WESTERN PACIFIC ODYSSEY BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 1 This afternoon we will embark on the Heritage Adventurer at Auckland Harbour in the heart of New Zealand’s commercial capital, ready for our voyage of discovery.
The Expedition Team will be waiting to greet you on arrival and show you to your cabin. You will have time to settle in and familiarise yourself with the ship. We will also take the opportunity to introduce you to your Expedition Team and Guides and our voyage plans. You are invited to join your Expedition Team and Guides in the Observation Lounge and up on the Observation Deck as we set sail for the Hauraki Gulf.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 2 Daybreak will find us in the Mokohinau Islands (known locally as the Mokes), a group of small islands in the Hauraki Gulf. These predator-free islands are a haven for breeding seabirds and we should start the voyage with a wonderful selection of seabirds around the ship. Grey Noddies are usually to be found perching on some of the rocks and there is an Australasian Gannet colony here as well.
As we head further out to sea we will focus on looking for the New Zealand Storm Petrel. The species’ comparatively recent and astonishing discovery after it had ‘gone missing’ for over a century is now well known, along with the fact that it is breeding at Little Barrier Island. We hope to attract this species to a slick where we may see them side-by-side with Wilson’s Storm Petrels, a species that we should see frequently during the cruise. We have never missed this special bird and usually find several.
Indeed this whole area offers fantastic seabirding and some of the other species we can hope to see are Little (or Blue) Penguin, Black, Grey-faced and Cook’s Petrels, Buller’s, Flesh-footed, Sooty, Fluttering and Little Shearwaters, Fairy Prion, White-faced Storm Petrel and Common Diving Petrel. Pomarine Jaeger is also possible and if we are really lucky we will find the rare Pycroft’s Petrel.
In addition, this area is a good feeding ground for albatrosses and we are likely to see several species including White-capped, Campbell, Buller’s and Antipodean Albatrosses.
The waters of the Hauraki Gulf usually have a few cetaceans around including Short-beaked Common Dolphin, Long-finned Pilot Whale and occasionally Bryde’s Whale.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 3 Today will be spent sailing north towards remote Norfolk Island and passing through rich waters for seabirds. These deep, far offshore waters are excellent for an impressive mix of Pterodroma (gadfly) petrels and we hope to see Grey-faced, Kermadec, White-necked, Black-winged, Cook’s, Gould’s and Tahiti Petrels.
There should again be good numbers of albatross around and they will be some of the last we see until we enter the realm of their Northern Hemisphere cousins much later in the journey.
We sometimes see beaked whales in these deep waters and several species of these enigmatic cetaceans occur here. We stand a good chance of seeing Sperm Whales as well.
As we get towards the island we should begin to see a few more species with a more northerly distribution such as Providence Petrel, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Masked Booby (the dark-eyed form here is sometimes split-off as Tasman Booby) and Common White Tern.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 4 Far-flung Norfolk Island, named by Captain James Cook, has a rich history. Initially inhabited by Polynesians, it later served as a penal colony and was then colonised by the descendants of The Bounty mutineers from Pitcairn Island.
The famous and picturesque Norfolk Island Pine dominates the landscape over much of the island, along with palms and the world’s tallest treeferns. Sadly much of the incredible array of endemic wildlife that this island once held is extinct following the arrival of humans and their commensals, but the remaining forests are magnificent and still support a selection of endemic birds: Norfolk (Island) Parakeet, Slender-billed White-eye, Norfolk (Island) Robin and Norfolk (Island) Gerygone.
Also found here are Pacific Emerald Dove, Australian Golden Whistler (the endemic xanthoprocta may represent a distinct species) and Grey Fantail. During our time ashore there may also be an opportunity to see some nesting seabirds including Black Noddy, the lovely White Tern and the spectacular Red-tailed Tropicbird.
We are also likely to find some migrant Pacific Golden Plovers and Wandering Tattlers and other more widespread species we may find here include Nankeen Kestrel, Sacred Kingfisher and Silver-eye, as well as a series of introduced species which include California Quail, Red Junglefowl, Greylag Goose, Crimson Rosella and Song Thrush.
As we depart the island in the latter part of the afternoon there will be some excellent opportunities for more seabirding. The island’s breeding seabird population was decimated but is making a steady recovery as a result of predator control. We will be on the lookout here for ‘Tasman’ Masked Booby (a dark-eyed form), White-bellied and White-faced Storm Petrels, Little Shearwater and, in some years, Providence Petrel.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 5 As we sail north through the Coral Sea we can expect yet another excellent day of seabirding from the decks. Once again it will be those amazing Pterodroma petrels that should provide much of the entertainment and today we will be looking for more Kermadec, White-necked, Black-winged, Gould’s and Tahiti Petrels. If we are lucky there may be a few Providence Petrels or even Herald Petrels around and we should encounter our first Collared Petrels of the voyage. Both the light and dark morph of this species should be encountered, the dark morph often being referred to as ‘Magnificent’ Petrel.
We will pay particular attention to storm petrels on this leg of the journey. In addition to Wilson’s and White-faced Storm Petrels, we hope to see White-bellied Storm Petrel and, with luck, even Polynesian Storm Petrel. It is on this transit that we began seeing a mysterious Storm Petrel in the early days of the WPO. The bird is now recognised as being the rediscovery of the long-lost Fregetta lineata and is known as the New Caledonian Storm Petrel. The species appears to be quite rare and hard to see here but we have managed to observe it on several occasions to the south of its presumed breeding grounds somewhere around New Caledonia.
Brown Booby and White-tailed Tropicbird are also possible today.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 6 New Caledonia has been described as a taste of France in the Pacific and is one of the most fascinating islands in the world. First inhabited by Lapita peoples, it was named by Captain James Cook who felt it reminded him of Scotland.
New Caledonia is a fragment of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, and it is believed that it detached and became an island tens of millions of years ago. Isolation over such a long period of time on a relatively large tropical island explains both the extent of biodiversity and the incredible levels of endemism on this delightful tropical island. Its botany is characterised by an extraordinary diversity of gymnosperms particularly the spectacular Araucaria Trees, along with some of the largest tree ferns on Earth. It also holds the most ancient lineage of flowering plants and the largest gecko in the world.
In common with so many Pacific Islands, there was a tragic extinction of many amazing birds upon the arrival of humans, yet the island still plays host to an extraordinary number of endemic species. Indeed the New Caledonia group has at least 22 endemic bird species, of which two are feared extinct, but even on this short visit we have a very good chance of seeing many of them
Foremost of these is, of course, the Kagu. Travelling by road from the capital, Noumea, we will be visiting this special reserve today to seek out the Kagu, where it can readily be seen thanks to a massive conservation effort. Everyone has seen the pictures but to experience this unique creature in the feathers is a lifetime birding highlight. The Kagu truly is an extraordinary bird: like much of the flora and fauna of New Caledonia, it seems to belong to another age, having evolved in isolation during the millions of years since the island broke away from Gondwanaland and drifted eastward into the Pacific Ocean. The Kagu is a little larger than a domestic chicken. It is flightless, the only member of the family Rhynochetidae, and is thought to be most closely related to the rails and cranes, although it superficially resembles a pale night heron. The Kagu is endemic to New Caledonia and is the island’s national bird, but due to deforestation and predation by dogs, the species is now in serious danger of extinction: estimates put the remaining population at 500 to 1000 individuals. A puppy-like yelping echoes through the forest as the Kagu gives its far-carrying call. We should all be able to observe this intriguing and unusual bird, and with luck, we will even witness the bird’s spectacular display, in which the wings are spread wide and moved in a fanning motion.
Also here are almost all of the island’s other endemic birds headlined the beautiful Horned Parakeet (with its wispy crest). The long list of other endemics include Goliath (or New Caledonian) Imperial Pigeon (the world’s largest arboreal pigeon), White-bellied (or New Caledonian) Goshawk, New Caledonian Parakeet, New Caledonian Myzomela, New Caledonian Whistler, the uncommon, tool-using New Caledonian Crow, South Melanesian Cuckooshrike, Striated Starling, New Caledonian Friarbird, Barred Honeyeater, Yellow-bellied Flyrobin, Green-backed White-eye and the superb Red-throated Parrotfinch.
If we are lucky we will encounter the crow-sized Crow Honeyeater, whose rather dull name belies the beauty of both its melodious song and its striking appearance, complete with large red facial wattles, or the beautiful Cloven-feathered Dove.
Our time at Rivière Bleue is a chance to immerse ourselves into one of the most spectacular and well-protected forests on the island and experience not only the birdlife but some of the extraordinary botany as well.
During our time on New Caledonia, we should also see a variety of the more widely distributed species such as Whistling Kite, Rainbow Lorikeet, Glossy Swiftlet, Dark-brown Honeyeater, Fan-tailed Gerygone, Streaked and Grey Fantails, Southern Shrikebill, Melanesian Flycatcher, Rufous Whistler, White-breasted Woodswallow and Long-tailed Triller, as well as the introduced Spotted Dove.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 7 With another morning of birding on this special island, today we visit the slightly higher forest elevations of Mount Koghi. Our time here will be spent looking for any birds we missed yesterday. These forests tend to be better for White-bellied Goshawk, Cloven-feathered Dove, New Caledonian Crow and Striated Starling. Even the poorly known and rarely observed New Caledonian Thicketbird occurs here. Another bird to keep an eye out for is Metallic Pigeon.
Once back on board, we will sail along the world’s longest, continuous barrier reef systems, a very scenic cruise and with some interesting birds including Fairy Tern as well as Silver Gull and Greater Crested Tern.
Once beyond the reef we should see large numbers of Gould’s Petrels and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and we will have another opportunity to seek out the New Caledonian Storm Petrel.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Days 8-10 We now have three sea days as we steam north into tropical waters bound for the far-away Solomon Islands.
While the pelagic birding may slow a bit as we head into warmer waters, it remains excellent. This stretch is our best chance to observe the incredible Polynesian Storm Petrel and we should also see Band-rumped Storm Petrel. The latter species was initially discovered in this area during the WPO and seems likely to represent an unknown breeding population.
We should have more chances to view some of the Pacific’s special Pterodroma species such as Providence, Kermadec, White-necked, Gould’s and Collared Petrels.
We should also encounter Tahiti Petrel, Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds, Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy. We may watch Masked, Brown and Red-footed Boobies hunt the dazzling array of often spectacularly coloured flying fish that are abundant in these waters and which often fly up in front of the vessel!.
As always, it is worth keeping an eye out for cetaceans including Sperm Whales, various beaked whales and Short-finned Pilot Whales.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 11 After a long sea passage, we will be delighted to be back in sight of land, as this time we arrive at the unique Solomon Islands. Scattered in a loose oval to the east of New Guinea, the Solomon Islands are a quintessential South Pacific idyll, combining a classic landscape and a largely tourist-free, easy-going island life with exotic endemic birds. An archipelago of almost 1,000 lushly forested islands and some of the highest levels of endemism and marine life on Earth define this remarkable, yet rarely-visited nation. Many islands are still largely cloaked in luxuriant rainforest, sweeping down to golden sand beaches and fringing coral reefs. The environment is still remarkably pristine as most Solomon Islanders pursue their traditional life of fishing on the reefs and tending lush gardens hidden in the forest.
We will arrive in the Solomons at the town of Honiara on Guadalcanal Island, the largest island in the group. We should see a few seabirds as we arrive, such as our first Bridled Terns.
The name Guadalcanal is still synonymous with huge air and naval battles and bloody jungle warfare, for some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific between Japanese and Allied forces took place on the island. Relics of that great struggle can be found littered throughout the island and its offshore waters, a stark reminder of darker days, when, for a brief period in history, Guadalcanal was thrust to the forefront of the world’s stage. Now largely ignored and forgotten by the rest of the world, Guadalcanal, like the rest of the Solomons, is a sleepy backwater that receives few visitors from the outside world. Guadalcanal has been inhabited for many thousands of years, yet its rugged and almost totally unexplored interior contrasts sharply with the thriving city of Honiara, the capital, and the well-populated coastal fringe.
An early start will see us landing on this island where we will concentrate our efforts on the endemic-rich Mount Austen. As we walk along an old road down through patchy forest we will find a variety of Solomons endemics or near-endemics, which may include Sanford’s (or Solomons) Sea Eagle, Pied Goshawk, the attractive Ultramarine Kingfisher, the remarkable Buff-headed Coucal, Solomons (or Ducorps’s) Cockatoo, Cardinal and Yellow-bibbed Lories, the rather smart Solomons Cuckooshrike, Chestnut-bellied Monarch, Steel-blue Flycatcher, Midget Flowerpecker and Brown-winged Starling, Long-tailed Myna. We may also find the uncommon Black-headed Myzomela, which is restricted to Guadalcanal.
In the more open areas, Willie Wagtails, Olive-backed Sunbirds, Singing Starlings and introduced Common Mynas are conspicuous, and other widespread species we may see include the spectacular Blyth’s Hornbill, Claret-breasted Fruit Dove, the spectacular Eclectus Parrot, Pacific Swallow, White-bellied Cuckooshrike and Common Cicadabird.
Guadalcanal will certainly be one of the more diverse stops of the voyage.
Afterwards, we will set sail towards Bougainville, where rare seabirds await!
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 12 We sail westwards through the Solomon Islands archipelago today. Because of its remarkable oceanic topography, the Solomons can offer some of the best tropical seabird and marine mammal watching anywhere. Some transits can be teeming with life, while others can be quiet. We should experience some feeding frenzies of terns, boobies, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and marauding frigatebirds.
Importantly, we stand a good chance of observing the strange and rare Heinroth’s Shearwater today.
Marine mammal sightings in this area are always hard to predict but we regularly see Kogia species here, including Dwarf Sperm Whale and even the rare Pygmy Sperm Whale. Spinner and Pantropical Spotted Dolphin are the most regularly observed dolphin species and Pygmy Killer Whales seem fairly regular. Blainville’s, Cuvier’s and even Longman’s Beaked Whales have all been seen on previous voyages while flying fish reach some of their highest diversity in this area
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 13 Politically speaking we are entering Papua New Guinea today, but in geographical and biological terms Bougainville is part of the Solomon Islands and is the largest island in the archipelago. With a tumultuous history, it is only fairly recently that Bougainville has reopened to tourism.
Happily, there is a paved road that gives easy access to some mid-elevation forest which, while somewhat degraded, still offers excellent birding. We will have more opportunities to observe Sanford’s Sea Eagle, Solomons Cockatoo and Ultramarine Kingfisher today and we will be looking for Bougainville endemics including Bougainville Crow, Bougainville Monarch, Bougainville White-eye and perhaps the secretive Bougainville Bush Warbler.
Other new birds to look for today include Yellow-throated White-eye, Solomons Monarch, Red-capped Myzomela, Pale Mountain Pigeon, Mackinlay’s Cuckoo-Dove and Red-knobbed Imperial Pigeon.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 14 Today we will be sailing between Bougainville and New Ireland. Although we spend many days at sea during the Western Pacific Odyssey, some are more eagerly anticipated than others, and this day falls into that category!
It is in this region that we will be looking for the rare Beck’s Petrel. Some of the first ever at-sea sightings of this very poorly known seabird occurred on the WPO voyage and to this day almost every birder that has observed a Beck’s Petrel has done it while on the Western Pacific Odyssey! So we will be working hard to see this species again today. Heinroth’s Shearwater is another exciting possibility in this area.
Boobies, frigatebirds, tropicbirds and tropical terns (including with luck the localized Grey-backed or Spectacled Tern) are abundant in this area. We are also likely to come across migrant Parasitic (or Arctic), Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers.
Again, cetaceans are very hard to predict but this area is home to many infrequently seen species. It can be particularly good for Kogia species (the Dwarf and Pygmy Sperm Whales), along with the so-called ‘blackfish’: False Killer Whale, Pygmy Killer Whale, Short-finned Pilot Whale and Melon-headed Whale. If we are fortunate enough to see the latter species it will most likely be accompanied by the beautiful Fraser’s Dolphin.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 15 The capital of the Papua New Guinean province of New Ireland and the largest town on the island of the same name, Kavieng is known for its ancient Malagan culture.
Those choosing to disembark today say their farewells after breakfast followed by a transfer to Kavieng Airport.
For those continuing the Western Pacific Odyssey adventure, we plan to explore the best birding opportunities possible within the limited available time. We should be able to locate the endemic Mottled Mannikin around Kavieng, while other possibilities include the Variable Goshawk, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Red-knobbed Imperial Pigeon and Bismarck Crow.
From Kavieng, we set sail for the faraway Japanese islands.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Days 16-20 During these five days Western Pacific Odyssey continues north through equatorial waters en route to Japan. Although our pelagic watches for birds and mammals will continue, this passage through deep, warm tropical waters is often a pretty quiet period and a good time to relax, review photographs, write notes and catch up on other things.
Species we may well see while birding include Bulwer’s Petrel, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Great and Lesser Frigatebirds and more boobies, tropicbirds and tropical terns such as White Tern and Sooty Tern, and we will keep an eye on the often calm seas for cetaceans.
We can expect a visit from King Neptune as we cross the Equator, and those of us who have never crossed the Equator by ship before will be invited to pay their dues to the king in the customary fashion!
During the last day or two, as we head nearer to Japan, birding sessions should add a few new species such as the striking Bonin Petrel (probably our last Pterodroma of this remarkable voyage), pale-morph Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (are they really the same species as the dark southern birds?!), Matsudaira’s, Leach’s and perhaps Band-rumped Storm Petrels, the rare and localized Bannerman’s Shearwater and, with luck, the migratory South Polar Skua.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 21 After clearing Customs and Immigration into Japan at the largest of the Bonin (or Ogasawara) Islands, Chichi-jima, there may be enough time to explore the settlement and surrounds.
During the afternoon we will look for the critically endangered Bryan’s Shearwater. This mysterious seabird was described based on a bird found in a burrow in Hawaii but is currently believed to breed only in the Bonins (on some small islets off the east coast of Chichi-jima) and in tiny numbers at that. We will be in the vicinity of its only known breeding island and will certainly try our best to see it this afternoon, along with the much more numerous Bannerman’s Shearwater.
The waters here are rich in seabirds and we hope to see our first Black-footed Albatrosses and perhaps even a Laysan Albatross. We may also see Matsudaira’s and Tristram’s Storm Petrels.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 22 Today we will be returning south to visit the most interesting of the Bonin Islands, biologically speaking, Haha-jima.
This hard-to-reach island is the last home of the bizarre Bonin White-eye and we hope to see this strange species while ashore. While its taxonomic affinities have been hotly debated, it is now considered to be a white-eye in its own genera rather than a honeyeater. It can be a bit tricky to find, so we will hope for some luck during our time ashore.
The greenfinch that occurs here was recently recognised to be a distinct species, the Bonin Greenfinch, and while its status on this island is a bit unclear it certainly does occur at least as a visitor.
Other possibilities today include the Japanese Wood Pigeon, Eastern Buzzard, Brown-eared Bulbul, Japanese Bush Warbler, Warbling White-eye, White’s Thrush and Blue Rock Thrush. A variety of shorebirds and passerines could also occur here as transient migrants and there are lots of possibilities. Humpback Whales are also often seen here in the nearshore waters.
Afterwards, we will continue northwards towards famous Tori-shima Island.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 23 Today we will be off Tori-shima, a spectacular-looking island and an active volcano which has not been inhabited since a volcanic eruption 1902. Tori-shima was thought to be the last stronghold of the Short-tailed Albatross which disappeared in the 1940s and was feared to have gone extinct. Miraculously birds began reappearing in 1954 and reformed a breeding colony which has grown to several thousand. Almost the entire world population of Short-tailed Albatrosses breed on the island. By now, they will be getting to the end of their breeding cycle as they take advantage of the rich feeding conditions in the North Pacific in the summer and migrate towards the sub-Arctic.
Obviously, seeing this species will be the prime focus of the day. While landings are not permitted on the island, after communications with the relevant authorities we will approach as close as allowed aboard Heritage Adventurer and should get to see this magnificent bird, hopefully in good numbers. We should get to have good views of this rare and much-wanted giant of the North Pacific
Other species that could be present include Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses, Streaked Shearwater, and both Tristram’s and Matsudaira’s Storm Petrel.
We also sometimes see cetaceans in this area and sightings on previous voyages have included Risso’s and Pantropical Spotted Dolphins, Melon-headed Whale, Cuvier’s Beaked Whale and even the very rarely seen Ginkgo-toothed Beaked Whale.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 28 Western Pacific Odyssey continues north towards the main island of Honshu in Japan, looking out for new species such as Streaked Shearwater as we go. As we approach the land we will see our first Black-tailed Gulls and by now we will be surrounded by large numbers of Streaked Shearwaters.
All three northern albatross species are possible on this leg, jaegers (skuas) are often present, and new species we could encounter include Red-necked and Red Phalaropes and with luck, Ancient Murrelet and Rhinoceros Auklet.
Western Pacific Odyssey: Day 29 We will arrive at the port of Osaka at the end of what will have been an epic voyage. It will be sad to say goodbye this morning to the ship and crew that we will have grown attached to during our epic Western Pacific Odyssey adventure, but perhaps quite nice to re-acquaint ourselves with life on dry land!
After breakfast and arrival formalities have been completed for Japan, you will disembark from Heritage Adventurer. A transfer to the Osaka Air Terminal will be provided.