Stewart Island is great albatross watching territory, and I had a fabulous time on 23 December 2014 on my pelagic bird watching tour. Fortunately, the tour was not to leave until noon because the morning was very overcast again and wouldn’t have made for as great photos as the afternoon. We boarded the Aurora skippered by Ty from Aurora Charters. We first headed to Ulva Island to pick up the remaining passengers who had spent the morning exploring the bird sanctuary. Along came Matt Jones, a nature guide and wildlife photographer, who was our guide to all things seabirds, but Ty could also hold his own very well.
The tour took us south of Paterson Inlet and then east towards the open water where the tides meet as that was one of the best feeding grounds due to the water action going on there at all times. Ty and Matt did have a box full of fish scraps on board to bait the bird closer to the boat. We had a great time watching four different kinds of albatrosses, a few petrel, Sooty Shearwater (tītī), a couple of herons on the way out of the harbor, Fur Seal, a few Little Blue Penguins and also a Yellow-eyed Penguin from afar.
The albatrosses were the most majestic amongst all the birds that we encountered. We saw the largest flying bird, the Southern Royal Albatross, whose wing span can be up to 3.8 meters. New Zealand White-capped Albatrosses were in great abandon, there were a few Buller’s Albatrosses and some Salvin’s Albatrosses.
The Southern Royal was respected amongst its peers and did not shy away from reprimanding young albatrosses when they had gotten out of hand during a food fight. It took the neck of an albatross in its beak and shook it for a while.
The albatrosses were joined by much smaller Sooty Shearwaters (tītī), and from time to time we were lucky to have a few Northern Giant Petrels fly by. They stood out with their brownish feathers.
On the way back of this half-day tour, we stopped at a small rocky island inhabited solely by fur seals and surrounded by a huge kelp forest. On Bench Island, we saw a few more seals, and one keen bird watcher spotted a little Yellow-eyed Penguin amongst the stones.
We arrived back at Halfmoon Bay with lots and lots of pictures and video in our luggage of the remarkable wildlife around Stewart Island. Had I gone a day later, I might have been lucky to also see a Great White Shark as there were at least two around Halfmoon Bay in the afternoon.
If you want to read more about my vacation on Stewart Island, check out the following posts:
- Heading to the anchor of New Zealand
- Talkative forest
- From bay to bay
- 81 mouse traps to Māori Beach
- Of bays and forest around Oban
- Christmas Day: A horseshoe and a dead man
- Catch of the day: Blue Cod
- A word on sandflies
- A Local’s Tail and take-off
- Stewart Island / Rakiura in photos and videos
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