I will never tire of banging Kaikoura’s drum as the best place in the world to see albatrosses, and since albatrosses are the among the best birds in the world it amazes me that none of you have made it out here yet (actually, some of you have, per some of the comments, but Corey hasn’t). Actually, even I don’t get there as often as I’d like, but I managed to take some friends to visit on the Easter long weekend  as part of their ten day visit to South Island. Two hours after getting off the boat after checking out Sperm Whales we were off again out to find some albatross.

Multiple visits to Kaikoura in different seasons are giving me a better idea of the variability of the area. It wasn’t quite winter yet, with all the species that brings, but already some summer species like the Hutton’s Shearwater and Salvin’s Albatrosses were gone. The day was calmer and sunnier than my December trip, so it actually took two or three minutes after we left the harbour to start seeing albatrosses, and there were less of them around. At first anyway. As we shot out over the slow rolling sea we soon attracted a camp following of Cape Petrels and Northern Giant Petrels. We also passed White-fronted Terns, one of which was being harrassed by an Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger to Americans), which broke off its pursuit when a fish jumped out of the water right beside it.

Kaikoura pelagic

 A mess of Cape Petrels and Northern Giant Petrels under the clear skies of Kaikoura’s Autumn

It wasn’t long before more birds began to show up. I’ve shown quite a few below, others included the Black-fronted Tern, Buller’s Shearwater and the Westland Petrel.

White-capped Albatross

White-capped Albatrosses are quite common

Northern Royal Albatross

Northern Royal Albatrosses less so (assuming they are Northerns, someone disputed my last ID)


Antipodean Albatrosses are happy to mix it up with the giant petrels.

Black-browed Albatross

This Black-browed Albatross was a pretty good find for the time of year.

close up

As you can see the birds are really close!

Short-tailed Shearwater

This Short-tailed Shearwater is a passage visitor from Australia, on its way up to see America!

After bidding farewell to the albatrosses we headed for the Kaikoura Peninsula, to see if there was anything of interest out there. The rocks here are particularly good for New Zealand Fur-seals, but we also saw Variable Oystercatchers, Black-fronted Terns, Caspian Terns, White-fronted Terns, Red-billed Gulls and Kelp Gulls. It certainly helped my year list!


A New Zealand Fur-seal

So another season, another great haul of pelagic birds. You really can’t go wrong with Kaikoura!

To see these albatrosses and other birds up close, you can only really go with Encounter Kaikoura. This isn’t a bad thing, the expertise is fantastic and our guide, Garry, was a fantastic source of knowledge. The same organisation can also take you out to see Dusky Dolphins (more about next week), so what are you waiting for?

Written by Duncan
Duncan Wright is a Wellington-based ornithologist working on the evolution of New Zealand's birds. He's previously poked albatrosses with sticks in Hawaii, provided target practice for gulls in California, chased monkeys up and down hills Uganda, wrestled sharks in the Bahamas and played God with grasshopper genetics in Namibia. He came into studying birds rather later in life, and could quit any time he wants to.