Thursday, December 17, 2009


I only know of three definitions of Kiwi and I’m not sure of the word’s origins.  If I had WiFi at this point, I’d look it up, but I’m sitting on the Interislander ship awaiting our cruise from the North to the South Island.  But that’s the story about today and I still haven’t told you about yesterday!
Kiwi = the people of New Zealand, the sweet green fruit of New Zealand, and the flightless bird of New Zealand.
The people of New Zealand are as friendly as you’ve heard and then some.  One told us to simply ask a local a question about their town and they’ll be your best friend.  One Kiwi called us “as good as gold”.  Another recalled a New Zealander on David Letterman saying the great things about New Zealanders is that they are the only country in the world that still likes Americans.  I think it has to do with the wonderful temperament of Kiwis rather than anything about us.  They are simply joyful, friendly people.  I look forward to meeting more of them.
I understand the fruit is not native, but development of a fruit from China.  The New Zealand version is much larger and we’ve learned that they are not only green, but are also gold.  What we have bought from the grocers has been good, but I’m hoping to eventually make it to a farm and experience one fresh off the tree.  I think the only way better would be to combine it with chocolate.  Hah - the Kiwi have already done it!
So we’ve easily collected two of the Kiwis, but what about the third?  When New Zealand broke off from the main body of land however many gazillion years ago, no land mammals came along for the ride except bats that are only the size of your thumb.  The birds that did decide to stick it out did not develop with any defense mechanisms for mammals – like being able to fly.  The Kiwi were only threatened by what could see it, so it developed nocturnal habits.  The introduction of Mauri and the Europeans also brought the introduction of dogs, rats, cats, possum, etc. which readily take out the Kiwi.  You can then see the difficulty and I wondered if there were any Kiwi left in the wild.
We are near Wellington and I made another work location visit.  I asked my Kiwi question there.  “Oh yes, there is.  You might want to try the Karori Sanctuary.”  We took the advice and ended up spending the rest of the day there and well into the night. 
A couple of old brittle dams were deemed to be hazardous in the event of an earthquake, so the water levels were lowered significantly and other water sources were procured.  Someone then had the idea of creating a sanctuary in an attempt to recreate a space where the land could go back to what it was thousands of years ago.  Here is the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary right in the heart of Wellington.  To keep the predators out that required the development of an extensive fence and maintenance routine.  The fence itself is nearly 9 km long.  This view is about 1/3 of the way into the reserve looking back at the entrance.  It’s quite impressive and the first of it’s kind.   Particularly when you think of being right in the capital city of New Zealand.
imageWe spent the late afternoon wandering the trails.  There were 34 km of them and we likely only saw about a tenth.  On these trails we were fascinated with the ferns – particularly the tree ferns.  One could get these confused with a palm, but no, this is a fern that grew easily 20 – 25 feet tall.  Those branches are about 3 meters or 9 feet long.  Eventually the forest will be filled with a canopy of these.
imageOur wandering only lasted about 2 hours before we began the afternoon tour.  We had the tour guide to ourselves and were able to appreciate some special Kiwi attention.  We learned about a number of the native plants and also the birds that have been donated to the sanctuary from smaller islands where the pests could not go.   Here is the “cheeky” Tui (Prosthemagera novaeseelandiae) drinking nectar from the flowers.  The yellow on his nose and forehead is the pollen from the flowers.  His call is quite varied and sometimes sounds mechanical  A Tui is likely what we heard at Mount Eden on Monday in Auckland.  The guide described it as “R2D2” and she was spot on!
image A number of water birds also live in the sanctuary – the black scaup (looks like a black rubber duckie), mallards (which are not native, but can fly over the fence), and four varieties of shag.  These are the Pied Shag hanging out on a pine log – also not native, but necessary until the native trees grow tall enough to house the birds.
image We listened to many calls from the birds.  With the onset of evening, they became more active.  Especially the North Island Kaka (Nestor meridionalis septentrionalis)  or the forest parrot.  He did make many calls one would expect, but also some melodious ones.  This one is left handed.  No, really, there was a dissertation from the university in Wellington that determined they always feed with the same claw.  Hah!  What time that must have taken!
imageThere is also a native reptile-like creature, the Tuatara, which is considered a living fossil since some were alive during the time of the dinosaurs.  These is a young female that was about 20 cm long, but the males are known to grow to 60 cm long and up to 100 years old.                         image That was the day tour.  The guide gave us a recommendation on a pizzeria and we came back for the night tour with 5 other people.  It begins at dusk and extends about an hour in the night.  The birds were calling even more as the night came on.  The kaka (parrot) became quite loud as it feeds at this time.  That was good because it did cover up the sound of our footfalls.  The Ruru (owl) heralds the dusk, the Kaka and Tui finally quiet down and we begin to hear the call of the male Kiwi.  It reminded me greatly of a tree frog from home.
We stood frozen not far from the Kaka’s feeding area and heard the characteristic rustling in the bush.  One guide stood a the top of the queue with her night torch (flashlight with red light) searching through the ferns.  James was at the back end of the line and the rustling moved towards him.  I squatted down with my torch and we both watched as this male little spotted Kiwi came out of the bush and stood at James’ feet before he turned to the side to run across the trail!
We both were surprised at how big he was – thinking this would be about the size of our fist – but now this is about the side of a hen.  Now that we knew what we were listening and looking for, the search became easier.
We trekked through the bush and discovered glow worms shining like blue stars along the walls of the forest.  These are larvae of gnats that take 9 months to grow into a gnat that only lives three days.  The larvae puts out a sticky stem to catch insects and their digestion gives off the glow.  It was quite beautiful – like the forest had put out their Christmas decorations.
We continued our trek and ended the night with seeing two more Kiwi – this time both female!  Often these tours do not see any and few ever see more than one.  We were on a complete high on the way back to the camp!
For more pics (sorry no Kiwi), go to


Theresa said...

Oh way cool! The sanctuary looks and sounds woonderful. Does that Tuatara have a collar of some sort on? Do they band them like birds?
What a pretty parrot the Kaka is, a sort of lacy pattern
to his feathers at least on the underside.
I know you aren't in AU, but you are in the region so to speak. Any local information on how they are doing down under with the Tasmanian Devils and their perplexing spreading cancer?

Life Looms Large said...

That looks absolutely fantastic!! Great job photographing all of those moving creatures! It can be so hard to get pictures of birds and animals!

The glowworms and kiwi at night sound so fun! The ferns are amazing. The whole place seems so exotic. I don't know why, but I thought it would be like an Ireland of the southern hemisphere. I didn't think that NZ would have so many differences, but of course it makes sense that it would.

I noticed the lizard jewelry/collar too!

Thanks for blogging about your trip in real time. I'm so impressed!


K Spoering said...

Your posts are a lovely break from cleaning for guests! It will be hard to go back to work now, but I can be thinking of taking a fantasy walk down under as I scrub the bathroom!

Jennifer said...

The Tuatara is wearing a beaded collar for tracking. Each has a different 3 color combination - and the birds are banded - at least the native ones that they are working to increase in numbers.

I have not heard anything about the Tamazian Devils - sorry.

Glad to be of service with the household chores!

Jennifer said...

Sue - thanks for the complements on the photos - one help is the Tuatara doesn't move and the others we caught while they were eating. Not to mention we've had a little practice with Shadow and do take an immense number of photos to hope for one good one!