Takahē and Lake Orbell, Fiordland National Park

Lake Orbell in the Murchison Mountains has long been a restricted area. It is the home of the Takahē Recovery Program. Run by New Zealand’s Dept. of Conservation.

Sure I have a personal interest in all things New Zealand native birds! But the re-discovery of takahē by Dr G. Orbell in 1948 has a link to my childhood. He must have retired to Oamaru from Invercargill in the 1950’s as he used to live next door to my grandparents.

As a little kid I remember him waving to me from a high up window, in his two story house in Reed Street. He always seemed a friendly sort. And by then was definitely famous. So I knew about the takahē from an early age.

Photo courtesy of a DOC interpretation board Te Anau

The Murchison Mountains is a restricted area in the Fiordland National Park. To get a permit would be difficult, as a member of the public.

I’d known this for years, but of course forbidden fruit always leaves room for hankering. It can manifest a sense of mystery. Then one day I discovered DOC in Te Anau run the occasional day trip.

And this is my story of such a day:

My son on the right, and an old and dear friend on the left get ready to embark on a Real Journeys boat.

The destination across Lake Te Anau takes about 30 mins. to reach. There is a wharf there used for the popular Glow Worm Caves trip.

The trip across reminded us of Dusky, Preservation and Doubtful Sounds to the west across the mountains.

After disembarking we are very soon on our way into some surprisingly rugged country. But the route is quite moderate, as far as such lines go in Fiordland.

The rock on the left is limestone. And as we’re traveling upward parallel to a creek called Tunnel Creek I realised it feeds into the glow worm cave system now below us.

Speleologists can get permission annually to explore 6 + km of caves.

There is predator trap at the bottom of the photo. To the left of the marker.

Taking a breather. The route is relentless. After about two and half hours we branched left off a broad ridge and down a steep descent to said creek.

Red beech is a predominant tree here abouts. And I saw a weka and a tom tit. Occasionally we heard bell birds and south island robins.

After the frustration of not getting a view, suddenly we knew we were close to the real sub alpine environment. So time for a very brief nibble and drink. And refill of drink bottles.

Next we were able to cross the stream dry-shod using some awkward, but thankfully short boulder hops. It took about 30 mins. to get to the nearby hut though. A series of frustrating wind-falls had to be overcome.

And suddenly there we were. The Takahē Heritage hut. And Lake Orbell to be seen on peeking around it’s corner, to the left.

A close up of Lake Orbell. With favoured takahē style habitat to the right.
Looking back at the historic hut
We did not see a takahē though. This was no surprise to me – 16,000 hectares of often boggy and difficult ground would take an age to search. However it’s pretty easy to get up close and personal with them at the Orokonui Eco Sanctuary near Dunedin.

All too soon though – we had to depart to catch the boat back at 5 pm. However not before a welcome brew at the hut.

We had a bonus on the descent.

An older kea followed us down almost all the way. Occasionally on the ground, And when flying – his shadow was constantly zooming over us. Sometimes he’d land on the most wobbly tree branch available, and gyrate about. Perhaps showing off!

This is not the kea though. We had no time to develop a relationship for a modelling session. But this bird is of a similar age.

We made it – bang on 5 pm. To my relief, as I was the slowest.

Looking up Lake Te Anau from the wharf.

For more back ground on the Takahē Recovery Program >>

And on Dr Orbell’s story >>

Unless otherwise above all photos by myself, Donald, or my son Red.

Many thanks for Te Anau Dept. of Conservation and Real Journeys for making this trip possible.