Wellington sanctuary has 500 year vision to save species

Zealandia is a sanctuary  with a difference:  it has a vision for 500 years – its goal,  to restore  this Wellington valley to its pre- human state. It’s twenty years into the plan!

Only minutes  from the centre of New Zealand’s capital,  and parliament buildings,  it’s a great place  to spend a few hours,  a day  or, take an evening guided walk to check out New Zealand  wildlife  flora and fauna.  I spent a couple of hours there  2 days ago  and here just a few of the many photos I took. (search in this blog for other Zealandia posts I’ve written)

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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.






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”.


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

Zealandia. An inner city sanctuary in Wellington, New Zealand

Zealandia, formerly known as the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary is the ideal place to see New Zealand’s birds only 3k from our Parliament in the capital – Wellington. I have just bought an annual card so you can expect more blogs on this topic!

A mainland, predator-free valley it has fast become a safe place for birds and from this area, the rest of Wellington is seeing more and more of birds in our backyards.  (www.facebook.com/zealandia)

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More Zealandia bird photos here  and my list of  the top five top outdoor places to visit in Wellington

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Cute mother and baby in Malaysian Borneo

I took this photo of a very cute mum and her baby at a wildlife centre close to Kuching, Sarawak. Malaysian Borneo.

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Orangutans need our protection

Sepilok staff, the orang-utan minders, remind us to keep noise to a minimum, to keep our belongings safe from the naughty, inquisitive macaques and, after wiping our feet on a disinfectant-drenched mat – to help reduce contamination of their space with our human bugs – we walk to the platform area.

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This is where the orang-utans, often orphans,  who have graduated from the nursery (learning  essential skills they would usually learn from their mother) to this ‘outdoor nursery’ where these young ‘wild men of Borneo’ are now learning jungle skills and where they’re fed with supplements of  fruit and milk.  The aim of the centre is to help them become independent and integrated into the wild population.

I overhear a group talking. ‘I’d pay much more to come here’ which is fine for our western bank account but not for many locals. I believe it is great locals are coming as it’s these very families who will save the forests the animals need. They cannot be saved only by the western or tourist dollar – even though that is essential.  If tourists such as I heard talking are ‘happy to pay more’ I suggest they make a donation or ‘adopt’ one of the orphans not that the Sepilok increase the price. Open twice daily, this is one of the few places that admission prices are the same for Malays and non-Malay.

I stayed only a few minutes away from Sepilok at the wonderful Sepilok Jungle Resort  where I received some of the best, most efficient service of any accommodation places in the region.  They were hosting me, but I also noticed how solicitous they were with a girl who arrived with infected insect bites, arranging for a car to take her and a parent to the Dr.

A family run business, which started in 1991, they have planted all the trees in the beautiful landscaped gardens and it’s a peaceful place to stay – I also saw my first hornbills there.  With raised walkways connecting accommodation, pool, jacuzzi, reception, and café, it’s good for bird spotting.  Even better, it’s only five minutes from the popular Sepilok rehabilitation centre and I walk there to see the current inhabitants. More about the Jungle Reserve in another blog.

Nice welcome board
Nice welcome board

Stephen Fry, a kakapo, and me

Stephen Fry and I have at least one thing in common: we have both seen the rare kakapo. I saw one at Zealandia (Wellington, NZ) while Stephen, on Codfish Island, (Whenua Hau) watched in amusement as Sirocco, poster boy for his species, attempted to mate with zoologist, and documentary-maker, Mark Carwardine. (see the YouTube clip here )

Behind 8½ kilometres of predator-proof fencing, Te Mara o Tane (the garden of Tane) this flightless visitor has many flocking to see him. One of only 129 left in the world, this fat, native nocturnal parrot is, according to Collins Travellers Guide, Birds of New Zealand is “moss green upperparts, yellowish green underparts” and is “entirely herbivorous, eats fruit, seed, nectar . . .”

Collins Birds of New Zealand

On the moonlit evening we check our bags and enter the sanctuary.  I hear kaka, tui and shags as they settle down for the night.  “Tui are usually the last to stop calling at night and the first to start in the morning’ according to one of my fellow kiwi on this night safari.

It is a privilege to see this rare bird – the heaviest parrot in the world: he was hand raised and unfortunately imprinted on humans, but which now has the advantage of making him available for tours such as this – and changing how other chicks are raised.

Enjoy my photos of this comical bird. (And, if you can, please help with its recovery)

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In this hidden, almost secret valley, kiwi are breeding only 3 kilometres from our parliament – in the heart of our Capital city, a slice of New Zealand is reverting to its pre-human state so, make sure when in New Zealand, visit the world’s first inner city pest-free environment – and it seems Stephen and I have one more thing in common .. we’ve both been to Zealandia!

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