Welcome to Birdquest
Birdquest's French Polynesia & The Cook Islands birding tour is an amazing endemic-packed adventure to some seldom visited and little-known islands in the Pacific. By using a boat to access remote islands, we can see such very special birds as Polynesian Imperial Pigeon, Marquesas Ground Dove, Makatea Fruit Dove, Tuamotu Kingfisher, Marquesas Kingfisher and Marquesas and Fatuhiva Monarchs, never mind a host of more accessible endemics including the spectacular Kuhl's, Ultramarine and Blue Lorikeets. All in all this remarkable itinerary enables the intrepid birder to encounter around 35 endemics and other major specialities, including some seldom-seen seabirds.
Tuesday 17th October —
Thursday 2nd November 2017
Cook Islands Extension: Thursday 2nd November — Wednesday 8th November (7 days)
Leader: Pete Morris
Group Size Limit: 13
Tour Category: Easy to moderate walking and comfortable to occasionally fairly simple accommodations
The Polynesian triangle between Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island stretches about 8000 kilometres across the central Pacific Ocean. This vast area is dotted with numerous tropical islands, many of them of volcanic origin and never connected to the continents. Amongst this scattering of tiny isolated dots on the map of the world, there are two broad island types: the first being the high volcanic islands where erosion has produced gentle windward slopes that often contrast with the steep and rugged leeward cliffs, frequently encircled by fringing reefs. The second consists of the low-lying islands, mostly coral atolls and or raised former atolls. Both island types have evolved a large number of endemic birds, reptiles, plants and insects, the existence of many of which is under threat from introduced rats and human activity, and during our travels we shall explore fascinating examples of each.
This exciting journey focuses on some of the rarest and most exciting island birds in the entire Pacific region. French Polynesia covers a vast expanse of the South Pacific, equivalent to a region stretching from Finland to Spain, and once you add in the Cook Islands the expanse is even more vast!
We will be cruising amongst the islands of French Polynesia on MV Braveheart, a very well equipped and comfortable supply vessel, 39 metres (128 feet) in length, with capacity for 12 passengers. The vessel has been converted for expedition-style cruising and other purposes and is based in New Zealand. Braveheart has air-conditioned twin-berth cabins and there are several toilets and showers. She has modern safety equipment and two zodiacs (inflatables with rigid hulls) for making landings in remote areas. There is a spacious dining area and a smaller lounge/library area with DVD player, power points for computers etc. A large, shaded area on the deck is excellent for seawatching. Braveheart offer much more space and comfort than a yacht and is the perfect kind of vessel for an expedition-style cruise of this nature.
The great advantage of using Braveheart is that we will be able to visit a series of very remote islands in the Marquesas and Tuamotus and in the process add a number of endemics that are impossible to see on a land/air-based itinerary.
Our journey through the islands will start in Tahiti, the largest and highest of the Society Islands, where we will arrive in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia. This cosmopolitan city with over 100,000 people will provide a great contrast with sparsely inhabited or uninhabited islands we are soon to visit.
Here, on the beautiful island where so many of the Bounty’s crew fell for the local ladies, and from where they eventually set sail to seek refuge from the King’s justice on remote Pitcairn Island, we will mainly be birding in the interior highlands, dominated by two old volcanoes. Here we should find such endemics as Grey-green Fruit-Dove, Tahiti Swiftlet, Tahiti Kingfisher, the extremely rare Tahiti Monarch and Tahiti Reed Warbler.
Exploring the Marquesas, a chain of rugged, volcanic islands some 1500 kilometres (or around 940 miles) to the northeast of Papeete, will surely be a highlight of our Polynesia adventure. Here we will explore Nuku Hiva, Ua Huka, Hiva Oa, seldom-visited Tahuata and Fatu Hiva, and some even more remote uninhabited islands, in search of such endemics as the strange Nukuhiva Imperial Pigeon, White-capped Fruit-Dove, the critically endangered Marquesas Ground Dove, the beautiful Ultramarine Lorikeet, Marquesas Swiftlet, Marquesas Kingfisher, Marquesas, Iphis and Fatuhiva Monarchs, and Marquesas Reed Warbler, as well as the delightful near-endemic Little White Tern, Blue Noddy, Polynesian Storm-Petrel, and Bulwer’s and Tahiti Petrels.
In the western Tuamotu Islands, where we will visit Rangiroa Atoll and the remote islands of Niau and Makatea, we will track down the critically endangered Tuamotu Kingfisher at its last known haunt and also admire endemic Polynesian Imperial Pigeons, Atoll Fruit Doves, Makatea Fruit Doves, gorgeous Blue Lorikeets and Tuamotu Reed Warblers.
Finally, on the spectacular island of Moorea near Tahiti we will look for the endemic Moorea Kingfisher, a proposed split from Tahiti Kingfisher.
During the optional extension we will explore the far-flung Cook Islands, where we have a very high chance of seeing all eight of the islands’ endemics and near-endemics.
The attractions on Rarotonga are the endemic Rarotonga Monarch and Rarotonga Starling, plus the restricted-range Pacific Imperial Pigeon, while the steep ridges of the towering mountains hold White-tailed Tropicbirds. We will also explore the island of Mangaia for Mangaia Kingfisher and Cook Islands Reed Warbler and Atiu for the rare Atiu Swiftlet, Cook Islands Fruit-Dove, Chattering Kingfisher and the reintroduced Kuhl’s (or Rimatara) Lorikeet.
There will also be an option to visit the remote island of Rimatara in the Austral Islands, far to the south of Tahiti. The island is home to the endemic Rimatara Reed Warbler and was the last surviving haunt of the beautiful Kuhl’s (or Rimatara) Lorikeet before it was re-introduced to Atiu.
Birdquest has operated tours to French Polynesia and the Cook Islands since 2002.
Rimatara Option: With only two flights a week (at the time this tour description was prepared they were on Wednesday and Fridays), this island in the Austral group far to the south of Tahiti is hard to fit into an itinerary. If you are interested in going, we can arrange this for you either before or after the tour. This pleasant but remote island holds the only originally surviving Kuhl’s (or Rimatara) Parakeets (they have been reintroduced to the Cook Islands) and the endemic Rimatara Reed Warbler (now split from Pitcairn Reed Warbler). Please contact the Birdquest office if you are interested in visiting Rimatara.
Accommodation & Road Transport: For details of Braveheart, please see the tour introduction. Kindly note that, as there are so few cabins, it may be necessary to have male/female sharing in one cabin if the boat is full. Bookings are only accepted on the basis that you will consent if this is necessary. The hotels in Papeete and Rarotonga are of good standard. Elsewhere, the guesthouse accommodation ranges from good to simple, but very clean and comfortable (bathroom facilities may be shared at some locations). Road transport will be by minibus and roads (where they exist) are mostly good.
Walking: The walking effort is easy to moderate.
Climate: Warm or hot and humid. Occasional rain is likely. At sea it can feel noticeably cooler, especially early and late in the day.
Bird Photography: Opportunities are good.
Important Information for Pound Payers: Kindly note that the Pound prices shown here are based on post-EU-referendum exchange rate reality, unlike the website prices of most UK bird tour operators which are still based on outdated and hugely higher pre-referendum exchange rates. Consequently you can rest assured that we will not have to adjust these prices upwards at invoicing, unless the Pound falls significantly further, and if there is any recovery by the Pound you will receive the full benefit of the cost-saving by way of a price reduction at invoicing.
Tour Price: £7290, €8750, $9910 Papeete/Papeete. Cook Islands Extension: £2140, €2570, $2910 (ending in Rarotonga).
Price includes all transportation (including the Papeete-Nukuhiva flight, the direct Papeete-Rarotonga flight and all specified flights inside the Cook Islands), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants ashore, leader services.
Please note that the Cook Islands Extension price is based on using the once-a-week direct flight from Papeete to Rarotonga. At the time the tour dates were set this operated on a Thursday. In the event the schedule changes (but it has been a Thursday flight for some years at least), and as the tour start date cannot be changed because of Braveheart’s other commitments, it will be necessary to stay in Papeete until the new flight day, or else fly to Rarotonga via Auckland (there are frequent flights). In this event, all additional transit costs (over and above the value of the Papeete-Rarotonga air ticket) are the responsibility of the participant.
Base prices for the tour are determined in New Zealand Dollars, the currency in which we pay for most tour services. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = NZD 1.890, €1 = NZD 1.575 and $1 = NZD 1.390. Prices may be adjusted (either downwards or upwards) at the time of invoicing should there be a change in the exchange rate. See booking information.
Single Room Supplement: £240, €288, $326 (excluding the nights on Braveheart). Extension: £276, €331, $375.
Deposit: 25% of the tour price (including any single supplement). Extension: £250, €350, $400.
Kindly note that the balance due will be invoiced around 5 months before departure for payment not later than 120 days before departure.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate
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