Monday, December 15, 2008

Wellington Trip, Part 3 - Karori Wildlife Sanctuary

After my busy day inside at Te Papa, I really needed to get out in the fresh air. I'd read about Karori a while ago and was intrigued by this predator-free sanctuary so close to Wellington City Centre.

Karori is a 225 hectare valley of regenerating lowland forest and wetlands (there is an old reservoir here) protected by an 8.6km long predator proof fence. It is home to many native birds and creatures that are rarely seen on mainland New Zealand, but have been reintroduced over the last 10 years of Karori's existence. The native wildlife that has been introduced includes:

  • North Island Weka

  • Little Spotted Kiwi

  • Brown Teal

  • Scaup

  • North Island Robin

  • Tomtit

  • Whitehead

  • Bellbird

  • North Island Saddleback

  • North Island Kaka

  • Kereru (NZ Pigeon)

  • Hihi (Stitchbird)

  • Tuatara

  • Maud Island Frog

  • Giant Weta
There are plenty of other birds that have been attracted to the area too, such as tui.

You have the option of wandering around the tracks on your own during the day, or joining a day or night tour. I decided to splash out and go on the night tour, in the hope of seeing some real live wild kiwi. I've seen kiwi before, but only in captivity.

I arrived for the tour at dusk along with half a dozen others and was promptly issued with a torch. I forgot to pack my binoculars for this trip, which was a bit of a blow, and all I had with me was my compact camera. I managed to get a few decent photos before it got too dark, but all the ones I took of birds were just too blurry to keep.

First we had to go through the bag checking procedures to make sure we weren't smuggling in any mice or possums (!) and then we were able to cross through the gates into the sanctuary. Our guide was a very chatty, knowledgeable guy whose name I can't remember, and he first showed us how the predator fence works.

It goes under the ground at an angle to stop burrowing animals, is high enough to prevent anything jumping over it and has a special slippery metal guard at the top to stop creatures from climbing over it. Apparently the only problem with it is that the weave is not quite small enough to stop baby mice getting through. Hence, mice are still a problem at Karori, but they will be replacing the fence at some point. There were lots of traps in the sanctuary as well, to catch anything that does somehow make it in.

We were taken around the reservoir and into the forest. We passed by the kaka feeders, and I was able to see loads of these parrots up close as they came to feed from the specially designed feeders. I'd never seen kaka before, so it was great to see them so close. At the reservoir I also spotted brown teal, scaup, shags and a kingfisher. There were also lots of tui and kereru around as we walked through the bush and the flax, but I do see plenty of them around Dunedin anyway, particularly in the Botanical Gardens.

Then the group of us headed into the forest in the hopes of finding some kiwi. We had to be very quiet and listen out for the calls and for rustling through the undergrowth. There were several moments when we stopped to listen as we could hear the kiwi calling nearby, but couldn't see them anywhere.

After trekking through half a dozen different kiwi territories we were almost at the end of the tour and still hadn't seen any kiwi. I had pretty much given up hope, the guide said the tours only saw kiwis about 1 in 4 nights. Then suddenly we heard a great crash through the trees! It was a kiwi, skidding down the hill towards us. We all stopped still, and watched it trampling around in the undergrowth. Then we spotted a second kiwi nearby. The group of us stood there with our red torches shining into the undergrowth for about 15 minutes watching the two kiwis. Probably looked a bit ridiculous!

The kiwi living at Karori Sanctuary are Little Spotted Kiwi, of which there are no other populations on mainland NZ. The biggest group of them live on Kapiti Island, I believe, a little way up the coast from Wellington.

On the way back we also spotted some tuatara, which we had not been able to find earlier. These tuatara are the only wild population on the mainland of NZ, so it was incredible to see them too.

I highly recommend visiting Karori Sanctuary. I'd love to go back in the day time and just wander around the place. In fact, if I ever live in Wellington, I'd definitely think about becoming a member so i could go there more often. It was a great night, well worth the money I paid. Seeing kiwi, kaka, tuatara and everything else was simply magical.

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