Realising our conservation goals.

We love what we do, almost all of the time. And our conservation work in and around our eight hectare covenanted wetland is no exception. The wetland was already in the process of being formally covenanted under the Queen Elizabeth II Trust when I took over the property in 1999. It was conditional to sale and no great hardship as I could see the long term benefits of protecting all the hard work of the previous owners Graham and Ethany Copp. They had considerable help from Fish and Game to create a freshwater wetland to compliment the vast estuarine wetlands nearby. The wetland has a metre high flood stop bank to the west and the slow moving tidal Opawa to the east with the expanse of the Wairau Lagoons beyond. When I purchased this property, I had no idea what a gem it was going to be.

View from our wetland looking south to the lovely Wither Hills.

View from our wetland looking south to the lovely Wither Hills. Birds proliferated in the wetland, but also introduced plants that we had not expected. Like Himalayan strawberry trees, red oaks, figs and more recently I stumbled upon a greengage covered in plums! It turned out that these were planted to attract ducks for the purposes of game hunting. The big worry was the crack willows accidentally introduced and looking set to completely fill the wetland and draw water from it faster than it could be replenished. Help was at hand, the Marlborough District Council at that time supported landowners trying to maintain wetlands like ours and we successfully applied for funding assistance. At a vitally needed time we were able to plant trees endemic to the location and contractors tackled the willows and other exotics, followed up by myself. We did however leave a magnificent Swamp Cypress, so were are not purists.

A young crack willow, the name originates from the fact that any piece that cracks off the tree can grow in water.

A young crack willow, the name originates from the fact that any piece that cracks off the tree can grow in water. The wetland now looks a lot more like what the Wairau perhaps looked like before humans started draining and cultivating the valley. On a warm summer evening when you hear the birds squawking and booming from the raupo, you can only imagine how it must have sounded to those early settlers. The birds of the wetland and nearby river were our next focus. Over the years we have lived here we discovered some nice surprises and not so nice ones as well! We did not know that the mystery bird we were trying to identify in the coastal ribbonwood would turn out to be the perhaps the only pair of Fernbird reported in the area between Havelock and Oamaru. Only by recording their call and playing it back did I manage to lure the shy birds out and take a photo.

A fernbird in our wetland showing its distinctive web tail.

A fernbird in our wetland showing its distinctive web tail. On a routine walk through the wetland I was suddenly startled by a huge flapping of wings, it was a rare Australasian Bittern, possibly from a small colony of them living downstream. There is even romance in our wetland! When we first saw the Glossy Ibis, it has us running for our bird book. It was a vagrant from Australia carried over perhaps by a storm. After two years of living alone with pied stilts, we were pleased to see one day that it had a mate. Extraordinarily four more have since joined it. The mysteries of the natural world are beyond our understanding.

Glossy Ibis with Paradise Shelduck are no longer hunted and have refuge in our wetland.

Glossy Ibis with Paradise Shelduck are no longer hunted and have refuge in our wetland. On the negative side we have discovered a wide range of introduced predators prowling the area, mostly at night. Wild and abandoned cats, mustelid such as stoats and ferrets, Norwegian rats & field mice. Our trapping started with simple tubes with rat baits wired inside, the QEII Trust kindly donated a mustelid trap which we are pleased to say has caught and swiftly dispatched around one hundred mustalids and hedgehogs. No more nest marauding for them.

A large ferret caught near the river last year.

A large ferret caught near the river last year. As a result we have seen a marked increase in bird life such as fantail, ducks and grey warbler. Recently we have been excited to be asked to take part in the planning of two new conservation areas, one adjacent to our property and one over the river. Both these areas have been made into public reserves by the Council and we have the rate payers of Marlborough to thank for that. The development of conservation areas for the benefit future generations is something to be proud of.

These Fantail chicks are getting too big of the nest and will soon fledge.

These Fantail chicks are getting too big of the nest and will soon fledge. But it is just the beginning! Driftwood Eco-Tours environmental policy is to plant one endemic tree for every eco tour taken. If you are interested in visiting our wetland please call us to arrange a time, you can also book our accommodation if you want to treat yourself.

Summer Fun with Driftwood Eco-Tours

Its been a wonderful New Zealand summer. Long hot days and warm starlit evenings. We have had a great time and loved meeting people from all over the World and closer to home too. We would like to thank everyone who has supported us and hope you will tell your friends or even better bring them back for an eco tour! We will soon be announcing a full day nature tour that goes even further into the fascinating lagoon environment. Watch out for this on our website. In the mean time, lets look back on some of the good times with a few photos from this season! Cheers Will, Rose and Vix.

Nothing beats the thrill of a river a kayak and a sunny day

Nothing beats the thrill of a river a kayak and a sunny day

Best mates on the water

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Royal Spoonbill in flight

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The team ready to go!

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Christina and Sabrina from Germany showing good paddle stroke style.

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The Cramer family from the USA ready to take to the river.

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Julius and Vix

UK nature lovers Max and Eryl.

UK nature lovers Max and Eryl.

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The magic of the Wairau

Fun times.

A Journey to Marlborough’s Best Kept Secret, The KT boundary

By Sarnim Dean

Marlborough has some of the most remote, untouched terrain in the country – great for those who want to get off the beaten track. However, being private land, this wonderful landscape is not always easy to access. Keen cyclists like myself often yearn to pedal such intriguing back country; to discover what’s beyond that rocky ridgeline, to explore that secluded valley. I found the perfect way to experience the road-less-travelled on a Driftwood Eco Tours Cycle Safari.

I’ve often longed to get close to the mysterious Mt Tapue-o-Uenuku so I jumped at the chance to sample Driftwood’s Demise of the Dinosaur tour. Our hosts, Will & Vix (Vix is a wonderfully personable Jack Russell) drove us inland from Kekerengu, through Bluff Station to a point in the road of our choosing. The further we journeyed from the coast, the greater the feeling of isolation, the deeper the sense that we were entering a land trodden by very few. We were definitely way off the tourist trail.

At the top of a long ascent we asked Will to stop the van. What better way to start the ride than on a screaming downhill? Bypassing the long pedal up felt like cheating, but I certainly didn’t let it bother me for long. It was great to listen to the silence and take in the wide expanse beneath gliding hawks and mountainous peaks. But what was even better was throwing all our luggage into the van. Normally we carry loads of supplies with us on the bike, so it was an absolute luxury to dispense with all that weight. I could see myself getting used to this. And then we were off, hurtling down an amazingly smooth road for such a remote area.

We made good progress amidst bizarre geological formations, far-flung back country farming stations, and an abundance of amazing vistas. The azure coast twinkled behind us, and the great Kaikoura mountain ranges loomed ahead. The descents were inevitably followed by uphills, but they weren’t overly arduous. Although we didn’t, we could have asked Will to ferry us to the top of any ascent. We did take a lot of breaks though, with our host being happy to take the photos and regale us with entertaining tales of the land and its people. It was all very relaxed, but at the same time there were those exhilarating descents to keep the adrenaline flowing.

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. The hunger factor was high, but for ravenous cyclists we were in the right place. Out came some amazing gourmet fare, a far cry from our usual soggy sandwiches and scroggin. Native birds flitted past as Will educated us on the native flora and fauna. To top it off, we were given a demo on how to make a refreshing tea from Manuka leaves. I’ll be sure to impress my wife with that one.

The energy levels were a bit depleted after our undisciplined gorging. But I really wanted to see the behemoth of Tapue-o-Uenuku so it wasn’t time to turn around just yet. And, hey, we were going to put our feet up in the van on the return trip so why not keep venturing inland?

Will & Vix tootled off ahead but we caught them again at Mead Stream. We normally speed through such stream crossings in a spray of water with no backward glance, but not on this trip. Will was waiting to show us some ancient fossils, rocks ridden with primeval patterns caused by leaves, worms and crustaceans. Not far upriver is the K-T Boundary, a sedimentary demarkation between the Cretaceous & Tertiary periods. Scientists believe this layer signifies earths most recent cataclysmic event  an asteroid, 65 million years ago, hurtling into North America and wreaking all types of havoc with the planet. And subsequently resulting in our cycle tour’s title – The Demise of the Dinosaurs.

We continued onwards, and to my delight another mystery was soon uncovered. For the mighty Tapue-o-Uenuku, who’s top had been enshrouded until now, had finally given us a glimpse of her colossal crown. Gazing at NZ’s highest peak outside the Southern Alps, I felt tiny amidst the vast and imposing landscape. Yet this was a moment to be savored. Fantails and bellbirds darted, and we glimpsed a red deer vanish into the trees. What was it like here when Will’s fossils were alive? Did fantails frolic amongst fearsome Tyrannosaurs Rex? Was Tapue-o-Uenuku still shaped as she was today? What was the chain of events that finally finished off the dinosaurs? Much remains unanswered yet we were content with our day’s adventures and had reached the perfect turn around point.

It was a real treat to get chauffeured back out. We could enjoy the landscape without fear of riding off the road. I couldn’t believe how far we had cycled, proof of a thoroughly enjoyable day on the bike. And I also couldn’t believe how much I had learnt. The dinosaurs may be no more but there will always be mysteries around the corner, surprises – opportunities to explore and extend our knowledge.

Sometimes all it takes is an expedition into the unknown to get there.

Michael and Pam Nees’ kayaking blog

Michael and Pam relaxing at a mai mai.

Michael and Pam relaxing at a mai mai.

Vix loves to stow away.

Vix loves to stow away. Michael and Pam Nees enjoyed kayaking with Driftwood Eco-Tours recently, during their epic road trip around New Zealand, sampling nature tours, activities and accommodation. They own ‘Guest New Zealand’ and are committed to offering visitors to our lovely country the best possible kiwi experiences. It was a pleasure to meet you both and thank you for the lovely blog you wrote about your time with us. CLICK HERE TO READ PAM & MICHAEL’S BLOG

Twitchers converge on New Zealand

No local bird will avoid close inspection when internatonal birders converge for the 75th ‘Birds New Zealand OSNZ Conference’ to be held in Marlborough, New Zealand on Friday 29 May to Monday 1 June 2015. As members of OSNZ we are excited to have this special event held in our region and look forward to welcoming birders world wide.

Driftwood Retreat and Eco-Tours has been asked to provide mini tours for visiting twitchers and plans are being made to take bird enthusiasts out to the Wairau Lagoon by mini buses to view some of the 92 bird species that have been identified there.

Birds that maybe seen at that time of year are royal spoonbill; banded and black fronted dotterel; pied and the rare black stilt; grey teal, paradise shelduck, scaup and other duck species; five species of cormorant; black swan; kingfisher; caspian, black fronted and white fronted tern; black backed, red billed and black billed gull; cirl bunting; overwintering waders such as bartailed godwit. There us even a chance of catching a glimpse or photo of the glossy ibis, a rare vagrant from Australia.

Other species maybe seen on the day which is a ‘heathrow’ of New Zealand birding. We will be doing some scouting leading up to the Birds New Zealand OSNZ Conference. We would like to try to locate some birds of interest to share with delegates.

We wish all of the visiting delegates an enlightening and enjoyable conference.


Redhills, Wairau Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand. The Red Hills high in the Wairau Valley is a great walk. Apart from the stunning scenery when you reach the top of the hill, there is a waterfall to discover, scree crossings and the amazing moonscape of the mineral nickle and magnesium mineral belt which gives the red hills its name. Rose and I camped overnight under the stars, drifting off to the hoot of the native morepork (owl). Tips:  Needs reasonable level of fitness.  Check with the Department of Conservation prior to departure.  Excellent hut at the top of the hill.  Check the weather fore-cast, the area is prone to sudden cloud cover.

Sawcut Chasm to isolation hut, Ure Valley, East Coast, Marlborough, New Zealand. A recent trip to the Ure Valley and Sawcut Chasm with our guests reminded me that climbing boulders is not the sport it once was when I was younger, however the crystal clear jade water overflowing over limestone boulders and the kissing faces` of the Sawcut Gorge made it all worthwhile. Tips:  Take your togs if it is a hot day, there a lovely swimming holes.  Check with Department of Conservation, if there has been rain the water levels can rise.  There are lots of river crossings and in New Zealand this means getting your feet wet.  Watch out for Pachystegia (Marlborough Rock Daisy) in December as well as other flora. Good quality hiking boots essential as there are rocks and passes to clamber over).

Essons Valley, Picton, Marlborough, New Zealand. On a hot day Essons Valley takes a lot of beating, a bit of a local secret this walk takes you through mature shady forest to dams supplying Picton township. Good for families. Tips:  Take the right hand turn at the branch, it has a nice pond you can relax by at the summit.  Look out for orchids in the branches above the track in summer.  The leaves of the Kawakawa make a delicious addition to a hot cup of tea. Ask us about our guided walks via private access. The guided walks include a homemade picnic and a commentary about the flora, fauna and history of the area. Wishing you happy and safe hiking over the coming summer.

Kayak tours on the Wairau Lagoons, New Zealand.

Kayak tours New Zealand

This pair had a great day out on one of Will’s private kayak tours. “Will was a terrific guide and very knowledgeable on the birds and history of the area. I was worried that I might not be up for the kayaking. No problem it was easy and gentle for all ages and abilities.”

Our double kayaks are very stable

A great day for Kayaking on the beautiful Opawa River “We enjoyed a unique and beautiful kayak experience in the wetlands surrounding Blenheim. Will is a great, friendly guide with deep knowledge of the area and its history. He shares this with lots of enthusiasm. We would highly recommend this tour if you are looking for an ‘off the beaten track’ experience!”

Peace and solitude on the lagoons

“We had a very entertaining and interesting outing and saw lots of wildlife. Will’s photography tips much appreciated by myself being a beginner with my camera but got lots of great shots. Will’s delightful little dog Vix accompanied us enthusiastically and is trained very well not to interfere with the birdlife. We returned at dusk having had a wonderful trip. We will return some day with more camera batteries!!!”

Eco tours New Zealand

Kayaking at dusk is a special kind of freedom “My husband and I used a travel agent to book our trip so we really had no idea what to expect for the kayaking adventure. Will was wonderful. What we hadn’t realized was that the kayaking was an all evening adventure in which Will had personally made us dinner. It was valentines Day and he even included a chocolate cake! Will was very knowledgeable about the area in which we were kayaking including the fauna and flora. He was able to answer all of our questions. By the time we returned the sun was setting and it was gorgeous to watch the sunset from the river. But the best part of the whole kayaking experience was Will’s Dog Vix. He climbed aboard my kayak and spent almost the whole time enjoying the ride from the front of my kayak. He was a little dog with a huge personality! My husband and I highly recommend using Will in the future.”

Photo tours

Get close to birds without disturbing them “I did a kayaking trip on the river, it was beautiful! We saw lots of birds at close range. The kayaking is very easy since you can go with the current of the tide, therefore you can just enjoy your surrounding. Vix the little dog went kayaking as well and sat on my kayak, which was very funny. Doing the way back at night time was a very special experience” Our tours are fun and easy, no great fitness or any experience is required, just a love of nature and a young heart. Click here to read more reviews in trip advisor about our eco tours.

Early morning kayak.

When did you last wake up at 5.00am and you just can`t wait to get up and moving? Well that was me last Sunday. Softly calling our dog so as not to wake Rose who was sleeping like a normal person should, we slipped out into the dusky half dawn, that magic time between darkness and sunrise. I carry the surprisingly light guillemot kayak down to the launching site, it is only sixty metres from our home on the Opawa river, Marlborough, New Zealand.

I slide it into the inky water and leap in and we are off. Bliss. There is sometimes a sense of adventure in the early morning you do not get at other times of the day, almost like you are the first human to have passed this way. In truth the early Maori were ploughing this water way 600 years ago in dug outs, trading flax and food.

We passed a pied shag flying, business like down the river, this is their highway, shags fly close to the water surface and very fast. Every bird has its signature of flight. Around the next sweeping bend called tug hard` after the trade ships that use to get stuck here, we see a skitterish flock of needle legged pied stilts. They are most unconcerned by our presence as we sweep by, carried on the tidal current. They carry on their bickering.

As we start to leave the river and enter the Wairau estuary the sun starts to peep up over the boulder bank to the east. Its light bathes us in warm light and makes the water off my paddle turn to gold. A moment of silence. The reason I have come to my mecca is in hope of seeing the arrival of the bartailed godwit, the legendary bird that has captured the imagination of us all.

Low on the horizon I see a twinkling like haze. It`s nothing but then it materializes and a definite grey and pulsing patch hangs in the sky. I can hardly believe my eyes when quickly the flock of bartailed godwit like apparitions land lightly in the sand 10 metres away, they immediately start to probe the sand for food that they flew 12,000 km to feast on.

I am a lucky man because I get to see miracles on a daily basis.

Travel tips for the South Island, New Zealand.

 As local kiwis we would like to share our travel tips for traveling around the South Island, This is especially of interest to nature lovers.

1. If you are planning to drive around the South Island allow lots of time. The reason is that due to the spectacular geography of our country the roads can be quite windy, so you will need to take your time. Also there are a lot of stunning scenic stops and short walks along the way. You will not want to miss these photo opportunities.Work out how long you think and double it, you will not regret it.

2.  Don`t dismiss traveling in the winter. It might be chilly, it can get into the minuses; but if you don`t mind rugging up you will see the best scenery anywhere in the world in all its winter splendor. Take a train trip on the TranzAlpine. The drawback is that some businesses are closed, the bonuses are that the business that are open give you their undivided attention. You will also meet lots of kiwis on their annual holidays and its great to have a chat with them along the way. You may get more travel ideas! June and July are drier months than August September.

3.  Speaking of rugging up. Leave your tired old sweaters at home and jazz up your wardrobe with merino and possum wool hats and wool wear. Ice Breaker comes to mind. If you are traveling through Marlborough call in at Mihi. I can personally recommend that. Blokes check out the brand Swazi. Street wear will never be the same again if you take that home.

4.  Read the weather forecast. You will soon learn that kiwis are obsessed with the weather. You will then find out why. Being an island the weather can change from day to day. If you are traveling the South Island you can make the most of the weather by ducking to the side of the island experiencing the best weather. If it is raining on the East Coast, you can guarantee it is warm and sunny on the West Coast. Don`t be afraid to ask the locals about where the weather is likely to be best in the next couple of days. Especially farmers, allow half an hour to answer questions and chat though!

5. Be aware of our public holidays and school holidays. If you know about these you can avoid getting caught on crowded flights or even worse miss out if you are’ booking as you go’. You can check the public holidays here. You can check the school holidays here .

Some Winter Activities:

  • Stewart Island is the best place to see the aurora australis between April and September.
  • Have a go at the Scottish sport curling check out the competition dates to see the pros at work. Be ready for a whiskey session afterwards.
  • See the stars at Lake Tekapo .
  • See the baby seal at Ohau Point waterfall only in the Winter (ninth wonder of the world). My husband took this video with a go pro. Be prepared to be charmed.
  • Enjoy the frosty mornings and sunny days in Marlborough at the top of the South Island before catching the ferry. Take a nature tour with us and follow it with a wine tour with the lovely ladies down the road. You can finish the day drinking a Wither Hill pinot noir brought earlier in the day in our steaming out door bath.

Australasian Bittern over Marlborough, New Zealand.

Australasian bittern resized
The Australasian bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus), or matuku as it is known to Maori, is a large, heron-sized bird. It inhabits wetlands throughout New Zealand, but is rarely seen because of its secretive behaviour and excellent camouflage. It is most active at dawn, dusk and through the night. Matuku has declined dramatically since humans began draining wetlands and is now classed globally as endangered. We were delighted to see a bittern take flight out of our wetland today. We would love to see this bird close up but this one seem very shy. There is reported to be a small group of these birds at a private wetland near the Wairau Bar, Marlborough and a siting at the Marlborough District Council wetland nearby. Peter Langlands is doing a survey of bitterns in New Zealand. We are looking forward to undertaking a local survey of the lower Wairau area over the spring when they are giving there mating call or ‘boom’. Peter can supply a recording of this call, to attract the call of hiding birds.

You can read more about this beautiful bird on New Zealand Birds online