Day 2: Zealandia!
I’ve been pretty excited to go to Zealandia for a while now. It’s a nature reserve fairly close to the centre of Wellington, in the suburb of Karori. Around 15 years ago, they put a huge fence around the reserve, but it isn’t designed to keep animals in, it’s to keep critters out.
I would later learn that the fence has a slight cap on the top to stop animals from climbing over. Apparently when they tested the fence, Possums piggy backed each other to climb over!
Luckily I live pretty close to Zealandia so I walked, and handily, there are little orange birds on the pavement all the way from the cable car at the botanic gardens. (Alternatively, there’s a free shuttle bus from the i-SITE in Wellington).
A free hour-long guided tour runs twice a day, at 11 am and 1 pm. I just made the first one and I was so glad I did, I learnt so much! I don’t want to give away too much, but I want to share some really interesting facts. For instance, all mammals in New Zealand were introduced, there are no endemic ones. (Endemic means they’re only found in that specific place). Overall, NZ has many endemic species which means that once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.
To try and tackle this problem, many of the offshore islands around NZ have been turned into nature reserves for endangered species so they have the chance to thrive without predators – and it’s working! Although this tactic itself has limitations such as disease and genetic issues.
Our tour started by the pontoon
There are no fish in the lake except red finned Perch. The green tinge is due to algae bloom which occurs when the weather gets warmer, it’s not toxic though. The lake is home to Cormorants (which are called ‘Shag’ in NZ). Funnily, the lake used to be the main water supply for the whole of Wellington! This changed for several reasons, including the fact that there is a huge fault line under the lake!
These are Takahe
These were actually thought to be endangered as late as 1948, until they were rediscovered in the mountains by Geoffrey Orbell. These birds cannot fly, which is a common trait of many NZ birds because they had no mammal predators, in turn they adapted to survive avian ones. There are approximately 280 of these birds left in the world, partly due to the fact they only lay one egg a year.
These are native Paradise Shell ducks
They have a pretty cute story! Apparently they nest offsite because otherwise the Cormorants eat their babies, however, once they’re big enough to walk but not quite big enough to fly, they walk back to Zealandia as a family, and wait to be let in at the gate. One year they even got a police escort because they were walking down a busy road.
Monitoring: these might look like poison boxes but they’re not. They have treats in to attract critters, and dye for them to walk through. This reveals their footprints and enables the reserve to monitor precisely what mammals might be in Zealandia.
North Island Kaka
These guys are a really noisy forest parrot! Apparently a lot of parrots have a similar sounding name because in Maori, it means ‘squawk’, which is the noise they make. The Kaka are supplemented because the forest is only 120 years old, so there isn’t enough food to sustain them.
There was a little Robin called Buddy, who flew down to eat meal worms out of the guides hands when he clapped! Apparently he’s been trained by a researcher. They’re said to be super clever and can identify shapes and colour.
Red crowned parakeet
(These guys are also pretty noisy). This is where the guided tour ended, and honestly, it was fantastic! Really informative and definitely worth it! I can’t recommend it enough! After it finished, I decided to go and check out the feeding area where I saw male and female Hihi.
After that I decided to try a walking trail. Now, I love going on walks and adventures, I guess it’s something that my dad bought us up doing. I ambitiously picked a track that would take 2.5 hours. I headed off and followed the signs – it was really well signposted!
… Until I got to the end of my track. There were no signs, and no timings. Did I go left or right? How long would it take? I started walking along the perimeter fence, but I started to feel really panicked. I just wasn’t sure if I was going the right way. What made it worse is that I felt scared, and then I felt silly for feeling scared. I decided to ring the centre to check what I should do, I spoke to a lady who was great! She was really reassuring and we decided I should probably turn back and go the way I came.
It really freaked me out and made me appreciate the mammoth walk Cheryl Strayed did by herself even more! I hurried back to civilization (I didn’t see anyone during my trek at all) and enjoyed some more birds – remembering why I came here in the first place, and how magical my day had been. I came across a woman from Yorkshire who was also heading for the exit so we walked back together. She too had been a little afraid of getting lost and so had not risked the hikes. I was so relieved to meet her! She was lovely and we chatted in the cafe a while.
Overall, I had such a magical day, I decided to come back for the night tour because I really wanted to see a Kiwi bird! (My dad was right, FYI Kiwi’s are nocturnal).
I headed home and came back for 8pm for the night tour. Our guide was super friendly and even more informative than earlier in the day.
Apparently Kiwi’s mate for life, their eggs are huge and it’s the father who incubates it – they’re born roughly the size of a tennis ball and quickly explore by themselves. Aside from the fact that they are also flightless their other key issue is their weak breast bones which means they’re easily killed by land mammals. They are quite unbird like in that they live underground and burrow, their feathers are more like fur and they’re flightless. They’re also really territorial so the centre can’t have too many of them.
Human settlers had a dramatic effective on the wildlife of NZ. The Maori hunted the Moa bird to extinction, which therefore lead to the demise of the Eagle because that largely lived on Moa. Europeans bought with them cats, dogs and weasels which attacked birds and ate their eggs.
The tour started off pretty promisingly when we spotted a fantail, and this bright blue bird, the size of a parakeet but I’m not sure what that was called. It was around this time that we first heard the call of the Kiwis! The best description of the call = like the shower knife scene in psycho (male call – sounds far more high pitched and urgent compared to female).
There wasn’t as much to see during the night tour (which last 2.5 hours), but I learnt way more and did eventually see an illusive Kiwi right at the end.
Long finned Eel (it looked more like something from the TV program River Monsters!)
Apparently they live in the stream for roughly twenty years until they’re big enough to swim to Tonga. This is their breeding ground, but tragically after the Eel breeds, it dies.
Tuatara in a hatchling tank
I’m adding this photo because somewhere in there, there’s an actual real life Kiwi and I have to say, the tour was completely worth it if only for this single moment! I did have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps the Kiwi was one of the retired ones that lives at the centre instead of a wild one. Purely because of the timing it appeared and how close we were to the centre – but that is pure speculation.
A day at Zealandia costs $18 and the night tour is $79 (£34) – I felt I learnt a lot from both tours, and I was super happy to see an actual Kiwi.
*Please note: I haven’t been asked to promote any of the businesses mentioned in this post. I’m just sharing my week of experiences in Wellington*