New guide Sandra Luik shares her love of the outdoors.

New guide Sandra Luik shares her love of the outdoors.

Kayak guide Sandra Luik.
Sandra – Kayak guide and recycler extraordinaire

Sandra has recently joined the Driftwood team. She is from Stafford England and has led outdoor activity groups since 2006 and has been a qualified kayak instructor since 2011. Sandra is especially skilled at leading groups of children having worked at Stubbers Activity Centre in the U.K. Stubbers have a passion for team building and they say “what better way to boost your team than with an exciting adventure day”.

Sandra will be leading small groups of children and adults for the Department of Conservation Summer Series to be held over the Christmas Holidays. Look out for details about this on the Department of Conservation website
If you would like Sandra to give you individual tuition for kayak skills, please contact us here


Stories of New Zealand’s earliest human history, on a guided walking tour.

Stories of New Zealand’s earliest human history, on a guided walking tour.

The Wairau bar

View of the home of New Zealand civilization, the Wairau Bar.

Jim Eyles as a lad of 12 uncovered something large and very unusual in the sand near his home. He lived at a remote part of New Zealand called the Wairau Bar in Eastern Marlborough and what he found would but the area on the map historically. He thought he had found a gourd, early Polynesian settlers used the dried fruit of the gourd plant as water vessels but Jim’s mother confirmed that it was a moa egg. Moa are a large ostrich like bird which became extinct in New Zealand at around 1400AD. An intact moa egg was a rare and valuable find but more importantly it led over time to the discovery of possibly New Zealand’s earliest village, the home of the moa hunter.

You can listen to this story and many more on a three hour guided tour of the Wairau Lagoon.


More nature apps!

More nature apps!

Copper butterfly
Copper butterfly

Hope you have been having fun with last week’s nature apps. Here are some more.

Nature lover Craig Sisson has developed a series of New Zealand nature apps covering birds, insects, marine life and reptiles.

Department of Conservation also has a useful app called New Zealand Great Walks:

Try nest finder next time you are planning where to stay on your next New Zealand holiday, it shows many of the campsites, DOC huts, i-sites (information centres) and bird lodges.

Or you can stay with us by our eight hectare conservation wetland, short paddling and easy walking distance from the rich wildlife of the Wairau Lagoons:

Nature apps are here, fun and educational!

Nature apps are here, fun and educational!

Bell bird
Bell bird

Have you tried the New Zealand Forest and Bird Best Fish Guide?

Ryan Ghisi has come up with two educational apps for New Zealand native animals and plants. You can download them here.

The birds of New Zealand app is a mobile version of the book by Paul Scofield and Brent Stevenson

This bird gallery lets you download a bird song as a ring tone.

Birding enthusiasts have a checklist to work through with this app.

More apps in the next blog, have fun with these ones.

Cheers Will and Rose Parsons.

Local church helps celebrate one of nature’s greatest miracles.

Local church helps celebrate one of nature’s greatest miracles.

Godwit arrive at the Wairau Lagoon
Godwit arrive at the Wairau Lagoon

Church bells will mark the return of the amazing bar-tailed godwit to Marlborough this year, after an epic journey from Alaska to the Wairau Lagoons.

At Driftwood Retreat and Eco-Tours we get excited every year about the 12,000km migration, and we decided it was time to make some noise about it. It’s an incredible feat of endurance, and this is a nice way to let more people know something significant is happening.

We contacted The Church of the Nativity, and asked whether they would ring the church bells when the godwits were first spotted. The southern city of Christchurch had welcomed the godwits this way for several years, ringing church bells for half an hour to mark the birds’ return.

The event could happen in Blenheim any day now, because the godwits may already have landed, but not been spotted due to heavy river flows caused by spring rains. If they’re not here already it will be very soon. And as soon as we can see them, we’ll have them ring the bells.

Vicar Bob Barnes of The Church of the Nativity said he was delighted with the idea, because “celebrating creation” fit perfectly with the mission of the Anglican Church. He said it wouldn’t be a toll for every bird, “but I’ll give it a darn good donging.”

Will never one to miss an opportunity has offered to race down to take a photo and maybe give the rope a few pulls. Bob said “If you want a photo I hope you’re not afraid of narrow ladders up bell towers.” and “Bring earmuffs!”.


Alpine flora tours get local enthusiasts excited

Large flowered mat daisy
Large flowered mat daisy

The local Alpine Flora Club are getting excited about our new flora tours. The one day tour to Marlborough’s Black Birch with respected alpine flower photographer Rebecca Bowater is already getting avid interest. Rebecca’s beautiful photos appear in “Above the Tree Line” and a newly published orchid book which we cannot wait to see!

Rebecca chose the date for the tour; the weekend before Christmas. She said that it is a good time of year for high country blooms. “There should be Myosotis drucei and Myosotis australis [white] in flower, several vegetable sheep and hopefully Notothlaspi and Ranunculus insignis”.

The second tour is over three days in the middle of January. This tour takes in the fauna and flora of the Awatere Valley, Molesworth Station and St James Conservation Area. “It is designed to be a gentle ramble, that’s why we have allowed three days, with two nights at Hanmer Springs” said Will; who will be driving and sharing his passion for this stunning area.


Birds of New Zealand’s natural world

Banded dotterel, tūturiwhatu. Endemic and nationally vulnerable.

Although the most common small plover in New Zealand with an estimated population of 50,000 birds this species is declining. One of its greatest predators is hedgehogs who can smell the eggs of a nesting banded dotterel from many metres away. Habitat change brought about by cultivation of farms and vineyards could also have removed many of the dotterels favorite nesting sites.

I have noticed that the parent birds will lure potential predators away from its chicks, acting as if injured.

It was given protection from widespread game hunting in 1908.

Bartailed godwit, kuaka. Native and declining.

For Maori they were birds of mystery, believed to accompany spirits of the departed back to the homeland of Hawaiki. Around 90,000 birds start to arrive in New Zealand from September. These birds have completed a miraculous 8-9 day non stop flight from Alaska. They return via the Yellow Sea, China in March. By this time they have developed their beautiful rufus breeding plumage. Non breeding juveniles stay in New Zealand over winter.

Black fronted tern, tarapirohe. Endemic and Nationally Endangered.

Black-fronted terns feed on emerging nymphs and small fish in waterways or in nearby fields or river flats on earthworms, grass grub larvae. They can be seen following tractors cultivating fields. We have a pair who we know return each year to be hand feed the unwanted by catch of onion fish from whitebait nets in the lower Opawa River.

Nesting on the ever changing environment of a limited number of South Island braided rivers, attempts to carry out conservation measures to increase their population has had limited results.

Black swan, kakīānau. Native and not threatened.

Black swan were deliberately reintroduced to New Zealand from Melbourne, Australia. Also found on Chatham Islands.

Black swans are common, about 50,000 were estimated in 2011. Swans have been known to eat pastured near lakes and ponds making them unpopular with some farmers. At the Wairau Lagoon it was common practice for swan eggs to be collected by local children for cakes and to control their numbers.

Caspian tern, taranui. Native and nationally vulnerable.

A large tern with a wing span of about 1 metre. Much like the gannet, the Caspian terns hunting method is to fly up to 15 m above the surface of the water, then diving steeply on to fish, often becoming completely submerged in the process. It is a stunning sight especially when it is successful!

They are a territorial bird, bold enough to scare off dogs and humans that they feel are threatening their domain by swooping down on them with a harsh cry.

Fernbird, mātātā. Endemic and declining.

Many local populations have been lost due to drainage of wetlands and conversion to pasture, combined with predation by introduced mammals. Fernbirds are poor fliers; they typically scramble through dense vegetation much like mice, though occasionally fly short distances with their tail hanging down, just above the vegetation.

Their behaviour during the breeding season is territorial, the human voice is enough to make the birds give their distinctive call ‘u-tick’. A duet by the male and female birds. They can be curious but are more often secretive.

Glossy ibis. Native and a vagrant.

A regular vagrant visitor to New Zealand, the glossy ibis is widely distributed throughout most warm temperate and tropical regions of the world. It is common throughout much of southern Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Atlantic and Caribbean region of the Americas.

A beautiful bird in breeding plumage, the ibis is associated with Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Seven individuals are currently living in and around our protected wetland. We are waiting to see if breeding might take place.

For bird tours by kayak to see these and over ninety species of New Zealand bird click here

For personal guided bird tours by vehicle please contact us for a quote.



Godwit, Ethereal Earth Travelers

Godwit, Ethereal Earth Travelers

Godwit in flight

These clustering flocks of godwit have been described as “hau te kapakapa – the flapping wind”.

Godwits or kuaka, hold cultural significance for many New Zealanders but especially for the indigenous people, the Maori. The Godwits were believed to accompany the spirits of the Maori people’s departed souls when they flew north near the island of Hawaiki, the Maori’s ancestral home.

‘Who has seen the nest of the Kuaka?’ Old Maori proverb.

Godwit were also used by Maori and early European’s as a food source, it was illegalised to hunt them as late as 1941.

According to some tribal traditions, when living creatures first habituated the earth, it was the task of the kuaka to fly to the furthest seas to call together all sea birds to fight for a share of the harvest of river fish claimed by land birds.

Kuaka on the wing are known as “waka kuaka”. According to legend, Maori once followed the course of the kuaka in flight in their canoes for navigation purposes and at night would listen for their cries for guidance.

‘Ko te kaupapa waka kit e moana hoe ai ko te kahui atua kit e ranga rere ai.’ Whilst the fleet of canoes over the ocean are paddled, the flocks of gods are above in the heavens flying.

The Kuaka will be arriving around mid April after a non-stop 8-9 days flight from the Arctic Circle.
Click here to read about our Meet the Godwit by Kayak Tour

10 hot links for traveling to New Zealand.

10 hot links for traveling to New Zealand.

2014-06-10 09.48.48

Traveling to New Zealand? Planning your holiday is half the fun!

Here are ten useful hyperlinks to make your holiday in New Zealand smooth and memorable.

1. The official New Zealand visitor website

Loaded with travel information, you can search regions, tours and accommodation.

2. The Department of Conservation website

A beautiful website with great information about hiking tracks and huts.

3. The New Zealand weather website

New Zealanders are obsessed with the weather, so you can ask a local or click on this link. Remember that if you change from one coast to the other you can have the best weather up and down the country!


Our Swiss friends had long discussion at the breakfast table every morning before they packed for New Zealand. To bring shorts or not! Click here to see average temperatures in New Zealand at any time of year.

5. Jet Star economy air travel

Jet Star have started economy travel within New Zealand, definitely worth checking out their website for deals.

6. Blue Bridge Inter Island Ferry Service

Sail from Wellington to Picton one of the two ferry services and see the stunning Marlborough Sounds! If you are a fair weather sailor you might prefer to fly, it takes only 20 minutes.

7. Kiwi Rail scenic train travel

My favorite way to travel from Blenheim to Christchurch is on the train. They have lovely new carriages with big viewing windows and you can buy a Kapiti ice cream in transit. Don’t miss the romance!

8. VroomVroomVroom helps you compare car rental prices

9. New Zealand road report website

New Zealand roads can sometimes be closed over winter months, this website keeps you up to date with the latest road conditions.

10. AA time and distance calculator

Allow double the time you think to get from place to place.

A. You will want to stop and take photos at every corner because New Zealand has such a varied and dramatic landscape

B. New Zealand have a beautiful landscape and them means that the roads have alot of bend, the roads are well maintained but there are not many multi lane fast highways.

C. Getting there is half the fun.

And a final tip we have learnt from our guests, stay at least two nights at each place you want to explore. That give you a full day to enjoy the sights and wonders.

Happy planning!

Click here for more links

Don’t give up the day dream

Some years ago we asked Danny & Lyn Bolton and of French Pass Sea Safaris what would be their one piece of advice for us as new tourism operators. They said “always take a break at least once a year”. Danny has since passed away making the advice all the more poignant.
This year we had that lovely problem of working out where we would go for our holiday. Rarotonga was calling us; we were lured by the hope of warm weather. However on the final analysis Little Wanganui, on the Westcoast won hands down. “You are going there?!” exclaimed one of our friends. Little Wanganui ticks all the boxes for our four Bs: Bush, Birds & Back of Beyond.

The Oparara Basin

We grabbed a packed lunch and thermos and headed off to the Oparara Basin, about 45 minutes drive from Karamea, North of Little Wanganui. The access was along a winding road created by the historic logging industry. The friendly, informative staff at the Karamea i-site said we might be lucky enough to see the rare whio (blue duck), which we have been searching for over the years. Their call is a soft whistle and they are often seen swimming in river rapids. The area is also home of the Powelliphanta, a large carnivorous snail.

Despite the rain forecast ,we headed onto the walking track to the Oparara limestone arch in sunshine. Progress was slow because we can’t resist to photograph everything! The novelty of being in a rainforest had us spellbound, light years away from the wide open sky of the Wairau Lagoon and its reflected panorama of dry hills and distant blue ranges. The Oparara arch is a little creepy but very memorable. The information panels tell us to watch out for troglobites (animals that live in caves) but we did not see any.

It is a one way track so we walked back to the car park before heading to the Moria Gate Arch, 30 minutes hike away. Landscape photographers adore this landmark. This arch you enter via a cave, therefore you need a headlight but your eyes quickly adjust to the low light. It is a fascinating underworld of dripping stalactites and other worldy colours.

On our way back we stopped at the Mirror Lake for a few photos and by that time some typical Westcoast weather had set in, the rain drops on the lake surface made a nice study.

We did not see the whio, but we had a great time not finding them! Our next blog will be our day at Scott’s Beach at the start of the famous Heaphy Track.

Do you think we should take Eco-Tours to this area? We would love your feedback or if you have been to Karamea impressions did  you have. Here is a link to our contact page.