A little lesson in extended travel planning with the family: be prepared not to plan. Thankfully, I had planned NOTHING for our first 2 days in New Zealand, assuming we'd need a little settling in time. Little did I know how much!

The flight over was smooth, but as it was the kids' first flight over 10 hours, they didn't sleep and Anais actually didn't eat or drink much either. And she threw up when we landed! The next two days were spent recovering from the flight, with Anais sleeping most of the day, which meant she also couldn't sleep at night. I need to go back and add more to my jet lag post.

Dany, Adan and Summer worked up enough energy to head to Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium, which was a bit of a disappointment given how spoilt we are with Sentosa's Underwater World back in Singapore. So they trotted off to Ladies Bay and a nice conservation area with NZ native birds.

(Psst... I only found out that Ladies Bay is a well known nudist beach while doing a Google search on it for this post. I'm not sure the family even knew!)

Anyhow, we managed to get our act together enough for a wonderful experience on Day 3, with a day trip to Titritiri Matangi Island.

Coming face to face with birds of my childhood

As anyone who knows me well will know, I have a thing for birds. They are everywhere in my home: paintings, cushions, figurines. Birds of all kinds, real and imagined. Heck, I even drew a pair of ducks to grace our wedding invitations!

Growing up in New Zealand, one of my favourite books was about native New Zealand birds. I still remember the cover, some of the pages and the accompanying song cassette tape (that's a physical MP3 for those born after the 1990s) with Maori songs about the fantastic beasts. (Sorry, couldn't help the recent movie reference)

But having moved away from NZ at the age of 6, I don't recall ever seeing those birds in real life (except maybe the kiwi, judging from faded photos of a visit to a kiwi house). And so, when I discovered Tiritiri Matangi Open Sanctuary, ranked as the #1 Thing To Do in Auckland on TripAdvisor, I jumped at the chance to finally see those birds that I had read about so much as a child.  

We'd booked our ferry to Tiritiri Matangi through the Fullers website about a month before our trip (FOMO) as I did not want to miss out on this opportunity. The 75 minute ferry ride was relatively smooth and passed quickly, partly as I had to tend to Anais who was still recovering from our flight over. 

The family on the Fullers ferry to Tiritiri Matangi Open Sanctuary.

The family on the Fullers ferry to Tiritiri Matangi Open Sanctuary.

We had booked a guided walk given that we knew nothing about NZ birds apart from my own uneven memories, and after a briefing on the island, we set off with a group of another 3 families, led by volunteer guide Gill. 

The walk that took around 2 hours through the regenerated forest along the Kawerau Track showed us how the island had been brought back to life from just 6% forestation in the 1980s (the island had been used for farming for several hundred years prior) to its current state of 60% forest cover. (One of my day jobs is related to using forest genetics for the prevention of illegal logging and restoration of natural landscapes...hence this figure was very appealing to me personally!) Some grassy areas have been retained for bird species that live in grasses (e.g. the Takahe) and for the insects that many of the birds feed on.

Panoramic view from one of the grassy open areas on Tiritiri Matangi.

Panoramic view from one of the grassy open areas on Tiritiri Matangi.

The Little Blue Penguin is nesting mode.

The Little Blue Penguin is nesting mode.

A nesting penguin & a surprise nest

Winding along a well maintained track, we saw a small wooden cover that shields the nesting area of the Little Blue Penguin (korora).

We also came across a new nesting area of the Dotterel (tuturiwhatu), a shorebird, on the beach, which had not been spotted by the rangers before. There was a bit of excitement as our Guide radioed back to the Ranger station and the area had to be cordoned off, so as not to freak out the sensitive Dotterel - as with many sea birds, they return to the place of their birth to nest, but they had not seen any viable eggs in the nests this year. The sighting of the unknown nest was therefore a very positive sign.

Other sightings included a number of endemic and native birds, including the Tui, Bellbird (korimako), Stitchbird (hihi), North Island Saddlebak (tieke) and the Kaka. As it is nesting season, the birds were a little scarce, but we saw plenty to make us happy. 

We even saw a visiting Kaka (a large parrot) that doesn't live on the island, but that had flown over from Little Barrier Island, about 50km away.

The list of birds we were expecting to sight on the track.

The list of birds we were expecting to sight on the track.

One hit wonder Puriri Moth

Further along the track, we came across the Puriri tree, a slow growing endemic species that houses the namesake Puriri moth. Gill told us how the larvae of the moth climbs up the tree, bores into the trunk and stays dormant for 2 to 7 years!

When it finally emerges as an adult moth, the males live for one day, then die. While the female lasts as long as it takes to lay the egg at the bottom of the tree... They have a mouth, but no digestive system to speak of... I guess the only purpose (apart from reproduction) has to do with the tree, but what? I have no idea. A quick search into the life of the moth also states that "It is not known how male and female moths find each other before mating." Sounds like most dating situations, according to what I've heard... but I digress...

My favourite bird - the Tui

With its signature white tufts at its neck, the Tui has been the signature native bird that I remember most from my childhood book (not the kiwi!). 

I had never realised the brilliance of its wings, as I'd always thought they were black. In fact they are black with a layer of irridescent blue-green-turquoise. Noise, quarrelsome and territorial, they put on quite a show for us as they squabbled amongst themselves, darting in and out of the thick foliage along the track, and fighting over sugar water at feeders at the Visitors Centre. They kinda reminded me of our three children when they fight over snacks...watch this video to see what we have to put up with on our long drives... :)

Tui fight!

Our little Kiwi Rangers

After the track, we sat down for a packed picnic lunch at the Visitors Centre, where the kids filled in their Kiwi Ranger badge booklets. The Kiwi Ranger series of activities includes 16 locations around New Zealand where kids get to complete activities about the ecology and conservation efforts to maintain those regions. 

After the books are filled out, the guide looks through them (a little leniently in my opinion hahah) and the kids walk away with well-deserved badges from that region.

We then had an hour to check out the incredible pano view from the Lighthouse, the oldest working lighthouse in New Zealand, and scurry back to the beach area for a quick walk around before the ferry departed at 3:30pm. As there is only one ferry to the island and off the island, we couldn't tarry too long, but we had enough time to dip our toes into the cold clear sea, as well as check out more of the wildlife on the island.

By the time we were on the ferry, Anais (who had not been feeling too great up to that point but was such a trooper and did everything that was asked of her on the walk) was perky and bright again and we had a slightly noisier ferry ride back to the city, than our ride there. A lovely afternoon in all!