Starting Point: Wellington
Ending Point: Wellington
Kilometers traveled: 39
Our plan for today was to visit Zealandia, and spend most of our day outside in the bush. But then we woke up to pouring rain, which made us rethink our plans…for about 5 minutes. Then we said, “What the heck! We have raincoats. Let’s go anyway and see what we can see!” So we did. And the skies cleared up a bit and the sun came out. And it turned out to be a fantastic day to spend in the bush.
Zealandia, The Karori Sanctuary Experience, is the first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary in the world. In this one square mile of valley in the middle of Wellington, the sanctuary is making huge strides in the conservation of endangered endemic and native species as well as forest restoration. Their goal is a 500 year project to restore this valley to what it was like before man came to New Zealand.
New Zealand is unique in that, for 80 million years after breaking off from Gondwanaland, Zealandia evolved in total isolation, with no mammals whatsoever. It was a bird paradise, and those birds grew large and many of them evolved to no longer fly. There were Moa, the largest birds ever to walk on this earth. There were giant eagles who hunted the Moa (who says NZ isn’t middle earth with things like Giant Eagles?!). Insects and snails grew huge and, along with bats, took on the roles that small mammals like mice might have played. All sorts of unique species of birds, reptiles, and insects evolved and thrived in Zealandia.
And then man showed up. And with him came predators like rats, mice, stoats, possums, weasels, goats, deer, dogs, and cats. All those species who had evolved in isolation without mammalian predators were, quite literally, sitting ducks. And many of them were driven to extinction, either through introduced predators, or because they were valued by man and hunted into extinction.
What makes Zealandia unique is that they have figured out sustainable ways to keep out all these predators and allow these ancient species to live and thrive in the wilds of this valley, much like they did for centuries. They spent three years researching and designing a special fence that keeps those predators out and allows the native species to thrive. For the first time ever, these animals are thriving on the mainland, rather than on an isolated island somewhere in the Pacific or Tasman.
It was amazing to walk around in the Sanctuary and see these birds that we’ve learned about in museums on this trip, but never thought we’d get to see. It’s like walking through a little piece of living history and the conservation efforts going on here are so inspiring. We look forward to coming back here sometime in the future to see how things are changing and evolving as they strive towards their ultimate goal of returning this valley in the middle of the city back in time to what Zealandia was like before man arrived to mess it all up.
We saw so many amazing species today. Tūī (Parsonbird), Kākā (Forest Parrot), Takahē, Korimake (Bellbird), Piwakawaka (Fantail), Hihi (Stitchbird), Kākāriki (Red Crowned Parakeet), Kererū (Wood Pigeon), Kārearea (Falcon), Tīeke (saddleback), Pāpango (Scaup, Diving Duck), as well as mallards and several species of Shag. We also saw Weta, Geckos, and Tuatara. Here is a bit about a few of our favorites from today.
Tuatara, one of the oldest reptilian species, who has been on this earth for 200 millions years, is thriving (& reproducing) in this valley, the first time on the mainland in over 200 years. We spotted several today, sunning themselves just outside their burrows in the early afternoon as the sun finally came out and made an appearance. Tuatara were here before dinosaurs walked the earth, and they are here today.
We sat and watched the Kākā feed in several places today. Kākā is a forest parrot, with brown and orangish feathers and loads of personality. Kākā means “screech” in Maori and they are quite talkative and screechy. Kākā is a threatened species due to predators and loss of habitat. They are thriving here in Zealandia and breeding well.
Tūī greeted us at every turn. They are the funniest of birds, with a prominent white tuft of feathers on their throat, which is why they are called Parsonbird. They can make so many unique clicks, chirps, & wheezing sounds. They have 2 voice boxes and are great mimics and very noisy and fast fliers. They are nectar eaters and often fight with the other birds, and with other Tūī, over plants.
We also got to see a pair of Takahē. Takahē were thought to be extinct until a group was discovered in the Fjordlands of NZ in 1948. The current population is at just over 200 due to DOC protection and captive breeding programs. Takahē breed for life and the pair here is a retired breeding pair. They belong to the Rail family of birds, and remind us of Kevin from the movie “Up”. This is the first time that a pair is successfully living in the wild on the mainland in a very long time. They have free run of a protected territory in the valley and are doing very well. One of their offspring is also doing well and has produced 6 chicks.
We also were lucky enough to watch them feed the Kākāriki or Red Crowned Parakeet. Kākāriki are almost extinct on the mainland in New Zealand. But thanks to the protection and lack of predators in the Valley, they are thriving here as well and have started successfully breeding here. They’re fun to watch as they like to chatter at each other while they are eating.
There is also a special kind of duck here in the valley: The Pāpango or Scaup. These ducks dive underwater to look for plants and invertebrates to eat. They can stay underwater for up to a minute at a time. They reminded us of little black rubber ducks and it was fun to watch them dive down and then try and figure out where they would pop back up.
We saw loads of other cool animals and insects today, but to go on about them would make this post unbearably long.
Tomorrow is our last day on the North Island. We have had the best time here and experienced so many unique and interesting and beautiful things. Big thanks to Amanda and Gary for their wonderful suggestions, many of which we wouldn’t have found on our own. We’re looking forward to all that the South Island has in store for us…the North has given it some stiff competition.