Monday, March 07, 2016

A capital day out

It was quite disappointing that we weren't able to take a day trip out to Kapiti Island, particularly because the call cancelling our trip came about half an hour after we had checked in for two nights at a campsite in Paraparaumu, which is close to where you catch the boat from Kapiti Island, but has no other particular charms to recommend it. (It's about 45 minutes from Wellington, and has a beach in all fairness, although not an amazing one.) We had already been told that our motorhome was too big to park in the central Wellington park though, so it wasn't a complete waste of time being in Paraparaumu.

Jules had had his heart set on seeing the rare native birds at the Kapiti Island sanctuary, so we rejigged our plans slightly to go to Zealandia, known back when I lived in Wellington as the Karori Bird Sanctuary. This rather snippily notes on its website that no boat trip or permit is required to go there, which on this particular day was definitely a selling point.

The anti-predator fence keeping the Zealandia wildlife safe

After a look around the indoor exhibition, which contained a lot of background information I knew already, but also tidbits that were new to me, such as that native NZ frogs hatch as fully-formed baby froglets, rather than tadpoles, we headed on a guided walk.

I was kind of expecting the birds to be more in your face than they were for most of the time, with the exception of some playful kaka (we heard a French family laughing at that name) and, surprisingly, a pair of takahe. Takahe are very rare, with only around 250 known survivors. These two were obviously pretty used to the company of humans, having previously been part of a breeding programme on an island sanctuary before "retiring" to Zealandia. It was really a privilege to be able to get so close to them for so long.

Making friends with the Takahe

We were actually ready to leave the area sometime before we did, but were trapped in with the takahe between us and the gate. When I first saw the sign asking visitors not to let the takahe through the gate, I was imagining timid birds that would scatter at the sight of humans and spend most of their time hiding in the bushes. These two were quite happy with people milling around them though, and I even saw one of them stick its foot and beak out of the gate before realising he wouldn't fit. Even though they're flightless, no-one wants to be the dolt that let the takahe out, so we stayed inside until a tour group came the other way through the gate and herded the takahe away.

Plotting his escape

At first, I found it a bit frustrating trying to spot the other birds (and lizards). Often, I couldn't see them even when other people were pointing straight at them, or I'd catch a glimpse only for them to fly away. I got a bit better at finding them over the hours we spent in the sanctuary, however, and came to appreciate the challenge of finding and identifying the birds, with the help of what we had learnt on the guided tour.

The guide showed us how, if you scuffed up the forest floor to uncover insects, you could get a native robin to fly down to eat. It was a real thrill (genuinely!) later when we found a robin, and, with much hoofing of leaves, got him to briefly come down for a snack. I have a new-found respect for bird-watching types.

The kaka's weight on the platform opens up his food box for a snack

And he's also provided with a drinks station

A kakariki on top of its feeding station

The robin we lured to the ground

A nest of shags aka cormorant

A tuatara sunbathing. The beads on his neck are ID labels, not his natural plumage!

After the sanctuary, we caught a bus into the city centre to visit some of my old haunts. It was fun to see what had and hadn't changed, and point out the various drinking establishments I frequented as a student and one that I got kicked out of. I can't remember why specifically, but I was definitely hassling All Black Ma'a Nonu. I must have been drunk, since in general I neither recognise nor care about All Blacks.

Wellington seems pretty hipstery these days, but retains its general vibe of a nice place to live. Jules got a haircut, I got my nails done and we both did some shopping, before grabbing a cocktail, watching some of the street performers on Cuba Street and visiting the Wellington Night Market. We were lucky with this one, since it's only on Friday nights. I don't think it existed back in 2008 when I was there. It was pricier and maybe not quite as bustling as Bangkok's Chinatown, but more cosmopolitan in a way, with a wide variety of different cuisines available (I know I'm not comparing apples with apples there). We feasted on pork-stuffed Chinese buns, a burrito, Chinese dumplings and jerk chicken, and could have sampled many other cuisines, from French to Japanese to Filipino.

All in all, a pretty decent day out, and it definitely helped us get over the disappointment of missing out on Kapiti Island. (Oh, and it was windy enough to perceptibly shake our motorhome on the drive back to Paraparaumu, presumably furnishing the explanation for why we couldn't go to the island, despite it being otherwise a pretty nice day.)


  1. Sounds like a great day! xx

  2. I love birds. That's really funny that the takahe blocked your exit.

    I figured All Blacks had to do with sports, but I went to check.


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