An international ramble

There’s a couple of steepish hills at the southern end of the round-the-lakes  track. Nothing too demanding, but a bit of a puff for a pensioner, especially one lugging around several kilos of camera gear, and Lou was carrying more kilos than most!

The sprightly Floridian did not look like he had a single gram of excess weight on his own body, but he had two cameras, both with massive, heavy, telescopic lenses, plus a purpose built photographers’ sleeveless safari jacket with a multitude of lenses and other camera gear secreted into a dozen pockets.

Lou

He slumped into one of the bench seats situated near the top of one of the rises and puffed a bit, asking for a short rest stop. I was worried we were running out of time because Lou, Ron and John – all passengers on the cruise ship Radiance of the Seas then moored at Wellington – were all due back at the ship not later than 3.30pm and we were still at the far end of the valley.

My impatience must have shown. John took me aside and quietly suggested I give Lou a bit of a break.

“Afterall,” he said,” the guy’s about eighty!”

Eighty! I thought Lou was in his mid to late sixties, just retired! And I’d been dragging him with all his gear around ZEALANDIA for more than three hours. This was our first rest break!

“Don’t worry,” his bird photography companion Ron said. “He’ll be fine, he’s loving this!”

Hihi (male) - stitchbird - Notiomystis cincta

And Ron was right. In a few minutes Lou had his breath back and off we went again for another hour of walking and clicking before we got back to the car park and I dropped the guys back to the ship.

Lou shook my hand vigorously. “Thanks Steve,” he said. “Best shore excursion of the whole trip. A real highlight!” Ron, also from Florida, and John, a young man from Perth on his first overseas holiday, agreed.

I had been cruising on the Radiance of the Seas as it circumnavigated Australia anti-clockwise from Sydney. The three passionate wildlife photographers had joined the hip for the Perth/Albany/Adelaide/Melbourne/Hobart/New Zealand leg.

We had bounced around after kangaroos and koalas in Melbourne; tangled with Tassie Devils in Hobart; snapped shots of albatross following the ship while crossing the Tasman; spied Fiordland crested penguins in Milford Sound; pointed our lenses at albatross at Taiaroa Head; and cruised with Hector’s dolphins at Akaroa. All that, and more! Yet here was a Floridian wildlife photographer with an impressive professional website to match his impressive gear, telling me that on this cruise, ZEALANDIA was tops. I couldn’t stop smiling.

Korimako - bellbird - Anthornis melanura

Ron and Lou were traveling together, John alone. I met them all as we formed the core of a group of photographers who could always be found at the bow or stern looking for birds as we sailed into harbours, or crossed the open ocean.
We had all bemoaned the fact that on most of the on-shore tours, our time had been quite limited.

And then, as we crossed the Tasman, a conversation with the Cruise Director ended up in me volunteering to give an on-board lecture – an enrichment lecture the cruise people delightfully called them – on New Zealand birds, with a focus on ZEALANDIA because it was on the itinerary of onshore activity options once we got to Wellington. The lecture was about why New Zealand was a bird land, free of native land mammals except for two species of bat. I used my ZEALANDIA bird photos to illustrate how birds filled the ecological niches left by the absent mammals. The lecture was well received and left the guys, among others, keen to visit ZEALANDIA when we docked in the capital.

Tui - Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae

But these were passionate birders. They were worried the official tour might be like the time-short excursions we had experienced in Australia. It’s fair to note that most tours are not geared for photographers prepared to stand in one place for more than an hour just to get that perfect shot.  I solved their dilemma by volunteering to be their guide so we could go for the whole day if they wanted. This necessitated leaving my partner to unpack after five weeks at sea while I took my guests to the valley, but he didn’t seem to mind!

In the valley the birds and the tuatara must have heard wildlife dignitaries were coming. The sanctuary was alive with wildlife. We feasted on hihi around the feeders near above the top dam; reveled in bellbirds and robins along the round-the-lake track; chased whiteheads flickering through the pines above tui glen; had a sedate introduction to the retired takahe couple; and enthused over brown teal, paradise duck, four species of shags, silver eye, grey warbler and tui galore!

Karuhiruhi (juvenile) - pied shag - Phalacrocorax varius

I, in turn, was enthralled by their tales of filming birds in the Florida everglades and their adventures in various spots around the world. These two Floridians were a well-travelled pair.

We swapped yarns, shared photography tips, and continually came back to the amazing taonga of our little sanctuary in the heart of a capital city. It was a magic day where ZEALANDIA shined. Ron, Lou and young Mark, will never forget their introduction to Birdland (New Zealand).

Check out:
Lou’s website: www.lounewmanphotography.com
Ron’s website: www.ronmayberry.com
My photos of the animals and birds taken on the cruise: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevex2/sets/72157628014365273/

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