Food, wine, and birds in Melbourne

Wine tasting is often popular

Off out for a day tour with Grayline (Melbourne, Australia) as well as visiting a wildlife sanctuary and riding the Puffing Billy, we had food in many ways, including for some fellow passengers  feeding birds.

Interestingly the chef at our dinner stop -‘for the best roast beef you will ever have’ our driver  had told us – insisted that the alcohol in the jus would have been ‘cooked out’ – an old chefs myth that’s repeated all the time so I was not surprised she didn’t know. (See here for the facts from the US Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Data Laboratory which calculated the percentage of alcohol remaining in a dish – based on various cooking methods)

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Cruising, snorkeling & walking among the flora and fauna of Fiji

The kiwi travel writer enjoys Fiji
The kiwi travel writer enjoys Fiji

While cruising the Yasawa Islands with Blue Lagoon Cruises (aboard the catamaran Fiji Princess) I find just some of the flora and fauna of Fiji. Tropical forests, rough mountainous terrain, blue Pacific Ocean waters and uninhabited islands (as well as cities and resorts) sums up Fiji: it’s only native mammal are fruit bats and six varieties are found on the islands and although bird watching in the rainforest is a major tourist draw in Fiji I saw very few while cruising there recently.

Walking through the tropical forest (from one side of one of the Yasawa islands) we saw epiphytes, and a few small orchids. Overall, 10 percent of the native plant life is unique to Fiji.

Underwater, Fiji features one of the South Pacific’s largest coral reef systems and we had a marine biologist come aboard to talk about the value of them. Although they can’t sting us, we can do huge damage to them by touching them: the bacteria on our body can be fatal to them  . . . so, don’t touch is the rule!

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Marine biologist Dan

With no eyes or brains, a centralised mouth and digestive system it would never win an award for complex systems – in fact its mouth is also where undigested matter leaves its body!

Labelled as the Soft Coral Capital of the World by Jean-Michel Cousteau, Fiji apparently offers some of the world’s best scuba diving and snorkeling and the crystal waters of their reefs and lagoons often have unmatched visibility.

As someone who feels almost blind without my glasses I would recommend getting your own face mask with prescription glass so you can enjoy the colourful underwater scenery even more than you will.

Fiji Princess had all the water toys we needed …  such as, snorkels, face-mask, canoe, paddle boards, glass bottom boats etc.

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Wildlife Sanctuary – near Melbourne, Australia

Many thanks to Grayline for hosting me on this fun day trip which included the Puffing Billy trip (see  an earlier blog) food, wine and chocolate. It also had stop at Healesville Sanctuary  which is part of  Zoos Victoria and we arrived just in time for the bird show.

I think the best way to introduce you to this sanctuary is to give you a slideshow about some of my time there  … naturally being there in the flesh is way better and I hope this encourages you to pack a picnic lunch and go, or do as I did and go on a day tour with Grayline.

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Let have another look at that bird that hit my camera, which hit me and created a huge lump and cut in my eyebrow – seemed it didn’t like the close up i wanted to take! I don’t know what part hit me, maybe the straps hanging from his legs, his body or wing, but whatever it was, it was an unexpected and hard wallop!

Travel writers – just going that extra length to get a story huh!

A second before it collides with me!
A second before Australia’s biggest raptor collides with me! See the mean look it has!

A taste of blogs to come (Australia)

Just got home at midnight last night: but here are a few photos from my first day in Melbourne, Australia to give you a taste – these are from a  great day tour which included food, wine, wildlife, and a Puffing Billy!

I did this tour with Grayline and for more about this day tour and my other activities during the past 3 weeks make sure you sign up to get my blogs by email (top right hand corner of this page) and/or follow me on FaceBook, Pinterest, Instagram etc – get the links off my website www.kiwitravelwriter.com)

Kapiti Island is a rugged lifeboat for endangered birds

Heading for Kapiti
Heading for Kapiti

Kāpiti Island’s 1965 hectares has been a rugged lifeboat for New Zealand’s endangered birds for over 100 years.

The local tangata whenua (Māori for ‘people of the land’) kept 13 hectares around Waiorua Bay and I spent a night at the lodge that is on the top, north-eastern, of the island.

The owner-operators of Kapiti Nature Tours are the whanau (family) – John and Susan Barrett, and John’s sister Amo Clark – who live there. John and Amo’s iwi (tribe) and whanau (family) have lived on Kapiti Island since the 1820s.

Kapiti Nature Lodge is the only accommodation on Kapiti Island and was inspired by the homestead of John and Amo’s grandmother who opened her farm homestead to visitors. It was a family member, and nature guide, Maanaki, who met us when we landed at Rangatira, about 2 kilometres south of our final destination, Waiorua Bay, for the nocturnal kiwi walk and our bed for the night.

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One of the first birds he introduces to us was the beautiful Tieke (north island saddleback). Its glossy black, has a tan saddle and long red wattles at the base of its black bill. Its birds such as this, he tells us, that they work closely with the Department on Conservation to nurture and protect.

The very vocal tieke
The very vocal tieke

Other species that need the safety this predator free environment provides include the Little Spotted KiwiTakaheKākāWekaKereru, Kokako, Hihi, and  Toutouwai (Robin).

Amo tells me living and working on one of New Zealand’s most precious Taonga (treasures) is wonderful. “Nature belongs to everyone, and sharing our knowledge is all part of our hospitality.”

Kapiti Island is home to over 1,200 Little Spotted Kiwi, making it one of the densest populations of Kiwi to be found and, “one of the easiest places to see them in the wild” we are told.

My next blog will be about our kiwi spotting tour and accommodation on this unique island.

See an earlier blog which sets the scene for this trip to Kāpiti.

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Kapiti Island Nature tours and abundant bird song

They say good things come to those who wait: my trip to Kāpiti Island with Kāpiti Island Nature Tours proved the adage. This blog sets the scene for a series of posts (and photos) about my time as a guest of my Māori hosts.

Shaped by ocean currents, wind and quakes or, as legend says, sliced from the mainland with blows from Kupe’s paddle, this island has become a lifeboat for New Zealand’s flora and fauna.

Interestingly such of the vegetation there has more in common with the South Island than the North suggesting a land bridge to the south and not the close-by Kāpiti Coast.

We check our bags for unwanted predators before boarding the water taxi
We check our bags for unwanted predators before boarding the water taxi

After two aborted trips to the island, because of bad weather stopping the boat, in late 2014 I finally got to visit one of NZ’s longest restoration stories.  In 1897 the island became a nature reserve after being acquired, or taken, by governmental legislation, for use as a bird sanctuary

New Zealand history says  “At the end of the 1880s scientists were concerned about the loss of native plants and animals and the impact of introduced predators and pests. Taking their lead from Potts, who in 1878 suggested the creation of ‘national domains’ as refuges for native birds, scientific societies helped create offshore islands as flora and fauna reserves. These included Resolution Island (1891), Secretary Island (1893), Little Barrier Island (1895) and Kapiti Island (1897). The societies were led by notable figures such as botanist Leonard Cockayne and politician Harry Ell”.

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Large scale colonisation didn’t begin until Ngāti Toa, under Te Rauparaha who was at the height of his powers, captured the island from Ngāti Apa and Muaupoko and began farming to supply the whaling and coastal trading ships

The first whaling station had started in 1829 and by early 1830 there were seven on the island with some 4000 Māori and 600 whalers living on the island.

Now one of New Zealand’s most valuable nature reserves, these 1965 hectares, our 2nd largest offshore natures reserve, is free from introduced animals (and predators). As a sanctuary for wildlife, its vegetation is of equal importance and restoring and preserving vegetation that was once common in coastal and lowland parts of central NZ.

Bookmark this blog to read more about my hiking there and to see more photos of the wonderful bird life – the abundant birdsong was clear as soon as we stepped off the water taxi.

the rare Tieke (North Island Saddleback) greets us with it's noisy calls
The rare Tieke (North Island Saddleback) greets us with its noisy calls