Dr Duncan James > Nature Travel Guide > Where > Planet Earth > Australasia > New Zealand > Kahurangi

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Nature Travel Guide

Location 1: Kahurangi (New Zealand)

"Home of the Heaphy Trail and Great Spotted Kiwi."

I recommend the New Zealand Native Bird Bingo (premium link) activity.

On my hike here I saw and heard Great Spotted Kiwi at Gouland Downs and in the Forest Below James Mackay Hut.

Kahurangi national park http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/nelson-tasman/places/kahurangi-national-park/ is a large, wild forest combined with higher ground. The high ground has alpine wildlife including Kea, Rock Wren and Mountain Beech. The bogs have native plants including endemic species of asphodel and foxglove. As with all of New Zealand, there are problems with predators but some predator-control measures are in place.

This location description is based on my visit in spring 2016 when I was attracted by the stable population of Great Spotted Kiwi in the forest. The natural population is so strong that it is even being used for translocations to boost the numbers in other areas.

  • The Gouland Downs (site 1) is one of the most remote parts of the Heaphy Trail. It is known as a good place to see Great Spotted Kiwi, Blue Duck, large snails and large worms. All but the Blue Duck are generally reported as being best seen at night or dawn/dusk. (GPS coords 40.8907S 172.3533E)
  • The Forest Below James Mackay Hut (site 2) is where I was excited to see a Great Spotted Kiwi and also hear them 4 times. On my trip, kiwi were also mentioned in the hut record books and in person by other hikers. (GPS coords 40.9261S 172.1600E)
  • Karamea (site 3) is a town that hikers on the Heaphy Trail will pass through. I think it is a good choice for a base if you want to do day walks in Kahurangi forest and have your own vehicle. (If you are reliant on public transport the starts of the walks are a long way away.) Forest day walks include Karamea Gorge Route Track, Fenian Track and K Road Walking Track. The start of the Wangapeka Track runs east from Little Wanganui slightly further south: it is an alternative to the Heaphy Trail for keen hikers looking for remote wildlife possibilities. (The GPS coords for a short estuary walk where a few waders, known as shorebirds in American English, can be seen are 41.2499S 172.1042E.)
  • I have not visited the sandy Farewell Spit (site 4) but it is said to have a wide variety of habitats that make it good for birdwatching. At the start is Fossil Point which is a good place to see fur seals. The first few kilometres of the spit is a good area for large groups of waders/shorebirds in the summer. There is an Australasian Gannet colony at the end of the spit which is a massive 60km return trip meaning that for many an organised tour is the only way to see it. However, gannets will feed well away from their colony and so good views should be possible all along the coast. (GPS coords 40.5208S, 172.7430E)
  • Abel Tasman (site 5) is a very popular national park with general tourists. The scenic coastal footpath is reported to be good for wildlife watching.

Wildlife of Kahurangi

As well as the forest and alpine habitats, there are also some sections of coast. There is a breeding colony of fur seals at Wekakura Point that is difficult to access for humans. There are also protected offshore areas to help with fish populations, but again they are not easily accessible for humans!

Kahurangi is one of the few places with a strong population of native New Zealand snails that can be up to 3-4cm across. The shell colour varies depending on the local rocks and they can be very shiny. Their Latin (genus) name is Powelliphanta. Generally they are seen at night when they come out to feed on worms. They can also be seen at daytime when it is raining. It is illegal to keep a shell that is found in the national park.

I spent most of my time here exploring the Heaphy Trail http://www.doc.govt.nz/heaphytrack http://heaphytrack.com so I could reach more remote areas and maybe increase the chance of rarer native wildlife. From Brown Hut to Gouland Downs Hut there is mixed forest with lots of native birds. From Gouland Downs Hut to James Mackay Hut it is more open and other hikers report seeing Blue Duck in the fast-flowing rivers. From James Mackay Hut it is forested again with more native birds. The James Mackay Hut area is where many hikers report seeing Kea. From Heaphy Hut onwards the path runs along the coast.

The Heaphy Trail is a good example of some of the wilder sections of the forest at Kahurangi. People report seeing the Great Spotted Kiwi nearly all the way along the trail. Based on historical weather data that I have looked at, on average approximately 1 day out of 5 will be wet: For example, despite my careful planning to have 2 days in the excellent Gouland Downs section of the Heaphy Trail I was unlucky and had heavy rain on both those days.

On the Heaphy Trail the main sounds I heard were the shriek of the Weka, bubble of the Tui, descending notes of the non-native Chaffinch and the subtler songs/calls of the smaller native birds such as Silvereye, South Island Robin and Rifleman. At night I often heard the Morepork calling. I heard the rolling call of the Great Spotted Kiwi all along the trail after dark and light sleepers often report hearing them at night.

Another walk I considered doing was the Leslie-Karamea Track (which includes the Wangapeka Track) from approximately Takaka to Karamea. This is similar in length to the Heaphy Trail and also passes through lots of forest that could have good birdlife, including Great Spotted Kiwi. One reason it may not be so good is that the anti-predator measures are focused only in certain places, whereas the Heaphy Trail gets very good coverage.

The Golden Bay coast is, according to population data, one of the only places where you can see Reef Heron in New Zealand, so if you are a keen birdwatchers you may want to look out for it. In the wetland areas you might also look out for White-faced Heron, Masked Lapwing, Variable Oystercatcher and Black-winged Stilt.

These are the mammals and field signs that I saw on my 7 day visit: (Almost all seen on the Heaphy Trail.)

Birds that I missed included the alpine/high-elevation Rock Wren, Kea and Blue Duck (all of which are less commonly seen) plus the New Zealand Falcon (which is generally difficult to find) and the Morepork (which is nocturnal and you need some luck to see it).

Non-native birds I saw on my 7 day visit were Australian Magpie, Starling, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Greenfinch, House Sparrow, Mallard, Yellowhammer and Californian Quail.

I saw 27 species of native bird:- (I also saw large parrots 4 times that were either Kaka or Kea but I wasn't sure which.)

Powelliphanta snails are a highlight of the Kahurangi forest.

This article is part of the Nature Travel Guide and was published on October 19th 2018.

Larger-scale information relating to this page include the Planet Earth, Australasia and New Zealand articles.

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