Coastal redwoods and kiwis; natural oddities.

When we got up this morning the weather looked less than promising! It had rained overnight and the sky was grey and threatened more of the wet stuff. We grabbed some breakfast and it was still day so we decided to head out to the near by Whakarenwarewa Forest, where there was reportedly a Redwood grove. We were not disappointed as the rumours proved to be true. The redwoods are not natural to New Zealand, in fact these are imported Californian Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). This particular grove was planted in 1901 as an experiment to provide a local source of timber.

Unfortunately, the redwood trees grow quickly in the New Zealand climate which results in large cores of soft, brittle, low density wood – making them useless for lumber. The lumber man’s loss was our gain as we took a long walk through these magnificent trees. The shade provided by these giants has provided ideal conditions for large fern trees to thrive and the combination of the redwoods, tree ferns and misty dampness of the day created a primordial atmosphere. After a bit of debate on whether we took the 30 minute or 90 minute walk – Emily lost the vote – and we ended up taking the longer walk. The final part of the trail took us through the Redwoods, but from there we climbed upwards through more native vegetation. Whilst it was overcast it was hot and humid and we soon worked up quite a sweat, but the view through the openings at the top of the hill made it all worth while. The good thing was the second half of the walk was down hill!

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The weather stubbornly refused to improve, in fact it deteriorated further! After our trek through the forest we decided to head out to Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park, to find out more about Kiwis. This park is small but perfectly formed and we decided to upgrade our entry fee to include a guided tour of the Kiwi enclosures. The Kiwi is a strange creature, although it is considered to be a bird it has quite a few features that are more mammalian in nature. Whilst it has feathers and a beak, the rest of its features are more akin to an animal. The beak is flexible and is actually an extension of its skull. The beak is poked into the ground and is used to ferret out bugs which is the staple of its diet. Another unusual features of the Kiwi are:

  • It body temperature is the same as mammals
  • It has heavy bones filled with marrow (they are never going to fly!).

The Kiwi is about the size of large chicken. They mate for life and have one of the largest egg to body weight ratios of any bird; the egg averages 15% of the females body weight (compared to 2% for the ostrich). Enough to make your eyes water!

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A statue of the now extinct Moa
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A statue of a Kiwi – spotting the real thing is a challenge!

Before the arrival of man, birds had the run of New Zealand. The only animals around were bats. With no need to fly away from danger a number of birds decided to hug the ground and became flightless, and with no predators they flourished. The largest of these birds was the Moa which reached a whopping 3.7m (12ft) in height. Sadly, these birds were hunted into extinction by the Maori. The arrival of man also bought mammals. The rabbit was introduced as a food source, and they bred at an astronomical rate and there were no predators to keep the population in check and so they soon became a pest. To counter this pestilence the stoat and weasel were introduced which helped control the rabbits but they blighted the native bird population. At one time the kiwi population would have numbered tens of millions, now they are an endangered species.

Luckily centres like Rainbow Springs have been established to try and help out the ailing kiwis. The Centre’s staff go out into the wild and collect the eggs, bring them back and incubate them. Once the chicks are hatched they are kept in the sanctuary for 18 months before being released back into the wild. This eliminates the danger period in the wild of egg to hatchling.

Our tour took us into the hatcheries where we were shown the eggs being processed and incubated. Then we were taken to the viewing area. Kiwis are nocturnal so the lighting was dimmed, but we did get to see a couple of these amazing birds scuttling around looking for food. We immediately fell in love with the kiwi!

Whilst Rainbow Springs is focused on kiwis it does have beautiful grounds and host of other creatures; from native birds to domesticated animals to see. The weather was still not playing ball, so whilst we walked around the heavens opened and we got thoroughly soaked. This did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm to explore the park.

After exploring everywhere, including the splendid gift shop, we headed back to the hostel to dry out. Jack and Emily decided to hang back at the hostel, which gave myself and Karen some grown up time – which we used to spend at the Polynesian Spa, one of the many hot springs around Rotorua. Whilst the weather continued to be crappy it was still very nice to spend sometime chilling out in the hot pools.

Our final mission of the day was to return to Rainbow Springs after dark. Some kiwis were put out into enclosures with shin high fences; they can’t fly or even jump, so they there was no danger of them escaping. We were able to get up close to observe these plump and cuddly birds, further cementing our love affair with them.

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