Southland: Rare Birds and a Slice of Kiwiana

Birders love New Zealand, and Rakiura National Park/Ulva Island is a premier destination – teeming with endemic and native birds, many of which are threatened or endangered. Even though we’re not birders, we had an incredible experience pretending we were and picked up a few pointers along the way:

  1. ALWAYS bring binoculars.
  2. Slow down!
  3. Be quiet.
  4. Ask others (very quietly) what they are looking at.
  5. Be patient.

Our home base for this adventure was Invercargill, a community of about 56,000 people located at the bottom of New Zealand’s South Island. Although Google Maps advised us that Invercargill was a short 2-hour drive from Te Anau, we made a few cool stops along the way, so it took us six hours. As you can tell from the photos below, we had a picture perfect day to travel.

Day Trip to Rakiura National Park

From Invercargill, we took a quick flight to Stewart Island, then a short water taxi ride to Ulva Island.

As part of Rakiura National Park, Ulva Island is managed as an open bird sanctuary by the Department of Conservation. After the small island of about 650 acres was declared rat-free in 1996, native and endemic birds were reintroduced to the island. It’s critical that the sanctuary remains pest-free, so visitors are greeted with a reminder to check for uninvited passengers.

Confident that none of us was harboring rats or other vermin, we set off to explore the 3-mile network of well-maintained trails on the island. It wasn’t long before we were swept up into the magic of the forest. Are you familiar with the term, forest bathing? Oh yeah . . . .

Our three hours on Ulva Island might best be described as meandering through a huge aviary without any netting or other artificial barriers. Birds were everywhere. Truly. Flitting, flying, walking, foraging, and resting. Singing, chirping, chattering, and screeching. Much of the action took place in the treetops well beyond our view. It was nonstop and awe-inspiring.

The few birds we recognized were outnumbered by those we didn’t. Plus there were large groups of noisy birds we couldn’t see at all. Meaningful photos weren’t possible, at least by me, so I’ve included some (with proper attribution) from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. It’s an excellent reference for all things bird-related.

Here are a few of the more than 90 different species of birds that live on or visit Ulva Island on their seasonal migration routes:

The birds are the featured attraction, of course, but the island also boasts interesting flora, beautiful beaches, and gorgeous views.

Full disclosure: Bill insisted that we include a trip to Stewart Island on our itinerary – the rest of us were indifferent. Until we got there. He was right. Our visit was superb, and I would have hated to miss it.

Southland A&P Show

With another full day to spend exploring Invercargill, Bill opted for a visit to the Bill Richardson Transport World (which he thoroughly enjoyed), while Marlene, Steve, and I attended the Southland A&P (short for Agricultural and Pastoral) show.

The Royal Agricultural Society of New Zealand sponsors around 90 A&P shows each year, held throughout the country to celebrate agricultural excellence and rural living. Akin to county fairs in the U.S. but with a distinctly New Zealand flavor, events included a variety of sheep competitions, a gumboot throw, and sled dog demonstrations.

A few photos:

Hay Bale Sculptures
Farm Animals
Equestrian Events
Wood Chopping Contests
Food and Decorative Arts
And Entertainment

A pleasant way to spend the morning!

Burt Munro and The World’s Fastest Indian

Burt Munro (1899-1978) is something of a folk hero in these parts. A motorcycle salesman and enthusiast, he worked from his home in Invercargill to transform a 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle into a racing machine. He set his first New Zealand speed record in 1938, the first of seven. Mr. Munro, however, had bigger plans.

He traveled to the U.S. and raced his souped up motorcycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah nine times in the 1960s, setting several world speed records. Amazingly, his 1967 record for 1000 cc class bikes still stands – 296.2593 km/h (184.087 mph). At the time, Mr. Munro was 68 years old and riding a 47-year old motorcycle!

Here is the actual machine driven by Burt Munro to set the world speed record back in 1967:

And here is a replica (one of several in existence) of the shell that fit over the motorcycle:

In 2005, Burt Munro’s story was the subject of a major motion picture entitled, The World’s Fastest Indian, starring Anthony Hopkins. The movie has an 89% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Before he died in 1978, Mr. Munro sold his motorcycles to Norman Hayes, a local friend. Today, his treasured Indian Scout lives on at the E. Hayes & Sons hardware store in downtown Invercargill, which is a tourist attraction in its own right.

In addition to an amazing selection of merchandise for sale, the store features a motor works collection of over 100 classic, vintage and modern motorcycles, automobiles, engines, equipment and memorabilia. It’s a museum located within a hardware store, and visitors are welcome to browse the collection while they shop.

Invercargill was a pleasant surprise! A pretty town with friendly people, a sweet little breakfast place called The Batch Cafe, and gorgeous parks. I’ll end with a handful of images from Queens Park, a grand old park located only a couple of blocks from where we stayed.

Dating back to the city’s founding in the late 1800s, the 200-acre green space features at least five themed gardens, a variety of sculptures, an animal reserve and aviary, band rotunda, and secluded paths. There’s a children’s playground, as well as spaces for tennis, lawn bowling, cricket, and croquet, plus a golf course. A fun place to explore!

The large history museum and art gallery closed in 2018 due to earthquake hazards, but the premier attraction – Henry – can still be viewed by visitors. Henry the tuatara – a type of ancient reptile found only in New Zealand – is believed to be over 120 years old. Henry created headlines when he became a first time father at age 110!

Next up: The Catlins, Dunedin, and Oamaru

Categories: New ZealandTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Oh so good!!

    Sent from Marlene Rupp


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful post! So fun to vicariously travel with you. Love the birds so much xo

    Liked by 1 person

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