Zealandia (25th September 2010)

Jono and I have been planning to go check out Zealandia for awhile now but some other event would crop up or bad weather – finally after putting it off for several months, we’re going to Zealandia today! I’ve been to Zealandia when it was still known as The Karori Wildlife Sanctuary but since it was revamped and re-opened last year, I’ve never been back. Jono’s never been there so it’ll be fun to explore this world’s first urban sanctuary together, home to over 30 species of native birds and reptiles, including the tuatara which I really hope we would see today :)

We headed over to the suburb of Karori where Zealandia is located around 12ish. It’s the school holidays plus a sunny day (a bit of wind but still bearable) so the town seemed busier than usual, everyone wanting to get out and about. The journey of about 15 minutes to Zealandia took double the time as we crawled up Tinakori Road. No matter, we aren’t in a hurry though I’m getting hungry…

Arrived at Zealandia around 1pm and wow, the visitor centre looked so different now! Modern in design both exterior and interior, we were very impressed with the work and effort that has been put in to the refurbishment. We headed up the stairs to the top floor to their new terrace cafĂ©, Rata, for lunch – need to fuel up first before walking around the 225 hectares of lowland forest and wetlands! Hmm, so nice to see the sun and quite a good view of the lake too :)

Oh, cute cups for water…mine’s got green stars…hey, it’s a kids’ cup! Naughty Jono went to get us glasses of water and he got mine in a kiddy cup instead of the normal glass. You laugh – I’ll get you next time :P Lunch was alright (it was good but nothing to shout about) – I had a seafood chowder while Jono had a venison pie which costs us about $25 including 2 flat whites.

Look, there’s Joy! As we headed to get our entrance tickets after lunch, we bumped into Joy who was volunteering today at the sanctuary and briefly caught up with her. Poor Joy was locked in the toilet for about half an hour due to the faulty lock. No wonder we didn’t see her earlier! “Now I know what it feels like to be a prisoner,” said Joy, still with her big smile and giggling away, not at all shaken from the experience! Joy, oh Joy!

Normally cost $28 for an adult ticket that includes the exhibition and exploring the sanctuary valley but we got our second ticket for free using our voucher from the Entertainment Book (not bad, we’ve saved quite a bit to date with the discounts from the book – definitely recommend you get one if you are like us, enjoy local sights and trying out new food places). We began our journey through Zealandia starting with the exhibition where we learnt how much NZ wildlife has changed over the last thousand years. There was a life-like model of a moa (one of the largest species of flightless bird, now extinct) which you can control its neck on a dial, lifting the moa’s head up and down. A short 5-minute video on the big screen showed us how humans nearly destroyed what took millions of years of isolation to create, and there were plenty of interesting facts and information on NZ wildlife and current day conservation activities to protect what’s left that makes NZ unique.

Around 2pm, we left the exhibition and went to explore the sanctuary valley, walking along Lake Road towards Morning Star Track to check out the Morning Star Mine, stopping to take photos of birds and plants of interest along the way. My wildlife photographer was having a ball, snapping away on his SLR, chasing the constantly moving birds with his camera lens while I walked along, soaking in the smell of pine trees and sound of birds chirping, just being close to mother nature – it felt peaceful and for a moment, as if we were somewhere else, not in Wellington City. Believe it or not, we were only 10 minutes away from the CBD!

We were greeted by friendly volunteers at the cave who gave us a briefing about the 19th century goldmine. Hard hats were given to us to protect our heads as the passage into the cave was narrow and low (it was low alright – even a short person like me bumped my head on the rocky ceiling a few times). It was very dimly lit and we were following a couple ahead of us who were given a small torch by the volunteer. It would have been better if we were given a torch too as I found it hard to see where I was going being the last of the four to enter the cave, at times stepping into the water puddles :/ Oh, and I suggest you keep your mouth closed at all times because you wouldn’t want glow worms or worse, giant wetas falling into your mouth! There were lots of wetas on the walls of the cave (you wouldn’t notice them until you shine them with the torch) and they have super long antennas! Eew…

We continued on our walk and headed to the Tuatara Research Area for the 3pm Tuatara Talk where a ranger guide helped visitors spot the animal (yes, I’ve finally seen a tuatara in the wild!) and answer any questions we had about tuataras. Did you know that a tuatara is born with a third eye? Researchers haven’t exactly pinpointed what its use is for but thought it may be involved in setting biological cycles (hormones??). The female tuatara we saw was basking in the sun and not at all shy of the crowd gathering near the fence to see her and Jono flashing her with his camera hehe...We were very lucky to see not one but 3 tuataras today, two others were male and much harder to spot as they hid behind grass and leaves, blending into the background. All the tuataras have coloured beads attached to their heads used for identification. I wonder how the beads were attached to the reptile – it looked like a piercing on the skin at the back of its head…ouch…

A short stop at the Weta Hotels (oh, no wetas in the hotels today…) and more walking via Te Mahanga Track to the Kaka Feeders (a kaka flew by the feeding station to look for snacks – the clever bird knew to step on the lever to open up the metal box containing snacks!), and then heading up a steep grade tramping track to the Discovery Area and Viewing Tower to check out the views of the dam and sanctuary all the way towards Wellington Harbour.

Around 4pm, we began heading back towards the visitor centre, walking past the Upper Dam, through the Suspension Bridge and along Lake Road towards the Wetland Area to catch a ride on the Electric Boat to the Heritage Area. Hmm, unfortunately the Electric Boat was no longer in service when we got there at 4.30pm (but the sanctuary closes at 5pm!) – was rather disappointed as I was looking forward to the boat ride after hours of walking :( Oh well, we’ll just have to walk the rest of the way babe…

We finally left Zealandia just as it was about to close at 5pm. I had a fun sunny day walking around the sanctuary with Jono :) Photos taken at Zealandia here.

Let’s do another walk another sunny weekend!


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