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.