Day 23 on the Road
Close encounters with rare New Zealand wildlife
It’s Day 23 of New Zealand’s Biggest Gap Year and today we are going to Sanctuary Mountain / Mount Maungatautari to see some takahe, tuatara and the release of the rare kokako.
So today we are going to Sanctuary Mountain. This morning I go for a stroll in this sheep field that I’m in at the moment and I realise that there’s a very over-friendly sheep here.
Today we are going to Mount Maungatautari which is also called Sanctuary Mountain and it’s a protected mountain with a predator-proof fence all the way around it protecting it from land mammals that have been introduced into New Zealand when us humans migrated here. It’s to protect all the native bird species in the area. We meet Daniel, he goes and takes us down to an enclosure at the bottom of the mountain which is surrounding a lake and down here there are some tuatara, which are some lizards, and there’s also some takahe which are like large round blue birds they’re so crazy-looking. They’re like giant exotic chickens. And pretty much instantly, because Daniel has the the knowledge and know-how he finds two tuatara, one hidden under a bush which is quite hard to see it’s sort of like dark and blended in under a bush, then the other one is just sat out in the daylight, looking pretty relaxed there – it’s not moving at all – pretty cool to see it so close-up you can even see the white spikes on its back which is where it got it’s Maori name from – the meaning of tuatara is spiny back, I think.
So we’re pretty excited to see the tuatara and now we are looking for the takahe bird. Now the takahe bird is one of the most critically endangered bird in New Zealand. There are 260 of them in the country. So we’re looking for the ever so hidden takahe. Daniel takes us down there and pretty much as soon as we’re walking on this track down to this bottom enclosure we can see there’s a group of four takahe. They’re just all following each other. There are three adult takahe and juvenile takahe that’s just following behind. So that’s pretty exciting to see straight away. And Daniel knows exactly which route they look like they’re going to be taking today, we are sat in the right place. And they come right in front of us and we see them super close up. They’re really unusual birds. They’re just like exotic chickens so we have a look at the exotic chickens for a bit.
Daniel just comes to us and says: “Hey man, we’re going to release a kokako into the park. Do you want to come check it out?” The kokako is a very rare bird. it’s actually the bird that’s one one of our dollar bill in New Zealand. Two conservation volunteers along with their lovely lady who works at Sanctuary Mountain arrive with two birds in boxes. You can just here the slight unusual sounds coming from the boxes and you can think: “Yep, there’s definitely something in there.” And we follow them into the forest to find the perfect spot to release these birds. And the reason they are doing this is to spread the genes – mix the genes and stuff around different parts of New Zealand to boost the populations of these endangered birds. We’re pretty stoked to be going and watching that release. I know this kokako is actually a bird that’s very rare to actually spot in New Zealand because they’re characteristics are kind of like a squirrel in the trees – they just hop in the high tree branches. they fly as little as possible. And then we arrive near the tree and they just set up the boxes. they open the box and… wait for the birds to hop out. They kind of expect them to just hop out pretty quickly but they are a bit reluctant to leave by the sounds of it so they just need a little bit of help to just guide them out of the box and withing a second they are flying out straight away onto a top branch. I mean, we’re trying to capture photos of them and get videos but they are super fast. Despite it all happening so quickly, we realise how lucky we are to see these rare birds in New Zealand. It’s very unlikely that we’re going to see them again. So we spend a few minutes in silence looking at them just kind of getting some altitude in the trees, jumping from one branch to another until we don’t see them anymore. It’s just such a great moment to be part of preserving those species.
Tonight we are going to the local bowling club, which is actually like a bowling club slash bar in this small town of Arapuni with our hosts, Lorraine and Steve, who have said that there are some five dollar burgers and 4.50 beers going on at this place and it isn’t just your shitty burger either, it’s really good like Kiwi burger as they call it, because it has beetroot and fired eggs in it and that is what makes it a Kiwi burger. Amazing.
Yeah, it’s a pretty fun night. We’re sort of like mingling with the locals. It’s a special brew – Waikato Drought… Draught! I said that with such confidence as well like…
How many have you had?
Why not, I mean this hostel keeps on giving. Oh here you are. This one’s getting right up in my grill. Wait. You don’t like to move much do you? This sheep has got some wicked hairstyles going on. No this is not food. I’m very distracted by this sheep. It’s nibbling on my finger.
Next, oh my hands are black from stroking that sheep. Sorry, if that’s ok with you , can I take the chair? So how long have you been in this job? And em, how long have you been in New Zealand for? And how long have you had that orange stuff on our face? So Laura just created a New Zealand reindeer. The sheep is not amused. Sheep. Sheep. Don’t be upset. We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you. Laura’s being mean to you isn’t she? We’re going to see Lorraine and Steve again tomorrow and they’re going to show us, give us a local’s tour, of the Arapuni area, which is pretty exciting. And maybe the sheep will come with us too. I like how the sheep looks like it’s looking at me and thinking: “What are you talking about? Just give me bread. I don’t a give a shit about your life in New Zealand.”