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.
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.
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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