Aotearoa New Zealand has ten official Great Walks. Te Papa natural history curator Dr Colin Miskelly has walked (or paddled) them all, and kept records of the birds that he encountered along the way. In this third blog in the series, he reports on the birds encountered while walking the Tongariro Northern Circuit.
Spectacular volcanic landscapes
The Tongariro Northern Circuit is a 45 km loop track that is usually walked in 3 or 4 days. Much of the track is open and exposed to the elements, and it is important to check the weather forecast before setting out. Hut or campsite bookings are required between October and April.
The main attractions of the track are the spectacular volcanic and alpine landscapes. The north-eastern portion of the track is part of the famed Tongariro Crossing day-walk, which can mean sharing the track with more people than is typical on a Great Walk.
Birds of the blasted wastelands
Much of the walk is across ash deposits from recent eruptions of the Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu volcanoes, where few plants have established. As a result, it is possible to walk long distances without seeing or hearing any wildlife.
One species that can be seen in the open areas is the Banded Dotterel | Pohowera. It is likely that these small ‘shorebirds’ benefit from the scarcity of introduced predators (e.g. cats, stoats and rats) in these open landscapes, and it is likely that they attempt to nest here.
A predator that is present here is the endemic New Zealand Falcon | Kārearea. We had several sightings of two birds perched on or flying between the sculpture-like rock outcrops in the Oturere Valley, between Oturere Hut and Emerald Lakes.
Birds of the forest and shrublands
We started and finished our walk at Whakapapa Village, where we had a great view of a calling Long-tailed Cuckoo | Koekoeā.
The track passes through a few patches of native forest, where we observed the ‘deep endemic’ Rifleman | Tītitipounamu and Whitehead | Pōpokotea, and also Bellbird | Korimako, Tomtit | Miromiro, and North Island Robin | Toutouwai among the more common forest birds.
A highlight on the last morning was several sightings of Fernbird | Mātātā along the Mangatepopo Track, between Mangatepopo Hut and Whakapapa Village. We also saw a pair of Whio | Blue Duck on the Whakapapaiti Stream shortly before starting our walk.
Endemic birds seen or heard on the Tongariro Northern Circuit
- Score 4 Rifleman | Tītitipounamu, Whitehead | Pōpokotea
- Score 3 Bellbird | Korimako
- Score 2 Paradise Shelduck | Pūtangitangi, Long-tailed Cuckoo | Koekoeā, Banded Dotterel | Pohowera, New Zealand Falcon | Kārearea, Grey Warbler | Riroriro, New Zealand Fantail | Pīwakawaka, Tomtit | Miromiro, Fernbird | Mātātā, North Island Robin | Toutouwai
- Score 1 Little Shag | Kawaupaka, Ruru | Morepork, New Zealand Kingfisher | Kōtare
- Endemic bird score = 32 points
- Ranking = 9th out of 10
- Additional possible endemic birds (not seen or heard by me): Kererū | New Zealand Pigeon, Tūī.
For up-to-date information on hut and campsite bookings on the Tongariro Northern Circuit, see the Department of Conservation webpage Tongariro Northern Circuit.
Other blogs in this series
- Birds of the Great Walks of Aotearoa New Zealand
- Birds of the Whanganui Journey ‘Great Walk’
- Birds of Lake Waikaremoana Track
- Birds of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track
- Birds of the Routeburn Track
- Birds of the Paparoa Track
- Birds of the Rakiura Track
- Birds of the Kepler Track
- Birds of the Milford Track
- Birds of the Heaphy Track