Would you like to see some of the most unusual animals in the world and, at the same time, support a fantastic eco-restoration and conservation project in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand? Then join us on this Night Tour through Zealandia Sanctuary. An absolute highlight and our favorite thing to do when visiting Wellington.
Zealandia Sanctuary at night
We started the tour at the interactive exhibition. The first thing you see when entering is a real-size replica of a Moa, one of the biggest flightless birds that have ever existed on earth. Their size is truly impressive. Unfortunately their taste must have been pretty good too – and they were easy to catch. The Maori – first settlers of New Zealand – hunted them down to the last exemplar, which means they are now extinct.
Another highlight of the exhibition is the 7.5 minutes long movie, which takes you on a ride through the last 1,000 years of environmental changes in New Zealand – a story mostly of environmental destruction (sadly) and, more recently, conservation efforts – good on them!
After enjoying some sweet bites (delicious and completely unexpected!) and equipped with red-light torches, we walk through the gates of the predator exclusion fence, ready to explore the Zealandia Sanctuary Valley at dusk.
The first bird we see and hear is a beautiful Tūī, one of our favorite endemic birds in New Zealand. Their amazing range of calls are just impressive! Judi, our volunteer tour guide, tells us that they like to show off and imitate other sounds. So when you hear them, the message is: “Hey! Look at me! Look how well I can sing!”
By the way, the early European settlers called them parson (priest) bird, because of its small tuft of white feathers at its neck and its small white wing patch.
Next on our tour we get a close-up of another unique animal, the Takahē – a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand. But wait, another flightless bird? Yes! New Zealand has many of them, because before humans arrived with their dogs, cats, rats and stouts, those birds didn´t have any natural predators.
Our guide tells us that there are less than 300 Takahē left in the world (they were actually officially declared extinct until rediscovered in 1948), so watching them tease each other in the night tour through Zealandia Sanctuary is a very special treat.
Birds aren’t the only animals in the Sanctuary though and the Tuatara is another highlight on your Night Tour through Zealandia. Tuatara as species have quite a story to tell, dating back to the time of dinosaurs, which earned them the nick name of ‘living fossils’. Not only can a Tuatara survive by breathing once every couple of minutes, they also have a lifespan of 100 years or more. The key seems to be as little movement as possible – no wonder it is so hard to spot them!
Surely many of you have heard about the Weta Workshop, where all the special effects were created for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, King Kong and many other famous American movies. Those costumes and creatures can be quite scary, but nothing compared to the real Wētā, invertebrate insects that, while harmless (New Zealand isn’t Australia – no poisonous animals here), aren’t something we’d like to see pop in for a surprise visit.
Unfortunately, some of the 70 different species are threatened or endangered, which is why the folks at Zealandia created ‘tree hotels’ exclusively for Wētās, allowing you to watch them at a safe distance through a glass.
Like most visitors on the tour, we really enjoyed our time with the Pātekes, Kākās, eels, glow worms, Kererūs, Korimakos,… but let’s be honest: the highlight of the tour was to see the Little Spotted Kiwi in the wild.
We saw three of them, and one of them passed us close enough to touch (of course we didn’t, you are instructed to freeze as soon as you get close to any kiwi to not disturb them).
Kiwis are nocturnal and flightless (yes, another one!), and the only birds with nostrils at the end of their very long beak. No tail feathers either, but long whiskers, just like a cat. The people in New Zealand adore their kiwis and once you’ve seen them in action, it’s hard not to feel the same way.
Here is an example of what you can see at the Night Tour through Zealandia:
All in all, we really enjoyed our visit at Zealandia and recommend it as a chance to meet some of the most amazing and unique animals in the wild, while at the same time doing your bit to support the impressive conservation and restoration efforts by the team and volunteers of Zealandia.
More information about Zealandia Night Tour here.
All pictures provided by Zealandia.
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