The Otira Rock Stars


Part 2 of the great southern Rock Wren trip

The Otira Rock Stars 

Slowly my internal computer system booted up for the day. The synaptic connections in my brain were fizzling and spluttering, fading in and out but fired up once a solid connection was established.
Once upon a time I could leap out of bed and hit the floor running.
Nowadays it’s not even a controlled stagger, I’m more like a drunken dancer, lurching and weaving around the bedroom until my error correcting software runs its diagnostic program, ignores all my missing and damaged sectors on my hard drive and fools me into thinking I’m running just fine and dandy.
Coffee in hand I walk out on the balcony of the two-story Otira Hotel and I am confronted by the weather trying its best to behave its self, but sadly not having much success.
Drizzle and fog permeated the landscape, but no breeze, so two out of three ain’t bad according to Meatloaf.
Today was to be the big day out there yonder in them there mountains.
Just kilometres up the road lay a beautiful alpine Valley where two tiny little birds lived and we have to find them. I mean how hard could that be?
The very reason we, Steve and I have come to the South Island was to find and photograph the two little Rock Wrens that reportedly live up the Otira Stream.
We are excited to get going, so up to the Otira summit, we zoomed, to have breakfast among the clouds with the local Kea population, hoping that the cloud will lift and give us a great day.

The Kea is a smart bird but also gorgeous.

The New Zealand kea


The Otira Stream

Slowly the clouds lifted revealing a huge valley and steep sides but what looked like a gentle grade for most of the way up the stream so off under the now beating down sun we went.

Hmmm two tiny, little birds live up yonder in that, there valley somewhere, how hard can it be to find them?

It did not take long before the fact that neither of us had prepared for this walk. Sweat is leaking out everywhere all over my body, but onward I push, wishing I had another spare pair of lungs to connect to my blood system. We never really appreciate oxygen till we are running really low on it and my body was using it all and faster than I could suck it in.
I  huffed and puffed my way up that valley towards an area known as the Rock Garden where these little birds can be seen from time to time.

Yes indeedy how hard could it be lol  I was feeling a little overwhelmed at this stage.

Yeah whats hard about finding two wee birdies among that lot lol


We knew once we made the bridge an hour into the walk it was going to get harder and steeper and the track became more like a murder mystery trying to kill us every chance we gave it.

The bridge marked the end of the easy stuff.

Steve might look a bit pregnant here but he had Binoculars and goodness knows what else stuffed down the front of his shirt.

Now the clouds were passing overhead coming and going and the temperature was doing the yo yo. One minute it was so hot, the next very cold and dark.
Once we reached a certain rock that we had to squeeze past to keep our feet dry from the stream, we knew we were not far from the Garden, so we made our way on jelly syndrome legs upstream, then parked our bodies where we could look over the Rock Garden.

Welcome to the Rock Garden


Part of the rock garden, If you look carefully you will see Steve using his binoculars.

Steve stuck to the bottom of the Garden with his binoculars searching the rocks while I made short sorties up and around the tops of the garden above the big boulder,  hoping to flush them out.

One hour turned into two hours and then three. NO birds were seen.
Then cloud turned to rain and Steve found a rock shelter for us to hide our gear in out of the wet and keep us kind of warm and dry, the time moved slowly, still not a bird in sight.

The rock bivvie, our shelter from the weather. 

Still, we kept an eye out through the rain and even got a few photos as well


The darkness before the light

Then it got really crappy and cold as we sheltered in our little rock bivvie.

At one stage on one of my walkabouts, I spied a green bird fly past quite away, away and convinced I had spotted a Rock Wren I sped as fast as I could, bounding like a young Gazelle risking life and limb over the boulder field only to find it was a silver eye.

We were now into our fourth hour camped in our little bivvie with rain showers passing through I was was running out of hope of ever seeing these birds.

We decided to give it another 40 minutes and then we would pack it in and come back tomorrow for another go, if we could get our legs working again that is.

Ten minutes to go, I turn to go on my last walkabout and Steve says I can see them.
Now normally I would have said something like BS,  but I saw the expression on his face.
I know that look, I’ve seen it so many times while out hunting on many a mates face as they see a Stag coming through the bush to our call, you just can’t fake it.
I did not have binoculars, I forgot mine I could not see the wee birds at first.

The birds slipped out of sight so we slowly snuck in on where they were last seen.
They were right here says Steve, then a Female Rock Wren popped into view right in front of us.  What an adrenaline rush, at last,  here was the bird we had planned to photograph if we got the chance for many years.

The wee bird popped up on a rock right in front of us

Clikerty click went the 1dx , remembering the drill for such occasions, take  2 shots, move closer, 2 shots move closer and closer we moved in.

The bird did not seem to mind us much at all, it must have been dinner time because that bird bounced over the boulders looking for food almost completely ignoring us.  We had to jump, hop, trip and crashing to the ground among the huge slippery wet boulders, then heave ourselves upright and jump and hop a bit more trying to keep up with it.
We stayed on that bird for 30 mins getting some great shots in the lovely overcast light.
We knew we had good shots so we left the bird to continue terrorizing  the local insect population and headed back to our gear
We had our gear all sorted ready to leave when Steve turned around behind us  and said “look” and there was the male bird which we had not seen, spying on us only 10 meters away. Well, that started our manic ballet act all over again, but it was so worth it, we got some great shots of him.

pīwauwau The Female Rock Wren

The Male Rock Wren is much more colourful than the female.


We put our packs on absolutely overjoyed with our success and made out way back down to the car.
A huge thanks has to go out to Mike Ashbee for giving us the information on where to look for them and Yahweh for getting us back down the creek in one piece and looking after us.

I will give the last word to the  Rocking Wren






and with our cameras bulging with images we left him in peace and we made our way back down that valley .


7 thoughts on “The Otira Rock Stars

  1. Jo-Anne Mae

    Awesome account – felt like I was there too (especially the huffing puffing part!!)

    Congratulations 😊👍

    Jo-Anne Mae

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Paul Zellerer

    Mwhaha such a pleasure to read your adventures! You must have had a lot of fun! Great pictures, love to colors too…!


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