Zealandia, Friday, 12/02/16

Kia Ora!  Haere Mai!  That's the Kiwi way of saying, Hello! Welcome!  You should hear the Kiwi's pronounce them -- they know how to roll their r's, something most American's can't do, or at least do well.  (We are all from the US in our RS group.)  But, most of us have given it the gung-ho try.  Haere Mai sounds like (high-reh-my) -- ok, enough already.

Our coach lifted us off to Zelandia at 8:30 this morning, located only ten minutes from central Wellington!  I was really looking forward going.  Here's why -- "Zelandia is the world's first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary, with an extraordinary 500-year vision to restore a Wellington valley's forest and freshwater ecosystem as closely as possible to their pre-human state." (so sayeth their brochure)  And this: " ... a 555 acre groundbreaking conservation project that has reintroduced 17 species of native wildlife back into the area, six of which were previously absent from mainland New Zealand for over 100 years."

We split up into two small groups. Our guy, Chris, was a super tour guide, and we were lucky that the morning was cool and overcast.  Why?  Because that meant the bird world was alive with song, while everything else was still.  It was like being transported to a magical land of exotic plants and wild birds.  Everyone was awed.  When we talked, we spoke in hushed tones.

Zealandia has a perimeter fence that keeps out all those pesky introduced predators that decimated native NZ flora and fauna.  Those that had been inside the fence were eradicated. We had a fabulous time here!  For those of you who look at these pictures, thinking "what the heck is that?", I've added descriptions.

Here's my favorite -- a Tui perched on a stalk of New Zealand flax, its nectar is the bird's preferred food.  The mark on top of its head is pollen from the flax!  If you enlarge the photo, you can see his multicolored iridescent sheen.

The ferns!  Oh, the ferns!

The New Zealand endemic pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) is large (understatement) with a bright white belly.  Commonly called wood pigeon, these huge guys are distinct from the wood pigeon (Columba palumbus) of the Northern Hemisphere, which is a member of a different genus.  They sound like a jet engine when they fly off!

Returning to "native."  Green and beautiful.

This is a Pied shag (Phalacrocorax varius), with it's baby ... the parent never turned around, but the li'l one did.  Another name is Pied cormorant.  A small flock of shags had nests along this lake.

Here's the takahē again (Porphyrio hochstetteri). This strange-looking flightless bird, indigenous to New Zealand belongs to the rail family.  It was thought to be extinct after the last four (only four!) known specimens were taken in 1898.  However, after a carefully planned search effort, the bird was rediscovered near Lake Te Anau in the Murchison Mountains on the South Island, in November 1948.  Hey, that's where our RS group was a couple of days ago!  A nearby sign reads:  takahē have very sharp beaks.  Keep your distance (and your fingers safe!)

We saw a lot of these; reminded me of a North American yucca.

A Saddleback with its distinctive red wattle and saddle.  Saddlebacks belong to New Zealand's wattlebird family, an ancient group that includes the kōkako and extinct Huia. This guy was always moving ... I was lucky  to get a shot at all.

Bernice and Albert stroll along.

This friendly little fella followed us, branch to branch, singing up a storm.  Chris identified it immediately -- a North Island Robin (Petroica longipes).  We reminded him that it didn't look a durn thing like our Robin redbreast in the US, but, of course, he knew that.

Whoa, check out this endangered large parrot, the New Zealand kaka, also known as kākā. While it has disappeared from much of its former range, it's thriving in Zealandia.  Notice the pretty orange coloring under it's wings.

As we stood on this bridge and looked down, we gaped at the size of the tree fern pictured below. Honestly, a diameter of 20-30 feet wouldn't be an exaggeration.  New Zealand is an island of gigantism, which (in a nutshell) is a biological phenomenon in which the size of animals (and plants) isolated on an island increases dramatically in comparison to their mainland relatives.  Because NZ was cut off from any mainland millions of years ago, its flora and fauna remained isolated.  (we've heard a lot about Gondwanaland, as well)  Island gigantism is usually an evolutionary trend resulting from the removal of constraints on the size of small animals related to predation and/or competition. Lest I stick my foot in over my head in a short space, I'll quit here.

Yet this tiny Fuschia flower comes from the great big tree you see below!
Such an Island of contrasts!

Oh, these bright green parakeet dudes were so danged cute:  Kākāriki, native to New Zealand, they're endangered as a result of habitat destruction following human settlement and nest predation by introduced mammals (cats, rats, stoats, foxes, etc).  Seems to be common thread.

Native orchids.  Left is a Pterostylis (Greenhood), but I'm not sure which one,
and right is unidentified.

Wow, Bernice, good show! -- you pitched that trunk up out of our way!

Aha!  A living fossil named Tuatara.  They're rare, medium-sized reptiles found only in New Zealand, and they're the last survivors of an order of reptiles that thrived in the age of the dinosaurs.  This is a female (males have white spots on their backs).  They can get big, too -- mature tuataras usually measure between 12 and 30 inches long and weigh between 0.5 and two-and-a-half pounds.

And then there's this about gigantism, again.  Gentle giant, huh?  Scary-looking!

Think I'll leave the photos on a another fern green note.  A short movie was presented afterwards, depicting the settlement of NZ and the impact of Māori and European settlers on the NZ environment (which we found sad), followed by morning tea.  (I spilled my coffee, oops)  Whew, what a grand morning! Imagine, after our lunch, we'll have another adventure.  Stay tuned!


  1. Such a wonder, a place that is committed to keeping everything out that shouldn't be there to give everything that is in there a place to thrive. I would so love to see this place.

  2. Love it ... and now I know we made the right decision to visit Zealandia when we are next in Wellington. The Kiwis have excellent eradication programs to eliminate introduced species and try and return nature to its natural balance.


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