small flightless birds in New Zealand (wed)

Drove ~ 3 hours from Auckland to Rotarua for the first of a couple days. A relatively small town, but quite a bit to do here. On the way, stopped in Matamata for lunch and a few shops, but did not stop for Hobbiton. While the Shire is apparently mostly intact, it is apparently ass expensive as the farmer who owns the land charges considerably to let you on his property, making tours and such outrageous.

Arriving in Rotorua, you are immediately assaulted by the smell of sulfur. A stalk reminder of the natural hot springs all around. Checked into the hotel (wireless password is aaaaa11111, bedroom tv screen is same size as my laptop) and headed to Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park. They offer empty bottles for each person to visit, to fill up from their natural springs and drink while in the park. The park is half domestic (e.g., pigs, chickens, sheep) and half exotic (e.g., Kiwi, Kea, Kereru) and lets you get up close to many. The Kereru, or New Zealand pigeon, is one of the largest pigeons in the world. The Kea is a mess of a bird; curious, lively and none too bright.

We took the 4pm tour of the Kiwi exhibit and back scene area. This included seeing the incubation areas, temporary housing for newly hatched chicks and learned about the park’s efforts for Kiwi preservation. Cliff notes: these nocturnal flightless birds are native to New Zealand, that originally had no predators. As man introduced new animals (e.g., rats, stoats, dogs), the Kiwi became more threatened, eventually moving to endangered status. Rainbow Springs is one of several preserves that search for Kiwi eggs in the natural habitat, bring them in, ensure healthy chicks, raise the Kiwi to a certain point and release them back into the wild. This effectively removes the most dangerous part of the breeding cycle, when Kiwis are the most vulnerable.

After the tour, I sponsored one of the Kiwis at the facility. I contacted them over a month ago saying I would, and finally got to do it. I picked out ‘Oddbod’ from the available sponsorees and donated NZ$150 to the facility to help cover the costs for him. He comes from the Ohape region and was brought in Dec 23rd 2010, the egg weighing 415.2g. He was estimated to be 53 days old upon arrival and was incubated for 18 days before hatching on Jan 10, 2011. At birth, he weighed 355.6g and had no problems. Oh, by ‘he’, I mean could-be-she. Kiwi chicks are difficult to sex at such an early age and frequently have DNA tests performed on a wing feather to determine sex. Once he learns to eat and forage for live invertebrates, they will let him grow to ~ 1kg before releasing him back into the wild.

After the glorious Kiwi, we stopped at the natural hot springs near the center of Rotorua. An entire park dedicated to the hot smelly springs. Some with water and steam, others with mud spitting up. All with the same strong sulfur smell.

Next, dinner at “Urbano Bistro’, an upscale restaurant with really good food. I had Bruschetta with crumbled feta cheese and a plate of scallops in some delicious sauce. Left there to relax at the hotel a bit, then headed back to the Kiwi adventure for night time. Since Kiwis are nocturnal, the park lets you go in the exhibit as it turns dark and see them wake up. In the 45 minutes there, we saw 3 of the 4 Kiwis. Two of them spent time at the front of the exhibit, no glass between us, just a small wall. I got to stand there, just a foot from them (within petting distance) as they woke up and began foraging for bugs. Seeing them that close was really neat, something most New Zealanders never do.

The Kiwi is one of the most absurd flightless birds you will ever see, but also one of the most absurdly cute creatures you will find.

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