French Polynesia, Pitcairn &
September - Thursday 16th October 2008 (20 days)
Marquesas Islands Extension to Sunday 19th October (3 days)
Beaman and the Braveheart staff
Ship: The Braveheart
(capacity 12 passengers)
How many chances does
one have to visit a scattering of largely uninhabited tropical islands
where deserted white sand beaches are fringed with luxuriant vegetation,
haunted by rarely seen endemics, and the seas are enlivened by a
host of little-known seabirds? Not many, but here is one fantastic
opportunity! Add into the mix the romance and violence of the Mutiny
on the Bounty story, the classic, real-life tale of putting love
before duty and its tragic consequences, and you have something
extraordinarily alluring. The Polynesian triangle between Hawaii,
New Zealand and Easter Island stretches about 8000 kilometres across
the central Pacific Ocean. This vast area is dotted with numerous
tropical islands, many of them of volcanic origin and never connected
to the continents. Amongst this scattering of tiny isolated dots
on the map of the world, there are two broad island types: the first
being the high volcanic islands where erosion has produced gentle
windward slopes that often contrast with the steep and rugged leeward
cliffs, frequently encircled by fringing reefs. The second consists
of the low-lying islands, mostly coral atolls and or raised former
atolls. Both island types have evolved endemic birds, reptiles,
plants and insects, the existence of many of which is under threat
from introduced rats and human activity, and during our travels
we shall explore fascinating examples of each. This exciting journey
focuses on some of the rarest and most exciting island birds in
the entire Pacific region. French Polynesia covers a vast expanse
of the South Pacific, equivalent to a region stretching from Finland
to Spain! Its farthest flung outposts are the remote Gambier Islands
at the eastern end of the Tuamotu Archipelago, and still more remote,
far beyond the Gambiers, are Pitcairn and Henderson islands. Our
journey through the islands will start in Tahiti, the largest and
highest of the Society Islands, where we will arrive in Papeete,
the capital of French Polynesia. This cosmopolitan city with over
100,000 people will provide a great contrast with sparsely inhabited
or uninhabited islands we are soon to visit. Here, on the beautiful
island where so many of the Bounty’s crew fell for the local
ladies, and from where they eventually set sail to seek refuge from
the King’s justice on remote Pitcairn Island, we will mainly
be birding in the interior highlands, dominated by two old volcanoes.
Here we should find such endemics as Grey-green Fruit-Dove, Tahiti
Swiftlet, Tahiti Kingfisher, the extremely rare Tahiti Monarch and
Tahiti Reed Warbler. From Papeete we will fly far to the southeast,
to Mangaréva in the remote Gambier Islands. Here we will
board our boat, the Braveheart, and set sail for the end of the
world, or so it will seem to us. First we will explore famous Pitcairn
Island, last refuge of the Bounty mutineers, their Tahitian ladies
and some male relatives (the ancestral mix of today’s Pitcairn
islanders), where Pitcairn Reed Warbler will be the main target.
Moving on to uninhabited Henderson Island, we will be looking for
the fearless Henderson Island Crake, Henderson Island Fruit-Dove,
the stunning Stephen’s Lorikeet and Henderson Reed Warbler,
while on Oeno we will see an extraordinary seabird colony at eyeball
to eyeball distance. In the Acteon Group in the easternmost Tuamotus
we will visit Tenararo, home to that Holy Grail of Pacific birding,
the extraordinary little Tuamotu Sandpiper (surely one of the most
endearing birds of the trip). Considered one of the rarest waders
in the world, this unusual endemic species is most definitely a
long-dreamed-of bird for many people. Tenararo is also the haunt
of Atoll Fruit-Dove, the delightful Polynesian Ground-Dove and the
endangered Bristle-thighed Curlew (another of the world’s
rarest shorebirds, the majority of which winter in the Tuamotus).
To cap it all, as we sail between these tiny specks in the vastness
of the Pacific, we are going to see the most glorious collection
of tropical and subtropical seabirds possible, including Tahiti,
Phoenix, Murphy’s, Kermadec, Herald and Henderson Petrels,
Christmas and Tropical Shearwaters, White-faced and Polynesian Storm-Petrels,
Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds, Masked, Red-footed and
Brown Boobies, Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Spectacled (or Grey-backed),
Sooty and Common White Terns, and Black, Brown, Blue and Grey Noddies,
plus a selection of stragglers from cooler waters further south,
such as Grey and Cape Petrels. All in all, this is a remarkable
opportunity to explore one of the most remote and least touched
places on planet Earth today, and see some of our world’s
most seldom-seen birds!
MV Braveheart, our home for two weeks, is a very well equipped and
comfortable vessel, 39 metres (about 128 feet) in length, with capacity
for 12 passengers and five crew. Built in Japan, she was later converted
for expedition-style cruising and is now based in New Zealand. She
has six twin-berth, air-conditioned cabins and three shared bathrooms
for her passengers (some cabins have double berths), modern safety
equipment and three zodiacs (inflatables with rigid hulls) for making
landings in remote areas. There is a spacious mess (dining area)
and a smaller lounge/library area with DVD player, power points
for computers etc. A large, shaded area on the deck towards the
stern is excellent for seawatching. Braveheart offers much more
space and comfort than a yacht and is the perfect vessel for a cruise
of this kind.
During the optional extension we will explore the Marquesas, a chain
of rugged, volcanic islands some 1500 kilometres (or around 940
miles) to the northeast of Papeete. Here we will explore Nuku Hiva,
the largest of the chain, and also Ua Huka in search of such endemics
as the strange Nukuhiva Imperial Pigeon, White-capped Fruit-Dove,
the beautiful Ultramarine Lorikeet, Marquesas Swiftlet, Iphis Monarch
and Marquesas Reed Warbler, as well as the delightful near-endemic
Little White Tern.
Mark Beaman has travelled extensively in the Pacific islands. Birdquest
has been operating tours to French Polynesia since 2002.
1 Afternoon flight from London bound for Papeete.
2 Morning arrival at Papeete for a two nights
stay. Our very fancy resort hotel is located by the ocean
and has fantastic views across to the mountainous island of
Moorea with its conical volcanic peaks. Many introduced birds
are present in the grounds, including Zebra Dove, Red-vented
Bulbul, Common Myna, Silvereye, Common Waxbill and Chestnut-breasted
Mannikin, some of which will undoubtedly try to share our
food as we eat in the open air restaurant! Later today we
will explore the mountainous interior of Tahiti in search
of three endemics, the attractive Grey-green Fruit-Dove, Tahiti
Kingfisher and Tahiti Reed Warbler (the latter favours tall
bamboo thickets). We are also likely to encounter Pacific
Black Duck, Pacific Swallow (the nominate race here is dark
and very different to most other populations) and the introduced
Swamp Harrier and Red-browed Firetail.
3 With the help of a local expert, we will
explore one of the island's deep forested valleys. Here we
will find the endemic Tahiti Monarch, now critically endangered
with perhaps only about 40 individuals surviving, and we will
also be able to visit a colony of Tahiti Swiftlets, watching
the adults whizzing along a narrow, rocky defile as they return
to, or leave, their nests.
4 Early this morning we will catch the once-a-week
flight to Mangaréva in the remote Gambier islands at the far
eastern end of the scattered Tuamotu archipelago. It is a
long flight, for a domestic route, over 1600 kilometres (1000
miles) as the Tahiti Petrel flies, and the journey is broken
by a stopover at the almost equally remote Hao atoll. As we
descend over this huge atoll, so large that one cannot even
see the far side, it will be brought home to us how little
land there is in the Tuamotus: just thin barrier islands and
numerous tiny islets (known locally as motu ) projecting
above the water on top of the coral reef forming the atoll
and protecting a huge, impossibly turquoise lagoon. Everywhere
are beaches of white sand, backed by the deep greens of coconut
palms and native island ‘bush'. Once we arrive at Mangaréva,
where Pacific Golden plovers favour the grassy edges of the
runway, we will transfer by ferry from the airport island
to the harbour of the main island, where Braveheart ,
our home for the next 14 nights, will be waiting for us. During
the afternoon we will set sail for the magical, largely uninhabited
world of the islands that awaits us. As we head southeastwards,
towards Pitcairn island, we will keep a lookout for our first
Phoenix and Herald Petrels, Christmas Shearwaters, Polynesian
Storm-Petrels, Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Greater Crested
Tern, Brown and Black Noddies, and pretty Blue Noddies (the
latter formerly lumped with Grey Noddy under the name Blue-grey
5-13 During our two weeks on Braveheart we
shall explore the easternmost Tuamotu Islands and the even
more remote Pitcairn, Henderson and Oeno Islands. The run
to Pitcairn will take about 36 hours, but the journey will
provide some interesting seabird opportunities. In addition
to some of the species likely as we left Mangaréva, we will
be keeping a lookout for our first Murphy's and Henderson's
Petrels, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Tropical Shearwater (split
from Audubon's) and White-faced Storm-Petrel.,
many travellers have the chance or the privilege of stepping
ashore on rugged Pitcairn Island, so we shall join a select
band as we explore this fascinating spot where the Bounty
mutineers ended up. As with almost all of our landings,
we will not be able to get ashore directly from Braveheart
, so we will use the zodiacs instead. Although Pitcairn
and its dependencies are an overseas territory of the United
Kingdom, the islands are effectively administered from New
Zealand, itself amazingly distant. Pitcairn's isolation is
exacerbated by the lack of an airport, and there are no regular
shipping connections, so visitors are a rare event! We are
sure to be made moist welcome and no doubt some of us will
want to visit the post office in the small settlement in order
to buy those sought-after Pitcairn stamps to put on the ritual
postcards. Pitcairn's single-island endemic, the Pitcairn
Reed Warbler, is common on the island, so we will have no
trouble finding some.
we wait for the zodiacs to take us back to Braveheart
, we will be only about 100 meters from where the blazing
hulk of the Bounty sank after the mutineers decided
to burn her to leave no easily visible trace of their presence.
As with any such tale, both sides have strong views. From
the islander's perspective Captain Bligh was a cruel tyrant
who virtually compelled Fletcher Christian and his allies
to mutiny, yet if that were truly the case one wonders why
so many of the crew elected to join Bligh in a small open
boat when the mutineers put him off the ship in the then unknown
seas off Tonga, facing almost certain death. And one marvels
at a man who could then save his men by a remarkable feat
of seamanship, sailing that tiny boat 3700 nautical miles,
all the way to Kupang in Timor, in the then Dutch East Indies.
we will keep a lookout for Masked Booby and in particular
for Grey Noddy (the latter breeds on Henderson but regularly
occurs around Pitcairn as well). As we sail northeast from
Pitcairn to Henderson Island we will encounter more and more
Henderson's Petrels, a species that only nests in this remote,
uninhabited place (and which was formerly, mistakenly, considered
a dark morph of Herald Petrel), and we should also come across
Kermadec Petrel. We will reach the southernmost point of our
voyage in the waters around Pitcairn and its dependencies,
so we will be looking out for cool-water wanderers throughout
the region, such as an albatrosses, giant petrels, and Cape,
White-chinned, Great-winged and Grey Petrels.
rugged Pitcairn, Henderson is a raised coral reef and so is
basically a flat, thickly vegetated plateau of limestone rising
20 metres or so above sea-level. After finding our way from
the beach up onto the plateau we will start looking for Henderson's
four single-island endemics. Most of the flightless crakes
of the Pacific islands have long been extinct, but sheer isolation
and unsuitability for human settlement has allowed the bold
little Henderson Island Crake to survive. We should eventually
be able to find one or two of these rather inquisitive little
birds wandering around under the scrubby woodland, feeding
in the leaf littler. Henderson Reed Warbler (split from Pitcairn)
is a common species on the island, but we will probably have
to work harder for good views of the stunning Stephen's Lorikeet
and the attractive Henderson Island Fruit-Dove.
Henderson we turn to the west and sail to Oeno island, the
last of the Pitcairn islands group that we will visit. Oeno
is a coral atoll with a perfect ‘desert island', covered in
luxuriant vegetation and surrounded by white coral sand beaches,
in the middle! The seabird colony here is truly spectacular,
with breeding Murphy's Petrels running into the thousands,
along with smaller numbers of Christmas Shearwaters, Great
Frigatebirds, Masked and Red-footed Boobies, Red-tailed Tropicbirds,
and Spectacled (or Grey-backed), Sooty and Common White (or
Fairy) Terns. As with all remote and uninhabited tropical
islands, the seabirds are unafraid of man, so we will be able
to enjoy some extraordinary views and will feel truly privileged
to be able to wander around in such a wonderful place. In
particular, watching the lovely Common White Tern at such
close range that one can see its ‘mascara-like' dark eye smudge
(which enhances its already huge eye, perhaps adapted for
seeing in the forest interior) and the blue base to the dagger-like
bill, is a real delight. Long-tailed Cuckoos (or Long-trailed
Koels) from New Zealand spend the Austral winter on Pacific
islands like Oeno, so we will keep a lookout for this interesting
now to the northwest, after a full day at sea with great opportunities
for a selection of Pterodroma species and other
deepwater pelagics, including Tahiti Petrel, we come to the
Acteon group of islands and in particular the island of Tenararo.
This beautiful and remote uninhabited island, which is rat-free,
is this one of the last breeding sites for the rare and enigmatic
Tuamotu Sandpiper. As we step ashore on this pristine desert
island and our footprints mark the virgin white sand we will
feel quite Robinson Crusoe-like! It should not take long before
we find the little sandpiper, which feeds mostly along the
tideline but also spends much time walking on the leaf litter
under the tangled jungle of the island's interior, or can
even be watched walking up tree branches high above one's
head! When the birds display they hover and veer in the manner
of Temminck's Stint, all the while uttering their beautiful
trilling call. Even better is their confiding manner (not
a help with rats, sadly) and we should be able to walk right
up to them without causing any concern! On Tenararo this wonderful
bird remains extraordinarily common and we may see up to 200
individuals during our visit!
the trees and bushes on Tenararo we should easily find another
Tuamotu endemic, the beautiful Atoll Fruit-Dove. We will also
search for the unobtrusive but dazzling little Polynesian
Ground-Dove, which as its name suggests spends its time on
the ground. We will have to search patiently and carefully,
for these birds are both slow-moving and unafraid, so they
can even be spotted walking along right next to one's feet!
If we are in luck we will be able to watch the male displaying
close to us, stretching out its wings to display their purple
iridescence. Sadly this species has disappeared from most
of its range in the Tuamotus owing to the depredations of
rats. This is also a good island for seeing Bristle-thighed
Curlew, a species that flies south from Alaska to the Tuamotus
to winter in paradise, and Wandering Tattler.
may have time to visit another of the Tuamotu atolls, such
as Morane, but our highest priority will be to see the key
endemic landbirds and pelagic seabirds well, so we will spend
more time in places like Henderson if we need to.
18 This morning we will go ashore at Mangareva
and head for the airport in time for the afternoon flight
to Papeete, where we connect with an evening flight bound
19 In transit to London.
20 Morning arrival at London.
Islands Extension Itinerary
18 We will spend the night at Papeete.
19 This morning we will fly to the island
of Nuku Hiva in the distant Marquesas for an overnight stay,
covering a greater distance (nearly 1500 kilometres) than
that between London and Rome! En route we should enjoy some
fine aerial views of the Tuamotus. The airport, for want of
suitable flat land elsewhere, was constructed in the far northwest
of the island, at the opposite end of the island from the
two main villages, so we have quite a drive across this rugged
and spectacular island before we reach Taiohae, where we will
stay overnight. This very scenic island has many high rocky
peaks, rising to 1224m at the summit of Mount Tekao, and sheer
coastal cliffs that rise to over 500m in places. On the way
we will visit the best part of the island for finding the
endemic Nukuhiva Imperial Pigeon. This huge dark and rather
lethargic pigeon has a broad, flat, white-feathered protuberance
projecting above its bill, giving it a decidedly strange appearance,
and its weird, rather unpigeon-like calls simply add to the
mystique of this very rare bird that now numbers only about
200 individuals (shared between Nukuhiva and Ua Huka, where
the species has been reintroduced). We should be able to find
some sitting in some large fig trees and obtain splendid views
of this unusual species. We will also have our first encounters
with three more endemics: White-capped Fruit-Dove, Marquesas
Swiftlet and Marquesas Reed Warbler, all of which are common.
Our first Little White Terns (or Little Fairy Terns), a near-endemic
species, will be seen flying high overhead or perching in
roadside trees, sometimes alongside Black Noddies.
20 This morning we will travel by one of the
local boats to the equally rugged, but smaller and lower,
island of Ua Huka, which will be clearly visible to the west
as soon as we round the headland beyond Taiohae. The journey
is excellent for pelagic seabirds and, as well as species
familiar from our voyage on Braveheart , we should
encounter Bulwer's Petrel, Wedge-tailed Shearwater and Little
White Tern. As we approach Ua Huka we will pause at a small
island where tens of thousands of Sooty Terns will be nesting.
Once we reach Ua Huka itself we will leave our luggage at
our guesthouse, where we will overnight, and head off into
the mountainous interior, where our targets will be the beautiful
endemic Ultramarine Lorikeet, which is now extinct on the
other inhabited islands in the Marquesas, but which remains
fairly common here, and the endemic Iphis Monarch (now restricted
to Ua Huka). We will visit a forested valley where both these
species are fairly common.
21 After some final birding on Ua Huka we
will take an afternoon flight to Papeete via Nuku Hiva and
connect with an evening flight bound for London.
22 In transit to London.
23 Morning arrival at London.
& Road Transport: The hotel in Papeete is of
normal Birdquest standard (luxurious in fact!). For details
of Braveheart , please see the tour introduction.
During the extension, the guesthouse accommodation on Nuku
Hiva and Ua Huka is simple but very clean and comfortable,
and bathroom facilities may be shared. Road transport will
be by minibus and roads (where they exist) are mostly good.
The walking effort is easy almost throughout, but
there will be one more difficult walk on Tahiti.
Warm or hot and humid. Occasional rain is likely.
At sea it can feel noticeably cooler, especially early and
late in the day.
Photography: Opportunities are quite good overall.
Some of the specialities are exceptionally approachable.
by Pete Morris/Birdquest
inquisitive and totally unique Tuamotu Sandpiper will
be high on our want list!
We will visit numerous beautiful tropical islands!
Price: £5890, €8717, $11073 London/London
(or £4960, €7341, $9325 Papeete/Papeete). Extension:
£810, €1199, £1523.
Room Supplement: £80, €118, $150 (Papeete
only). If you would like guaranteed single occupancy of a
cabin on board Braveheart the additional charge
is £3990, €5905, $7501. Please note that if you opt
to share you will not have to pay the single
occupancy supplement even if you do not end up with a cabin-mate.
As there are only six cabins on Braveheart , participants
travelling alone will have to be prepared to share a cabin
with someone of either sex if need be. Bathroom facilities
are not en-suite, but elsewhere on the boat, so privacy is
assured. If the boat is not full, any spare cabins will be
used in the first place to remove the need for any sharing
with the opposite sex. Extension: £90, €133, $169.
£1500, €2220, $2820.
Remote Marquesas Option:
If there are enough interested participants, we will offer
a 7 days ‘extension to the extension' to take in the most
remote islands of the Marquesas in search of some very rarely
seen species; Marquesas Ground-Dove, Marquesas Kingfisher,
Marquesas Monarch and Fatuhiva Monarch. Some rather rough
boat trips will likely be involved. Please indicate when booking
this tour if you are interested in this optional extension
and we will let you know the potential cost once the number
of interested participants is known.
endangered Polynesian Ground-Dove has been pushed to
the brink of extinction by introduced rats.
A bulk of the
Bristle-thighed Curlew population winters in Polynesia.