77 Days on the Road
Somewhere deep in the native bush, on an offshore island of New Zealand, where a little amount of men have ever been, is a sanctuary for New Zealand’s native bird species. Well, all of that is true… but there is also a wildlife sanctuary 15 minutes from the city centre of Wellington. Whuuuurrrtt?
Protected by a predator-proof fence, Zealandia aims to keep pests out (except a controlled amount of humans) so that native wildlife can thrive here. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we have visited a sanctuary similar to this on Day 23 of New Zealand’s Biggest Gap Year at Mt Maungatautari. Entry to wildlife sanctuaries not only contributes funds to wildlife conservation, but it’s a chance to see some rare New Zealand wildlife that you otherwise might not be able to see when casually backpacking.
Free shuttle to Zealandia
A free shuttle to Zealandia departs regularly from the i-SITE, so we are on that! (Anything to avoid city driving). The shuttle driver talks about the places we are seeing along the way, until we get to the fenced-off Zealandia.
Putting the pests into perspective
Before passing the fence, we have a look around the exhibition. This place is packed with information, from identifying the different bird species, current and extinct, to interactive videos and a mechanical moa head. We learn why a predator proof fence is needed and exactly what the pests are in New Zealand.
Regularly the lights will dim and a short movie will play on the big screen. It’s the eerie silent story of human migration to New Zealand and how this impacted New Zealand’s native forest and wildlife. Spoiler alert: humans are d*cks.
225 hectares of stunning forest!
Now we are well informed and Zealandia has been put into context, we can check our bags for mice, rabbits and rats and pass the fence into Zealandia!
Although there are several hikes around the area, all very well connected, we follow Zealandia’s recommended route following the lakeside. This is where the bird feeders are places so we are more likely to see a concentrated number of birds.
Looking at the wild jungle-like forest ahead of us though, we would love to hike within this 225 hectares of native trees! But, we are not properly prepared for that.
From tui to shags
Even on the way to the first bird feeder, we spot and hear all sorts flying or hopping around: the infamous songbird, tui, the fantail and the introduced common black bird.
From atop the Lake Road, we can see a shag colony nesting on the lake side below! A staircase down to the lakeside gives us a chance to have a better look and we have a great view of their nests, a mother feeding, and a shag… well… shagging.
A super close encounter with the takahe
We then come to a gate signposted: Do not let the takahe out of this gate. Oh my God, they are right there! A pair of oversized blue chickens with red beaks is creeping towards us. They are barely scared of us! We manage to get closer than we have ever managed to get to these beautiful birds before. The reason why becomes obvious when a man wearing a Zealandia uniform comes along and starts filling the feeders up. The takahe live a indulging life here at Zealandia!
Getting ourselves a tour guide
The volunteer Zealandia worker, called John, offers to give us a tour around the rest of the route, telling us the functions of the native trees. New Zealand’s vegetation is so freakin’ clever! John tells us how many of the trees have evolved to survive the moa, New Zealand’s now extinct giant bird. Some trees don’t start to turn into juveniles and start growing leaves until they reach a certain height – higher than a moa, while others have an antiseptic and bitter-tasting substance that become concentrated in an area when it starts getting eaten, off-putting its predator.
A trip to the Weta Hotel
Another bird feeder might not have many birds on it as such but there are a few glimpses of curious kaka, a parrot, climbing the branches high in the trees. A small green bellbird eats the remains of a past feed off the ground.
Next is a trip to the Weta Hotel. Holes in the trees have been cut out to make the perfect weta environment. We can open up the tree connected to a hinge to have a look at one weta that is sleeping today.
Robin, meet robin
Along the pathway, we notice a little cheeky robin following us, hopping along at ground level. It is looking for worms under any upturned stones we might have made with our footsteps – a technique nurtured from the days of the moa too.
We know what you are thinking: What? A robin? That’s not a special New Zealand bird! We have those in our back garden at home! Well, calm the eff down. The North Island robin is a black robin with a white breast that has no fear whatsoever! Robin (the other robin) puts his camera on the floor and robin #2 is hopping around it like crazy! It’s inquisitive and so fun to watch.
Even the rain can’t stop us from watching the takahe!
A banquette for birds
A grand feast for birds await at the final bird feeder! About five or six kaka climb above the feeder taking turns to swoop down and release the food under the weight of their body. (Although sometimes one of the kaka goes at the wrong time, getting into a casual battle of the beaks at the feeder). Meanwhile, other birds wait around the side of the feeder waiting for the daft kaka to fling some food in their direction. A tui is amongst them, as well as some whiteheads and more common black birds.
Time for us to indulge
Wow! We have seen so much in Zealandia. Watching all the birds indulging has made us want to indulge in a hot chocolate back at the Rata Cafe. That’s also to warm us up because, did we forget to mention, it has been raining most of the day!
Never underestimate a hungry backpacker
Our shuttle driver kindly drop us off right at the Trek Global hostel since we are the only ones to use the shuttle at this time. Tuesdays at Trek Global is Souper Tuesdays which we wish we could tell you about but we underestimate how quickly free soup goes when surrounded by hungry backpackers. We are 10 minutes late and the free soup is gone! Let this be a lesson to you all!
Tomorrow, we are taking some time to discover Wellington city! Join us then!
Playing the mechanical moa head in the Zealandia exhibition
We have more. Heaps more! Check out these articles:
- Wellington – Guide for Backpackers
- 11 Animals and Birds Unique to New Zealand
- Saving Smaug the Kiwi Bird
And don’t forget to follow us and all the pretty pictures of Zealandia on Instagram. We also post New Zealand travel tips on Facebook. Finally, find us on HerePin to meet us and follow our recommendations.
See you tomorrow!