Red rocks and a Māori myth combine at the bottom of the North Island of New Zealand
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In a hidden, almost secret valley, kiwis are breeding only 3 kilometres from parliament – in the heart of our Capital city, a slice of New Zealand is reverting to its former glory with the help of a predator-free-mainland-island.
When early settlers wrote about this area they reported rich and diverse forests filled with deafening bird-song. Here, in one of Wellingtons best kept stories, a group of people, with a five hundred year vision, are restoring the area to that same condition.
I have taken a ten minute bus ride, and now, after checking my bag for mice or other predators, step through a gate in the 2.3 metre predator-proof fence and into the 252-hectare valley.
Katie and Allison, two of the volunteers guides, are taking a small group on a nocturnal tour.
“This is a listening tour” they tell us. “You can except to hear various night birds but not see them” and so begins our walk on what they have dscdribed as ‘a work in progress.’
The night-sky is clear and we’ve been given a torch.
‘Only use it to see the path when you need to’ says Allison ‘and make sure you have your fingers over the light to make sure we don’t disturb anything’
Our eyes grow accustomed to the dimming half light and off we go, Katie giving us information in response to our questions.
The two reservoirs originally supplied Wellingtons residents with water and were decommissioned in the mid-nineties. There are around 10 paid staff and some 400 volunteers and the only visitor entry to the sanctuary is via the visitor centre at the end of Waiapu Road. (on the left as you come through the Karori Tunnel
We walk, dusk turns into night, a large group of black shag are roosting on a dead pine tree and when we stop at the upper dam we hear our first kiwi. The call carries across the valley and a shiver-thrill ripples through my body. How amazing that this wonderful bird is safe and breeding so close to human activity. Standing on the dam, built in1908, now a tree-top canopy walk, more birds call, we hear about five different kiwi and a couple of weka. Kiwi were released, over two years, in the valley ( from Kapiti Island) and the numbers have increased naturally since then.
On our walk back down the other-side of the dam we see glow-worms. I feel quite disoriented by them. They are so bright in the dark night and look like the lights of a distant city. Passing back through the weka fence (weka sometimes eat kiwi eggs) we stop to listen as another kiwi calls. Most human kiwi never get to hear this sound and I feel lucky to be hearing so many here on this city ‘island’.
“That’s Jackson” said our guide. Continue reading “Worlds first inner-city pest-free environment”
A day at Te Papa is a must: after some twenty visits there I still find plenty of new things to tempt me. The virtual bungee made me scream – I could not convince my brain I was not teetering on the brink of a platform, tied to a rubber band and planning to jump into thin air, many, many metres above a river.
Naturally, the theatre is a must too and Downstage and Circa always have a production well-worth seeing: as a passionate nomad, travelling alone, I often get the very last seat so suggest you always try to see some local theatre wherever you are. The vibrant waterfront, the City Gallery and other art spaces around this vibrant city are also ‘must-do’ activities.
But enough of the arts, how about getting out in the fresh air – and sometimes the term takes on a whole new meaning in this city of dramatic weather: although its often called ‘windy Wellington’ I like the other saying – ‘you can’t beat Wellington in a good day.’ This is so true and I’ve found it has many, many ‘good days’. Today, we are off to the zoo!
“We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo, how about you, you, you, we’re going to the zoo” I sing (not melodiously I must confess) and, recalling childhood songs, my adult children join in while my ten-year-old grandson raises his eyebrows!
My first visit to a zoo was as a preschooler and where a hippo impressed me greatly – no wonder I loved them on later travels – and still today I have that frisson of excitement about seeing animals, both native and exotic, up close.
Wellington Zoo say they are ‘the best little zoo in the world” and is open every day except Christmas Day: New Zealand’s first Zoo, it was established in 1906 and the gift of a young lion – called “King Dick” after Prime Minister Richard Seddon – was officially the Zoo’s first animal and by 1912 it housed over 500 animals.
The zoos history shows it has had many interesting and quirky characters including: Percy the pelican came to the Zoo in 1919 and made it into the Guinness book of records as one of the longest living birds in the world, making it to 62 years old; a grey gibbon named Nippy was the Zoo’s longest serving resident, and the oldest gibbon in the world; and in 1999, the Zoo was home to a cheeky little otter named Clyde. Clyde was very good at escaping and one day decided he would leave the Zoo and explore the nearby suburb of Newtown. He was later moved to a secure enclosure at Mogo Zoo in Australia.
No-one escaped the day we were there but we did see an otter playing with a coin that some stupid person had dangerously thrown into the enclosure (naturally we reported it to a keeper)
Our highlights included (but not only!) the noisy, argumentative, chimpanzees – including one who delighted in throwing clumps of turf at us!
We also loved Tahi, a kiwi that had been injured in a gin trap.
Although treated at the Whangarei Bird Recovery Centre and Massey University Wildlife Ward he eventually had to have his leg amputated: after his leg healed, and with his chances of survival in the wild being zero, he went to live at Wellington Zoo as an advocate for his species.
The zoo investigated having a prosthetic leg made for him and Weta Workshop (of Lord of the Rings fame) along with the New Zealand Artificial Limb Centre made him a prosthesis – he learnt to walk with it but it soon became apparent to his keepers that he was more comfortable without it.
Now, Tahi is the most famous one-legged kiwi in the world, he has had a book written about him (Tahi: One Lucky Kiwi) and he has appeared on television and in magazines all over the world.
Wellington Zoo has around 500 animals comprising over 100 species: and to be able to see the city right on the doorstep is one of its charms – I would love to live nearby and hear the animals and birds roaring, calling, tweeting. (you can have a zoo sleepover and really be part of the zoo!)
Some of the residents are critically endangered – Sumatran tigers or Campbell Island teals – and others are unique in New Zealand to Wellington Zoo (the Malayan sun bears and White cheeked gibbons).
We were able to get up-close to big cats and giraffes as part of a Close Encounter, and learnt about favourite animals at one of our daily talks. Having been fortunate enough to have seen them in the wild, I especially loved watching the endangered African dogs tearing their food apart.
For visitors to Wellington: the zoo is easy to get to on bus routes #10 and #23
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Visit Wellington Zoo on any Wednesday during August and pay only $5 entry!
There is more to do at the Zoo in the winter months than ever before. The new Amazing Animals demonstration in the Wild Theatre at 10.45am (Wednesdays to Sundays) features our most clever of creatures demonstrating an extraordinary range of natural behaviours.
The chimpanzee house and giraffe house both offer excellent under-cover viewing and you can warm up with a Winter Wednesday meal deal from Velluto Café.
For more information on $5 Winter Wednesdays call 04 381 6755 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.