Wildlife and other photos from New Zealand: Tiritiri Matangi Reserve

A few days before I regretfully left New Zealand, reader Gayle Ferguson took me on an all-day expedition to Tiritiri Matangi Island, a small (2.2 km² [1 square mile] reserve located on an island only about 3 km from the shore. Here’s where it is.

It is a reserve that was denuded by farming and logging, but then was recreated by planting native forest and transplanting native animals after denuding the island of predators (native birds also flew there from the mainland). Here’s what was done (from Wikipedia) after the island was designated a reserve in 1970: an enormous effort (I’ve bolded the birds and insects I saw, and there were others):

It was hoped that native forest would regenerate naturally, making the island a suitable habitat for native bird life, as it lacked introduced predators such as mustelids present on the mainland. However, afforestation seemed to be happening very slowly and a large number of volunteers were recruited to plant saplings and sow tree seeds. Over 250,000 native trees and shrubs of over 30 different species were planted in the revegetation project from 1984 to 1994.

The next intervention was eradication in 1993 of the Polynesian rat, known to Māori as kiore, which was destroying seedlings and competing with birds for food. The kiore were killed by an aerial drop of poisoned bait, which was controversial due to its lack of planning and the effect on other wildlife. For instance, 90% of pukeko on the island were killed.

Eighty-seven species of birds have been observed on or near the island. Eleven native species have been translocated to the island as part of the ongoing restoration project. These are kākāriki / red crowned parakeet, tīeke / North Island saddleback, pāteke / brown teal, pōpokotea / whitehead, takahē, little spotted kiwi, hihi / stitchbird, North Island kōkako, mātātā / fernbird, miromiro / North Island tomtit and tītipounamu / rifleman. Non-avian translocations include a reptile tuatara in 2003, Duvaucel’s gecko in 2006 and a large insect wetapunga in 2011. Non-native species present include the Australian brown quail. The success of the conservation project encouraged the creation of a number of similar projects around the Gulf, such as on Motuihe, Motuora and Motutapu. The closest land on the tip of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, Shakespear Regional Park has recently (2011) also become a mammalian pest-free fenced sanctuary, increasing immigration of the birds on Tiritiri to the nearby mainland.

This is the mainland from the island; you can see how close it is. That means that predators such as rats could invade, either by swimming or on the numerous pleasure boats that go to the island to visit the beaches.  There was once a rat that invaded the island, and it took weeks, and $50,000 (New Zealand) to find it and kill it. They used dogs, and knew that if that rat was a female who had offspring, you could kiss the native birds goodbye,

There is one ferry a day to the island, and you have to brush your feet when you arrive to remove any contaminants like the seeds of non-native plants.

Here’s Gayle, appropriately eating a Kit-Kat bar before our six-hour hike up and down the mountain. (As you may know, Gayle, who teaches at Massey University, rescues orphaned kittens, and has saved 25 of them, including Jerry Coyne the Cat, who now lives in Christchurch.)

A korimako, or New Zealand bellbird (Anthornis melanura), the only species in its genus. Its beautiful song was once a prominent part of the “dawn chorus” of New Zealand forests—something that can still be heard on Tiritiri, but elsewhere the forests are eerily and sadly silent. Captain Cook, who described that chorus before the species were destroyed, said this of the bellbird song: “It seemed to be like small bells most exquisitely tuned”.

But here–they’re back on Tiritiri and you can hear them as they flew around a nectar feeding station in my short video. Gayle sits right beside it taking photos:

Here’s one of the 24 species of Carmichaelia (New Zealand brooms). I have no idea which one it is.

Lovely ferns in the forest. The main trail starts at the dock and winds upward to the lighthouse that still sits atop Tiritiri. You must go on the trail with a guide in a small group (about four people); the guides are volunteers (ours was a local biology teacher), and are immensely helpful, knowledgable, and amiable.

Moth damage on a native New Zealand flax (probably Phormium tenax). The plant, endemic to New Zealand, had a variety of uses for the Maori people.

We saw giant wetas, one of the world’s largest insects, a flightless orthopteran in the genus Deinacrida.  They can weigh up to several ounces but average about  35 grams (a bit more than an ounce). They will fill the palm of your hand, and the species, hard to find elsewhere because of mammalian predation, was moved to Tiritiri in recent years. They are thriving there, but still not numerous, and they’re hard to spot as they hang out in the trees at head level. But we saw two! These photos don’t give an idea of their HUGENESS:

A female:

The same female, peering at me:

And two views of a male:

Rewarewa, or the New Zealand honeysuckle (Knightia excelsa), an endemic evergreen that has beautiful wood. It’s forbidden to log it, but you can find pieces made of windfall trees, driftwood, or pre-prohibition wood. I bought a rewarewa spoon at the Auckland Museum.

Rewarewa wood looks like this (not my photo, but from here):

A view toward Auckland from the island, with native cabbage trees (Cordyline australis) in the foreground:

Two photos of a very rare bird, the North Island kōkako (Callaeas wilsoni) with its distinctive blue wattles. It has a lovely song that resembles that of a bellbird.  The species is highly endangered by mammalian predation but attempts are being made to save it by sequestering it on predator-free islands like Tiritiri.

Here’s a better photo of a captive bird at the Mt. Bruce wildlife center. I’ve put up this photo before; it was taken by my host Phil Garnock-Jones:

Little Barrier Island from Tiritiri, also a nature reserve. Unlike Tiritiri, they are still eradicating introduced predators on this island, including feral cats, which of course makes me sad (but I see no alternative if they want to save native species).

Mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium, also called teatree).  The honey from its flowers is prized (and very expensive) for its supposed medicinal properties, but I gather they are fictitious:

A mānuka flower:

Two photos of nonendemic but native species, the pukeko or Australasian swamphen (Porphyrio melanotus), found in Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, and Indonesia.  It’s not endangered.

The flowers of the lovely native palm, the nīkau (Rhopalostylis sapida)—the only endemic palm. The Maori used it not only for food, but for thatching houses and making baskets and sandals:

The endemic New Zealand pigeon,  the kererū (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae). It’s a large and beautiful frugivore (fruit-eater), and is threatened by hunting and habitat loss:

Lovely tree bark; I’m not sure what species (readers?), but perhaps honeysuckle (see above):

A tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae), also called the “parsonbird” because of the distinctive white tuft of feathers at its neck. They are fairly common and live in the gardens of several of my hosts. They look black at first, but under the right light, as below, you can see their gorgeous coloration (note the neck tuft):

Another view of a tui, showing that it looks black in the “wrong” light. The neck tuft is still visible, though.

A big volcano near Auckland; I can’t remember its name but readers can help. Auckland is surrounded by volcanos, some if them active.

A pretty tree trunk, but I don’t know the species (readers?):

Another rarity, foraging around the lighthouse: a flightless South Island takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri), superficially resembling the Dusky Moorhen shown above. It is very rare (263 birds are known to exist) and was once thought to be extinct, but—mirabile dictu—it was rediscovered. From Wikipedia:

It was thought to be extinct after the last four known specimens were taken in 1898. However, after a carefully planned search effort the bird was rediscovered by Geoffrey Orbell near Lake Te Anau in the Murchison Mountains, South Island, on 20 November 1948. The specific scientific name commemorates the Austrian geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter.

. . . The species is still present in the location where it was rediscovered in the Murchison Mountains. Small numbers have also been successfully translocated to five predator-free offshore islands, Tiritiri Matangi, Kapiti, Maud, Mana and Motutapu, where they can be viewed by the public. Additionally, captive takahē can be viewed at Te Anau and Pukaha/Mt Bruce wildlife centres. In June 2006 a pair of takahē were relocated to the Maungatautari Restoration Project. In September 2010 a pair of takahē (Hamilton and Guy) were released at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve – the first non-Department of Conservation institution to hold this species. In January 2011 two takahē were released in Zealandia, Wellington, and in mid-2015, two more takahē were released on Rotoroa Island in the Hauraki Gulf. There have also been relocations onto the Tawharanui Peninsula. In 2014 two pair of Takahe were released into Wairakei golf and sanctuary, a private fenced sanctuary at Wairakei north of Taupo, the first chick was born there in November 2015. At the beginning of 2013 there were 263 takahē accounted for, showing slow but steady growth over the previous few years.

Finally, the Tiritiri Manangi Lighthouse atop the island. Built in 1864, it’s still in operation, and is the oldest New Zealand lighthouse still in operation,

I left New Zealand two days after this visit, and was sad to depart: a month there was not nearly long enough to see this beautiful country. I hope to return, but in the meantime, heartfelt thanks to the many people who were kind to me, put me up, and showed me around. I would never have had anything like the great visit I had without their help. You know who you are, and thanks and Kia ora!


  1. GBJames
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Great photos.

    In an era of GPS, I’m amazed that there are any active lighthouses anymore. What purpose do they serve (beyond tourism and historic preservation)?

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted May 5, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      There are 65 working lighthouses around the coast of the UK alone (all automated). GPS can fail; and the USG reserves the right to scramble its signals in an emergency. Lighthouses also help provide a warning about reefs, shoals and other obstacles, not all of which are picked up by GPS.

      • GBJames
        Posted May 5, 2017 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        I don’t understand the bit about reefs, etc. These things are all mapped, no? So if you have a working GPS (and the US military haven’t turned it off 😉 ), what good would a lighthouse offer? Your GPS map should guide you away.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted May 5, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

          @GBJames Maritime & GPS maps are useless at the scale where local knowledge takes over **when near land**.

          A particular obstacle may only be significant to you [the boat skipper] depending on the tides, rip tides & currents running at that moment in your location. Tides are especially tricky & they are the invention of the devil – knowing the water level where you are now is 10% of what you need to know – is it rising, falling, how quickly? At the scale of local conditions a table of tides is very much only a guideline. The reality can vary from that by an hour say either way & the tide height can vary from the tables by 10s of feet [in the English Channel if there’s a North Sea storm & a particularly low or high tide expected]

          When lighthouses were ‘manned’ shipping coming into port would often radio the lighthouse keeper for info re any special conditions pertaining.

          The above is my garbled account of info passed on to me by a Scouse lighthouse keeper named David Jones [real name!], on one drunken, pot-filled night in the 80s when we got bored with poker & moved on to playing tiddlywinks for money

          • GBJames
            Posted May 5, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

            Now there’s a man with a name to fit the job! Reminds me of Doctor Blud, a real surgeon here in Milwaukee some years back. And my recently-hired carpenter contractor… Phil Bilder!

            I’m still unconvinced on the GPS/lighthouse front, especially since “local knowledge” can’t be provided by an automated lighthouse. And in any case, lighthouses don’t offer much information about tides and water level. I’d expect GPS to be better for that since it can offer you elevation as well as horizontal location information.

            But I’m in no way an expert. I live a few blocks from one of the decommissioned lighthouses on Lake Michigan. It was automated in 1975 and taken out of commission in 1994 because Great Lakes shipping had adopted high tech navigation using GPS. I don’t think there are any active Great Lakes lighthouses anymore. Our local one is a museum. Some are used as B&B’s.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted May 5, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

              Good points! But ‘manned’ lighthouses DID provide [by radio] immediate info re local conditions! Important in some regions of the world. And [read my post again please!] GPS can tell you the 10% I referred to BUT not the 90% that’ll save your bacon.

              My David Jones used to be an the radio a lot in iffy conditions. For smaller vessels near land it was vital to not exceed the ability of that vessel to get out of trouble & a local expert on the other end of a radio will have saved lives & cargoes.

              In my English Channel example…

              The English Channel is a perfect funnel for visiting hell from the North Sea on the busiest [& very confined] seaway in the World. In the middle of the Channel you might see a tidal range ,for that day, of one metre as per the tables – but inshore only ten miles away the tidal range might also be one metre or six metres due to…

              ** High storm water inundating The Channel from the North Sea HOURS after the storm has abated
              ** Unpredictable resonances between landforms, currents & waters clashing

              I don’t know how good automated info is these days for mariners, but I suspect local inshore waters are still the province of human experts. Hence the use of pilots still.

              Financial advisor: Ms Robyn Banks

              • Colin McLachlan
                Posted May 6, 2017 at 3:39 am | Permalink

                I had a solicitor who was Robin Banks (he was never caught).

            • GBJames
              Posted May 5, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

              Well I read your post correctly the first time. You don’t say what constitutes the 10%/90%, but whatever it is, it would need to be information conveyed by an automated lighthouse that is missing from GPS mapping. I just don’t know what that would be and you haven’t told me!

              Note: I’m assuming, but I don’t actually know, that lighthouses along the coast of the UK and New Zealand are no longer manned by lighthouse keepers. I suspect your old friend Mr. Jones was one of the last of the breed. If my assumption is wrong then…

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted May 5, 2017 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

                I know they’re all automated now & I don’t know where in my comments I gave the impression otherwise.

                I DID say something about the 90% namely, “is it rising, falling, how quickly?” In other words – knowing the clearance you have available right now is not sufficient in marginal conditions & especially with a perhaps unresponsive vessel.

                It all unfolds in time & space so if you see that in 10 minutes you’ll be at point x what will the conditions be like in 10 minutes at your future location? Inshore it’s chaotic & you need info where you are not, but will be soon – there is not a system that can tell you if low tide [as per the tables] is going to be advanced or retarded from the norm & how that effects the speed & direction of local currents…

                Thus you might be expecting to sail with a current that will boost you along, but if the turn of the tide is not as per the book [the turn of the tide’s late say] you might be fighting the current instead. If you are skippering a vessel with a heavy cargo & a maximum speed of 15 knots it might be that your expected headway of 15 + 6 = 21 knots is actually 15 – 6 = 9 knots. All because ‘local conditions’ & the devil.

                I’m fed up with this convo now

              • GBJames
                Posted May 5, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

                OK, we can end it here. I just don’t see how an unmanned lighthouse helps with any of the conditions you list. Maybe I’m dense.

                (Final thought: The guy next door to me is a fisherman. His boat has GPS connected to the controls and the system can automatically keep him in one place in the middle of a flowing river… kind of like the navigation problems you mention but without the tides moving you up and down.)

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted May 5, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

                Basically, unmanned lighthouses still operate in dangerous waters. They say “keep out of the way because conditions are tricky, variable, and GPS is unreliable around here”. If you saw some of the waters where lighthouses still operate, which are nothing like a lake, you would probably appreciate why they’re still there.

  2. Randy schenck
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Very nice tour and pictures. It is good to know that you acknowledge how much more you got out of your tour/holiday to another land because of the local assistance. Having lived in places like Hawaii or Okinawa, I know how much different a holiday is, verses living there or having people from the area to really show you the place. The difference is enormous.

  3. Posted May 5, 2017 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    That looks like Rangitoto Island.

    “Rangitoto is the most recent and the largest (2311 hectares)[3] of the approximately 50 volcanoes of the Auckland volcanic field” [Wikipedia]

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 5, 2017 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it’s Rangitoto.

      • Don Mackay
        Posted May 5, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        Rangitoto is covered by a forest dominated by Pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), which flowers heavily in December; New Zealand’s christmas tree.
        With the New Zealand tee trea (Leptospermum scoparium), Pohutukawa belongs to the Mytle family.
        As I write this, we learn that a fungus highly destructive of myrtles has reached New Zealand (from Australia?) threatening both pohutukawa and tea tree populations. The first occurrence is at Kerikeri, in the North of the North Island, a couple of days ago.
        We are facing a biological catastrophe to forests and horticulture ( tea tree provides the manuka honey, so valued by many).

  4. somer
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Fascinating plants and animals. I hope Bob the kitten is continuing to do well.

  5. Posted May 5, 2017 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    The volcano is ‘Rangitoto’.

  6. Claudia Baker
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this – beautiful.

  7. Posted May 5, 2017 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Congratulations on seeing these rare and interesting birds.

  8. Posted May 5, 2017 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    The “pretty tree trunk” is some species of Piper (black pepper is one of these).

    • Phil Garnock-Jones
      Posted May 5, 2017 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it’s Piper excelsum, and the heart-shaped leaves in the lower part of the photo belong to it.

  9. Michael Fisher
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink


  10. Hautahi Kingi
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Happy to be corrected, but I believe the Dusky Moorhen photos may actually be the Australasian Swamphen (Porphyrio melanotus), also known as the Pukeko (which is referenced in the earlier Wikipedia quote about eradication). The Pukeko is a little larger and has a deeper blue frontage than the Dusky Moorhen, which is a little more grey.

    Thanks for your blog Jerry (from a long time reader, first time commenter).

    • Chris Taylor
      Posted May 5, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      As soon as I saw the picture I thought Pukeko too. The all red bill is the feature that distinguishes it for me; the dusky moorhen usually has a yellow tip.
      Great photos, and I’m a bit envious of them – I was in NZ last year, but didn’t have enough time in Auckland to make a trip to Tiritiri Matangi. It’s on the list for my next trip across the Tasman.

  11. Derek Freyberg
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    The photo labeled Carmichaelia is, I think, bracken – pteridium aquilinum or similar.

    • Don Mackay
      Posted May 5, 2017 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Pteridium escullentum. The species name was once ‘aquilinum’. A ferm, native to New Zealand, one of the few endemic species to be classified as a weed on newly developed agricultural land.

      I searched hard for a Carmichaelia in your photo thinking it might be hidden, but to no avail!

  12. darrelle
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Looks like a fun time was had. New Zealand has long been on my bucket list. These posts from your vacation are killing me.

  13. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink


    bark IS interesting!

    If the overexposed pics were taken with an iPhone, I’d try the magic wand color repair button – might help, not sure.

  14. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    forgot to mention – the lighthouse pic is very Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

  15. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Errm, Jerry, your picture of ‘New Zealand brooms’ looks like bracken to me. (Probably an introduced English species?).

    Wrong photo, possibly?
    (Sixth photo down).


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 5, 2017 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      I’ll correct myself. The bracken is a native (according to Don Mackay at #11).

      Looks very like the English variety found on ‘commons’ in the south of England, though maybe not so tall.


  16. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    “A big volcano near Auckland; I can’t remember its name but readers can help. Auckland is surrounded by volcanos, some of them active.”

    Errm, that’s Rangitoto, the only offshore one (so far as I know*). Also the most recent to erupt, about 800 years ago.

    It would be more accurate to say “Auckland is sprinkled with volcanos, some of them dormant.”

    There are, I believe, about 50 small volcanic outlets in the Auckland urban area. They don’t surround Auckland so much as comprise much of Auckland. I think we’d sit up and pay attention if any of them went active!

    The most noticeable ones take the form of small cones, maybe 200 to 600 feet high – Mount Eden (643′, the highest), One Tree Hill, Mount Albert, Mount Roskill, etc. Many of them are parks. Then there are a lot of craters that didn’t build a cone and are now circular swamps or water-filled ‘basins’, or have been infilled by sediment and hidden. And lava flows which are now residential suburbs (Mt Eden, Mt Albert, Ellerslie…)

    *Oops, forgot, Puketutu and dinky little Browns Island are offshore too.

  17. robert van bakel
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    As to the relevance of lighthouses, this might interest; the book, Attention All Shipping: A Journey Round the Shipping Forecast, explains the history of the BBC’s shipping forecasts.

    It is still going today, and I beleive RNZ still has a similar shipping forecast.

    As Heather explains, if you saw the waters in some of these coastal settings,you would understand the lighthouse’s importance. Then a warm voice on the radio, calmy explaining, ‘gail force 8’ possibilties, and then you see the light from a lighthouse; the sailor is much reassured.

  18. starskeptic
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    You people are mistaken – the Tui is obviously white and gold…

  19. Posted May 6, 2017 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    Please dont get sentimental about feral cats! They have inflicted a heavy toll on NZ wildlife and are continuing to do so. The same applies in Australia.

  20. Mike
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Beautiful, what must it have been like to be one of the first people to arrive?

%d bloggers like this: