Southern Rock Shuffle

Part 1 of the great southern Rock Wren trip 

Southern Rock Shuffle

230am, I hug my pillow closer and tighter to my good ear, but no amount of pressure can shut out the loud, excited babble coming from a small group of bikers parked right outside my window.
Looking through the glass I can see them huddled around one of their bikes loaded up with saddles and other carrying accessories and the owner proudly showing off his pride and joy.
Road tripping around the South Island is almost a religious right of passage in this country for motorbike enthusiasts.
Trucks clattered up the ramps, the mixture of sea and diesel fumes fills the gloomy night air.
Sleep will never come, I know that from past experience, but hey, that won’t stop me from trying. But really I know I will have to wait until we can board the Inter-Islander Ferry and I can find a quiet place to spill out onto the carpeted floor before I can let my mind drift off as best I can.
Travelling between Our 2 Islands is best done in the middle of the night, you get to sleep on the 3 hour trip between the two Islands where ever you can find a space on the floor or a comfy seat. I prefer a semi-hard floor where I can stretch out, to a padded seat that has you scrunched up on. When you hit the South Island in the morning, you can roar off the boat refreshed and you’re on your way.

The Plan

This was the second part of our two-part annual photographic road trip.
Having been forced to postpone this second part, TWICE, due to pesky tropical cyclones, we were finally on our way, all be it 8 weeks late.
We had decided to split this year’s adventure into two halves, two weeks in the Central North Island and then two more in a mad sprint circumnavigating 3/4s of the South Island.
Our three main objectives were to photograph the pīwauwau or Rock Wren a high altitude bird, followed in order of importance by the Yellow Head or mohua and Brown creepers, pīpipi, or New Zealand titmouse.
Seriously ……..a bird named a titmouse?  Who comes up with these names?

After the big three was a small list of birds we had already had photos of but wanted more.
New Zealand Falcon
Crested Grebes
Black Stilts.
Then there was the Landscape side of the trip, the list will unfold as I post more in the coming months.

As day broke over the Sounds, the ferry smoothly made the wharf at Picton and off we went heading into the weather moving up from the south.
Our first destination was to be Otira in Arthurs Pass for the number 1 priority and the very reason we planned this trip, the Rock Wrens, or pīwauwau, I had never seen one let alone photograph one.
Black threatening clouds, turned to wet grey clouds and the drizzle was periodically interrupted by hard out downpours, this kept the window wipers feeling useful.
4 hours later and we were on the road to Arthur’s Pass.

Arthur’s Pass is a high alpine pass that divides the East from the West coast of the South Island , one of three mountain passes,   we were to cross two of them three on this trip, plus the Buller Gorge which cannot be classed as a true alpine pass but does cut across the Island giving access to the eastern and western sides.
As we headed towards the Pass, weka started showing up on the side of the road making the most of the wet soft ground to peck for bugs and worms.

Ole muddy beak



Otira Stagecoach Hotel.

Our first and second night, if needed was to be spent at the famous Otira Stagecoach Hotel.
The Otira Hotel has pretty much kept its 1700 century atmosphere and is not unlike like a small museum that you can stay overnight in. The Hotel is cluttered with so many interesting objects from days gone by and other oddities, it would take 2 days just to go over all the fascinating objects and photographs that fill the bar, lounge and every space in between.

The restaurant.

The Bar

The Lounge Bar

All sorts of famous characters have stayed at Otira and some of them have never left.


Once we had booked in and unloaded our gear,  I went for a walk around the adjacent Otira Railway station. Shrouded in mist with drizzly rain, it had real West Coast character

The Railway line joins the city of Christchurch on the Eastern side of the South Island with the Western coast mining town of Greymouth.  Huge trains carrying coal are pulled through the 8-kilometre Otira tunnel and over the pass, but unfortunately, I got no chance of photographing one.

Huge trains need huge pulling power, here four engines provide the muscle to haul the coal train through the pass.




Kea Facts

We wanted to photograph the Keas up at the Otira lookout, these birds are wild birds but love entertaining the tourists and fellow bird photographers so it was up to see them before the light faded.

Kea are on a serious decline in New Zealand.
Kea are considered by some to be the smartest bird in the world.

Watch this if you don’t believe me.


On the way to find Kea, one thing that stood out from the muted colour’s of the wet bush rocks and trees, the amazing bright orange moss that grows on the river rocks in all the streams in the area.


Slowly we ground our way up the steep grade to the Otria lookout

When we got there, the Mumma and junior were in residence.

The Mumma

Junior, notice the yellow around the eye


The rain made getting photos of these birds a bit of a test but we persevered and got some to take home with us.

Dinner time

The local Dunnock seemed to accept the weather conditions.


The next day would be the most important of the trip as the Rock Wrens, just 2 of them live up the Otira Stream.
Two birds the size of  Tomtits up that great big valley,, I mean no worries the success of the whole trip depends on us being able to find them right 😛

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