I have been warned by my TomTom (GPS/route planner) “Warning: your destination is on an unpaved road” it told me.
Leaving the eco-cottages I was staying at in Kerikeri I’d entered the address 476 Puketi Road (Northland, New Zealand) which is about 30 minute drive away: I’m off on a night walk with Adventure Puketi .
When I reach the ‘unpaved’ road I also warned about cows and children!
It seems that sharing the secrets of the forest is a passion for Ian and Barbara Candy and their team of Adventure Puketi guides, one of whom I went out with and her knowledge of the flora and fauna in the environment was shared with enthusiasm. They are Department of Conservation (DOC) approved for guided walking tours of the Puketi Rain Forest.
Don’t ever think the forest is silent just because it’s dark; our walk started in the waning light and finished in the dark.
So what can you see and or hear on this walk? Here’s the list of creatures that I saw: eel, koura, (fresh-water crayfish) owls, glow-worms, weta, and numerous varieties of spiders. Add the ancient kauri, other trees, shrubs and the night sky and the evening is a real treat.
How the walk I did worked was – start off in the light, get introduced to the bush when we could see it, then we turned around and walked the same track in the dark seeing how it differs and the residents change, become visible, or audible.
Sad facts for New Zealand, and the world, is that since the arrival of people in New Zealand (about 800 years ago), some 41 species of bird have become extinct.
Today several species are only surviving thanks to intensive conversation measures and thanks for people such as Don Merton QSM – who unfortunately died in April 2011 before this book was published. I only met him once, but I, and other NZers value the work he did for us and our wildlife.
While we have lost many species and the forest no longer echoes with wonderful birdsong, the bird life in New Zealand is still remarkable with much of it being not just endemic, but unlike anything elsewhere.
The Kakapo, the world’s largest parrot, and the Takahe, the largest member of the Rail family, are two flightless examples of birds unlike anything else in the world. Other good examples are the two wattlebirds, the Saddleback and Kokako. All of these would probably be extinct by now were it not for recent intervention by dedicated conservationists, by people such the authors of this new book, Birds of New Zealand.
Birds of New Zealand (ISBN 1869508513)
is a beautiful photographic guide featuring all 350 species of bird you can possibly see in New Zealand, illustrated with over 600 full colour photographs with full descriptions of all native species and the regular visitors: it is a wonderfully practical book that no bird spotter or nature enthusiast should be without.
This book is not just a guide to identifying the native birds: it is also a wake-up call to look after them, to appreciate and protect them. As Julian says in his acknowledgements, ‘the real thank you has to go to the amazing native bird life of Aotearoa New Zealand, for being so special, and so different. My one hope is that this book will do just a little bit to help you survive and prosper. You have had a rough 800 years and you deserve better.’
Julian Fitter is a conservationist, naturalist and writer with a special interest in island ecosystems. He spent 15 years in the Galapagos Islands where he established and ran the islands’ first yacht charter business. In 1995 he was instrumental in setting up the Galapagos Conservation Trust which has grown to be a significant supporter of conservation programmes in Galapagos. He is the author of a number of books on birds and wildlife, including most recently,New Zealand Wildlife and Bateman’sField Guide to Wild New Zealand.
Don Merton is a name that is synonymous with bird conversation, worldwide. He started work with the New Zealand Wildlife Service in 1957 and retired from the Department of Conservation in 2005. The survival of several species, including the South Island Saddleback, Kakapo and Black Robin owe a lot to Don. The techniques he and his colleagues used to ensure their survival, are now in use around the world and have helped countless other species in the fight to prevent their extinction.
NOTE: Another new book worth checking out by nature lovers is the COLLINS FIELD GUIDE TO NEW ZEALAND WILDLIFE Terrence Lindsay and Rod Morris
Joining the Seal Coast Safari, which ‘they’ say is the ‘best tour in Wellington’ I want to check it out again and see if ‘they’ are right.
I’m picked up at the Wellington i-Site (downtown visitor centre) along with two other locals – Claire & Alice – both Bluebridge employees. Seems this is the first time our driver-guide, Billy, has had locals-only on the off-road Seal Coast Safari. It’s a compliment when locals love our coast so much we go out in the middle of winter to see it from a different perspective.
I get the front seat in the Toyota Cruiser and we’re off – before long we’re at the top of the Zealandia (Karori Wildlife Sanctuary) predator proof fence and site of New Zealand’s first wind turbine: at 33 metres tall it is dwarfed by those built today.
It’s amazing that within such a short time we are well out of the city – for non-Kiwi readers, this is New Zealand’s capital, and the site of our parliament.
Some of the highlights of the trip for me (apart from my always-favourites, the seals and bird life) were the wildlife which included Kaimanawa horses and domestic deer. The horses originate from domestic horses owned by early settlers and which are now a large (problematic) wild herd in the middle of the North Island.
I also loved the views of the city, harbour, Cook Strait and the snow-capped mountains of the wonderful South Island. As you can imagine, traveling along a fault line, and with exclusive access through private land, provided many photo opportunities, and our surf-loving, singing, meditating, and artist (painting) driver loved sharing his knowledge with us.
So local or visitor I can recommend this. (See another piece I wrote about this tour and Maori myths)
Here are just some of the photos I took during the morning.
Tens of thousands of Maori died in the intertribal Musket Wars of the 1810s, 1820s and 1830s. Muskets changed the face of intertribal warfare, decimating the population of some tribes and drastically shifting the boundaries of areas that others controlled. Read more here:
Learn about Maori traditions & herbal use of native bush by local Maori
Herbal medicines and family history combine to provide one of the great tourist (boutique) ventures in Kaikoura, New Zealand. Maori Tours takes guests sightseeing, tracing local and family history and a bush walk to explore the medicinal properties of the native trees and bush.
“Most of, the remedies possess validity,” says Dr. Raymond Stark in his book, MAORI HERBAL REMEDIES(1979). Over the years, trial, success and failure honed the skills to treat various illnesses, along with appropriate karakia (prayers). In pre European days, the tohunga (priest) held the knowledge of the remedies; today others have that knowledge. Early settlers found many worthwhile uses for Maori herbal medicines: aching joints, headaches, constipation and dysentery, to name just a few.
As well as the kiwi, (see prevous blog in this series) New Zealand has other flightless birds, all of which are in danger of extinction. Apart from two bats, New Zealand had no terrestrial mammals until the Maori arrived some one-thousand years ago, bringing the kiore,(a Pacific rat) and the Pakeha( European) some eight hundred years later, who brought rabbits, possums, deer, stoat and many other animals.Before that, with no predators, it appears the birds had no need to fly and so lost the ability.
Introduced animals have been devastating these birds and their habitat since their introduction.
New Zealand‘skakapo is one of the worlds rarest birds. (six billon people in the world – only 90 kakapo birds) A large nocturnalflightless bird, it has full-size wings, their only apparent use being for balance while running, or the occasional glide after clambering up a tree. Sometimes called the owl parrot, the kakapo weighs between 2.00 and 2.5 kilo.
Iridescent moss green, barred with lemon yellow and black, this gentle, tame and slow moving parrot is totally vulnerable to hunting by introduced feral cats, rats, stoats and ferrets.The kakapo lives in rain-forests, fromsea level to alpine basins. A vegetarian, it covers large distances each night, competing with the introduced deer for the samefood. Like the kiwi it has small eyes, excellent hearing and catlike whiskers at the base of its bill.
The male is promiscuous, gathering in ‘booming’ areas with other males where they boom loudly Called ‘lek mating’ for 6-8 hours every night for up to five months, callingto attract females who then nest build and raise the chicks alone. The kakapo is New Zealands only lek bird. Most flightless birds emerge fromthe egg active, not helpless and blind like the young kakapo.This has contributed greatly to the birds demise as the mother has to leave the defenceless chick to forage.
In the short term, transferring the few remaining birds to off shore, predator free islands appears to be the only way to save these delightful parrots. Long term prospects for the kakapo do not seem promising despiteintensive work by the New Zealand Department of Conservation.However the 2009 season is showing some promise see here.
Meet Sinbad a young kakapo who had an adventurous start to his life. He was one of three chicks hatched in 1998 but, as the youngest and smallest chick in the nest, could not get the food he needed to survive.
Brilliant blue body,green wings and back, combined with sturdy red legs, feet and beak make the takahe a bird not to be forgotten. Territorial,it lives in pairs and both parents incubate and raise the young. Unfortunately their fertility rate is very low with many of the eggs infertile.takahe
Once found throughoutNZ, the takahe (prounouncedtar car hay ) was thought to be extinct for over fifty years before being rediscovered by Dr. Geoffrey Orbel, in 1948, while he was bush walking. The population of a round 150 continue to live mainly in the marginal environment of the South Islands MurchisonMountains,foraging for it’s favourite snow tussocks in competition with introduced herbivores.
Conservation measures includethe eradication or reduction of the stoat which eat the eggs and the deer which feed on the same tussock. Management of their habitat is vital for their survival. Sadly the 2008 population count have found a large number have been killed by stoats. Read more here
Another measure to save these birds is to hatch eggs artificially. Removing one of the two eggs laid increases the number of chicks born as usually only one hatches in the wild.Young chicks are then reared;hand puppets for feeding, an artificial parent to shelter under and taped sounds of various feeding and alarm calls.This ensures they can be returned to the wild and are not dependent or imprinted on humans. Chicks are later transferred to Kapati and Maud Islands in the Cook Strait or a fenced area the Murchison valley.
One of my special memories is the time I spent as a Department of Conservation volunteer at the Te Anua Wildlife Centre with these beautiful birds and saw the young being fed with the puppets and knowing the numbers have declined is really upsetting.
Two places to view these birds that cannot fly are Tiritiri Matangi Island in the Hauraki Gulf, and Mt. Bruce National Wildlife Centre in the lower North Island. Mt. Bruce is open all year and is a good place to learn more about the work being done to save these, and other endangered species.