nzbirds >   birding (NZ birdwatching) >   birding sites

Heaphy Track — Kahurangi National Park   (reviews, reports)

Heaphy Track, Kahurangi National Park (1st page) Directions/Transport Site map Birds found here Photos / Images Reviews/Trip reports
Heaphy track sunset
Photo provided by: Bush & Beyond

Reviews & trip reports

In Search of Rock Wrens

Three days tramping up the Cobb Valley in the Kahurangi National Park recently, was a grand experience and adventure.

I went with a Yorkshireman called Chris Petyt who now lives in Golden Bay, near Farewell Spit. Peter works for the Ministry of Fisheries, and has a job as an observer on fishing boats to make sure that they don’t break the rules on catch size and whales and bird protection. Sounds like a fascinating job, though it does mean that he spends up to four months at sea on some trips.

We drove to the far end of Cobb Reservoir and walked from there, arriving at Chaffey’s Hut after about an hour and half. We then carried on from there up to the head of the Cobb River passed Cobb Hut up to stay at Fenella Hut, this took about four and half hours. Fenella Hut is in a beautiful setting nestled between Waingaro Peak and Zenicus Peak (Zenicus means Rock Wren, so that sounded promising).

Bird life on the track and around the hut varied with redpolls being the most plentiful. Other interesting birds included yellow-crowned parakeets, rifleman, weka, tomtits, robins, tuis, brown creepers, bellbirds, fantails, warblers, silvereyes, swallows, dunnocks and chaffinches.

The next day we set off with day packs to look for the elusive, shy Rock Wrens. We travelled up the valley to Lake Cobb, climbing all the time up to Round Lake at 1300 meters, the bushline is at about 1100 meters.

From Round Lake, we continued upwards to the main ridge and along to the saddle just below the summit of Mt Cobb at 1700 meters. From here we dropped down from the saddle to a rocky area above Lake Henderson, to look for rock wrens, a rare bird, which only lives at this altitude in these remote regions. It had taken us about three hours to get to this point.

Almost immediately Chris heard wrens calling (though I couldn’t hear a thing as their call is very high pitched), and then we saw one and then another. There were two adults and two young in this area. All four birds became quite curious and fearless of us, and they hopped around where we were sitting while we took photographs, bobbing vigorously up and down, and occasionally taking short flights. One young bird perched no more than a meter away and eyed me up and down curiously, but by this stage I’d run out film in my camera. I did get some pretty good shots in before this however.

Chris then decided that he would carry on and do a survey of the area above Lake Henderson, but I chose to stay and wait for him. Chris only saw one more wren and heard another. I saw a New Zealand Falcon while I was waiting and had my picnic lunch and called Margaret on the cell phone to share our success.

When Chris returned we retraced our steps back down the valley and back to the Fenella Hut, after a thoroughly satisfying and enjoyable day in the mountains. A place of peace and beauty, a place rarely visited by any other people.

The new birds we saw during the day included — Kaka, Kea, grey duck, paradise shelduck, pipits, blackbirds, and of course the falcon and the rock wrens.

The next day we walked back out together said our farewells and went our separate ways.

There was a sad note to this adventure, up there amongst the rocks, we saw a stoat lurking!

Upon returning to where I was staying, I rang Peter Gaze from DOC in Nelson, to tell him how the trip went, and about the stoat I’d seen near the rock wrens. Peter pointed out that it was probably living off mice, which live at this altitude. He also pointed out that any attempts to trap the stoat would be futile since another would turn up once one was removed, and the exercise would be too costly to sustain on a continuous basis. I am not really happy about this situation, and I believe these beautiful birds are worth protection from stoats and other predators.

John Brierley, February 2000,
Kawerau, New Zealand

Review this site or share a trip report
New Zealand Bird's would be greatful to birders' willing to review any of our birding pages or contribute a trip report for inclusion on these pages.
All published contributions will be acknowledged on the appropriate birding page and the contributor will receive a copy of New Zealand Bird's birdsong CD.  Contact the web diva:Narena Olliver,
(page last updated  14 June 2007)