Here in Tauranga Bay just 40 minutes north from Kerikeri in the Far North, I discovered one of the best spots in New Zealand for camping. Beautiful, clean, golden sandy beaches with amazing views of all the islands in the bay.
Within minutes, I spotted about a hundred giant swan plants (Gomphocarpus physocarpus) as I’ve never seen before: up to 2.5 metres tall, with thick trunks.
Living in Christchurch this is something you don’t see every day as our swan plants rarely get that high due to the colder climate. The swan plants are based at the bottom of the cliff on the left-hand side facing the sea. They continue for at least 100 metres in a line. I came here with the family in the early October school holidays and it was so peaceful and warm. During the peak summer season, this bay becomes a popular place to camp and I can see why, with its breathtaking scenery and an ideal place to fish.
As soon as I arrived I got my camera out and a couple of hours passed, spotting many seed pods. I managed to capture a few monarchs mating on these swan plants and I love the way the female takes flight whilst the male is still connected to her in the mating process. These bushes were covered in snails big and small. I managed to stripe as many snails as possible of the tress that eat the leaves and threw them into the sand for the seagulls. I hope that anyone who loves monarch butterflies and comes to the Tauranga Bay camp site could help by removing branches that are covered in aphids and remove the snails. This gives the monarchs a chance as they are fighting too against the Paper wasps in the area During my time in Tauranga Bay in early spring I never saw more than 5 monarchs at once in the area. There was a bounty of seed pods rotting, as well as weak swan plants that have died. It also seems like the monarch butterflies are fighting a battle up here with the Paper wasps as there were not many butterflies fluttering around, considering the amount of hosts in plants. I had a good look and not many eggs either. Only the lucky few caterpillars survive and make the transformation into a Monarch butterfly, which is so sad to hear. Visiting in October meant the monarchs that I have seen are very dull, as they have wintered through from last summer.
This place is ideal for any Monarch butterfly enthusiast that loves camping – you’ll feel just like you are in paradise. If anyone can report sightings or witness paper wasps that I spotted please inform the MBTNZ or the Butterfly Musketeers. If you’re visiting in the winter please also report any monarchs that you see overwintering in the next bay over, called Butterfly Bay. To access this special spot, you need to walk around during low tide, and be aware that the trees the monarchs are overwintering in, are on private property, so you need to respect the owner’s privacy and look from the beach shoreline.
I hope people that stay in this amazing part of New Zealand see so many more monarchs in the summer months. I hope this amazing spot stays a breeding ground for many more years to come for the Monarchs butterflies.
The new managers of the Tauranga Bay Holiday Park, Leah and Harry Bowsher, told me that thousands of monarchs used to overwinter each year at Butterfly Bay, but these numbers have dramatically reduced due to predator and environmental change.