What are the best things to do in New Zealand? – A classic kiwi experience.

White baiting
White baiting at the Opawa River

Whitebait, if you have not tried them before, are a tiny, wriggling, juvenile form of five different species of freshwater fish. They may not sound that exciting, but they are in fact a kiwi icon! Every year as the whitebait season approaches, the whitebaiters start talking about where and how they are going to catch the elusive schools of tiny bait.


Will, Vix and Gussy went to visit two veteran whitebaiters Geoff and Clint, a father and son duo, who have been fishing on this part of the Opawa river for 15 years. For three years they have been feeding a pair of rare black fronted tern with spare whitebait, throwing the bait in the air for the terns to catch in flight. Clint and Geoff catch bait sustainably, always observing the regulation set by the Ministry of Fisheries and catching only what they can eat and share with friends.

“The best way to eat whitebait is fried in butter in a little egg, salt and pepper and eaten hot between two slices of buttered bread” says Geoff.


Be part of this classic kiwi experience, meet Geoff on a whitebait tour by kayak. These tours are scheduled for the best tide for catching whitebait on weekdays and weekend “Except on Wednesdays” says Geoff, “because that is the day I plays bowls”. Will can cook you up a taste of the whitebait experience on a gas cooker on the riverside.

Read more about our new tour here.



Two day tour into the Molesworth high country station

Two day tour into the Molesworth high country station

Take a look at a few of the photos of this beautiful and wild part of New Zealand.

Join us on a two day guided van tour which overnights at the hot pool village of Hanmer Springs. Click here to ask for a flyer about this tour.

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? https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=nz.co.resn.bestfishguide&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEsIm56LmNvLnJlc24uYmVzdGZpc2hndWlkZSJd

Ryan Ghisi has come up with two educational apps for New Zealand native animals and plants. You can download them here.  http://www.kiwipedianz.com/

The birds of New Zealand app is a mobile version of the book by Paul Scofield and Brent Stevenson https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.coolideas.eproducts.birdsofnz&hl=hr

This bird gallery lets you download a bird song as a ring tone. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=wbg.nzbirds&hl=en

Birding enthusiasts have a checklist to work through with this app. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.NZBirdingChecklist&hl=en

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