Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Zealandia, Take 2...

After a pretty grotty Saturday (the first time that I'd hung out the washing in the hope that the weather would get better before our shopping trip, and then had to bring it all in, almost as wet as when it went out a few hours later when we got back in), Sunday dawned bright and sunny. Various businesses in Wellington have signed up to an online Advent Calendar which gives a different voucher every day during Advent, most of which are valid until Christmas Eve. One of the ones near the beginning was a two for one voucher for Zealandia, and, given that our last trip was a bit of a wash out, we thought that, seeing as the weather was fine, we'd have another go.

There were Tui everywhere hopping around the flax bushes and eating the nectar. Far too busy with what they were doing to bother about the tourists coming to stare at them!

The warm weather and sunshine meant that the Tuatara were all out enjoying themselves (in as much as a reptile can...). Some were a bit easier to spot than others!

(Yes, there is a baby one in that last photo...)

The scenery, as always, was stunning.

The valley along which the Sanctuary runs just seems to go on and on - the second photo is taken about a km into it, and you can just see the houses which are in the Sanctuary road in the far distance.

The Kaka were out in force at the feeding posts

The Sanctuary, as well as being host to endangered (and otherwise) birds, is also preserving plants. There are over 50 different types of fern - though I think I've only caught two - the silver fern (Ponga) (though I didn't see the underside, so I might be wrong)

and the black tree fern (Mamaku), which really does lend itself to being arty!

We finally got to go to the Morning Star Mine (it was too wet last time), which is an old gold mine (or at least the entrance to one - you can't get very far inside). A volunteer is stationed at the entrance and gives you a hard hat (the entrance way is very low!) and a red-light torch. The mine itself is filled with cave weta (and the occasional large spider - I didn't shine the torch on those for very long as I don't think John would have wanted to see what was right by his left shoulder! The reason for the red light (and the lack of photos) is that the cave weta are nocturnal and therefore are very light sensitive. But we have finally gotten to see some weta in their natural environment (and everyone at work was asking what the fuss was about - they all have woodpiles which house hundreds of them!).

The Sanctuary does also have 'Weta Hotels' - hinged logs which have glass plates in the middle, meaning that you can open them up and see the weta snoozing inside. Unfortunately, the glass doesn't then lend itself very well to allowing photos - I'm not sure that this one came out too well...

The middle of the Sanctuary is a large dam and lake created in order to be a major source of water for Wellington.

However, a while back, they worked out that the dam was sitting right on the fault line, and that probably wasn't the best place to be storing a large amount of water, particularly as it is not that far from the Central Business District... So they drained most of the water away, and it is now home to a large number of ducks (none of whom wanted to pose for pictures!)

As well as the Tui, there are a number of other native birds who are nectar feeders, most notably the Stitchbird (with the beautiful Maori name Hihi) and the Bellbird, also called Korimako. Zealandia has set up a number of nectar feeders with mesh which allows the smaller birds to get in and out, but means that the Tui can't squeeze through and steal all the food!

On the left is (I think - I'm not 100% certain) a Hihi, and inside the feeder is a Korimako.

A much clearer shot of the Korimako!

We were able to stand and watch the birds for a good five - ten minutes as they darted in and out of the feeders, and flew from branch to branch waiting their turn.

Given that Spring is definitely over and Summer is just getting its teeth into the season, you wouldn't think that there would be that many birds still nesting. However, this female blackbird was so intent on getting dried grass for her nest that she really wasn't fussed about us being around her (she hopped away when we were too close for comfort, but as soon as we were more than a couple of feet away, she stopped bothering about us)

There was also this gorgeous dragonfly-like insect - bright red and sitting on a leaf enjoying the sun.

The afternoon vanished in a flash - we had barely got a kilometre into the Sanctuary (it is about 3km long) before we realised we had to turn round to head back or risk being locked in. Rather than just head back the way we came, we took a bit of a detour round a slightly longer (and less well travelled) path. We passed a sign warning us that there were falcons nesting, who were very protective of their chicks and inclined to dive bomb visitors. Fortunately, we later learnt from a guide that the chicks had fledged, so they don't dive bomb *quite* as much as they had in the past! I was a little sorry not to see them (I wasn't sure whether I could hear them or whether that was another bird - the whole valley was filled with birdsong the whole time we were there).

But the Sanctuary had saved a final treat for us before we went to find our coffee - as we were walking round a bend in the track, we spotted a sign telling us that there was a little pool in the undergrowth which birds used as a bath, and if we were very quiet and still, we might get to see one. It didn't take too long for the undergrowth to start rustling, and a North Island Robin popped out to have a look at us. It was incredibly inquisitive - getting within a foot of us before it decided that the insects in the leaf litter were far more interesting! And unlike our trip to Matiu/Somes Island, I was actually able to get it in focus!

We also got to see the tail (we think!) of a Wellington Green Gecko as it whisked back into its hole (a bright green flash was about it!) and a couple of Kakariki which have just been introduced to the Sanctuary.

We had barely covered a tenth of the trackways within the Sanctuary, and there are still a number of native birds we haven't seen. So, on the way to get our coffee, we bought year-passes, which mean that we can go back as many times as we like (3 times will cover the cost of the pass), and also get a discount on the night tours, where you get to see the Kiwi (of which there are about 100 in the Sanctuary) and the Morepork (called Ruru in Maori). I'm already really looking forward to going back!


R J Adams said...

I note from Wikipedia that the Maori word for the Giant Weta is , "weta punga" which can be translated as the 'God of Ugly Things'. It seems apt.

Great images.

Apparently, Britain is having its worst winter in living memory (though, I believe they said that last year as well!) with snow drifts everywhere. Here in Illinois there's just enough of the white stuff to be a nuisance without the picturesque element.
I guess you'll be spending Christmas on the beach in a bikini.
Wherever and however, a very happy one to you and yours.

Jo said...

Oh yes - the Weta will never win awards for being a pretty insect, but I think they are fascinating creatures...

Happy Christmas to you and yours, too - are you spending it at the 100 Acre Wood House?

R J Adams said...

"...are you spending it at the 100 Acre Wood House?"

Sadly, not. It gets so cold up there the house had to be 'winterized' (anti-freeze - the non-toxic variety - pumped through all the plumbing). It costs rather a lot, so to have it un-winterized just for a few days over Christmas would not be economical.

We look forward to Christmas 2011, when we hope to be there permanently.