The Hunt for the Grey Ghost

Previously classified as extinct, recent sightings of the Grey Ghost (aka the South Island Kokako) have promoted its official status to “data deficient”. This elusive character sports an orange wattle (a bird beard) as opposed to a blue one like its north island cousin, a black face mask, and could possibly be one of the rarest birds in the world. Largely due to its hide and seek prowess, if you will. 
The story starts with 4 mates looking for a mid-winter adventure down south when the idea was floated that why not do it with a purpose. One of the four runs the North Island Kokako conservation program in Hunua and was aware of the nifty bugger evading photographs and the $10,000 reward that accompanied such a snap. One thing led to another and these four adventurers had a plan to drive a camper van for 8 days down the west coast from Rotoiti to Greymouth looking for a highly skilled, feathered evasion artist… That literally was the entirety of the planning... 
 On the plus side we looked the part as our friends at Sons of the South hooked us up with some Young Birdwatcher Society kit for the journey. Thanks also to Kokako Coffee and Allgood Organics for supplying us with some excellent coffee and refreshments to keep us going on our adventure.


Friday night arrival in ChCh came with the immediate decision to forego all electronic navigation and use only a South Island map and a compass for the entirety of the trip. This led to more than a fair share of wrong turns especially on the mission to buy a map, but we made it to the sanctuary of a student flat and left the next morning for Arthurs pass… fresh hangovers in tow. 

We couldn’t have asked for a better day on the West Coast Road through Arthurs pass, the snow-capped mountains and crystal blue sky had us stopping after every corner to take photos, gawp at the scenery and throw a few snowballs around. It’s probably for this reason a 3-hour journey took 7 and ended with us parked for the night among the hills in the camper. But we had nowhere to be, and it was magic. 


The next two days were where the search began around the forests of lake Rotoiti, where many ‘sightings’ had been reported. We walked the entire circumference playing North Island Kokako calls through a speaker and listening for replies. Unfortunately, no chat was slung back from our feathered friends although the other birds were plenty talkative and had a ball trying to imitate our calls.

Fruitless efforts aside, overnighting in a wood fire heated hut nestled among the snow-capped mountains with stunning lake views, beautiful forest trails and spectacular waterfalls kept spirits high as we took the road to the next search spot. 





Now Murchison (population 3000 odd) upon first sight, appeared to be a town you’d stop just long enough to smash a pie and a V in before moving on, little did we know we would be getting to know the place much more intimately than that over the coming days. Following a night amongst burly stubby clad (its winter remember) road workers in the local 19th century pub we set off into the back country ready to hike to the next hut and continue the search. Some would say this was when we reached the plot twist of the trip… 

The combination of a missing 4WD sign, lack of 4WD capability, a confident co-pilot and even more confident pilot, left us a bit stranded. The local farmers had a good laugh as we turned up at their doorstep after waving at them as we drove past less than an hour ago and so we enjoyed a leisurely tow ride back to the metropolis of Murchison. 

Things in life don’t always go to plan and it’s safe to say our search for the South Island Kokako did not meet that criteria. We did however have one hell of an adventure, some great laughs, experiences and stories. We took away a couple of stand-out learnings too:  

  1. Use a map to navigate – there is no better way to put yourself in the present moment than having to pay attention to every detail of your surroundings.
  2. Travel in a camper – its perhaps the most freeing way to travel not needing to be anywhere at any time.



The boys at Barely Gryllz.



1 comment

  • The Mum of one of the four

    Thanks for posting this. I loved reading about their adventure and the photos are magical

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