Zealandia

One of the places on our ‘must see’ list while in Aotearoa was Zealandia, the world’s first fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary. For millions of years, native and endemic species had evolved without the need to defend themselves – until humans, and the mammals they introduced, managed to render at least 51 bird, 3 frog, 3 lizard, 1 freshwater fish, 1 bat, 4 plant, and a number of invertebrate species extinct. Formerly known as the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, the 225 hectares (just under a square mile) of forest, surrounded by 8.6 kilometres of pest-exclusion fencing, has reintroduced 18 species of wildlife to the area after being absent for over 100 years. We exited the visitor centre to the magnificent view of Karori Reservoir.

Completed in 1878, the Karori Dam and valve tower hailed the beginning of the municipal water supply to Wellington City and continued to contribute until the late 20th century.

There are many kilometres of walking trails through the sanctuary, we headed up the main path that followed the lake.

It wasn’t long before we encountered a gorgeous family of pied shags. Known in many countries as cormorants, they are brilliant swimmers and, because their feathers are not waterproof, can stay underwater for up to 30 seconds. Unfortunately, this means they get quickly waterlogged and cold and need to spend a lot of time preening and drying their feathers.

When a predator approaches a nesting colony, the chicks will jump into the water long before they can fly and are very good at climbing back up to the nest. Both parents build the nest, incubate the eggs and feed their adorable  young.

Further along the path, we encountered a pair of birds enjoying a drink at a sugar water bar.

The kākā is a large, olive-brown forest parrot with flashes of crimson and orange plumage under their wings. The word kā can mean ‘screech’ in Māori and so the name kākā is thought to be a reference to their loud call. Effectively extinct in Wellington since the early 20th century, fourteen captive-bred kākā were transferred from zoos between 2002 and 2007 and breeding has been very successful at Zealandia.

As the trail narrowed and foliage thickened,

we could hear unusual clicks, croaks and bell-like sounds. Looking up, we spied a beautiful black bird with white pom-poms at its throat.

The tūī is known for its complex vocabulary and can mimic other birds, ringtones of phones, door chimes and even human speech thanks to its ‘double voice-box’. While watching and listening, mesmerised, it became evident in the sunlight that the dark plumage was actually a dazzling iridescent green.

We stumbled upon what appeared to be old iron railway tracks in a clearing. Alluvial gold was discovered in the area in 1869 and local residents flocked to lay a claim. Two years later, quartz mining took its place with water wheels and crushing machinery installed. Presumably, these are remnants of the mine sites.

We traversed the upper dam wall, completed in 1908

and paused to take in the stunning vista across the upper reservoir toward urban Wellington.

We crossed a suspension bridge, enveloped by dense forest

to travel a different route back to our starting point. We didn’t expect to see the elusive tuatara but the mainly nocturnal creatures were basking in the sun.

Tuatara means ‘peaks on the back’ in Māori and they are considered to be messengers of Whiro, the god of death and disaster. Scientists refer to them as ‘living fossils’ because they are the only living members left of the Rhynchocophalian order. All other members became extinct around 65 millions years ago.

We first spotted these birds while staying at Motuoapa Bay. Though not a native species, the California quail is a welcome substitute for the now extinct New Zealand quail, helping to balance the ecosystem.

With a hint from this Tūī that lunch time was nigh,

we left Zealandia in search of sustenance.

happy hens

Our crazy Barnevelder chooks are now nine years old. Two died last year in their sleep and the remaining duo hadn’t produced an egg for many months. We don’t have the heart to despatch them and so, we welcomed four newcomers instead. This time, we veered from any particular breed and sourced them from a local “farm”. I didn’t realise the state they were in until I got them home, many feathers missing at the back end, they obviously had worms and possibly lice. We treated their ailments and have become very attached to these lovely red hens. They are intelligent (for chooks), inquisitive and each has her own personality.

Winter has been wet and dismal, our poor girls have endured without complaint. We took to the internet in search of ways to make life more interesting for them and made it our mission to cheer them up. Having seen videos of chooks playing on a swing, we were inspired to make one. Unfortunately, our girls haven’t seen the videos.

We then fashioned a couple of hooks on string to hang vegetables from (silverbeet is prolific in the veggie patch) and that was a hit, though they make short work of it.

At least the swing is getting some use, for hanging long grass over.

Next came a forage cage so the girls can nibble the greens that grow through without scratching and ripping them out of the ground. Someone was eager to try it out, adding her own brand of fertilizer as a bonus.

We gleaned from our search that chooks find mirrors fascinating, this was more successful than the swing.

So, they now have a playground in the secure pen.

They also have a larger uncovered area that is fenced to prevent the destruction of our garden. We created another forage cage and the same cheeky chook couldn’t wait to check it out.

Last weekend, we added another novelty for them, a chair made out of old fencing posts.

I’m pleased to report, spring has sprung and we are now having more sunny days than wet ones. The forage mix is starting to grow

and the girls have all recovered their health and fluffy bums.

The two old girls are going strong and one has even started laying again.

The ultimate indication of chook happiness is indulging in a dust bath in the warm sunshine.

avian ablutions

We have had the most stupendous summer here in northwest Tasmania – long, hot, sunny days stretching into warm evenings with not a breath of breeze. It will all come to an end in the next few weeks and we will be stoking the fire and donning coat, scarf, hat and gloves to venture outside. There has been a preponderance of birdlife this season, perhaps due to the absence of our usual resident tiger snake. I could spend hours watching the antics of these wonderful creatures making good use of our many birdbaths. The Black-headed Honeyeater is endemic to Tasmania and is a very sociable sort. The youngsters have a brown head and bill, looks like this was a family outing.

An Eastern Spinebill arrives but, after observing the zealous activity, seems reluctant to take the plunge.

No such reticence from the House Sparrow, he just dives straight in.

When the splashing abates, a New Holland Honeyeater sneaks in for a quiet drink.

A lone swimmer enjoys the peaceful interlude before the next family arrive.

miscellaneous moments

A few years ago, I posted ‘random rambling’, a selection of photos that didn’t really fit any one subject. I have since accumulated a few more that I thought I would share with you. The male blue wrens have been in their eclipse phase through winter and are now bobbing around the garden in their bright blue plumage in pursuit of the ladies.

In the forest, flowers of wild white clematis transform in autumn to feathery seed floss.

Here is a bit of silliness. Spreading a few tons of mulch, Michael captured this from his perch on the tractor. He calls it, “burying the wife”.

After dark, our garden becomes a marsupial playground and sometimes the critters are slow to leave come morning. This pademelon didn’t seem in any particular hurry to return to the forest.

The elegant art installation by a local orb spinner decorated the verandah. Backlit by the morning sun, it was fortunately too high to trap the unsuspecting human.

Sitting at the dining table one afternoon, I saw a flash of white in my peripheral vision. I assumed it was a sulphur-crested cockatoo but on closer inspection, a beautiful Grey Goshawk had landed in a tree just outside the window. The threatened species has a population currently estimated at less than 110 breeding pairs in Tasmania, we are hopeful our forest is home to at least one of those pairs.

I spotted this humongous fungus in the crevice of a tree trunk in the garden,

ten days later, it had started to shrivel and change shape.

Our magnificent Golden Ash tree provides shelter through summer before the leaves turn gold in autumn and fall to the ground.

On this particular day, I looked up from my usual gardening position on my knees and was awed by the comfort of the canopy. I felt as though the tree was embracing me

or maybe it was my handsome North Wind man?

Looking out of the window one day, I could see black objects on the horizon (my eyesight isn’t what it used to be). I took a photo for identification purposes and confirmed nothing more exciting than the neighbouring cattle searching for tasty remnants in a barren field.

I discovered this delicate, white fungus while picking the last of our daffodils, it reminds me of coral. Apparently, it is called Shizophyllum commune and is very common on dead wood.

Our holly tree, once starved of light under a huge gum tree we have since removed, has flourished. I think this is proof that Christmas should be in winter.

Both the red and yellow waratahs are presenting a stunning display this year

and the port wine magnolia is again in bloom.

Motuoapa Bay

Our few days at the Lake House remain in my memory as the most idyllic sojourn of our trip. On the southern shore of Lake Taupo, Motuoapa Bay is a tranquil cove that is situated to capture the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. A short stroll on our first evening delivered a fine example of things to come.

The bay is also the location of a fabulous marina and home to an assortment of pleasure craft. The $6 million redevelopment took 18 years from original plans to completion in November 2017. For those into statistics, over 39,000 cubic metres of sediment was removed from the original marina basin and channel before being turned into 5.5 acres of reclaimed land. Nearly 1,600 square metres of concrete floating docks offer 158 berths. There was very little activity during our stay.

The next morning, with cups of tea in hand to warm against the chill, we ventured out in the early light.

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the serenity.

Taking a closer look at the marina,

I wondered about the intriguing names on some of the boats.

We returned to our base to prepare for an exciting day out at Tongariro National Park.

The following day was one of relaxation and, as the light began to fade, we couldn’t resist one last dose of the stunning surrounds. Canada geese and black swans were seeking their supper in the spotlight of a descending Sol.

Another round of the marina and still no sign of life.

We spied a few of these unusual birds and have since discovered they are California quail, an introduced game bird with an interesting head dress.

Reluctant as we were to leave Motuoapa Bay and the Lake House, there were new adventures awaiting.