The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Australasia & The Pacific Islands

PITCAIRN, HENDERSON & TUAMOTU ISLANDS

Tuesday 6th October – Tuesday 20th October 2020

Leader: Mark Van Beirs.

15 Days Group Size Limit 12
Tuesday 4th October – Tuesday 18th October 2022
Leader: Birdquest leader to be announced
15 Days Group Size Limit 12

Birdquest’s Pitcairn, Henderson & Tuamotu Islands birding tours are one of those epic birding tours to the back of beyond where we always wonder whether the next trip will be the last, simply because finding a boat available to do this remote islands cruise is far from certain. Our Pitcairn, Henderson & Tuamotu Islands birding tour is a remarkable journey that takes in islands that really are a tropical paradise, with extraordinary seabirds (so tame you can almost touch them), trusting little Tuamotu Sandpipers and many other wonderful endemics of this largely uninhabited and very special ‘Edge of the World’ place.

This tour can be taken together with: FRENCH POLYNESIA & COOK ISLANDS

How many chances does one have to visit a scattering of largely uninhabited tropical islands where deserted white sand beaches are fringed with luxuriant vegetation, haunted by rarely seen endemics, and the seas are enlivened by a host of little-known seabirds? Not many, but here is one fantastic opportunity! Add into the mix the romance and violence of the Mutiny on the Bounty story, the classic, real-life tale of putting love before duty and its tragic consequences, and you have something extraordinarily alluring.

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 or raised former atolls. Both island types have evolved 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! Its farthest flung outposts are the remote Gambier Islands at the eastern end of the Tuamotu Archipelago, and still more remote, far beyond the Gambiers, are Pitcairn, Henderson and Oeno islands.

We will be cruising amongst the Pitcairn islands and Tuamotu islands 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.

On the way to join this expedition you will travel via Tahiti, the largest and highest of the Society Islands. Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, is a cosmopolitan city with over 100,000 people and will provide a great contrast with sparsely inhabited or uninhabited islands you are soon to visit. Here, on this beautiful island, many of the Bounty’s crew fell for the local ladies, and from here they eventually set sail to seek refuge from the King’s justice on remote Pitcairn Island.

From Papeete we will travel far to the southeast, to Mangaréva in the remote Gambier Islands of easternmost French Polynesia. Here we will board our vessel and set sail for the end of the world, or so it will seem to us.

First we will explore famous Pitcairn Island, last refuge of the Bounty mutineers, their Tahitian ladies and some male relatives (the ancestral mix of today’s Pitcairn islanders), where Pitcairn Reed Warbler will be the main target.

Moving on to uninhabited Henderson Island, we will be looking for the fearless Henderson Island Crake, Henderson Island Fruit Dove, the stunning Stephen’s Lorikeet and Henderson Reed Warbler, while on Oeno we will see an extraordinary seabird colony at eyeball to eyeball distance.

After we leave the Pitcairn islands group behind, we will explore the Actaeon Group in the easternmost Tuamotus in French Polynesia we will visit Tenararo, home to that Holy Grail of Pacific birding, the extraordinary little Tuamotu Sandpiper (surely one of the most endearing birds of the trip). Considered one of the rarest shorebirds in the world, this unusual endemic species is most definitely a long-dreamed-of bird for many people. Tenararo is also the haunt of Atoll Fruit Dove, the delightful Polynesian Ground-Dove and the endangered Bristle-thighed Curlew (another of the world’s rarest shorebirds, the majority of which winter in the Tuamotus).

To cap it all, as we sail between these tiny specks in the vastness of the Pacific, we are going to see the most glorious collection of tropical and subtropical seabirds possible, including Tahiti, Phoenix, Murphy’s, Kermadec, Herald, Henderson and Juan Fernandez Petrels, Christmas and Tropical Shearwaters, Polynesian Storm Petrel, Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds, Masked, Red-footed and Brown Boobies, Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Spectacled (or Grey-backed), Sooty and Common White Terns, and Black, Brown, Grey and perhaps Blue Noddies, plus a selection of visitors to the area such as Juan Fernandez, Collared and Cape Petrels, and perhaps White-bellied Storm Petrel.

All in all, this is a remarkable opportunity to explore one of the most remote and least touched places on planet Earth today, and see some of our world’s most seldom-seen birds! Put simply, this wonderful voyage is sheer magic!

Birdquest has operated Pitcairn islands birding tours and Tuamotu islands birding tours since 2008.

Accommodation: 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.

Walking: The walking effort during our Pitcairn, Henderson & Tuamotu Islands birding tour 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 during our Pitcairn, Henderson & Tuamotu Islands birding tour are very good.


PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

Deposit: Initial deposit 5% of the tour price. Second deposit (due 18 months prior to departure) 25%. If you are booking less than 18 months before departure the deposit is 30%.

Deposits for this special tour are non-refundable. Kindly note that the balance due will be invoiced around 5 months before departure for payment within 14 days.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2020: £8130, $10160, €8940, NZD15560. Mangareva/Mangareva.
2022: provisional £8360, $10450, €9190, NZD15990. Mangareva/Mangareva.

Single Supplement: 2020: £8130, $10160, €8940, NZD15560.
Single Supplement: 2022: £8360, $10450, €9190, NZD15990.

Please note that if you are willing to share but no cabin-mate is available you will not have to pay the single occupancy supplement.

This tour is priced in New Zealand Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

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.

PITCAIRN, HENDERSON & TUAMOTU ISLANDS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Pitcairn, Henderson & Tuamotu Islands: Day 1  Our adventure begins in earnest today at Mangaréva in the remote Gambier Islands at the far eastern end of the scattered Tuamotu archipelago. The journey from Papeete is broken by a refuelling stopover at a remote atoll. As we descend over this huge atoll, so large that one cannot even see the far side, it will be brought home to us how little land there is in the Tuamotus: just thin barrier islands and numerous tiny islets (known locally as motu) projecting above the water on top of the coral reef forming the atoll and protecting a huge, impossibly turquoise lagoon. Everywhere are beaches of white sand, backed by the deep greens of coconut palms and native island ‘bush’.

Once we arrive at Mangaréva, where Pacific Golden Plovers favour the grassy edges of the runway, we will transfer by ferry from the airport island to the harbour of the main island, where our vessel, our home for the next 14 nights, will be waiting for us. During the afternoon we will set sail for the magical, largely uninhabited world of the islands that awaits us. As we head southeastwards, towards Pitcairn island, we will keep a lookout for Phoenix and Herald Petrels, Christmas Shearwater, Polynesian Storm Petrel, Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Greater Crested Tern, and Brown and Black Noddies.

Pitcairn, Henderson & Tuamotu Islands: Days 2-14  During our two weeks we shall explore the easternmost Tuamotu Islands and the even more remote Pitcairn, Henderson and Oeno Islands. The run to Pitcairn Island will take about 36 hours, but the journey will provide some interesting seabird opportunities. In addition to some of the species likely as we left Mangaréva, we will be keeping a lookout for our first Murphy’s and Henderson’s Petrels, Tropical Shearwater (split from Audubon’s) and White-faced Storm Petrel. Even Juan Fernandez Petrel and some other wandering Pterodroma petrels are possible in these waters.

Not many travellers have the chance or the privilege of stepping ashore on rugged Pitcairn Island, so we shall join a select band as we explore this fascinating spot where the Bounty mutineers ended up. As with almost all of our landings, we will not be able to get ashore directly from our vessel, so we will use the naiads or the island longboat instead. Although Pitcairn and its dependencies are an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, the islands are effectively administered from New Zealand, itself amazingly distant. Pitcairn’s isolation is exacerbated by the lack of an airport, and there are no regular shipping connections, so visitors are a rare event! We are sure to be made most welcome and no doubt some of us will want to visit the post office in the small settlement in order to buy those sought-after Pitcairn stamps to put on the ritual postcards. Pitcairn’s single-island endemic, the Pitcairn Reed Warbler, is common on the island, so we will have no trouble finding some, and we will also be able to admire the pretty little Grey Noddy and a small colony of Masked Boobies.

As we wait for the boat to take us back to our vessel, we will be only about 100 meters from where the blazing hulk of the Bounty sank after the mutineers decided to burn her to leave no easily visible trace of their presence. As with any such tale, both sides have strong views. From the islander’s perspective Captain Bligh was a cruel tyrant who virtually compelled Fletcher Christian and his allies to mutiny, yet if that were truly the case one wonders why so many of the crew elected to join Bligh in a small open boat when the mutineers put him off the ship in the then unknown seas off Tonga, facing almost certain death. And one marvels at a man who could then save his men by a remarkable feat of seamanship, sailing that tiny boat 3700 nautical miles, all the way to Kupang in Timor, in the then Dutch East Indies.

As we sail northeast from Pitcairn Island to Henderson Island, we will encounter more and more Henderson’s Petrels, a species that only nests in this remote, uninhabited place (and which was formerly, mistakenly, considered a dark morph of Herald Petrel), and we should also come across Kermadec Petrel. We will reach the southernmost point of our voyage in the waters around Pitcairn and its dependencies, so we will be looking out for cool-water wanderers throughout the region, such as albatrosses, giant petrels, and Cape and White-chinned Petrels.

Unlike rugged Pitcairn Island, Henderson Island is a raised coral reef and so is basically a flat, thickly vegetated plateau of limestone rising 30 metres or so above sea-level. After finding our way from the beach up onto the plateau we will start looking for Henderson’s four single-island endemics. Most of the flightless crakes of the Pacific islands have long been extinct, but sheer isolation and unsuitability for human settlement have allowed the bold little Henderson Island Crake to survive. We should eventually be able to find several of these rather inquisitive little birds wandering around under the scrubby woodland, feeding in the leaf litter. Henderson Reed Warbler (split from Pitcairn) is a common species on the island, but we will probably have to work harder for good views of the stunning Stephen’s Lorikeet and the attractive Henderson Island Fruit Dove.

From Henderson we turn to the west and sail to Oeno Island, the last of the Pitcairn islands group that we will visit. Oeno is a coral atoll with a perfect ‘desert island’, covered in luxuriant vegetation and surrounded by white coral sand beaches, in the middle! The seabird colony here is truly spectacular, with breeding Murphy’s Petrels running into the thousands (the calling birds hovering over the colonies are a true marvel to behold), along with smaller numbers of Christmas Shearwaters, Great Frigatebirds, Masked and Red-footed Boobies, Red-tailed Tropicbirds, and Spectacled (or Grey-backed), Sooty and Common White (or Fairy) Terns. As with all remote and uninhabited tropical islands, the seabirds are unafraid of man, so we will be able to enjoy some extraordinary views and will feel truly privileged to be able to wander around in such a wonderful place. In particular, watching the lovely Common White Tern at such close range that one can see its ‘mascara-like’ dark eye smudge (which enhances its already huge eye, perhaps adapted for seeing in the forest interior) and the blue base to the dagger-like bill, is a real delight. Long-tailed Cuckoos (or Long-tailed Koels) from New Zealand spend the Austral winter on Pacific islands like Oeno, so we will keep a lookout for this interesting species.

Sailing now to the northwest, leaving the Pitcairn islands behind at last, we will have a full day at sea with great opportunities for a selection of Pterodroma species (including Collared and possibly Juan Fernandez Petrels) and other deepwater pelagics, including Tahiti Petrel and White-bellied Storm Petrel. We could also come across some Humpback Whales at a seamount, enjoying watching them breaching before they crash back into the ocean in spectacular fashion, sending up a huge sheet of spray.

Eventually we come to the Actaeon group of islands and in particular the island of Tenararo. This beautiful and remote uninhabited island, which is rat-free, is one of the last breeding sites for the rare and enigmatic Tuamotu Sandpiper. As we step ashore on this pristine desert island and our footprints mark the virgin white sand we will feel quite Robinson Crusoe-like! It should not take long before we find the little sandpiper, which feeds mostly along the tideline (they may run down the beach to greet us!) but also spends much time walking on the leaf litter under the tangled jungle of the island’s interior, or can even be watched walking up tree branches. When the birds display they hover and veer in the manner of Temminck’s Stint, all the while uttering their beautiful trilling call. Even better is their confiding manner (not a help with rats, sadly) and we should be able to walk right up to them without causing any concern! On Tenararo this wonderful bird remains extraordinarily common and we may see up to 100-200 individuals during our visit!

Amongst the trees and bushes on Tenararo we should easily find another Tuamotu endemic, the beautiful Atoll Fruit Dove. We will also search for the unobtrusive but dazzling little Polynesian Ground Dove, which as its name suggests spends its time on the ground. We will have to search patiently and carefully, for these birds are both slow-moving and unafraid, so they can even be spotted walking along right next to one’s feet! If we are in luck we will be able to watch the male displaying close to us, stretching out its wings to display their purple iridescence. Sadly this species has disappeared from most of its range in the Tuamotus owing to the depredations of rats. This is also a good island for seeing Bristle-thighed Curlew, a species that flies south from Alaska to the Tuamotus to winter in paradise, and Wandering Tattler.

We may have time to visit another of the Tuamotu atolls, such as Morane, but our highest priority will be to see the key endemic landbirds and pelagic seabirds well, so we will spend more time in places like Henderson in the Pitcairn islands if we need to.

Pitcairn, Henderson & Tuamotu Islands: Day 15  Our tour ends this morning at Mangareva airport.

PITCAIRN, HENDERSON & FRENCH POLYNESIA TOUR REPORT 2017

by Pete Morris

View Report

PITCAIRN, HENDERSON & FRENCH POLYNESIA TOUR REPORT 2014

View Report

Other mid-Pacific Islands birding tours by Birdquest include:

Niau

Australasia & The Pacific Islands

FRENCH POLYNESIA & COOK ISLANDS

Pohnpei

Australasia & The Pacific Islands

MICRONESIA

Kagu

Australasia & The Pacific Islands

NEW CALEDONIA, FIJI, VANUATU & SAMOA