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.

snakey summer

We have become accustomed to sharing our summer garden with tiger snakes, they have the perfect home around the pond and they have been very polite lodgers. Last year Michael had reconfigured the ponds and surrounding rocks and plants and, apart from a brief visit to check out the new design, no-one actually moved in. Our latest resident appeared early in the summer, curled up in a favourite spot to capture the morning sun.

The weather has been unseasonal this year, with a very wet and mild November making the process of warming up quite difficult. Tasmanian tiger snakes are darker than their mainland cousins in order to absorb more heat but there is still a need to flatten out and speed up the process.

The rocks hold their warmth, a great place to stretch in the sun

until it gets too hot and then there is a shady grevillea to retreat to.

Being extremely vulnerable while shedding their skin, snakes are usually discreet about it. We were very surprised when we came in from gardening to find she had done so out in the open.

After a while, she changed her morning sunning spot, perhaps realising it warmed up earlier than her usual position.

One morning we found her completely out of her comfort zone and wondered if she had been caught unawares the previous evening as the temperature can drop quickly once the sun starts its descent. She flattened out on the stones for a while

and finally made her way, very slowly, to her usual place under the box hedge.

Her home was actually in the rocks, we would see her go to bed each night around 5.30pm (no, we didn’t read her a bedtime story).

A few of weeks ago, we noticed she was looking dull, she was quite restless and her eyes were cloudy, a sure sign another skin shedding was imminent.

We kept a close eye on her movements and the camera within reach in the hope of witnessing and filming the shedding experience. It wasn’t to be, our last vision of her was in her tired, old skin and we haven’t seen her now for three weeks.

Hopefully, she has taken her shiny new self out to the forest to find a mate. Maybe she will return next year?

Cascate del Mulino

After a few hectic days, a soak in the healing waters of hot springs sounded like heaven. We made an early start to avoid the crowds at Terme di Saturnia, a group of thermal springs a few kilometres from the town of Saturnia.

According to medieval legend, during one of the many fights between the god Jupiter and his father Saturn, a lightning bolt thrown by Jupiter missed Saturn and hit the ground. The impact of the projectile formed a crater and its heat warms the water that continually fills the spring. The pool from the legend is actually enclosed in the 5-star Terme di Saturnia Spa Resort and from there, the water flows along a travertine channel, called Gorello, for just over a kilometre.

The gentle pace picks up as the water tumbles over rocks at a magnificent thermal waterfall.

Over thousands of years, the cascading water has created terraces and shimmering blue pools.

An old mill house lends its name to Cascate del Mulino (Mill Falls)

which used to consist of two waterfalls. The first is the one beside the mill house and the second one dropped from an elevated terrace (at the far end of this photo).

In October 2014, 140mm of rain and hail fell in two hours, floodwaters brought mud and debris and a landslide damaged the lower terracettes. It took six months to repair the damage and the second waterfall no longer exists. Fortunately, there is still much to enjoy.

The water is a constant 37.5°C, the scientific composition described as, “a sulphurous-carbonic, sulphate-bicarbonate-alkaline mineral water, and includes among its peculiarities the presence of two dissolved gases such as hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide”. We soon got used to the odour, it certainly wasn’t overpowering. We found our own private space in one of the tiered pools, it was impossible to not be relaxed.

There are no changing facilities on site but a huge towel preserved a modicum of decorum, although I did notice one curious observer.

The early start certainly paid off, another couple of hours and it would be standing room only.

tiger tenants

The seasons have turned here in Tasmania and our long days of summer are behind us. Once again, we shared the garden with our reptilian residents for a few months but they have now found cosy homes for the winter. We can’t blame the snakes for wanting to live here, after all, we have created a paradise for them.

1.pond paradise2.pond paradise

We named our first lodger Suzy. She was quite small and liked to try out a variety of spots to capture the warmth of the sun.

Strangely, our large goldfish liked to keep her company.

5.Suzy

After a while, she left to make a home for herself in the forest and someone else moved in. He was looking rather dull and spent a lot of time among the rocks.

He then took to burying himself in the mulch, a bit worrying as there were times he was completely hidden. We assumed he was preparing to shed his skin, I was hoping to witness the process but I think it was done in private, we never did find the evidence.

8.tiger in mulch

It was at this point we realised we had two occupants, with one under the mulch and another in the favourite afternoon dappled shade position.

9.sleeping tiger

A short time later, perhaps after shedding, one moved out and the other remained. We would see her every morning catching the sun on the eastern side of the pond and then on the rocks under the callistemon in the afternoon. We had visitors for a couple of days in January and there was no sign of our tiger tenant until the afternoon of their departure, when she moseyed across the lawn to resume her residency.

10.tiger returns

Supposedly, tiger snakes don’t stay in one place for long but it seemed as though it was the same snake. She knew our voices and routines and was quite comfortable to lie undisturbed by our presence, we had a mutual respect for personal space.

13.tiger

We had a couple of very hot weeks in February where we saw no snakes and assumed she had moved on to start a family in the forest. One evening, we saw her (we like to think it was her) making her way up the driveway straight to the low birdbath we have for the wrens. I have never seen a snake drinking before, she was very thirsty.

14.thirsty tiger

When she had finished, she once again curled up in the shadow of the callistemon. You can watch a video of her drinking here, you’ll see the shadows of the wrens flying around, they weren’t happy.

 

resident reptiles

Summer is snake season here in Tasmania and although there have been some years I haven’t seen any, I know they are always there. This season, we have seen a lot, probably making the most of the warmth after a prolonged winter. Recently, I saw the familiar black tail disappearing under the Golden Diosma as I approached. Curious to know the whereabouts of the refuge, I (very warily) followed the curve of the bush and saw the same tail retreat down a hole in front of the rainwater tank. We knew of the existence of the hole, a home to previous residents, but we had filled it in. I returned half an hour later to find, to my surprise, a very cosy couple sunning themselves.

1.sunny snakes2.sunny snakes

The larger of the two, presumably the male, withdrew to safety when he sensed my presence. The second one was obviously far too comfortable.

3.looking dull

I tried to find information regarding breeding pairs of Tiger snakes but have had no luck. There is no mention of snakes staying together once mating has taken place. I wanted to learn more and was concerned about the dull appearance of the smaller snake. Emails and phone calls to Parks & Wildlife weren’t particularly helpful, they suggested I contact Reptile Rescue Inc. for information. Finally getting through on the third call to them, I was promised a return call to enlighten me re breeding pairs. The call never came. I eventually received an email from Parks & Wildlife that explained a snake can look dull just before shedding its skin. Two days later, Michael presented me with this.

4.snake skin

Found in the garden under one of our tree ferns, we don’t know what happened to the back half. I wish I had been witness to the transformation. Even the eye holes are perfectly formed.

5.snake eyes

We saw her again a couple of days later as she joined her mate by the pond.

6.new coat

She looked stunning.

7.renewed

Two days of heavy rain followed and we haven’t seen them since. Apparently, it is usual for snakes to move on once they have shed their skin, I wonder if they are still together?