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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Cruise: New Zealand, the Tasman Sea and Australia

An Antipodean Adventure

Monday 9 February to Saturday 21 February 2026
Auckland pre-cruise from Friday 6 February
Sydney post-cruise to Tuesday 24 February
with Gavin Bieber and Fabrice Schmitt as leaders
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The Tui is one of many beautiful New Zealand endemics we can see on this tour. Photo: Gavin Bieber

The cold and biologically rich waters around New Zealand and southern Australia can claim several superlatives for a visiting naturalist. Bordered by the Tasman Sea on the west and the South Pacific on the east, New Zealand stretches almost 1,000 miles north to south. Eons of isolation have given the three main islands and a multitude of smaller islands a unique avifauna, with four endemic families, and more than 15 percent of the islands’ species are endemic. The archipelago further supports an excellent array of breeding and foraging seabirds, making the region one of the world’s most diverse locations for tubenoses. Our cruise will cover the entire East Coast of New Zealand and then cross the open Tasman Sea en route to our first landings in Australia. This itinerary should allow us to see well over 30 species of tubenose (our record is 40 on a trip so far), including an amazing 9 species of albatross. We’ll cover all of these waters aboard a Princess cruise ship, which is of course both comfortable and well-appointed but also stable enough to permit telescope use even in turbulent waters. We feel this cruise offers perhaps the best-accessible seabirding experience in the South Pacific and probably one of the best in the world. 

In addition to spending four full days at sea and a day cruising in the world-renowned Fiordland National Park, we’ll arrange land-based expeditions for our five shore days around the North and South Islands of New Zealand and from Hobart in Australia. During the course of these six excursions, we will sample a broad cross section of the birds and habitats available in coastal southern Australia and New Zealand.

The short pre-tour extension offers four days of land-based birding around Auckland, with highlights including an opportunity to look for North Island Brown Kiwi near Kerikeri and a day visit to the famous Tiritiri Matangi Island, where the forests ring with a choir of native birds.

Our post-tour extension will head inland from Sydney after we visit the justifiably famous Royal National Park, passing through the Blue Mountains and out into the Capertee and Hunter valleys. This loop drive will allow us to access a wonderful scope of habitats in a short time. Over five full birding days, we will see an amazing variety of birdlife, including such quintessentially Australian species as Laughing Kookaburra; a dazzling array of cockatoos, pigeons, parrots and honeyeaters; Satin Bowerbirds; charismatic Fairy-Wrens; and perhaps even Superb Lyrebird.

Details on booking space with both WINGS and Princess Cruises can be found here.

PRE-TOUR EXTENSION – Around Auckland, New Zealand:

Day 1: The tour starts with a 6:00 p.m. introductory meeting at our hotel in Auckland. Night in Auckland.

Day 2: We’ll start off by heading north out of Auckland to the wild and cliff-laden West Coast. Here we should find a large colony of the impressive Australasian Gannets crowding the sea stacks and coastal cliffs near Muriwai. Further along the shoreline we’ll stop to look at our first New Zealand Dotterels and both Variable and South Island Pied Oystercatchers. White-fronted Terns and Red-billed and Kelp Gulls should be plying the surf or loafing on the beaches here too, and with some luck we will encounter one or two diminutive Fairy Terns (a local subspecies that numbers only a few dozen). Ponds along the roadway should hold New Zealand Grebe, pairs of Brown Teal and New Zealand Scaup and the brightly patterned Paradise Shelduck. We’ll make our way north near the northern tip of the North Island and the town of Kerikeri. Arriving in the late afternoon will allow us to check into our hotel and eat an early dinner. After dinner we’ll set off in search of perhaps the country’s most famous avian inhabitant – the enigmatic and utterly unique and charming North Island Brown Kiwi. By quietly walking with red-cellophane-covered torches and carefully listening for their snuffling in the understory, we hope to enjoy views of these nocturnal birds at close range. We might also encounter a calling Morepork, which are relatively widespread across much of New Zealand. Night in Kerikeri.

Day 3: Today we will head back southward, stopping along the way to admire our first gaudy and impressively large New Zealand Pigeons (another endemic landbird that is happily still quite widespread). Wetlands should hold many of the same birds as on day 2, perhaps with the addition of a Royal Spoonbill, White-faced Heron, Pied Stilt, Black Swan or Australasian Shoveler. Open fields and coastlines should reveal a host of introduced birds, a group of species that actually dominate over large portions of the developed parts of the islands. Skylarks, House Sparrows, European Goldfinch and European Starlings are frequent sights along the hedgerows, while California Quail, Eurasian Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Dunnock and Yellowhammers are sometimes a bit more circumspect. Stops along the East Coast of the peninsula should produce Great, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants and Pacific Reef-Heron, as well as a few more waders such as Double-banded Plover and perhaps migrants such as Bar-tailed Godwit or Red Knot. Doubtless we will also encounter a few Tui, a large and common endemic honeyeater with a dazzlingly reflective plumage and wispy white neck plumes. Sacred Kingfisher might brighten up a small creekline or fencepost, and we’ll look out for sprightly New Zealand Fantails in groves of native vegetation or perhaps a hunting Swamp Harrier in the open agricultural areas. We should arrive at our hotel in the late afternoon, allowing plenty of time to prepare for our trip to Tiritiri Matangi the next morning. Night in Warkworth.                                                              

Day 4: We’ll board the ferry to Tirtiri Matangi, a wildlife sanctuary located a few miles off the coast of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. The roughly 220-hectare island was historically farmland with very little native vegetation remaining. In the mid-1980s a massive revegetation effort began, and those efforts have borne extensive fruit. Along with the revegetation, the New Zealand Department of Conservation has removed all of the non-native predators and reintroduced a suite of endemic forest birds. A trip to the island on the boat may reveal our first Fluttering or Buller’s Shearwaters or Parasitic Jaeger. Once on the island we’ll be treated to an aural soundscape that must have dominated much of mainland New Zealand for millennia. The haunting tones of New Zealand Bellbirds, cackles of North Island Saddlebacks, emphatic whistles of Stitchbirds and vaguely humpback whale-like wails of Kokakos will ring through the forested sections of the island. Hulking Takahe, the world’s heaviest rail, might stalk the edges of the trails through the grassy knolls, and in the understory we should locate the North Island Robin and busy little groups of Whitehead. In short it will be a day filled with a forest full of native birds, a testament to the efforts and successes of the Department of Conservation and a model for island conservation worldwide. We’ll return to the mainland in the late afternoon with a much better appreciation for the native forest birds of New Zealand and a camera full of pictures of some of the most threatened birds in the world. Night in Albany.

Day 5:Our final full day of the mainland New Zealand extension will be spent birding to the Southeast of Auckland. We’ll visit various sites, but our main location for the day will be the shoreline of the Firth of Thames, where the mudflats support impressive numbers of migrant and resident waders, including the odd and highly specialized Wrybill, Double-banded Plover, Red-breasted Dotterel, and perhaps New Zealand Pipit. Night in Auckland.

Day 6 (Main cruise Day 1): We’ll spend the next morning birding around Auckland itself, now much more familiar with the common birds of the region. Our actual destinations will vary depending upon the possibilities for new birds. After lunch we’ll make our way to the harbor to check in and embark the ship, which departs at 6:00 p.m. Night aboard the ship.


Day 1 (Extension Day 6): The main tour will begin with an onboard meeting and dinner at 5:00 p.m., shortly before the ship casts off from Auckland Harbour. Our birding experience will begin once our vessel is underway with a nice introduction to seabirding from the ship, with views of our first Flesh-footed or Fluttering Shearwaters, Parkinson’s or Cook Petrels and maybe even a few elegant White-faced Storm-Petrel! Night aboard the ship.

Day 2: We’ll dock at the harbor near Tauranga in the early morning, and we will soon be away on a private minibus bound for the Whirinaki Forest Park. Although the drive is long, it is quite scenic, and the birding rewards once we’ve reached the forest make the trip well worth it. This protected area encompasses tracts of ancient Podocarpus totara trees and is widely considered one of the largest and most ecologically important forest reserves in the country. We’ll spend much of the day exploring some of the many trails through the reserve, on the lookout for the scarce Yellow-crowned Parakeet, garrulous Kaka, North Island Robin, Tomtit, Shining Bronze and Long-tailed Cuckoos and the diminutive Rifleman. Some of the birds that have been reintroduced to Tiritiri are still extant in the preserve as well, and we should encounter New Zealand Bellbirds, Whitehead, Grey Gerygone, and the gaudy Tui. The drive to and from the forest will certainly not be without birds either, and we will keep a sharp eye out for New Zealand Falcon, always a tough bird to encounter throughout the country, as we drive back to Tauranga to board the ship in the late afternoon. Night aboard the ship.

Day 3: On day three we will awake near the small town of Russell, nestled in the heart of the picturesque Bay of Islands. Our birding for the day will largely be dictated by the local birding conditions at the time. We should also have some downtime in the afternoon for those who wish to explore the town, which is liberally stuffed with art galleries, cafés and historic buildings. The area was settled roughly 700 years ago by Maori and is also noteworthy for being the site of the first European settlement and capital.

Day 4: During our first full day at sea as we cruise southwards down the east coast of the North Island, we’ll familiarize ourselves with the different kinds of seabirds found here: albatrosses, shearwaters and petrels belonging to the genus Pterodroma or Procellaria, among others. We’ll have the entire day cruising offshore on the east side of the North Island; a world-renowned location for seabird abundance and diversity. We may see no less than five species of albatrosses today, including Wandering (Gibson’s), Northern Royal, Buller, Shy and Salvin’s Albatross. Among the Pterodroma petrels, we should see mostly Cook’s and Gray-faced, and we hope to spot some rarer ones like the beautiful Black-winged Petrel. With the larger Procellaria, we will learn how to spot Parkinson’s Petrel among the common White-chinned Petrel. We should also see a nice variety of shearwaters, including Flesh-footed, Buller’s and Sooty Shearwaters and maybe even a few Common Diving-Petrel and White-faced Storm-Petrels. Night aboard the ship.

Day 5: Our shore excursion today will be a bit different from our previous ones. We’ll dock in Picton, a small city at the head of the long and picturesque Queen Charlotte Sound. The region is world famous for its extensive vineyards and amazing scenery, but our day will involve taking a much smaller boat into the sound to several small islands near Cape Jackson. Making landfall on these islands will allow us to seek out birds such as South Island Saddleback, South Island Robin, Weka and perhaps (with great luck) the critically endangered Orange-fronted Parakeet. Along the rocky coastlines we may see Spotted and King Shags, the latter endemic to the waters around the Marlborough Sounds and numbering fewer than 1,000. Marine mammals are common in the area as well, and we will keep a look out for the tiny endemic Hector’s Dolphin as well as more widespread species such as Bottlenose and Dusky Dolphins, Orca and New Zealand Fur Seals. We’ll have a bit of time ashore in Picton as well, perhaps providing an opportunity to sample some of the wines that have put this small corner of the country on every oenophile’s map. Night aboard the ship.

Day 6: We’ll wake at Lyttleton, just south of the larger city of Christchurch. We’ll disembark shortly after docking and set out to explore the adjacent rugged coastline and the shores of the vast Lake Ellesmere. Our chief birding goals for the day will be the iconic Kea, and the bizarre Wrybill. The first species will require a drive inland to the base of the high western mountains, where these charismatic (and sometimes overly mischievous) parrots can often be found. Other woodland birds such as Pipipi (Brown Creeper), South Island Robin and Tomtit are possible too. We’ll then head back towards the coast, checking some areas which are often productive for Wrybill. These small plovers possess one of the oddest bills of any bird, bent sideways to the right at a shockingly abrupt angle. They use this unique bill to probe underneath large, rounded stones in braided rivers and rocky shorelines. It’s a scarce bird with an estimated population of only a few thousand. Here, too, we should see a selection of wintering northern hemisphere waders such as Bar-tailed Godwit, Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers, Red-necked Stint, and large numbers of Pied Stilts and Double-banded Plovers. In the late afternoon we’ll head to the back to the ship. For those who are game, we’ll likely do a bit of seawatching from the bow after we depart the port. Night aboard the ship.

Day 7: We’ll depart the harbor at Port Chalmers (just outside of Dunedin) and venture out to the Otago Peninsula. We’ll spend the morning at the Orokonui Sanctuary, a wonderful reserve surrounded by an impressively constructed predator proof fence that lies just a few kilometers out of the port. Here we will have our first chance to immerse ourselves in native forest, with a heavy presence of native birdlife. Tui and New Zealand Bellbird are common here, and we have excellent chances at also encountering hulking Takahe, Pipipi (New Zealand Creeper), South Island Robin, Rifleman, and Tomtit. After Orokonui we’ll head down towards the series of coastal lagoons where we should encounter a fine array of waterbirds including the majestic Royal Spoonbill, endemic Paradise Shelduck and iconic Black Swan. As we depart the harbour we may well spot Little Penguins along the shoreline, and we’ll pass by a large breeding colony of Northern Royal Albatrosses near the tip of the Taiaroa Headland. Night aboard the ship.

Day 8: Today we’ll be cruising in the amazingly beautiful Fiordland National Park. New Zealand’s largest national park was formed millennia ago by massive glacial flows that carved deep fiords into the coast of South Island. At the heart of the park lies the deep-water Milford Sound. The sound cuts through the Southern Alps, and the shores are lined by towering cliffs that soar nearly a mile above the surface. Rainforest clings to the cliffs, and dozens of graceful waterfalls plummet into the ocean. The day will be filled with scenes of incredible scenery, but we will (of course) keep a watchful eye on the waters for seabirds as well. The endangered Fiordland Penguin is a distinct possibility here, as are Sooty Shearwaters and White-capped Albatross, and with some luck we might spot a Southern Giant Petrel or dapper Cape Petrel. Bottlenose Dolphin and loafing New Zealand Fur Seals should be regular sights throughout the day, all set against one of the most scenic backdrops imaginable. Night aboard the ship.

Days 9-10: We’ll have two full days at sea, as we sail across the Tasman Sea between the South Island of New Zealand and Hobart in Tasmania. As this crossing will take place over very deep waters, the seabird quantity will not be as impressive as at the edge of the New Zealand or Australian shelf, but we should have regular encounters with Wandering (Snowy), Shy and Campbell’s Albatross, as well as Gray-faced, Gould’s, Mottled and White-headed Petrels; Black-bellied, White-faced or Gray-backed Storm-Petrels. This crossing has been little covered by birders, and each of our previous cruises has turned up a few surprises out in the deeper waters. Nights aboard the ship.

Day 11: On this morning we will make our first port of call in Australia. Hobart is the capital city of Tasmania, founded in 1804 and scenically nestled in the fertile Derwent Valley under the shadow of Mount Wellington. The island state of Tasmania has 12 endemic species, and all but one are generally findable within a short drive of Hobart. The city sits on a steep rainfall gradient, which produces a remarkable array of forest types within a short distance. As it will be our first day in a new country, and one with a remarkably high percentage of avian endemism, this day will perhaps be one of the most exciting of the trip. We’ll be met by our local guide and have a full day to explore the diversity of habitats close to the city. In the wet forests of Mount Wellington, heavily laden with a dense mossy rainforest on the lower slopes, we’ll look for Tasmanian Scrubwren, Tasmanian Thornbill, the sometimes elusive Scrubtit and the charismatic Black Currawong. In the drier forest closer to town, we will seek out Yellow-throated, Strong-billed and Black-headed Honeyeaters; Dusky Robin; and Green Rosella, as well as the impressive Yellow Wattlebird (Australia’s largest honeyeater). In the more open country with extensive tidal flats, open bays and beaches, we should find Tasmanian Native-Hens and Forest Raven, a nice selection of new waterfowl such as Chestnut Teal, the bizarre Musk Duck and Australian Shelduck and our first Sooty and Pied Oystercatchers. In the late afternoon we’ll head back to the ship for perhaps our largest bird checklist to date. Night aboard the ship.

Day 12: This will be another at-sea day, as we cruise north along the edge of the continental shelf, the seabird diversity and abundance should be really great, and our last day of the cruise may be one of the best seabirding day of the trip! Of course, many of the tubenoses we will see today will now be “old friends,” such as Gray-faced Petrel, Fluttering Shearwater and Black-browed Albatross, but we’ll never stop enjoying these beautiful and elegant seabirds. Today will also be the best day to look for Providence and White-necked Petrel, two beautiful Pterodroma Petrels that reach their southern range limits in these waters. Night aboard the ship.

Day 13 (Extension Day 1): This morning the ship will dock at its berth in Sydney in the early morning. For those not taking the post-tour extension, the ship’s service will provide transportation to the international airport and flights home.

POST TOUR EXTENSION – Around Sydney, Australia:

Extension Day 1 (Main Cruise Day 15): For those taking the extension, we will head to the nearby Royal National Park for the day. We’ve left today’s schedule flexible so we can make use of up-to-date information provided by our local leader, but it is sure to include a search for Superb Lyrebird, one of the world’s most accomplished mimics. The walk along the scenic Hacking River should reveal family parties of Variegated and Superb Fairy-Wrens, singing Golden and Rufous Whistlers, hulking Green Catbirds and perhaps a sparklingly blue Azure Kingfisher sitting just above the creek bed. We’ll look as well for a wide cross section of Australian species, such as Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Little and Red Wattlebirds and New Holland Honeyeater. In the afternoon we should be able to track down a roosting Powerful Owl, perhaps the most impressive of the suite of Australian owls, near the park boundary. Night near Sydney.

Extension Day 2: This morning we’ll return to the park, this time concentrating on the stunning coastal heathlands where we will look for New South Wales’s only endemic bird, Rock Warbler, as well as heathland specialties such as Southern Emu-Wren, Beautiful Firetail, Chestnut-rumped Heathwren and Tawny-crowned Honeyeater. In the late morning we’ll continue westwards towards the remarkably scenic Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. In the afternoon we will look for some of the signature mountain birds that breed in the wet forest gullies, such as Pilotbird, Satin Flycatcher, Red-browed Treecreeper, Crescent Honeyeater and gorgeous Gang Gang Cockatoos. A visit through the mountains wouldn’t be complete without a quick stop at the world-famous Three Sisters rock formation, where we will stop in the late afternoon. Night in Katoomba.

Extension Day 3: If we are still on the hunt for some of the mountain specialties we’ll start our day near the hotel, before winding our way west to the Capertee Valley. Blue-billed, Pink-eared, Musk and, if we’re lucky, Freckled Ducks can all be seen on our route through Lithgow, as well as Great Crested Grebes with young. The critically endangered Regent Honeyeater is unequivocally the bird to see in the Capertee area, so that’s where we will begin on our arrival. They can be scarce this time of year, but with a bit of local knowledge we should be in luck. Before the day is out, we may have a good suite of inland species under our belts, such as Speckled Warbler, Eastern Shriketit, White-backed Swallow, Brown Treecreeper, Hooded Robin, Jacky Winter, Plum-headed Finch and Diamond Firetail. In the evening we’ll offer an optional outing to search for Barking Owl, Australian Owlet Nightjar, Southern Boobook and Eastern Barn Owl and hopefully hear, and see, the wonderful White-throated Nightjar. Night in Lithglow.                                               

Extension Day 4: This morning we will continue adding to our list of honeyeaters, with the valley hosting good numbers of Black-chinned, Brown-headed, Fuscous, Striped, Yellow-tufted and maybe even some of the elusive Painted Honeyeater. Additionally, we will look for Scarlet Robin, Spotted Quail-Thrush, Painted Buttonquail and the stunning but rare Turquoise Parrot. Leaving the valley, we will head north along scenic back roads to the upper Hunter Valley. Along the way we will look for three species of woodswallow, White-backed Swallow, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Rufous Songlark and Red-capped Robin. Night near Cessnock.

Extension Day 5: Today we will seek refuge from the warm lowlands and drive a bit north into the foothills of the Barrington Tops World Heritage Area. The area’s fantastic rainforest and tall eucalypt forest marks the southernmost distribution of many more northern species such as Paradise Riflebird, Russet-tailed Thrush, Noisy Pitta, Spectacled Monarch and Pale-yellow Robin. The area can also be excellent for a nice selection of doves and bowerbirds. Leaving the mountains behind in the early afternoon, we will wind back south through the grassy foothills around the town of Dungog looking for Pheasant Coucal, Tawny Grassbird, Red-backed Fairywren, Brush Cuckoo and Grey Goshawk along the way. An early evening visit to a local swamp will give us a good chance for crakes as flocks of waders and ducks wheel around preparing to roost and avoid being snatched by the local Black Falcon! Night near Cessnock.

Extension Day 6: For our final day of the extension, we’ll check on the local tide tables and time a visit to a local coastal wader roost, where we should encounter a representative sample of East Asian Flyway species such as the endangered Eastern Curlew, Pacific Golden Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Curlew Sandpiper and Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits. From here we will do a loop of the lower Hunter Wetlands, which hold a fantastic array of birds, with key species including Wandering Whistling Duck, the odd lumbering Magpie Goose, impressive Black-necked Storks (locally known as Jabirus), Intermediate Egret, White-breasted Woodswallow, White-fronted Chat and Mangrove Gerygone. We’ll aim to arrive back in Sydney by the late afternoon for a farewell dinner this evening. Night in Sydney.

Extension Day 7: Extension ends with flights home.

Created: 14 March 2024


  • 2026 Tour Price Not Yet Known
  • (2024 Cruise Time and Land Excursions Price $3,850)


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Questions? Tour Manager: Matt Brooks. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

** The cruise price noted above covers only the land excursions during the cruise plus the leaders’ time on-board ship. It does not include your berth on the cruise ship, which must be booked directly with Princess Cruises. Details on booking space with both WINGS and Princess Cruises can be found here.

Maximum group size 14 plus leaders (second leader joins after 10 pax).

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