Looking back over these blog posts I quickly realise that we DO cram a lot in to our travels! It’s hard to get the balance right – to mix a bit of sleeping in and early nights with making the most of being in another country. We have all managed to read some books (three for me so far – I’ve now got a book instagram account called _lara_reads if anyone is interested) and the kids have stayed on top of watching ‘their’ youtube shows. Maybe we’re in the sweet spot! Similarly, I am aware that this really is a road trip holiday. It’s not even vaguely possible to do and see ‘all the things’. So we choose a couple of highlights, taking note of places we’d like to return to one day, and continue on. Part of the fun of our travels so far have been family singalongs in the car as we drive along the roads (I know! Who’d have thought!) and playing I-spy. Watching Stella talk to random strangers. Watching Clare go from being with the kids to being with the adults. Having concentrated time together, yet the ability to retreat into a book and regroup when needed.
We needed to be at the ferry terminal to check in at 12.30pm. That gave us a few hours beforehand to visit Zealandia. Wellington is very compact – although Zealandia is a 225 hectare sanctuary, it’s essentially in the city and is only a ten minute drive from the harbour.
I had booked a two hour tour of the sanctuary. Although it obviously costs more to take a tour I nearly always find that the information that you gain from the guide is invaluable. They know their subject inside and out, and there are always more interesting things to discover. We began with a beautifully produced film (on an extremely large screen) that showed how the area had changed over the years from before human settlement through the arrival of the Maori then the arrival of Europeans. As the vegetation and animal life quickly changed it really struck home to me how seemingly irreversible the rapid changes that humans make to their environment really are. The sanctuary is being returned to as close to it’s original state as possible – but they think that it will take 500 years to get there, with continual concentrated effort to do so.
The bird in the photo above is the moa, thought to have become extinct around 500 years ago. Below is a model of the weta, a flightless insect. They have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, but are now threatened. There are a number of species still in New Zealand, in a variety of sizes.
I’m going to pinch some information directly from the Zealandia website to accompany many of these photos.
ZEALANDIA is the world’s first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary, with an extraordinary 500-year vision to restore a Wellington valley’s forest and freshwater ecosystems as closely as possible to their pre-human state. The 225 hectare ecosanctuary is a groundbreaking conservation project that has reintroduced 18 species of native wildlife back into the area, 6 of which were previously absent from mainland New Zealand for over 100 years.
ZEALANDIA has a vision to restore this valley to the way it was before the arrival of humans. With its 8.6km fence keeping out introduced mammallian predators, birds such as the tūī, kākā and kererū, once extremely rare in the region, are all now common sights around central Wellington. Other vulnerable native species such as tīeke, hihi, little spotted kiwi, and tuatara remain thriving safely in the sanctuary.
The takiwā (region) of Kaiwharawhara, in which ZEALANDIA is located, has always been a special taonga for Taranaki Whānui. The source of the Kaiwharawhara stream which flows out to Te Whanganui-ā-Tara (Wellington) can be found inside the sanctuary.
In earlier times the stream was a significant source of fish and crustacean (i.e. kōura) for the nearby kāinga. Ngakinga (cleared cultivated areas) were abundant in the district providing such crops as aruhe (fern-root) and kūmara (sweet potato). The ngahere (forest), with its abundant bird life and plant material served as mahinga kai (food gathering areas) and rongoā tapu (areas for collecting traditional medicine).
Kaharore, the original Māori name for Karori, literally means ‘the ridge for snaring birds’. Traditionally, Māori used a rore (snare) to catch kākā, kererū and other forest birds. There is no history of the valley being permanently occupied, but the area was well known as a hunting ground.
The plant in the above photo with the hole in the leaves is the kawakawa plant. It is related to the kava plant, and was used for medicinal purposes because of the numbing toxin found in the leaves.
That little hole under the overhang in the above photo indicates a kiwi nest. Once again, I suspect this is as close as we’re going to get to seeing a live kiwi.
The sanctuary is in an area that over the years has gone from being farming land to being used for gold and quartz mining then eventually dammed and used as a reservoir for the city. Construction began in 1872 on an earth dam, the first of its kind in Wellington, and possibly in New Zealand. Works were completed the following year with the building of the Gothic style water outlet control tower. This has an ‘A’ classification with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. The other historic building by the lower dam is the boat shed used by the then governor-general who had fishing rights on the lower dam.
By the late 1870s Wellington’s population was increasing rapidly and the existing dam was proving insufficient to meet the city’s water needs. Construction on a second dam began in 1906. Completed in 1908, it is one of only two or three gravity arch dams in the country, and an early example of the use of concrete in New Zealand. In 1978 an engineer’s report found the dam to be an earthquake risk, positioned precariously over the Wellington Fault. The lake behind the dam was lowered and in 1991 the upper dam was decommissioned. With the completion of a new enclosed water supply reservoir at Johnsonville the lower dam was withdrawn from the city’s water supply system in 1998. It is still retained as an emergency water supply.
The dams are extremely deep – after all, they used to be a valley – and the water is dark with algae and is full of perch. It is proving very difficult for the Zealandia staff to clean up the lake to remove the perch and algae.
The pateke is also known as the brown teal. It is one of three closely related species of teal in New Zealand, the other two being the flightless sub-Antarctic Auckland teal and Campbell Island teal. Once common throughout New Zealand, including Stewart Island and Chatham Island, habitat destruction, especially swamp drainage, and predation by introduced predators as well as hunting have resulted in pāteke becoming one of New Zealand’s most nationally endangered species of waterfowl.
Eighteen captive-bred pāteke were released between 2000 and 2001, with breeding confirmed in 2002 and every year since then. The pāteke have been highly productive, even those pairs found in the forest away from the wetlands, with broods of up to 8 ducklings seen. We don’t know how many pairs are currently present in the sanctuary (at least 10 in 2006) because they are scattered throughout the valley. The population is assumed to be self-sustaining but may need a top-up transfer in future to improve genetic diversity and ensure its long-term survival.
The berries in the photo above are hanging from the tutu tree. Every part of the tree except for the juice of the petals contains the poison tutin. Maori used the tree for medicinal purposes and mashed the shoots into poultices for bruises, cuts and boils.Tree tutu (Coriaria arborea) is a many-stemmed shrub or small tree, found on open sites, river banks and forest margins. It produces pairs of leaves on its soft branches. Spikes of flowers hang from the branches in spring and summer and shiny purple-black fruits ripen through late summer and autumn. Fortunately there have been few cases of humans being poisoned by eating the berries.
One of the special birds to be found at Zealandia is the takahe. Takahē are found only in New Zealand. They belong to the Rallidae (rail) family of birds, as do their lookalike but lighter-built cousins, the pukeko (Porphyrio porphyrio). New Zealand used to have two species of takahē. The other was the even larger moho, or North Island takahē (P. mantelli) but this species went extinct in the late 19th century. By the late 1890’s the South Island takahē were also considered to be extinct until they were rediscovered in 1948 in a remote Fiordland valley. Their natural range is now confined to the Murchison Mountains in Fiordland National Park. Thanks to an intensive programme of captive breeding, translocations, stoat control and deer culling, spearheaded by the Department of Conservation, the takahē population has seen a gradual increase. As of 2017 the total population was close to 350 birds.
Unlike the pukeko, takahē are completely flightless. Their colour ranges from an iridescent dark blue on the head, neck and breast, and peacock blue shoulders, to an olive-green and blue back and wings. They have a large, heavy-looking, bright red bill and face shield and heavy red legs with large, splayed out toes ending in claws. Chicks are a fluffy black. The birds are quite chatty and “talk” to each other with a series of slow, deep coo-eet sounds. If startled they let out a deep, vibrating oomf. That heavy, sharp bill is a perfect vegetation cutter and stripper. In their natural habitat they eat the bases of tussocks and the rhizomes of ferns, but they have taken to introduced grasses and are often seen clipping the grass around their wetland area. Their sausage-like, fibrous, green droppings are often seen along the paths by the wetland.
The South Island takahē has been introduced to ZEALANDIA as an analogue species for the extinct moho – our first analogue species. The takahē help ZEALANDIA Rangers educate visitors about the role of conservation in protecting our rarest species. Seeing takahē at ZEALANDIA is a unique opportunity, as most of these carefully protected birds live on off-shore islands or in remote mountain reserves.
Our guide Helen had a superb knowledge of the vegetation. This rangiora has leaves with soft furry white undersides, sometimes used as a substitute for paper (including toilet paper at a pinch). Maori used these leaves to wrap small items of food and to dress wounds.
The whau tree produces these marvellous spiky seed pods. It’s easy to see in this one where the seeds were housed before it burst open and distributed them.
I often find that the tiny plants are the ones that are most interesting, like this liverwort. The little dots on the leaves are the reproductive parts.
It is pretty obvious that Zealandia is absolutely beautiful. I imagine that if you lived in Wellington you would visit often and just soak in the atmosphere. The music of the bird calls, the tinkle of water in the streams, and the rustling of leaves as the wind blows through the vegetation.
New Zealand has over 160 species of native orchids. Around 80% of New Zealand’s native plants and trees are found nowhere else in the world! Very few native trees drop their leaves in autumn so our forest is always green and lush. While our native plants are not generally ‘flashy’, the variety of foliage colour, texture, and shape is extraordinary. Come and see New Zealand’s famous silver fern; the world’s southern-most palm tree, and the biggest fuchsias on earth!
This fern was fascinating – you can see the spores on the underside of the leaf, and the new fernlet plants growing on the top! These tiny plants will either drop off and grow into their own fern or stay on the main leaf and grow when it falls to the ground.
This beautiful little parakeet is the kakariki. These have become endangered as a result of habitat destruction following human settlement and nest predation by introduced mammals. Scarce on the mainland, kākāriki have survived well on outlying islands. They are easy to breed, and are doing well here at Zealandia.
These larger parrots are the kaka. This forest-dwelling parrot is a cousin of the mischievous alpine parrot, the kea, and is one of our most visible and engaging birds. The kākā is a large, olive-brown forest parrot with flashes of crimson and orange plumage under their wings. They have a strong curved beak that they use for climbing and for stripping bark from trees to feed on grubs and sap. Kākā also have a brush-tipped tongue that they use to drink nectar from flowers. They can be seen feeding on kōwhai, rātā and flax when they are in bloom.
Like most parrots, the kākā is social and intelligent. You can often hear them and see them socialising in large flocks. The word kākā can mean ‘screech’ in Māori, named after their loud ‘skrark’ call. Kākā can also produce some beautiful songs and whistles that can vary significantly as regional dialects. These parrots are diurnal (active during the day) but can sometimes be heard screeching and chatting throughout the night.
Kākā had effectively been extinct in Wellington since the early 20th century until they were transferred back into the wild at Zealandia in 2002. A total of fourteen captive-bred kākā were transferred to ZEALANDIA from zoos between 2002 and 2007, and since then, they have become one of our biggest success stories. Kākā breeding at ZEALANDIA has been closely monitored with the use of nest boxes and specially designed nest containers throughout the sanctuary, where we can track the eggs and monitor chicks until they are big enough to be given coloured leg bands to uniquely identify each bird.
By the end of the 2015/16 breeding season, ZEALANDIA had banded over 750 kākā. More and more un-banded kākā are showing up at feeding sites, indicating that kākā are now also breeding in natural nest sites both inside and outside of ZEALANDIA. Breeding at ZEALANDIA has been so prolific that in 2016 we ended our intensive nest box monitoring programme and ZEALANDIA’s kākā population is now a source for translocations to other sanctuaries. In March 2016, ZEALANDIA translocated 10 juvenile kākā to Cape Sanctuary in Hawke’s Bay.
There were many other birds that we spotted at Zealandia – shags, bellbirds, and tui. It’s amazing the diversity that can develop when predatory mammals are taken out of the occasion.
Before we knew it we were sprinting out of Zealandia in order to get to the ferry in time for check in. The ferry trip from Wellington to Picton takes around three and a half hours.
Once we settled in on board we enjoyed watching the ever changing scenes through the windows (or from the back decks). The cloud cover was quite low as we departed from Wellington, and it didn’t take long for the wind to pick up. Stella had fun leaning into the wind and getting it to hold her up!
Cook Strait is considered to be one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world! Ferry crossings had been cancelled a week or so again during the dramatic storms that New Zealand was experiencing. About half the crossing is in the Strait and the other half is in the Sounds.
Apart from the obvious aspect of having land either side of the ferry once we got to the Sounds, the weather changed again and cleared up, with plenty of blue sky and warmth and much less wind.
We disembarked at Picton at around 5.30pm and headed straight to Nelson. Once again the scenery along the way was varied and attractive, especially in the wine growing Marlborough region. We settled in to our Air BnB in Nelson the headed into town to Stefan’s for pizza for dinner. Delicious!