Wellington, New Zealand North Island
12.11.2010 - 12.11.2010 22 °C
Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, known as the windy city. I caught the Interislander ferry across the Cook Straight from Picton on the South island to Wellington on the North. This three hour or so journey was quite tedious but the scenery going through Marlborough Sounds was pretty. I also bumped into Poul and Joe again on the ferry! As I had caught the train rather than take the bus I had managed to catch them up, so looks like i had company for the onward journey to Rotorua.
I set about exploring Wellington by foot. Lovely harbour, cafe culture, much more business-worldly than anywhere on the South Island. Many many more people here too and yes I guess pretty windy. This city for me had a great vibrancy and in my view is the most liveable of the cities I visited in NZ. Some parts of the city are very steep and hilly. I took the funny little cable car directly from inside a shopping centre (!) to the botanic gardens at the top and a lovely view across the city. From here I then walked for thirty minutes or so to the Zealandia wildlife sanctuary, hoping to check out some more native NZ birds. This place was absolutely brilliant and well worth the trek to get there.
The sanctuary itself is based in a huge lush valley that felt appropriately like being in Jurassic Park! There are a number of different walks that you can take through the valley, which provides shelter away from introduced predators for a variety of rare, endangered and indigenous NZ wildlife. Off I set on a three hour exploration armed with binoculars and a guide book, immediately thrilled by all the birdsong within the sanctuary, much of which I had never heard before. I was lucky enough to spot about half of the rare bird species in the book, many of the others, including of course the kiwi, being nocturnal. The Tui was my favourite bird in the sanctuary. Cheeky things, beautiful colours and wearing a cute white tuft around their necks like priests! The numbers of Tui were previously in decline but, since the Zealandia sanctuary was established, are now found all over Wellington in abundance. I also met a family of Kaka parrots, a native parrot related to the Kea alpine parrot I met in Milford Sound, but found in forested areas. The Kaka is also considered to be an endangered species but is doing pretty well in the sanctuary. What an absolute privilege to spend time with these beautiful animals.
Sadly, we humans are the main reason for so many native NZ species being under threat or even extinct. NZ was left isolated and untouched by man for millions of years and unique species of animals and plants evolved in the absence of any major predators. Since the first people arrived to NZ from the South Pacific, many species hunted for food such as the Moa, a large flightless bird hunted to extinction. Importantly, new predators were also introduced along with man such as rats, stoats, weasels and possums. The native wildlife was not adapted to cope with these predators, flightless birds are not capable of a quick getaway when necessary! Man had a truly devastating affect on the native NZ wildlife. A quote from some blurb at the sanctuary, “When people arrived in NZ, the living results of 80 million years of evolution were nearly destroyed in just 800 years”.
There is though some hope... Thankfully, we are now in a world that understands the need to preserve its natural heritage. One very encouraging story is regarding the Kakapo, another large flightless bird on the brink of extinction. If you have not seen the hilarious Stephen Fry ‘encounter’ with the rampant Kakapo you must see it! The sight of one of the rarest birds in the world shagging some guy’s head is one of the funniest things I have ever seen! There are now only around 100 kakapo in the world. Early NZ settlers used to hunt the defenceless, flightless, a bit dumb maybe, kakapo for food and their habitat, the forests, were replaced with grazing lands for sheep!! If it were not for intervention of man the Kakapo may already be extinct. What was thought to be the last colony was found in the Milford Sound area but found to all be male oooppss!! Later expeditions however to offshore islands, found a small colony that was under threat from introduced predators. In the late 1980’s the Kakapo were moved to a safer offshore island to give the species a better chance. Kakapo tend not to breed every year, difficult to believe after seeing that clip of the such a randy bugger I know, so recovery is slow but there is hope....