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

Top 10 things to do in the South Island of New Zealand

When visiting the South Island allow plenty of time to get around it, the distances are deceptive as the roads are winding and you will want to stop and take plenty of pictures along the way. We have just completed a trip around the South Island and these are the things we enjoyed most. Please feel free to comment if you know of other great things to do.

1. Be entertained by the baby seals in their natural seal nursery at Ohau Point. This eighth wonder of the world` is just north of Kaikoura. It is a lovely and easy walk from the car park on State Highway 1 to the Ohau waterfall where you will see baby seals playing in the pools. Remember though that this is a winter activity.

2. Have a night at Hanmer Springs east of Christchurch. Soaking in the various hot pools at night was a great start to our holiday. A chance to unwind and count the stars!

3. Stop off at the Moeraki Boulders. Because the enormous spherical boulders are other worldly` but also because it is a wonderful golden beach. The Cafe gives wonderful views of the sea while you sip on your skinny latte.

4. Visit the Dunedin Botanical Gardens which covers an area over 28 hectares in Dunedin. Established in 1863 this garden is the oldest in New Zealand. It is a lovely place for a stroll exploring a range of plants from around the world. Also our daughter works there so we are biased but check it out for yourself.

5. Walk to Lake Gunn. This is on the Cascade track on the highway to Milford Sound. Milford Sound is a popular tourist destination but getting there is even better. This walk through stunning rainforest is both beautiful and educational. Native plants and trees are sign posted to tell of the medicinal and practical uses by Maori and early European. Watch out for the rare yellowhead which has a song like a canary.

6. Have lunch at the Provisions cafe in the historic gold rush town of Arrowtown. You can also buy beautiful pieces of natural greenstone, (pounamu) at a nearby jewellery store very reasonable price.. A lovely gift to take home.

7. Stay a night at Makaroa, near Queenstown. Get away from the rush and hurry to book at night at the Homestead B&B. Off the tourist track you will be treated to bush at your back door, lovely hosts who love their environment and if you are in luck you will hear morkpork at night. We can`t wait to go back and check out the nearby walking tracks.

8. Have a picnic at Shipwreck creek beach near Haast in Westland. We were welcomed by a flock of dancing fantails who thought it was their job to catch the sandflys. Hope you are as lucky, we would not have missed it for the world.

9. Take a wander around Lake Matheson, the Mirror Lake. On a fine day you will see Mt Cook, New Zealand`s largest mountain majestically reflected on its surface. If you are feeling adventurous treat yourself to a helicopter flight onto the Fox Glacier.

10. Visit Marlborough and enjoy wine tasting in the vines either by bike or mini bus.

Happy travels!

Return to our favourite ecotour paradise – Ure Valley, Marlborough

The Ure Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand.
The Ure Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand.

We had a wonderful day touring the Kaikoura Eastcoast, Ure Valley. This is the area that Will lived and farmed for twenty years. We stopped of at the high country hut for a picnic lunch and were treated to the song of the shining cuckoo, a spectacular bird. Also bell bird chicks. We were in search of the illusive blue duck or whio and had a lovely short walk at the Ure River, one of Marlborough’s most popular walking spots. No sign of Blue Duck but we did enjoy the flora on display at the towering limestone bluffs. In particular heliohebe hulkeana, a native flower that has purple flower sprays that hang down in fragrant drifts. We finished with a delicious meal of fresh scallops at the East Coast Inn. Great day in Marlborough!

Tree planting, environment awards and wetland observations





What a fabulous year 2011 is turning out to be. Just returning from a family wedding in Florence, we have rediscovered the magic that is living in this part of the world (New Zealand) and Marlborough in particular. After a fabulous time with family and making new friends it is back to the work I love. There are native seedlings to be planted in our wetland and existing plantings to be checked and released of weeds. We plant one native (endemic) tree for every tour we take with Driftwood Eco Tours. However thanks to the Council Environmental fund and all the help of enthusiastic people such as Nicky Eade and Paul Millen we have been able to exceed this. The eradication of exotic crack willows is now evident and the slow work on willow seedlings will be on going. Just prior to our travel we had the honor of attending the Marlborough Community Environment Awards as nominees. Our congratulations to all the winners and nominees whom we enjoyed meeting over a lovely meal at Dryland’s superb  restaurant. We have had enquiries from all around the world about kayaking tours as well as hiking and 4×4 tours for 2011 and 2012. We look forward to sharing our slice of paradise with these future friends. Until then we will keep the coffee hot. Here is a picture gallery of our home and wetland.

D’Urville Island Odyssey day 3 of a New Zealand tour

Rangitoto island
Rangitoto island

Wow! another day on this wilderness island which I found was full of more surprises. After leaving the Community hall I headed west on my journey to Greville harbour and DOC’S new playground and campsite.

On my way stopped in the bush and heard a very unusual bird call which I recorded; it may have been Tui although it was hauntingly loud and at times quite distant. It was also nice to see wood pigeon, grey warbler, fantail and bellbird all in good numbers.

As the bush thinned out and the road became steeper I saw my 1st glimpse of Greville harbour and the swamp lands leading to the sand dunes and beach. I took off down hill; steep, fast and furious and realised my bike wasn’t up to it!!

Arrived a few minutes later and met the DOC camp manager and then off on another trip northwards to Otu. I really enjoyed this trek especially the flora of Rimu’s , Kahikatea, Nikau, jasmine and flaxes and there was a lovely scent in the air. The track was pretty rough in places as they had had alot of rain and it was very evident by slips and washouts. This adds to the adventure so I decided to walk.

Near Otu is a wetland which then drains into the bay a place of sheer beauty and a haven for wildlife especially water fowl. On my return had a look at Black Reef bay the site of a old hydro scheme for the original farm and this is where I took the photo of the outboard motor on the rocks amongst the driftwood.

Then it was onto the beach for a walk amongst the shells, driftwood, seaweed and bird prints. This is a truly beautiful spot, quite isolated, but definitely unique and a lovely spiritual feeling.

I know I shall return and if any of you out there would like me to organise a trip please contact me at Driftwood Ecotours.

I would especially like to thank Danny and Lynn Boulton of French Pass Sea safaris for giving me there time and supporting me on this venture.

Merry Xmas to you all and I do hope you have a rewarding holiday break soon, cheers Will

Info: Kopowai Bay to Patuki 58 Km Kopowai Bay to Moawhitu DoC camp (Greville Harbour) 30 Km Grade 3

D’Urville Island Odessy -Day two Marlborough NZ

Community hall at d'Urville Island.
Community hall at d’Urville Island.

Woke up to another beautiful day with bacon and eggs and walked up hill to sound of Tui and Bellbird and the odd Grey Warbler. As I broke the bush line all was quiet so made a phone call and watched the sun arise out of it’s slumber, such a beautiful sight.

Once at top of hill rode to Community hall which is built out of old power poles and met one of the very friendly locals who unlocked hall etc. Soon after was back on my bike and riding northwards to Patuki the most northern farm. The views were exhilarating every corner offering a new headland, beaches, rocky bluffs, islands, ewes and young lambs and cows and calves. These animals were something one had to be very aware of when rounding corners as the road is one warm, flat platform that sheep particularly like to sleep on. I must compliment the road builders on this island as the grades are surprisingly good and surface so smooth.

On arriving at Patuki, shearing of hoggets ( young sheep) was in full swing and I was welcomed by Gus Forgan the farm manager for The Lone star farms who I last saw about 30 years ago when we were once near neighbors! This farm is nestled in a steep gully lying due north and looks out over The Abel Tasman Roadstead just south of Stephens Island home of the Tuatara’s. I soon met Gus’s wife Becks and their 3 lovely girls and spent time talking much about nature and technology. This property was also home to my wife’s family the Leov’s for many years so a fascinating history; had my lunch on the veranda of the original cottage looking out over the sea.

Left the farm mid afternoon with a gift of 10 eggs and freshly shucked paua which I had for dinner with my Tui beer!!

On my return spent much time looking at rocks and plants in the and around the mineral belt. This area is unique for unusual plants and argillite outcrops which Maori used extensively for tools.

Arrived at Community hall tired but full of inspiration for the people who have made this place their home.