To complete the image of Otorohanga being the Kiwiana Capital, it also plays host to New Zealand’s largest private collection of native birds in New Zealand; The Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park. Although not being big ‘bird’ people ourselves, it was conveniently located only a couple of blocks from where we were staying, and so, with a shrug of our shoulders and a good ol’ kiwi “why not?” we set off to explore.
Otorohanga Kiwi House housed the first Kiwi nocturnal house in New Zealand. It guaranteed visitor viewing of these rather elusive birds, while also dedicating itself to the research, incubation and raising of Kiwi birds for release. The Kiwi is the national bird and icon of New Zealand, and the affectionate term we New Zealanders like to refer to ourselves as. We are not named after the fruit. However, it is hard to comprehend how a shaggy-feathered, flightless, football-shaped bird complete with a long pointy beak to allow foraging of forest floors, is a better fit for us than a furry brown fruit, with a yummy, juicy, green inside.
Regardless, you can’t really say you’ve been to New Zealand until you’ve seen a Kiwi, and as soon as we entered through the reception/ gift shop area we were ushered down a dark corridor to the Nocturnal Kiwi House. A huge enclosed viewing area with floor to ceiling glass allowed us to look into a makeshift forest. Special nocturnal lighting cast an eerie green glow but allowed for surprisingly brilliant viewing of the large Kiwi’s digging and foraging for food on the forest floor. Seemingly oblivious to us, or maybe just use to having bystanders ‘ohh-ing’, and ‘ahh-ing’ over their normal night-time activities, the Kiwi’s went about their business just being Kiwi’s. It really provided for an amazing up-close and personal experience with these birds who in the wild excelled at being almost completely inconspicuous. Unfortunately glass viewing screens and eerie green light does not a good photo make, and so it is just one of those things you’ll have to make the trip to New Zealand to see for yourself.
As we left the nocturnal house and readjusted our eyes to daylight, it seemed the weather had taken a turn for the worst and had begun to pour buckets. The staff at the Kiwi House were well prepared for this with a generous back up of umbrella’s, (or ‘brollies’ as the locals call them), for visitors at the center to use. And so, grabbing one each, and donning rain jackets over our otherwise summery apparel, we set off, map in hand, to follow the winding paths through the native bush of Kanuka trees, Ponga, and an assortment of ferns complete with unfurled fronds in the shape of koru’s; classic New Zealand bush beauty.
One of my favourite things to do in New Zealand was to go for bush walks where, unlike Canada, you never had to worry about the possibility of a bear mistaking you for lunch, and so it felt wonderful to be amongst native bush. Man-made environment or not, the staff had done a wonderful job of creating a beautiful natural showcase of New Zealand flora, accented by the chirps of our native birds. Even the rain couldn’t spoil the beauty; the birds were hardly bothered by it, the ducks in fact seemed to revel in it, the flora glowed even more green and lush than before, and the air smelt wonderfully fresh and earthy.
We had planned our tour to fit around the feeding of two native New Zealand parrots – the Kea’s and the Kaka’s. Being rather early and the weather the way it was, for quite a time we had the feeding of them all to ourselves. With a staff member doling out walnut halves to us, we held the shells up to the wire fences so the birds could use their beaks to peck at and eat the meaty part of the walnut. Definitely the highlight of the Kiwi House tour. Kea’s and Kaka’s are known for being very cheeky birds, and they definitely were not shy of us! Predominantly found in the South Island I had heard the horror stories of the birds destroying parked vehicles, in particular by pulling at the black rubber that surrounds the windows of the vehicle, or dismantling car aerials, while unsuspecting tourists were off enjoying picnics or bush walks. These birds do like shiny things and nothing is safe! They don’t have the vibrant colouring of what we normally associate with birds of the parrot family; their beauty is much more subtle. But in saying that, when they open their wings in flight, the Kea’s in particular, have the most beautiful iridescent green feathers. Trying to catch a photo of them doing this is though, is near to impossible.
With umbrellas in hand we continued our way around the park, following the winding pathways past the Gecko House, complete with the Tuatara, one of the view remaining descendants of the Dinosaur family, past New Zealand owls including the Morepork, named after its chilling call in the depths of night; “more…pork…, more…pork…”. Past waterfronts and wetlands, Heron’s, an assortment of ducks and other water fowl. Past creeks filled with native eels, past Kingfishers, and Keruru, our pretty and plump native wood pigeon. Often we would find we would be followed on our path by the odd Weka who, on seeing us notice him, would scoot into the bush again. Despite the rain and damp we still saw a variety of native bird species, and both enjoyed the native bush walk in itself. Both Martin and I reflected on the beauty of the place, maybe not so obvious in the photo’s we took, but in the feeling of experiencing nature up close.