327 Days on the Road
In the urban jungle that is Auckland Central, did you know that you can escape to various bush-clad and wildlife-filled off-shore islands? From the volcanic Rangitoto Island to the beaches and vineyards of Waiheke Island, just hop on a ferry from downtown Auckland and you could be exploring these island within the hour! For us, we are taking a trip to an island a tiny bit further afield, to the pest-free wildlife sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi! Despite living in Auckland for a couple of year prior to this big adventure of 365 Days: 365 Activities, this is a first for us. We’re just about to find out how foolish we were!
The Journey to Tiritiri Matangi ISland
We arrive at the downtown ferry building with its unmissable orange stone exterior with plenty of time to spare to get that obligatory Auckland coffee. Then we are boarding our 360 Discovery Cruises catamaran ferry for a 75-minute journey to the island.
The journey provides lots of photo opportunities itself, with an awesome perspective of the Auckland skyline seen from the water. Then there’s the distinct shape of Rangitoto Island, the sun glimmering behind it on this Sunday morning. We also get to appreciate why they say Auckland is one of the largest cities in the world in terms of landmass. No matter how far up the coast we go, the buildings never stop!
After a quick detour to the Gulf Harbour to pick up more passengers, we finally arrive at the end of a long jetty – our gateway to Tiritiri Matangi!
A land before time
Although Tiritiri Matangi has a number of walks leading to pristine beaches, through regenerating native bush, and even to a few historical sites, it’s all about the birds for us. The island is pest-free meaning that there are less predators to hinder the ecosystem on this island. With native forest planted over the majority of the island over recent years, the island is turning back into what it once before us pesky humans made our mark on the land. As we walk along the jetty towards the island, we can already hear the echoing calls of melodic birds.
Spending more time with the birds and less with the humans
From the entrance to the island, there are three different routes to start exploring the island. After a Department of Conservation (DOC) ranger gives a speech on what can and can’t be done on the island, the crowd starts to split off in various directions. Of course, the pretty single tracks into the forest instantly become the most popular (this is what happens when you do trips on a Sunday from the most populated city in the country), so we find ourselves pretty clever for taking the seemingly unappealing gravel road toward the island’s lighthouse.
The start of a lively walk
The gravel road is lined with trees and instantly, we spot kakariki (small green parrots) swoop overhead laughing hysterically as they go! Barely two minutes up the track, we are stopping to check out a couple of tui in a tree. We hear them before we see them: the warbling robotic sounds which remind us of C3-PO from Star Wars. At a closer look, you can see two white feathers hanging from their necks, as well as dark plumage which glistens metallic blue in various lights. We stay here for a while, taking photos of this unusual bird not knowing that by the end of the day, we are going to be sick of these guys!
What’s that on the horizon? It’s Tiritiri Matangi!
Flightless balls of feathers, bellbirds, fantails…
Further along the track (like, only a few steps!) we are overwhelmed with the amount of birds flying back and forth between trees! They are all so fast! With a bit of waiting and staying still, we find that the birds come to us. Little brown balls of feathers waddle on the ground with a chick following. We have no idea what these flightless birds are – they were not even listed on the leaflet we picked up in the ferry. A squeaky fantail also dances around us, doing all sorts of acrobatics with its fan-like tail. We are even nearly knocked out by a couple of bellbirds, a noisy bird with green feathers, that dash across the road inches away from our heads. We can only laugh – this is awesome!
Super close encounters with saddlebacks
One bird that has been darting around, only allowing us to see glimpses of it, is the saddleback – named because, well, it looks like it has a red saddle on its back. As we are literally sticking our faces between low-hanging branches, Robin nearly sh*ts himself when one is right in front of his face! The bird just looks at him and continues doing its thing. That’s the fascinating thing about a lot of New Zealand’s birds, they have not evolved to be scared of humans, which allows us to get the most amazing sightings.
A noisy feeding station
If by any chance, hadn’t have had the chance to spot any birds – which is insane to imagine – then the feeding stations and watering holes certainly give us the opportunity to be immersed in their presence. We approach one feeding station that is alive with the sound of bellbirds! Oh my god! They are warbling and shouting at each other, flying from branch to branch, again, not giving a sh*t that we are stood right here! The feeding station also attracts another bird we have never seen, the hihi or stitchbird – a yellow and black bird with white feathers around its eyes.
Making it to the lighthouse
After a 15-minute walk takes us almost two hours thanks to our feathery distractions, we finally make it to a lighthouse and shop. Again, more feeding stations attract the occasional tui so people have a bit of entertainment to go with their complimentary hot drinks from the store. From there, we take the Wattle Track which makes its way back to the wharf in a winding motion through a forested valley. Along the way, there are several watering stations with benches facing them. We stop at the first one we find and wait.
What goes on at the watering hole
Only about five minutes later, a bellbird comes for a drink, then a tui, then another bellbird… Right here, we are getting the closest sightings yet, seeing every detail of their feathers. Meanwhile, a large wood pigeon (like a street pigeon but much bigger and greener) watches from a tree above us, waiting for its chance to drink. These clumsy birds are always entertaining to watch – they often look like they are about to fall off whatever branch they have just landed on.
Further down the Wattle Track, we see small whiteheads, North Island robins and more kakariki foraging on the forest floor. We also bump into a guy who has found a couple of giant tree weta crawling behind the dead branches of punga ferns.
Back to Base
When we get back to the wharf for our 3.30pm sailing back to Auckland totally in disbelief about the amount of wildlife we have seen. We might have not covered much ground in Tiritiri Matangi, but man, we managed to see a lot!
After a journey filled with looking at all our shots and concluding that we are nature photographers now – that wasn’t so hard – we arrive back in Auckland Central and head to our super central accommodation at ACB Base.
Join us tomorrow where we are going to jump from a perfectly good plane, because that’s New Zealand. See you then!
A nestled feeding station with a whole lot of bellbirds!
Why wouldn’t you? Get your eyes on these articles!
- Auckland Hauraki Gulf – Guide for Backpackers
- 8 Wildlife Activities in New Zealand
- 10 Islands in New Zealand Every Backpacker Has to Explore
See you tomorrow!