Dawn & Night Tours
One early morning the Member’s Walk Group met at dawn at the Visitors’ Centre to hear The Dawn Chorus’ along the tracks before a welcome, warm breakfast at Rata Cafe.
The birds were just tuning up and the ducks were just quacking quietly. As the sun touched the hilltops, the bush colours sprang into focus and the birds sprang into action. Suddenly birds were leaving their roosts and flying around.
Without the traffic noise of Karori, Wellington’s biggest suburb, the birdsong was clear and magical. It was much more preferable to hear such melodious sounds than the usual doom and gloom of Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report. There was no typical Wellington wind, so birdsongs sounded distinctly, such as the chatter of the kākāriki/little parrot (red-crowned parakeet) and the chirping of tauhou/waxeyes or silvereyes.
We stopped at an open area and just listened. Lovely birdsong surrounded us and came from every direction. The pīwakawaka/fantails began their, “Zee, zee, zee” sounding like corks on wet bottles. The tūī exploded into musical waterfalls of sound. The further we walked up the valley, the more we heard, including, the shags grunting in guttural tones as they stole each other’s nest material.
The more the sun rose, the more the bush became colourful and the more birdsong there was. Even though it was chilly and I was all rugged up in multi layers of polypropylene, I didn’t feel the cold. This was such a delightful way to start the day. I thoroughly recommend it, if you get the opportunity. Dawn Tours are only an occasional one-off member opportunity and are not usually open to the public, although summer sees early open hours for members!
I also wholeheartedly recommend the Night Tour of Zealandia: Te Māra o Tāne/ The garden of Tane, the god of the forest and all life within it. (I was grateful for Tāne’s presence because later on the Night Tour, the noisy kākā sounded so close, I honestly thought they were going to divebomb us on the Suspension Bridge! They never actually approached us, but it was so quiet, they sounded nearby.
On Saturday 3rd October I was privileged at being able to join a Night Tour as a volunteer Storyteller with Manuela as our guide. She welcomed us in te reo Māori and explained she’s had 2 years experience at guiding. First, she introduced us to Zealandia with a brief orientation, a 5 minute movie, then Health and Safety issues and we checked our special, orange night vision torches on lanyards.
After nodding to The Exhibition Space moa and instinctively ducking from the predatory Haast eagle, off we strode to the compulsory self-check of our bags for any unwanted pests. We peeked into the Weta Hotels to spot tree wetas, pored over the fence at tuatara and peered at a teeny ruru/morepork.
Although I often hear morepork, this was the first time I’d ever seen one. This small owl can be found throughout New Zealand. It has soft, brown feathers, which make no noise when it hunts at night by stealth for small animals. This morepork was roosting in a tree. It is rare to see one roosting by day, but eagle-eyed Zealandia visitors are sometimes fortunate to see them in the day too.
We heard tūī, with its two voiceboxes, both of which it can use to produce a melody and a descant! We also heard tīeke/saddlebacks, riroriro/grey warblers and “skrarking” kākā, but we were too early in Spring for shining cuckoos to have flown in from the Solomons. We saw a kōtare/kingfisher – predator of juvenile tuatara, small mice and lizards, kererū/wood pigeon – so essential for spreading seeds – and pāteke/ nocturnal brown teal, but were too late at night to see a korimako/bellbird.
However we did see the karuhiruhi/pied shags or cormorants, the 2 takehē (“Puffin” and “T2”) and puratoke/glow worms with their intricate, sticky lines to catch small insects.
We hoped to spot tiny, thumb-sized Maud Island frogs, but they were too well camouflaged. We could not even catch a glimpse of their black eyes with our torches. We spotted 3 large, brown tuna/long fin eels, some of which might be 60 years old before they breed, and some unwelcome, greedy mallard ducks! In the Tuatara Nursery, we also spotted some cute, baby tuatara with their soft back spines.
Along the way, Manuela showed us mamaku tree ferns with very broad leaves catching all available sun. She also shone her torch on the silver underside of ponga/ silver tree fern leaves, which is another New Zealand icon.
Later, Manuela urged us to pad as silently as possible along the tracks and work as a team to spot a kiwi. Many New Zealanders have never seen or heard a kiwi, but it is New Zealand’s endemic icon. Seeing a kiwi is a highlight of Night Tours. We could hear the high whistle of the male kiwi and listened hard, but in vain, for the low whistle of the female responding.
Imagine our delight to marvel at not one, but two separate sightings of Little-spotted Kiwi foraging for worms and insects. They completely ignored us standing so close to them. It was incredible for me to finally meet my near neighbours, as I live nearby and often hear them! It was a Real Bucket List experience x 2 for me!!
Many thanks to Manuela for such an interesting, informative and instructive Night Tour and a Big thank you to ZEALANDIA for running these amazing, safe, 2 ½ hour Night Tours.
Photos by Brendan Doran