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FRENCH POLYNESIA & THE COOK ISLANDS

French Polynesia Birding Tours: our French Polynesia bird watching holiday, which includes the Cook Islands, 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, Marquesan Ground Dove, Makatea Fruit Dove, Tuamotu Kingfisher, Marquesan Kingfisher and Marquesan 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 20th October — Thursday 5th November 2020
(17 days)


Cook Islands Extension: Thursday 5th November — Wednesday 11th November (7 days)

Leader: a Birdquest leader

Group Size Limit: 12

Tour Category: Easy to moderate walking and comfortable to fairly simple accommodations

The critically-endangered Tuamotu Kingfisher is now restricted to the tiny island of Niau in the western Tuamotu Islands (Pete Morris)

The critically-endangered Tuamotu Kingfisher is now restricted to the tiny island of Niau in the western Tuamotu Islands (Pete Morris)

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 well equipped supply vessel, 39 metres (128 feet) in length, with capacity for 12 passengers plus expedition leader and crew. Braveheart has been converted for expedition-style cruising and other purposes and is based in New Zealand. The vessel has air-conditioned twin-berth cabins and there are two toilets and two showers. She has modern safety equipment and two naiads (inflatables with rigid hulls) for making landings in remote areas. There is a fairly 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. She offers much more space and comfort than the yachts we have previously used in the area 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 Marquesan Ground Dove, the beautiful Ultramarine Lorikeet, Marquesan Swiftlet, Marquesan Kingfisher, Marquesan, Iphis and Fatuhiva Monarchs, and Northern Marquesan and Southern Marquesan Reed Warblers, 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.

Prices are provisional

Tour Price: £7990, €9110, $10470 Papeete/Papeete. Cook Islands Extension: £2290, €2610, $3000 (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.

Single Room Supplement: £256, €292, $335 (excluding the nights on Braveheart). Extension: £294, €335, $385.

Deposit: Initial deposit £200,€240, $260. Second deposit (due 1 July 2019) £1800, €2160, $2340. Extension: £300, €360, $390.

Kindly note that the balance due will be invoiced around 5 months before departure for payment within 14 days.

Base prices for this tour are in New Zealand Dollars. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = NZD 1.900, €1 = NZD 1.670 and $1 = NZD 1.450.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

The smart Blue Lorikeet is easily seen on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands (Pete Morris)

The smart Blue Lorikeet is easily seen on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands (Pete Morris)

The smart Ultramarine Lorikeet is only found on a few islands in the remote Marquesas (Pete Morris)

The smart Ultramarine Lorikeet is only found on a few islands in the remote Marquesas (Pete Morris)

The tiny Atiu Swiftlet is another of the Cook Island endemics (Pete Morris)

The tiny Atiu Swiftlet is another of the Cook Island endemics (Pete Morris)

The critically endangered Rarotonga Monarch (this is the female) is another rare Cook Islands endemic (Pete Morris)

The critically endangered Rarotonga Monarch (this is the female) is another rare Cook Islands endemic (Pete Morris)

The rare Bristle-thighed Curlew should be encountered somewhere along our way (Pete Morris)

The rare Bristle-thighed Curlew should be encountered somewhere along our way (Pete Morris)

Although not rare, it's always a delight to see lovely (Common) White Terns (Pete Morris)

Although not rare, it's always a delight to see lovely (Common) White Terns (Pete Morris)

Endearing (Common) White Terns are frequently seen (Pete Morris)

Endearing (Common) White Terns are frequently seen (Pete Morris)

For some reason, it is not common practice to split the distinctive (Lesser) White Tern from the Marquesas (Pete Morris)

For some reason, it is not common practice to split the distinctive (Lesser) White Tern from the Marquesas (Pete Morris)

Blue Noddy is a special seabird with a very localized range (Pete Morris)

Blue Noddy is a special seabird with a very localized range (Pete Morris)

Mewing Kingfisher is a rare Cook Islands endemic that we should have no trouble seeing! (Pete Morris)

Mewing Kingfisher is a rare Cook Islands endemic that we should have no trouble seeing! (Pete Morris)

Chattering Kingfisher is a Pacific speciality that is easily seen on this tour (Pete Morris)

Chattering Kingfisher is a Pacific speciality that is easily seen on this tour (Pete Morris)

There are some great pigeons and doves to look for on this tour including the strange-looking Marquesan Imperial Pigeon (Pete Morris)

There are some great pigeons and doves to look for on this tour including the strange-looking Marquesan Imperial Pigeon (Pete Morris)

... the colourful Lilac-crowned (or Cook Island) Fruit Dove which looks different on Atiu (Pete Morris)

... the colourful Lilac-crowned (or Cook Island) Fruit Dove which looks different on Atiu (Pete Morris)

... and Rarotonga! (Pete Morris)

... and Rarotonga! (Pete Morris)

White-capped Fruit Dove is endemic to the Marquesas (Pete Morris)

White-capped Fruit Dove is endemic to the Marquesas (Pete Morris)

... while Atoll Fruit Dove is restricted to the Tuamotu Archipelago (Pete Morris)

... while Atoll Fruit Dove is restricted to the Tuamotu Archipelago (Pete Morris)

Rare monarchs are also in good supply and should include Tahiti Monarch (Pete Morris)

Rare monarchs are also in good supply and should include Tahiti Monarch (Pete Morris)

... Iphis Monarch from the Marquesas (Pete Morris)

... Iphis Monarch from the Marquesas (Pete Morris)

... and Rarotonga Monarch (this is the male) (Pete Morris)

... and Rarotonga Monarch (this is the male) (Pete Morris)

Also on Rarotonga, we should have little trouble seeing the endemic Rarotonga Starling (Pete Morris)

Also on Rarotonga, we should have little trouble seeing the endemic Rarotonga Starling (Pete Morris)

Some whacky reed warblers include Tahiti Reed Warbler which comes in a light morph (Pete Morris)

Some whacky reed warblers include Tahiti Reed Warbler which comes in a light morph (Pete Morris)

... and a dark morph (Pete Morris)

... and a dark morph (Pete Morris)

Northern Marquesan Reed Warbler is one of two endemic Acrocephalus species in the Marquesas (Pete Morris)

Northern Marquesan Reed Warbler is one of two endemic Acrocephalus species in the Marquesas (Pete Morris)

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

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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