and GPS triggered commentary in a choice of five languages.

The CoastPacific is a great journey - the last time I was on it was travelling from Picton to Christchurch in August 2011

Dr Hume (KiwiRail’s General Manager Passenger Services) said she was very excited to be introducing the new carriages along with a new menu and new staff uniforms.

We want to ensure a totally unique experience for our passengers. Our focus with these new carriages is on providing a more modern, sophisticated customer experience that people will remember and return to” she said. “.

Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism has applauded the initiative as a milestone for South Island tourism. “It’s a great news story for tourism in our region. The stunning scenery along our coastline is a huge draw card for visitors and the new stylish carriages and service will ensure the Coastal Pacific’s reputation as one the world’s great train journeys,” said Ms Blanchfield (Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism’s Business Development Manager)

The two new passenger carriages, the café car, the viewing car and refurbished luggage will be in service on the Coastal Pacific for the coming months, before being also introduced to the TranzAlpine next year.

“Our passenger services are heading into their busiest season and these changes add up to a fantastic showcase for KiwiRail’s South Island passenger services,” says Dr Hume

Welcome and farewells to the Hutton’s Shearwater in Kaikoura

As I wrote a little while ago, I hate getting invites to events I can’t attend – it was about the welcome to the Hutton’s shearwater – back from their wintering over in Australia.

That being so, my friend Nicky McArthur (Shearwater Lodge) has sent me some great photos she took of the annual Welcome to the Hutton’s so thought I’d share them with you.

Nicky said of the photos: “They show Brett Cowan – welcoming the birds home; local children flying kites as part of the celebration; Hutton’s Trustees Phil Bradfield (DOC) and Teri Sonal (Whalewatch) – frying “Hutton’s” Hamburgers (beef!) to raise funds for HSCT! And. Year-9 children on Encounter Kaikoura boat – where they go to view the Hutton’s on the water at the end of their Term 3 education on Hutton’s”.

Nicky also said “There were clouds of them on the water below us that day – it was absolutely stunning. It’s too early to say how many have come back to the colony on the peninsula – but it is quite busy out there!”

The next event is April – Farewell to Hutton’s – daylight saving change weekend – Sunday 1st April 2012. (Note: the farewell and welcome are always on the change of daylight saving weekends)

I hope to be there to say goodbye – sailing across the Cook Strait on the Kaitaki, then training from Picton to Kaikoura on the CoastalPacific  where KiwiRail’s new scenic carriages are now in operation.

I’ve been told the new carriages feature panoramic side and roof windows and new café cars. They are the first carriages to be entirely designed and built in New Zealand since the 1940s.

I hate getting invites . . . to events I can’t get to!

I hate getting invites to events that I can’t get to! This next is for next weekend  – the  annual welcome home to the Hutton’s Shearwater – back from their adolescence in Australia, back to the home of their birth – Kaikoura, New Zealand.

If you get there, please post a comment here and let us know all about it .. or call me with a the offer of a lift down there from Wellington

photo of the Valley of the Gods
Looking up to Valley of the Gods. Kaikoura
Shearwater Lodge
My hiking leads me to Shearwater Lodge ... near the Valley of the Gods











The programme for this SATURDAY 24th SEPTEMBER is:

  • 2:00pm – Meet us at South Bay Recreational Reserve to welcome the Huttonʼs home.

Karakia & Welcome by Te Runanga O Kaikoura

Kite Flying and Refreshments

  • 4.30pm – Join us in the Rugby World Cup Street

Festival, West End, Kaikoura for the Hutton’s Shearwater Charitable Trust Stalls with information & Hutton’s Hamburgers

  • 6.30pm – Mayfair Theatre for a special Wildlife Film – all welcome, gold coin donation

See more here  and stories I have written about the area and this bird including its home in the Valley of the Gods.


Shearwater Lodge – classy hiking in Kaikoura, NZ

Living in this long skinny land, New Zealand,  in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, means in any 48-hour period we can expect every meteorological weather pattern, but for us, as we head towards the Seaward Kaikoura’s, the weather gods smile on us when we start climbing.

Lance is our guide

Our guide, Lance, once a goat and deer-culler and guide for tourists hunting trophies, brings all that experience to his role with Kaikoura Wilderness Walks. This 3-day all-inclusive walk is on protected land, so, although landscape artist and farmer, Nicky McArthur, is the guardian of the land now, it’s safeguarded. No matter who owns it, it can never be farmland again.

“This walk is the quickest and easiest way into the mountain terrain of Kaikoura” Lance tells us, two Kiwi and two from England. His soft voice continues, “We’ll be going through different types of terrain and vegetation, through stands of manuka (from which bees harvest pollen for the therapeutic manuka honey) from regenerating totara forest to ancient forest areas and fine stands of beech and podocarp (conifer family) forest:”

And so, daypacks on, sturdy lancewood walking sticks at the ready, we leave the woolshed and farmyard base for our six-hour walk up to the Shearwater Lodge in Happy Valley.

The smells of hiking are wonderful and it’s not long before we stop at a beech tree to sample the honey-dew on the sooty black trunks. As a boutique eco-hike, the guides are able to tailor the day to the abilities of the walkers, stopping for photos, drinks and rests as needed – and I valued that as I should have practiced more hill-climbing.

We watched and heard many birds, had superb views of the North Island and Pacific Ocean, saw feral goats and deer, and, as well as stopping to admire and learn about various native trees, we’re even introduced to a native fern: the tiny leathery adder’s tongue.  Although there are two species in New Zealand I had never heard of them – we were all on our knees examining it. At different times of the year white mountain-daisies and other flowering plants, cover these hills. No wonder Lance says ‘this is the most picturesque place in Kaikoura‘.

A delicious packed lunch is waiting for us at the halfway point – where there is an eco, composting toilet and even a picnic table. It’s a welcome break with food, tea and coffee, coupled with good conversation and stunning views.

It’s at this point is where we can see where the Hutton’s Shearwaters burrow below the peak of Te Ao Wheke, (The World of the Gods) the second highest mountain peak here.  We peer at their mountainside colony for them but of course these birds only fly home at night and leave first thing each morning, spending their days at sea feeding on small fish and krill.

Although the adult population is around 460,000 the species is classified as ‘nationally endangered’ because of its rapid rate of decline. Like us hikers, this bird’s a traveller. It spends winter in Australian waters then returns each August to breed in this rugged landscape. Our guide tells us, “They have been recorded travelling at 150 km/h. It takes only seven minutes to get down to the sea – coming back up takes around 38 minutes.”

Kaikoura Wilderness Walks is closely aligned with the conservation of the Shearwater and, with the local conservation department and local Maori, are helping create a new colony behind a predator-excluding fence on the Kaikoura Peninsula. Each year some of the translocated birds – moved before they could fly, and fed with mashed sardine through a syringe – returned to this new colony and this is positive news for the success of the project. (see note below)

Lunch over, and after many hours being guided over streams, boulder-hopping, and zigzagging up and down the hills and valleys, through tussock, high alpine meadows, ferns and forest, we arrive at the luxurious, eco-friendly, Shearwater Lodge. This is where Nicky shines – the ‘hostess with the mostest’ someone has written in the guest book.

This is civilised hiking: no wet clothes or canvas tents here.  Nicky, the owner, tells me “There are other privately owned walks in New Zealand, but we don’t think walkers need to compromise on style or hot showers.” And style this lodge has. Nicky’s watercolours line the hall which leads to the double bedrooms. Sheepskins, white linen and great views from the balcony, and best of all, my luggage, delivered to my room from down at sea level, adds to the luxury. Later, my turned down bed, a chocolate on the pillow, reminds me this is not tramping as I used to know it.

After showers we gather at the lounge fire for drinks and appetisers and soon it’s time for dinner: Despite the table salt coming from Nepal – connecting two mountain areas – she uses local, in-season produce when possible. As a cordon bleu chef, Nicky ensures the food on our plates is delicious and beautifully presented.

I sleep well, leaving my curtains open, and wake at 5am, so open the sliding doors and lie in bed for a little longer, listening to the bird song  and soon I’m up, camera in hand, to record the sunrise.

Hutons Shearwater - thanks to Denis Buurman for this fabulous photo

Later, after a hearty breakfast and with my boots back on, we head out to explore. Past the helicopter pad we climb through young plants that will later cover the slope with tall stalks of yellow blooms and soon, in the middle of a large alpine field we stop to watch deer and goats higher up the mountains. It’s also the spot where a spectacular mountain ribbon-wood grows. ‘The wedding tree’ everyone at Shearwater Lodge calls it because of the beautiful white blossom which evidently looks like confetti as it starts to fall – I wonder when the first wedding will occur under its branches?

A short climb has us soon on top of the ridge and from where we could see Emily Falls cascade down into the valley and river. We traverse the ridge then back down to see yet more falls on the other side of Shearwater Lodge – the Beverly Falls. It’s further up this river that the lodge generates its own hydro-power.

Beverly Falls

This was my first guided walk and I agree with my fellow hikers who loved the ‘absolute rawness of the mountains’ and who wish they could have stayed longer. The other Kiwi in our group said, ‘I’ve been totally blown away. I have walked almost all the South Island tracks and this is the best. I have never heard so much birdsong on the others.’

So when you go to Kaikoura don’t just look out at the feeding ground of the giant Sperm whale, take a walk in the other direction, up to the high country, home for both Hutton’s Shearwaters and the Shearwater Lodge. This whole walk epitomises the local tourist office taglines: ‘Kaikoura, where the mountains meet the sea’ and ‘Kaikoura every step allows you to discover it’

The first Hutton’s Shearwater Farewell is on the 3rd April 2011 at 7.00 am

NOTE: This years annual welcome will be Sunday 25th September 2011. These events will occur on the start, and finish of NZ  daylight savings every year.


Kaikoura Wilderness Walks: Freephone 0800 945 366 (NZ only)  Tel. +64 3 319 6966


visit www.huttonsshearwater.org.nz and support this endangered bird.



Kiwitravelwriter goes hiking in the Seaward Kaikoura Mountains

NOTE 2011 update:  the FIRST Hutton’s Shearwater Farewell is on the 3rd April at 7.00 am on the  Kaikoura peninsula

A small collection of photos of my time in the NZ Southern Alps (November 2009) hiking with the unique Kaikoura Wilderness Walks,  and the fabulous Shearwater Lodge.

This is just a little taster — watch for stories, blogs and articles of my time in these mountains. See more here too



we spend time watching and listening to kea





























































































sunrise from the lodge

YAY - down one more valley then up to Shearwater Lodge

native clematis

Looking up to the endangered shearwater colony high in the mountains

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