In a hidden, almost secret valley, kiwis are breeding only 3 kilometres from parliament – in the heart of our Capital city, a slice of New Zealand is reverting to its former glory with the help of a predator-free-mainland-island.
When early settlers wrote about this area they reported rich and diverse forests filled with deafening bird-song. Here, in one of Wellingtons best kept stories, a group of people, with a five hundred year vision, are restoring the area to that same condition.
I have taken a ten minute bus ride, and now, after checking my bag for mice or other predators, step through a gate in the 2.3 metre predator-proof fence and into the 252-hectare valley.
Katie and Allison, two of the volunteers guides, are taking a small group on a nocturnal tour.
“This is a listening tour” they tell us. “You can except to hear various night birds but not see them” and so begins our walk on what they have dscdribed as ‘a work in progress.’
The night-sky is clear and we’ve been given a torch.
‘Only use it to see the path when you need to’ says Allison ‘and make sure you have your fingers over the light to make sure we don’t disturb anything’
Our eyes grow accustomed to the dimming half light and off we go, Katie giving us information in response to our questions.
The two reservoirs originally supplied Wellingtons residents with water and were decommissioned in the mid-nineties. There are around 10 paid staff and some 400 volunteers and the only visitor entry to the sanctuary is via the visitor centre at the end of Waiapu Road. (on the left as you come through the Karori Tunnel
We walk, dusk turns into night, a large group of black shag are roosting on a dead pine tree and when we stop at the upper dam we hear our first kiwi. The call carries across the valley and a shiver-thrill ripples through my body. How amazing that this wonderful bird is safe and breeding so close to human activity. Standing on the dam, built in1908, now a tree-top canopy walk, more birds call, we hear about five different kiwi and a couple of weka. Kiwi were released, over two years, in the valley ( from Kapiti Island) and the numbers have increased naturally since then.
On our walk back down the other-side of the dam we see glow-worms. I feel quite disoriented by them. They are so bright in the dark night and look like the lights of a distant city. Passing back through the weka fence (weka sometimes eat kiwi eggs) we stop to listen as another kiwi calls. Most human kiwi never get to hear this sound and I feel lucky to be hearing so many here on this city ‘island’.
“That’s Jackson” said our guide. “He was re-named because he is a good producer. Just like jackson the director of Lord of the Rings” After a few more minutes we hear scuffling and snuffling. It is Frodo, Jacksons son, born in December and who I thought was a hedgehog!
I return the next day, spending some three hours viewing the valley in daylight and learning a little more. Some 3 tons of dead possum were buried on what is now the Tui terrace, and as well as a dog who has been trained to find predators, bait stations are set up throughout the valley. Apart from a small infestation of mice early on the fence is succesful.
Another series of tracks, hides and other viewing areas are nearly complete and this – the Fletcher Challenge Kiwi Trail – will provide many more opportunities to view our native birds. The area also has some interesting local history, including disused unsuccessful gold mine tunnels, and a class one historic building which houses the damns workings.
Lord Plunket, NZ Governor General 1908-1911, housed his row-boat here and spent many sunny afternoons fishing in the damn.
Fishing is no longer permitted but I can fully recommend you spend time in this deep, Wellington fault valley. New Zealand is fortunate to have people with 500 year visions who are gifting this to us and our descendants.
For more information
phone 04 920 9200