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Turangi is a small town situated at the bottom of Lake Taupo on the banks of the Tongariro River. It lays claim to being The Trout Fishing Capital Of The World.
The township provides an ideal base to explore the natural world of the central North Island including southern Taupo, Turangi itself, and the mountains of Tongariro National Park. Native and introduced birds can be found in nearby streams, bushland and tussock, or upon Great Lake Taupo. It is an excellent area to locate the endemic Blue Duck while Dabchick prove unusually confiding.
The present notes are concerned with some birding localities in the area around the central volcanoes and extending north through Turangi and Tokaanu to a line running east-west more or less across the middle of Lake Taupo. The localities discussed assume readers are based in Turangi and have access to a road map of the area. They vary from 10 minutes’ to an hour’s drive away from the centre of the town. Some require a bracing walk. With others it is a matter of parking the car and checking-out what is immediately to hand.

Tongariro River

The use of the river by anglers ensures it is accessible from many points above and below Turangi. A pathway runs either side of the river for much of its fishable length. This enables banks, bed, and adjacent bush to be checked for bird life. However, these paths do not always provide a clear view of the river, its bed or the surrounding bush. Side tracks allow access to the river but always keep well out of the way of anglers.

Blue duck

Blue duck can often be found along the Tongariro River. Photo by Kerry Rodgers.

Common birds seen along the river include Paradise Shelduck, Mallard, Shags, California Quail, and Finches. Native bush birds are present including Shining Cuckoo in season. The river is the easiest place to see Blue Duck with pairs resident on some pools such as Major Jones or those either side of Red Hut Bridge. These birds are not resident all year.

Tokaanu Water Sports Centre

Tokaanu Wharf sign

This way to the Tokaanu Water Sports Centre, and the more modern of Tokaanu’s two wharves. Photo by Kerry Rodgers.

Drive north on Route 41. At Tokaanu turn right at Kopu Street where road signage says, “TOKAANU WHARF”. Continue along sealed road until the Tokaanu Water Sports Centre. Check out both the land and water to north and south of wharf.

New Zealand Scaup, Dabchick and Mallard are often present around the boat launch areas. Little Shag, Black Swan, Red-billed Gull are common. Coot, White-faced Heron and Paradise Shelduck are generally nearby. Introduced perching birds frequent the carpark and surrounding grassed areas.

For photography visit this site late in the day in order to have sun behind you but best birding is done in the early morning.

Tokaanu Historic Wharf

Tokaanu Wharf sign

This way to the historic Tokaanu Wharf. Photo by Kerry Rodgers.

Drive 1 km further north on Route 41from the Kopu Street intersection mentioned above. Look for sign saying, “WHARF NO EXIT”. Turn into unsealed road and drive to old wharf. There is plenty to see here. The Historic Wharf makes an agreeable lunch stop in pleasant weather.

From the wharf a variety of wildfowl can be observed. Black Swan, Mallard, Paradise Shelduck and Scaup are generally present as are Australasian shoveler and Dabchick. Canada and Feral Geese are often more distant. Little and Little Black Shags roost on the wharf and Gulls will stop-by if there is a chance of a free lunch.

Fernbird and Spotless Crake have been reported from the rushes that line the road but need time and patience to locate. Pukeko are frequently seen. Bittern are present and may be heard but are rarely seen.

Lake Rotoponamu

From Turangi drive north on Route 41. Before Tokaanu turn left on to Route 47 and head up and over the Te Ponanga Saddle. On descent look for signpost indicating Lake Rotoponamu Track. Park opposite track entrance in parking bay. Lock car and remove all valuables.

The track into the lake is wide but with a steady uphill gradient. It can be muddy and will take most folk up to 30 minutes to reach a track that circles the small lake and is best taken anti-clockwise. The lake walk takes at least 90 minutes. Toilets are present halfway round the lake.

Numerous New Zealand bush birds can be seen and/or heard, the type and number depending on season and food supplies. New Zealand Robin are present on track up to lake. New Zealand Pigeon, Kaka and Tui are commonly heard and sometimes seen in bush canopy. A Whitehead flock may be present. Rifleman are reported regularly, especially on beech trees half way round lake but need patience to locate. New Zealand Fantail are common and Tomtit present.

Lake Rotoaira

From the Lake Rotoponamu track entrance, continue on down Route 47 and look for sign on right of road pointing to, “OPOTAKA HISTORIC PLACE SITE OF 2 MAORI DWELLINGS”. Turn into sealed road and follow it down, taking right turn at gate into the Genesis Energy property. Continue to lake edge and park-up. Check-out water and bushes either side of the Tokaanu Power Station Intake. Be patient as birds are easily alarmed.

Numbers of water birds are present. They include Black Swan, Canada Goose, Grey Duck, Mallard, Paradise Shelduck, Dabchick, Pukeko, a variety of Shags, and White-faced Heron. Australasian Harrier commonly patrol this area of the lake and may sometimes be disturbed on land. Some of the scarcer wetland and water birds are present in the swampy areas but are nervous and not easily seen.
Finches and bush birds are often present in surrounding trees and shrubs or on flax and include New Zealand Pigeon, Tui, Silvereye, NZ Fantail, Grey Warbler.

Waiotaka Reserve, Frethey Drive

Head north from Turangi up Route 1. After 7 km turn left into Frethey Drive. Continue down sealed road to edge of Lake Taupo. An unsealed track to the southwest leads out of picnic area to mouth of Waiotaka River. It is worth exploring on foot. The reserve is not a good one to visit in the weekend, when many boaties may be occupying it and the adjacent lake waters.

Depending on weather and the wind direction, water birds are present in bay and at river mouth: Black Swan, Scaup, Dabchick, and Mallard. Fernbird and Spotless Crake can be found in the rushes that line the roadway in but need time and patience to locate. Pukeko are numerous. Small bush birds, Redpoll and other Finches are common.

Kaimanawa & Tree Trunk Gorge Roads

Both these roads turn east off the Desert Road (Route 1) south of Turangi. They lead to the upper reaches of the Tongariro River and to power stations that tap the river’s waters. They pass through exotic pine forest and are sealed for most of their way. However, in places they narrow and are used by heavy trucks from time to time. Take care on these roads at all times.

New Zealand falcon

New Zealand falcon in flight. Photo by Kerry Rodgers.

The river can be accessed or easily viewed where the roads intersect it. From all such locations Blue Duck are regularly reported. Other water birds, apart from Paradise Shelduck, are uncommon but both large and small New Zealand bush birds frequent the surrounding trees and scrub: New Zealand Pigeon, Tui, NZ Fantail, Tomtit, Grey Warbler, and Silvereye. Harrier Hawks and possibly Falcon can be seen along the roads, as can Pheasant and the occasional Quail.

Whakapapa River at Chateau Tongariro

From Turangi take Route 1 south, turn right onto Route 46 and then left on to Route 47, to eventually take Route 48 up to the Chateau and the DoC Office of Tongariro National Park.

Numerous walks on the lower slopes of the mountain start from the Village. A booklet describing these is available from the DoC Office or website: Walks in and around Tongariro National Park.

The Whakapapa River descends Mt Ruapehu through the beech forest on the mountain’s lower slopes to run past the Chateau Tongariro and Whakapapa Village and alongside Route 48. It can be accessed at numerous points along its reach in the vicinity of the Village camping ground and parking areas. Blue Duck have been reported from the river near the Chateau as have Riflemen in the beech trees. Both require patience and serendipity to locate.

Bush birds may be encountered in the woodland nearby, as on the Whakapapa Nature Walk, or below the road bridge above the Chateau where the river is also accessible. Bush birds are also present in the patches of bush that line valleys crossed on some the longer walks such as that to Taranaki Falls. Birds include NZ Fantail, Silvereye, Grey Warbler and Whiteheads. Nectar eaters frequent the isolated flax plants among the tussock during flowering season.

Numerous finches are seen around the Chateau and in the tussock below the bush line traversed by the longer tracks. Yellowhammers are common. Pipit, Skylarks and Fernbird have been reported.

Unfortunately, the frequent visitors who use the tracks in the park tend to keep the birds at a distance for much of the year.


A confiding male tomtit. Photo by Kerry Rodgers.

Useful resources

A summary of the main birds found in the Turangi area, including images, may be found on the Creel Lodge web site. This facility provides an ideal base for birders in the area. Its grounds have numerous resident birds at different times of the year including Bellbird, California Quail and Shining Cuckoo.

Details of good birding localities immediately outside this area such as Pureora Forest Park can be found in Kathy Ombler’s excellent book Where to Watch Birds in New Zealand (New Holland, 2007).

Kerry Rodgers

Dr Kerry Rodgers is very much a part-time birder. Ten years back galloping osteoarthritis saw him forced to abandon film photography. The advent of digital has changed that. Today stalking birds with his camera serves to provide an essential escape from the keyboard and puts a smile on the face of his heart surgeon.

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