Tiritiri matangi

A man is an island. No, wait a second. A man VISITED an island. Yes, that’s it.

Hobbs Beach

(Hang on, I think I got it all wrong anyway. NO man is an island. Well, let’s better forget about this…)

Anyway, so on my first (and in fact, only) full day in Auckland I went on a day trip to a very special place: Tiritiri matangi (pronounced teeree-teeree MAH-tang-ghee), or simply: Tiri, an island in the Hauraki Gulf, just a couple of kilometres from Auckland harbour.

A human being (Homo sapiens, although not so sapiens at times) on board the ferry to Tiritiri Matangi with Auckland harbour in the background.

All very well, boat trips are always nice. But what exactly is it that makes this island special, and why did I want to go there at all?

Variable oystercatcher (torea-pango, Haematopus unicolor), an endemic bird that is widespread and relatively common along New Zealand’s coastline

For birdwatching, of course – what else! The great attraction of Tiritiri Matangi, for scientists as well as for ordinary tourists like myself, lies in two facts:

(1) the island is pest-free, i.e. without cats, dogs, rats and other rodents, non-native insects etc.

And that, in turn, is great news for (2) the many native bird species living here, many of them very rare and extinct on the main islands of New Zealand.

Pied cormorant (or shag) (Phalacrocorax varius varius) luckily not a rare bird species either

Every guidebook or website that I consulted in preparation for this trip strongly recommended a visit to Tiri for everybody even vaguely interested in wildlife. So for me it was a must, and I was well-advised to book the trip already months ahead of my visit. You see, it’s really peak season for summer tourism here in New Zealand. The local folks have their summer holidays, the Aussies are here (cruise ships full of them), tourists from Japan and China, and Europeans like me as well. This means that all the accommodations and main attractions are already fully booked, and there’s no way you can sneak in spontaneously and without prior reservation.

This, by the way, is the reason why I was only able to go on a day trip to Tiri. I would have much preferred to stay on the island for one or two nights, but there are only very few beds available, and they were already sold out half a year ago…

Can you read the sign? It tells you a lot about the main problems of conservation in NZ, and about the main approach towards its solution. The fauna and flora of the islands, be they large or small, just cannot deal with the presence of so many new organisms brought here (deliberately or not) by us humans in the course of the last several hundred years. The new arrivals either compete with the natives for food and habitat, or they even actively prey on them, e.g. by predating on eggs and bird chicks. Or they bring diseases with them. And the destruction of thehabitats of native animals, especially through deforestation and urban development, doesn’t help much…

New Zealand pigeon (kereru, Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae), also a rather common species. It can also be found on the main islands. Endemic to New Zealand.

Upon arrival on Tiri, I decided not to join a guided tour but to make my own way instead. The island is small, and there are beautiful little foot-paths criss-crossing the beaches, rocky slopes, meadows and woodland. Everything is well maintained and clearly signposted. The sun was shining, the waves were lapping against the sandy beach. It definitely looked like this was going to be a good day!

And then I saw my first penguin. Like, ever!

Little blue penguin (korora, Eudyptula minor) in its nest box. An adult with two chicks.

Not that they were particularly difficult to find, one meter away from the main footpath…

But hey, who cares – a new species is a new species, a LIFER, right? And my first penguin, like, ever. But I’m repeating myself.

I had around 4.5 hours on Tiri in total. This may sound a lot to you, given the small size of the island. But believe me, it was much too short. I did see many nice birds though, and the landscape is very beautiful too. But time-wise it’s never enough…

Whitehead, (pōpokotea, Mohoua albicilla), formerly a common passerine bird on the North Island. Today, restricted to a few populations on pest-free offshore islands. Endemic to New Zealand. I saw several flocks of them during my stay on Tiri.
New Zealand bellbird (korimako, Anthornis melanura), another endemic species (of course). Fortunately, still quite common throughout New Zealand. Very common on Tiri.
Brown quail (Coturnix ypsilophora), an Australian species which was introduced to NZ in the late 19th century. WHY?!?
North Island robin (Petroica longipes), endemic to the North Island and some of the smaller islands.
North Island saddleback (tieke, Philesturnus rufusater), a once common forest bird which is now largely confined to predator-free islands offshore. Needless to say, another NZ endemic.
Stitchbird (hihi, Notiomystis cincta), one of the star species on Tiritiri matangi. Yes, endemic to NZ.
Tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae), another endemic passerine. Very common on Tiri and also not rare on the main islands. I really liked its song!
ACHTUNG, BABY: The worst parrot photo in the history of parrot photography!!! A red-crowned parakeet (kakariki, Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae), one of several that I saw during my stay. I hope I will get better views (and photo ops) in other places I intend to visit. By they’re always somewhere high up in tree-tops, and they never seem to sit still…
Brown teal (pateke, Anas chlorotis). Fewer than 1,000 adult birds overall at present…

One of the birds I had really hoped to see on Tiri was the Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri), a kind of giant, flightless swamp-hen. This rare and rather odd bird didn’t originally live on Tiri, but was relocated here for the purpose for breeding and reintroduction to its original site on the South Island. For a long time, the takahe was believed to be extinct, but then a small population was discovered back in 1948. At present, approximately 200 birds are alive in the different sites, a handful of them on Tiri.

Again, finding them was one of the easier tasks… It felt much more like visiting a zoo than watching wild animals.

I think they are really handsome and photogenic, and that’s despite the horrible light at 2pm on a bright and sunny day. I cannot tell you how much I would LOVE to photograph these creatures in the early morning or evening…

So much for the slightly weird Takahe.

To round off this little account of my trip to this little gem in the Hauraki Gulf, let me provide you with some more landscape shots. What a day this has been! New Zealand is good to me so far.

To be continued!

Published by Sebastian

Geographer, naturalist and photographer (www.schroeder-esch.de). Based in Germany, but always keen to travel and explore

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