Like in most parts of New Zealand the eradication of feral animals is of prime importance. The ferals are causing massive destruction, particularly to wildlife. The stoats, possums and rats, among others are very effective killers. They can kill up to 68000 native birds a day across the country. They have contributed to the extinction of many species of native animals. Over half of the native fauna is now extinct since the arrival of humans in the 1200’s.
Fortunately, Project Janszoon has been working 24/7 to restore the parks and its’ ecology to its former glory. They have managed to eradicate 30,000 dead ferals, planted over 50,000 trees, and 280 released birds so far. Its a great success and as you walk you will get to spot endangered species along the Abel Tasman track.
The most common birds on the tracks are Weka, Shags, Little Blue Penguins, Bellbirds, Oystercatchers, Shearwaters and Fantails. Bar-tailed Godwits can be seen at Marahau at low tide migrate all the way from Alaska arriving in September. Heron, Pie Stilts, Gannet and the plain old red billed seagulls are also common.
Weka look a little like a kiwi to the uninitiated, Gallirallus australis are also known as Maori hens. These birds are endemic to New Zealand (i.e. found only here). Once common in Abel Tasman, they suffered a precipitous decline due likely to nest predation by feral mammals. A small number of birds were re-introduced by Project Janszoon and they now seem to be doing well. They are smart, opportunistic scavengers and may be seen around campgrounds and picnic areas.
Bellbirds (Maori name: korimako) You will hear the melodic piping song of these small birds throughout Abel Tasman National Park. Light grey green in colour with a line of white at the base of their wings. These are a different species to the Australian bellbird (aka bell miner), but they are part of the same family – the Meliphagia or Honeyeaters. They feed on fruit, nectar and small insects, as well as lerp from the leaves of beech trees.
Orca have been spotted more often on the Abel Tasman Track than for a long long while, mainly because the fur seal population is now thriving. And we know Orca love to eat seal. Hunting had formerly decimated the fur seal population, but once a marine park was established the seals quickly started to grow in numbers. New Zealand Fur Seals (Arctocephalus forsteri) Maori name: kekeno. These are the most common seals in New Zealand. Having been hunted to the brink of extinction, their population has grown substantially over recent decades. The last total population estimate was 200,000 (2001). It will be higher now. Fur seals may be found hauled out on rocky shores throughout mainland New Zealand, the Chatham Islands, and the Subantarctic islands, as well as southern parts of Australia. If you have seen fur seals in Tasmania, they are the same species. In Australia, this species is known as the Long-Nosed Fur Seal. Seals are very good swimmers and weaned pups will sometimes travel great distances. They feed mainly on squid and small mid-water fish but also take larger species further off-shore. If encountered, seals should be left alone as they do bite. Do not disturb seals or other wildlife.
Common, Dusky and Bottlenose dolphins also frequent the idyllic bays chasing the fish that remain uncatchable, now the area is a marine park.
This forest was dominated by three species of southern beech (black, hard, and silver) and several species of podocarps (rimu, miro, matai, kahikatea, and Hall’s totara). Podocarps are a group of conifers that are dominant in the Southern Hemisphere. In contrast to most conifers which have light, airy seeds that are dispersed by the wind, podocarps have fleshy seeds that are dispersed by birds. Plaques on the trees along this nature loop identify the trees. It is recommended that you walk the loop in a clockwise direction. The most common flora include the massive Beech trees, tree ferns, manuka and kanuka and Rata which turn a bright red close to Christmas.
Wilding Pines. These are a pest. Self-seeding Radiata pine trees originally from California, are escapees from local pine plantations and not wanted in these native forests. Much of the vegetation here on the southern side of Abel Tasman NP is second or third generation regrowth. The forests were heavily logged for wood like rimu, totara, and other podocarps. With protection, it is now slowly regenerating.
Hakeas Some of the trees with woody nuts may look familiar. These are willow-leaved hakeas from Australia. They were brought to NZ as garden plants for hedges and escaped. Hakeas thrive in the dry, acidic soils here along parts of the Abel Tasman track, and need the heat of a bush fire for their nuts to open.