Wellington: Zealandia, Seal Coast

Wellington is naturally beautiful and beautifully natural. Today we visited Zealandia (Te Māra a Tāne) and took a half-day tour to see some seals, and the sea.

Zealandia

Zealandia, essentially a nature reserve, is a rather amazing place. Its objective is to revert the environment within it to its native state before humans arrived in New Zealand. Except, of course, humans will walk through it. And, I imagine, airplanes must occasionally fly overhead, although I didn’t see any when we were there.

Lake with valve tower at Zealandia
Lake with valve tower at Zealandia

They have not yet entirely turned back the clock on the park’s environment. They figure doing so will be a 500-year project. The project started about 25 years ago. So, they have a ways to go yet.

There are still a number of tall, North American pine trees within the park. It will be a while before they are removed. The native trees grow much more slowly than the introduced species. Some of the native birds nest high up, so Zealandia can’t remove the tall introduced trees until the native trees grow to an adequate height.

There is a small lake with a valve tower in its midst just inside the entrance to Zealandia. The lake was formed by a dam that is still there. The lake used to be the main water supply for Wellington (hence the valve tower). They don’t plan to remove the dam any time soon, but they still have 475 years to reach their goal of full re-naturalization.

Keeping the Outside Out and the Inside In

Kāruhiruhi (pied shag)
Kāruhiruhi (pied shag)

A more than two-metre tall fence surrounds Zealandia. The mesh of the fence is fine enough that small rodents can’t get through. Plus there are countermeasures to prevent climbing, hopping, and burrowing animals getting into the reserve.

There is one entrance through the fence. Before going in, visitors must look inside their bags to ensure they don’t accidentally carry in any animals (according to the guide, a visitor unexpectedly found a mouse in her bag a couple of weeks ago) or seeds.

Takahē
Takahē

Then, visitors enter through a double door. A mechanism prevents both doors from being open at the same time. So, individuals or small groups of visitors must enter one door, close it, and only then open the other one. The idea is to prevent foreign species (other than humans) getting in.

I can't remember what this is and I can't identify it from the pictures in the brochure I have.
I can’t remember what this is and I can’t identify it from the pictures in the brochure I have.

The fence would keep in the flightless birds and other animals but not the flying birds. They stick around because they get food within Zealandia.

After building the fence, they set traps to capture all of the species of mammals that were introduced into New Zealand by humans. Well, except for humans themselves. They don’t try to trap those mammals. At least, not as far as I know. If they do, they aren’t very successful at it. I’m typing this back at my hotel room, not trapped in Zealandia.

Many of the introduced mammals are predators of native species of birds and reptiles. Thus, Zealandia couldn’t reintroduce native species until after it got rid of the predators.

Native Species at Zealandia

Tīeke (saddleback)
Tīeke (saddleback)

Visitors to Zealandia can, after paying the admission fee, walk around on their own. But, for an additional fee, there are two-hour guided walking tours. We went on one of those.

Zealandia is not a zoo. There are no cages with signs saying what the animals are. Without the guide, I wouldn’t have known what species I saw. And what you see when you go is largely a matter of luck.

However, the birds do tend to keep to narrow ranges, particularly the flightless takahē. We also saw some kākāriki (red-crowned parakeets), however that involved cheating. When we got to the area where they usually hang out, the guide attached some feed to a low branch. A couple of the kākāriki came shortly thereafter.

Kākāriki (red-crowned parakeet)
Kākāriki (red-crowned parakeet)

Other species we saw include shags (apparently, they’re what we would call cormorants), kākās, tīkes (saddlebacks), and tuataras. The latter is a lizard-like reptile, but not a lizard.

If you’re impressed that I remembered all of those species, jeez you’re easily fooled, aren’t you? When we entered Zealandia we got a brochure that has pictures of most of the species and their names. I’m looking at it now. We didn’t see all of the species in the brochure, but I remember the ones above. I may also have forgotten one or two we saw, particularly if I didn’t take a picture of it.

Seal Coast Safari

In the afternoon, we took a trip up over a large hill or two, down the other side(s), and to a rugged coast, primarily to see seals.

View from atop the high hill/low mountain
View from atop the high hill/low mountain

The journey was in a four-wheel drive, covered vehicle with two benches of four seats. Rather than facing the front as in a car or normal van, the seats faced the centre. There was also room for one passenger up front. There were only six customers on the tour, so there were three empty seats, which was good because it limited the amount of bumping into each other (see below).

We started by going up paved city streets until we got to a high hill. The start of the hill was smooth asphalt, followed by gravel/hard-packed earth, followed by no road at all down near the bottom of the other side. The latter was beach and/or rocks. It was one of the bumpiest rides I’ve been on. Even with my seatbelt on, I held on to something to prevent being thrown from side to side.

A seal. Duh.
A seal. Duh.

We stopped and got out for a few minutes at the summit for some great views of the city and surrounding area.

Down at the rugged shore we stopped and again got out, this time for about 20 minutes, at a spot where there were a number of seals. Many of them were lolling about, stirring only occasionally. A couple of them seemed to be fighting. And a couple frolicked in the water.

We took a different route on the way back, but with roughly—and I do mean roughly—the same road/lack-of-road conditions.

A few of the many wind turbines, not at all noisy bird killers.
A few of the many wind turbines, not at all noisy bird killers.

On the way back, we passed a large number of big wind turbines. They provide much of the power for Wellington. Despite what the current President of the United States has said at least a few times, there were no dead birds at their base and they did not make much noise (I couldn’t hear them at all from inside the vehicle).

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