Birds of the Paparoa Track

Birds of the Paparoa Track

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 seventh blog in the series, he reports on the birds encountered while walking the Paparoa Track.

The newest Great Walk

The Paparoa Track is the only Great Walk to be built as a dual-purpose walking plus mountain biking track, and opened in 2019. It is 55 km long, crossing the Paparoa Range from Blackball to the coastal settlement of Punakaiki. The connecting Pike29 Memorial Track is due to open in the 2023–24 summer and will create a Y-shaped track.

A sunny vista across the tops of mountains with blue sky and fluffy clouds.
Paparoa escarpment viewed from near Moonlight Hut. The track runs along the top of the escarpment. Photo by Ruth McKie, Department of Conservation

Starting from the Blackball end, the track climbs through beech forest to Ces Clark Hut at the bushline. From there to Moonlight Tops Hut, the track passes through subalpine meadows on the open tops, with minimal gradient.

From Moonlight Tops Hut the track follows the edge of the imposing Paparoa escarpment before descending steeply to the ridge leading to Pororari Hut, then follows the Pororari River through tall podocarp and beech forest out to the coast. The final section of the track passes through the towering limestone cliffs of the Pororari Gorge, with tall nīkau palms a dominant feature.

A walking track on the top of a mountain with blue sky and fluffy clouds
Paparoa Track near Croesus Knob. Photo by Ruth McKie, Department of Conservation

Forest birds

The Paparoa Track has a good range of forest birds, including several ‘deep endemic species’ (i.e. birds from orders, families or genera that are endemic to New Zealand, as explained in the first blog in this series).

A top-down view of a small, round black bird with white and yellow markings.
Tomtit | Miromiro. Photo by Glenn Pure, New Zealand Birds Online

Bellbird | Korimako, Tūī and Tomtit | Miromiro are common in the tall forest at both ends of the track, along with a few other species that regularly occur in urban areas (e.g. New Zealand Fantail | Piwakawaka and Grey Warbler | Riroriro).

The underside of a white bird in flight, with green tail and head feathers. The line between the green and white feathers is sharply marked.
Kererū | New Zealand Pigeon. Photo by Ormond Torr, New Zealand Birds Online

Kererū | New Zealand Pigeons were most abundant at the Pororari end, and we had three Kākā at or near Moonlight Tops Hut. Weka were frequent from there through to Pororari Hut, but we only saw one after that, despite them being common at Punakaiki.

A brown bird with light brown feathers on its chest is standing on a branch in a forest.
Brown Creeper | Pīpipi. Photo by Oscar Thomas, New Zealand Birds Online

We encountered a few Riflemen | Tītitipounamu below both the Ces Clark and Pororari Huts, and a flock of at least 22 Brown Creeper | Pīpipi as we descended the escarpment. We walked the track in late April – too late for the migratory Long-tailed Cuckoo | Koekoeā. As they lay their eggs in Brown Creeper nests, it is likely that their distinctive shriek is part of the track’s soundscape in spring and summer.

A small brown bird with cream feathers on its underside is standing on dead fern branch.
South Island Robin | Kakaruai. Photo by Neil Fitzgerald, New Zealand Birds Online

Several South Island Robins | Kakaruai were seen as we walked down the Pororari River, and a final highlight was a New Zealand Falcon | Kārearea tussling with a Swamp Harrier | Kāhu below the coastal bluffs.

Birds of the subalpine tops

At several sites along the tops we were surprised to hear Fernbirds | Mātātā calling from patches of Dracophyllum scrub. Other birds of the open tops included New Zealand Pipit | Pīhoihoi, Silvereyes | Tauhou, and introduced Redpolls and Dunnocks, plus the songs of Bellbirds | Korimako ringing out from the forest edge.

A mottled brown-feathered bird with a longer tail is sitting on a branch.
Fernbird | Mātātā. Photo by Rob Lynch, New Zealand Birds Online

A notable absence was Kea, though they are frequently recorded on the track.

River birds

We heard then saw a single Whio | Blue Duck as we walked alongside the Blackball Creek, and Paradise Shelducks | Pūtangitangi were common along the Pororari River.

A grey-feathered duck is paddling on the water.
Whio | Blue Duck. Photo by Derek Templeton, New Zealand Birds Online

Birds of the night

A southerly front hit while we were at Ces Clark Hut, but it was fine and clear for the next two evenings, providing great kiwi listening conditions. We heard three Great Spotted Kiwi | Roroa from Moonlight Tops Hut, and five near Pororari Hut.

A large brown-feathered bird with a long beak and strong legs is standing on forest undergrowth at night.
Great Spotted Kiwi | Roroa, Paparoa National Park. Photo by Matthias Dehling, New Zealand Birds Online

Other birds calling at night from these huts included Ruru | Morepork, Kākā and Weka.

Endemic birds seen or heard on the Paparoa Track

  • Score 5 Great Spotted Kiwi | Roroa
  • Score 4 Kākā, Rifleman | Tītitipounamu, Brown Creeper | Pīpipi
  • Score 3 Whio | Blue Duck, Kererū | New Zealand Pigeon, Bellbird | Korimako, Tūī
  • Score 2 Paradise Shelduck | Pūtangitangi, Weka, New Zealand Falcon | Kārearea, Yellow-crowned Parakeet | Kākāriki, Grey Warbler | Riroriro, New Zealand Fantail | Pīwakawaka, Tomtit | Miromiro, South Island Robin | Kakaruai, Fernbird | Mātātā, New Zealand Pipit | Pīhoihoi
  • Score 1 Ruru | Morepork, New Zealand Kingfisher | Kōtare
  • Endemic bird score = 50 points
  • Ranking = 5th out of 10
  • Additional possible endemic birds (not seen or heard by me): Shining Cuckoo | Pīpīwharauroa, Long-tailed Cuckoo | Koekoeā, Little Shag | Kawaupaka, Kea

For up-to-date information on hut bookings on the Paparoa Track, see the Department of Conservation webpage Paparoa Track.

Other blogs in this series

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