Accross the Southern Alps

After coming back from India, I spent a few days around Christchurch, then aimed for the mountains. I didn’t know anything about Arthur’s Pass, except that it linked East and West Coast of the South Island, that a passenger train line ran through it between Christchurch and Greymouth… and that a few attractive birds lingered around 😉

The road ascended gradually. I stopped at Castle Hill, a remarkable limestone formation carved by erosion, and found joy in following winding tracks among these giants of stone.

It kept my mind from thinking about the road. A few weeks before, my car had let me down in the mountains between Queenstown and Wanaka, and since then I had been scared about going up… yet in New Zealand, it can’t really be avoided! Thus, I felt stressed by the upcoming ascent, all the while knowing there wasn’t much I could do except driving slowly and hoping all would go well.

After a fruitless stop looking for birds, I arrived at Arthur’s Pass Village under a deluge, feeling lucky that was the night a bed was still available at the hostel! In the morning, I waited until rain abated then set off to discover the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall, a sight easily accessible with a short walk in the humid forest.

On the track, I met a South Island robin (Petroica australis), possibly my favourite bird in New Zealand. These guys are fond of us, and the insects and worms we uncover with our not-so-subtle steps, therefore they can come very close in hope of a good meal. The pictures below were taken with a wide-angle lens, not the usual telelens I use for birds.

South Island robin (Petroica australis)
South Island robin

My next stop was the Hawdon Shelter, a campsite on the edge of a forest where I looked for more birds… All I could find was a few more robins keen on posing for my camera, and an uncommon but stunning New Zealand fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa) in black morph. I knew there were Orange-fronted parakeet (Cyanoramphus malherbi) and Yellowheads (Mohoua ochrocephala) further up the valley, but the prospect of crossing the river times and again deterred me from trying my luck. I slept near the river.

South Island robin
South Island robin
South Island robin
South Island robin
New Zealand fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa)
New Zealand fantail

Eurasian skylark (Alauda arvensis)
Eurasian skylark
Common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

In the morning, the sun shone bright. That not being very favourable for photography, I took it slow, taking a short bath in the icy waters coming down from the mountain before driving up to the pass. There, I parked and climbed up the Otira Valley, where I knew New Zealand rockwrens (Xenicus gilviventris) dwelled. I ascended among the boulder fields, keeping a keen eye out, but I found nothing. I lay on a big rock and read bits and pieces of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, a fitting read for who travels this country. Still no rockwren showed, and I went down to my car.

I spotted one Kea (Nestor notabilis) at the Otira Viaduct lookout, but the superb parrot didn’t offer really good views as it walked around. I thought I would have better opportunities with this species, as Arthur’s Pass is quite renown for them, so I was rather disappointed. Fortunately, I saw them later in better conditions, so I’ll show you pictures in a future article 😊

From the lookout, I could appreciate the steepness of the descent that awaited me before reaching Greymouth and the West Coast. I was happy to go down these ramps and not up.


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Bird inventory

10 thoughts on “Accross the Southern Alps

  1. The robin’s colouring is nothing like ours, but it has the same kind of bravery or friendliness, although I suspect your skill made it appear more of an obliging model than it is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My skills have nothing to do with this, they are posers 😀
      But yes, even though they lack a red breast they have an attitude not unlike that of a European robin 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Tu résumes très bien la chose (enfin, tous les paysages ne se valent pas. Une grosse partie du pays a été transformée en farme à bovins, et là c’est moche, ca pue et y’a plus de piafs).

      Liked by 1 person

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