Tuesday 10 October 2017

Totaranui- Bird Paradise


This must surely be the grandest entrance to a DOC Camp in all of New Zealand. This is Totaranui at the northern end of the Abel Tasman National Park and the Abel Tasman Great Walk. The trees, alternate London Plane & Macrocarpa, were planted in 1856 by the first European settler & landowner, Williams Gibbs. He wanted an imposing entrance for visitors arriving by sea (the only means of access back then), and he sure got it, albeit many years after his passing. 

Gibbs established a farm of over 7000 acres here at Totaranui and supplied Nelson with milk & dairy products. He also built two holiday cottages which he rented out to holidaymakers. Even back then this little pocket of coastline was a popular holiday destination. Sadly the Macrocarpa looked to have succumbed to disease or old age as there were only large stumps in their spots! Ngatara, the farm homestead (see the link in the next paragraph for photos) is now owned by the Crown and used for school camps.

If you don't arrive by boat or on foot, Totaranui is accessed via a 12km narrow winding gravel road from Pohara in Golden Bay. And it's where we have been parked up for the last week. We've driven the road before but just as a day trip in the ute, this time we brought the 5th-wheeler along for the ride.

The road was fine, it's up and over a small range and not as bad as some we've been on. Just a couple of sharp switchbacks and a little narrow in places but with lots of areas to pull over if you meet other vehicles or need to let others pass. We timed it to cross over late morning when most of the traffic would have been ahead of us and any day-trippers would still be enjoying their visit.

The DOC campground is a very popular destination for holidaymakers and at the height of the summer season there can be over 1000 people in camp. It's a huge place with over 23 large bays for camping, each bay can hold anything from 10-20 campsites; fire pits (bring your own firewood) and picnic tables are a central point where campers can gather. There also fresh water available in every bay, a refuse collection area nearby and a dump station for campers (not day trippers as it's very expensive to empty septic tanks this far out).

Each bay is bordered by bush and some have the estuary as a backdrop, they stretch right along the beach although there is no camping on the ocean side of the road. There are numerous ablution blocks dotted about with flushing toilets, cold showers and more impressively, laundry tubs with hand mangles!

We have our bay to ourselves and at the most there have only been 8-12 vans in each night. If I didn't know any better I'd think we were here by ourselves. Most have headed to the end of the camp beside the estuary where they can access the boat ramp and do some easy whitebaiting in the numerous streams that flow from the estuary.

We arrived in the sunshine and had a couple of lovely days before the heavens once again opened up and it rained solid for nearly three days. Luckily we have been able to access the internet through the big wet.  Netspeed has been a Godsend, although even with the big booster Yagi aerial pointing all the way across the bay to Nelson, it's been mostly borderline and often we have only been able to connect to read but not contribute.

Just like Kaiteriteri, Totaranui also has the same beautiful golden sand; this is looking south into the Park and towards Awaroa...

...and north to the end of the bay... 

 ...where the huge estuary empties into the ocean twice a day. 

This is just a tiny section of the estuary and at high tide it's at least thigh deep.

The bird life is prolific with, unusually, the most common sighting being of the Kereru/NZ Wood Pigeon.

I'm sure there's at least a few hundred birds around the camp; any casual glance into the surrounding bush, under the tree canopy or up to any bare trees produces three or four birds glancing down as they rest during the day. 

This one was perched precariously in a small bush; wings spread, sunning itself in the warm afternoon sun. 

I counted at least 20 birds feeding in a patch of tree lucerne which they have nearly stripped bare. 

They squabble, flap, bash and bumble about through the soft vegetation with most staying put as I pass by. It's such a treat to see them at such close quarters.

Sadly this bird with the odd coloured feathers is not well, it has a wound on it's neck which may have been punctured by a branch as it landed to feed.

While Kereru and Tui swoosh and soar about above us, down on the ground Weka and Pukeko roam throughout the camp. Here a Western Weka stretches and spreads it's wings as it soaks up the warm sunshine (I know how you feel mate!). I had to laugh the other night, I forgot to turn the water pump off and when I visited the little room at some unGodly hour the pump swung into action along with what seemed like the whole population of weka screeching out their alarm calls at the noise.

I have been surprised by the lack of chicks on the ground for both the weka and pukeko although I did manage to spy these two chicks with their parent hidden in some tussock. It's either a little too early or they are being kept out of harm's way- I've seen weka stalk and attach pukeko chicks and I know pukeko kill ducklings so they'd likely kill weka chicks too. 

And looked who else popped up- a regular visitor at Kaiteriteri- a male California Quail with his partner. I've only spotted the two birds although I've heard a few calling but there are nowhere near the numbers we saw at Kaiteri.

It's not only the humans who are whitebaiting in the estuary...

...this Kotuku/White Heron is a regular visitor snatching at the small fry swimming up the channels...

...that weave their way through the Jointed Wire Rush.

Along with a pukeko who was also grabbing at the whitebait swimming past in the clear water.

While walking around the edge of the estuary I disturbed a weka digging for and munching on tiny crabs. 

I'd noticed a track through the estuary when I was looking at the google map of the area so yesterday afternoon I went exploring. The 'track' was on an embankment with a fast flowing stream on one side and a swamp on the other and I had to fight my way through so much gorse it wasn't funny. It left the road back near the entrance to the park and reached right out into the estuary coming to an end not too far from the north end of the campground and just across the reeds from where we are parked. The deep stream and high tide stopped me from heading home this way. 

I was very excited to find some deer prints in the sand about three quarters of the way along and could see where they'd walked down to a bush and munched the ends off it. There was also a wide swathe of bent reeds through the swamp where I think they may have made a quick exit. 

But best of all I saw five highly secretive Fernbirds/Matata, one carrying nesting material. More like a mouse than a bird, Matata creep silently through the undergrowth very rarely making an appearance above. I heard them 'clicking' long before I spotted the first one, but then one made a dash across the sand from a bush on the embankment down into the reeds, looking very much like a mouse with a feathered tail. I sat quietly for about 20 minutes before this one made an appearance from out of a gorse bush. It soon flitted across and down into the reeds too.

 Totaranui, what a great place to bird watch!


  1. What a nice place! We didn't make it to this place in motorhome due to time constrain, but stopped by brieftly when our water taxi dropped some passengers there. We were well impressed by the golden sand and crystal clear water. And I tried very hard to imagine how it looks like during the superpeak season...

    1. That's how we also saw it when we did a boat tour on our first visit. It looked much lovely this time- the sun was shining and the temperature not so cold. We too wouldn't like to visit in the high season.

  2. Great writing and photos on a place that we used to stay at every year for almost 15 years. We spent most summers here when we lived in "The Bay" and have been back a few times since and another trip is due before the end of the year.

    1. Many thanks, glad you enjoyed reminiscing. It's a very special place and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there. Enjoy your next visit too.


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