Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

NZ trip - part 2 of 7

(Earlier entries of NZ pics can be found by clicking my "travel" tag.)

What the HECK is that, you say? Well, you'll just have to

It's from Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand, but more on that in a moment...

The day after the trip to the Pinnacles, we got up and Stephen decided it would be a good day to take the alpaca for a walk.

Some background, since I think some folks reading this journal won't know it -- I have two sets of friends who emigrated to NZ within the last 5 years or so. meesto and trickofthedark were Boston-area friends who moved out there and still run their web-design/computer-animation/etc. business there; and I did get to visit with them briefly, which was fantastic! (They were in the middle of a project related to their business, so I didn't get a lot of time with them.) Tamara and Stephen, meanwhile, are friends of mine from college (Tam and raqs and I went to college together, anyway). They moved down there ca. 4 years ago, and they bought a 25-acre farm within commuting distance of Wellington, and they have become small-farmers, primarily breeding alpaca at the moment. I primarily stayed with them and did some road-trips with them, and also with tyellas, who went to college with Tam and Raqs and I.

The alpaca herd now numbers over 30 -- 21 females and 11 males, I think? And one llama, Jim (because if you get a llama, there are no more dominance issues amongst the male alpaca, since he's so much bigger than all the rest of them). Tam and Stephen have been doing a lot of halter-training of the alpaca, because for one thing it's a good idea, and for another, any neutered males whom they might sell for the "pet" trade should be accustomed to haltering/handling, and for a third, it's just kind of fun to take your alpaca for walks.

Here is the thundering herd of males, running down the track from their pasture. (The farm is very hilly and vertical; hey, it's the Wellington area, what do you expect?) Stephen is out of shot, behind them. Jim the Llama is the dark-brown larger beast right in the middle. The alpaca were all quite excited about this, and came "hooning", as they apparently say in NZ, down eagerly, galloping and jumping and bucking a bit. Some of them really like "walkies". Some of them don't, but they get excited by what everybody else is excited by.

The thundering herd arrives at the gate, with Farmer Steve bringing up the rear.

The farm is located on a very windy little road that runs alongside the Takapu stream through some steep and cozy but not terrifically high hills. Their farm, Elmwood, is located about halfway up the valley, I guess. So Stephen put halters on Jim (right) and Zafir (left, a 9-month old alpaca who they want to get halter-trained), so we could walk them up to the end of the road at the top of the valley, which ends in the Belmont Hills Reservation park. This pic is from when we'd reached the top (not a very steep climb); the bald grazing hills in the background are part of the Reservation.

It was a fun walk, and we got a number of double-takes from the few people driving past in cars, which I gather is par for the course when you're out walking alpaca. Let me say that neither Jim nor Zafir were thrilled with me walking them. I was supposed to lead Zafir, but he was so balky that Stephen ended up leading/dragging him the whole way, and I got Jim, who *most* of the time was a pretty good llama. Most of the time. (Jim is really just naturally suspicious of everything, I think. And it didn't help when we ran across the big English Sheepdog at one of the farms.)

Home-coming. The boys are back in their pasture, on the left, and the girls have come down to investigate, on the right.

It was kind of a rainy day, and Tam was at work (she works downtown), so we went back to Te Papa. We had gone there in the morning on my first day, but that day the weather was too beautiful to stay inside, so we only did about 5% of the museum. That afternoon, we did much of the rest. It's a gorgeous place, with a lot of cool natural-history stuff, and a lot of cool anthropological stuff, including a ton of cool Maori stuff.


These are pics of a modern marae that is built within the museum. A marae is usually a traditional Maori meeting-house, a focal point of the community, a place where culture is celebrated. This modernistic one in Te Papa is actually used for ceremonies, on occasion. It's really gorgeous and obviously, incredibly striking. The pic at the top of this entry is a detail of the center of the gable, and shows the trickster-hero Mau'i roping the sun.

(Note: clicking this link will play a short audio piece immediately):

The next day, it was up to Porirua (the next exit north from Tam and Stephen's farm) to the Pataka museum (small scale local museum, but with some nice exhibits). Then in the afternoon, we went to Karori Nature Reserve, another patch of wild native bush in the middle of the city of Wellington. This one is notable because it is a valley that is completely enclosed by a predator-proof fence, and the founders of the reserve painstakingly eradicated all imported predators from within it (and police it vigilantly). So it serves as a refuge for native NZ wildlife, and has a nice amount of native bush as well. Like everything in Wellington, it's steep in places, basically a bowl of a little snug valley centered around two artificial lakes and dams that created reservoirs for the city.

This shot is taken while standing on the upper dam, looking down the valley. You can sort of just barely see the water of the lower lake in the distance, and beyond that, the houses of the city's suburbs.

A tui! In the wild! At one of the reserve's feeders, obviously. The bright white dot is the tufty feathers at its throat, and its head is up under the bell of the jar. Tuis are honey-eaters and it's lapping up nectar. I managed to get close enough to it that I could see its little tongue working! But not close enough for a better shot than this, more's the pity.

This, though, is the really spectacular sight of the day. Definitely click to get the larger version, and click through to the largest version if you can. See the brown lizard in the center? That, my friends, is a real live tuatara! That one is about the size of a smallish iguana, a foot long perhaps?

Karori has a specially built enclosure within the reserve that serves as tuatara habitat (protecting them from wekas, which is a native flightless bird found in the park -- more on them later). The railing that encloses the tuatara section is helpfully numbered along its length, and there are whiteboards at either end of it where people can write down the time and number-location of tuatara spottings. We were very lucky that this one had been spotted not long before we arrived, and was still there sunning him-or-herself when we got there.

Tuatara are enormously cool because they are really dinosaur-throwback-type things. They look like lizards, but they are an evolutionary rung back from today's lizards, equally related to lizards and snakes. They're kind of cute. It was tremendously exciting to have gotten to see one, as close to "in the wild" as I was likely to get.


By the next day I was recovered enough from my cold that Stephen made me climb the back hill of their property. So here is a pic taken from way the hell up on top of their hill. See that electrical tower, that looks so tiny in this shot? You have seen the base of that tower before, above in the pics of the alpaca -- so that should give you an idea of the scale and distance. Man, that was not an easy climb. And yet, the horses and the alpaca do it all the time. (Having four feet and a lower center of gravity would help.) The horses don't belong to Stephen and Tamara, they belong to someone who is boarding them (there are 6 horses/ponies grazing on the property altogether).

Their farm runs from that line of trees on the left (the trees are all on the neighboring property, and they're gums), over to include the greener field on the right, with the single tree sort of in the middle of the line (above and to the right of the pony's head). The property kind of narrows as it rises, so it's kind of triangular rather than rectangular. If you click through to the largest version, you can see a red-roofed house in the middle, to the left of the tower -- that is not their house, that's across the road. Their house is the harder-to-see grey roof just to the right of the red-roofed one.

After lunch, Stephen took me for a drive up into the Waikanae, up the west coast to the north, about an hour's drive. Feeling that he had not yet subjected me to all that NZ's roads had to offer, he took me over the Paekakariki Hill Road, which is notable for affording the following spectacular look-out opportunity:

Looking down over Paekakariki and Paraparumu (the towns visible below and in the distance). As you can see, although the weather had been crap that morning at the farm, a few hours later and over the ridge to the north, and it cleared up considerably.

Yes, at one point when we were standing there, a small plane flew by BELOW US.

Kapiti island, just off the coast. Most of it is a nature reserve. We tried to go there, but the only way to get there is by ferry, and you have to call and reserve tickets because they only let like 25 people onto the island a day, or something. Well, when Tam tried to get us tickets, she discovered that the ferry wasn't running at all, because it was WINTER and nobody else wanted to go, so they didn't feel it was worth running. What I have to say to that is -- people are WIMPS. Winter, my ass. It was gorgeous weather! (Yes, I know, it could change in a moment. Still!)

Looking back in the opposite direction -- southwest rather than northwest as in the other pics above. The mountains visible in the far distance are in fact the South Island, across the Cook Strait.

From there, we went DOWN DOWN DOWN, and then drove on State Highway 1 (that is the little, little thing you can see waaaaaay at the bottom, if you click through on the above pics) north of Paekakariki, to Waikanae and the Nga Manu Wildlife Sanctuary. "Nga Manu" is Maori for "many birds", and oh, there were birds. Boy, were there!

Pukekos! These are darling things, about the size of a chicken but with much longer legs, which are bright red. You see pukekos all over the darned place, on roadsides. I find them charming and endearingly ungainly.


Nga Manu had a kaka enclosure, and we went in. Kaka are a type of native NZ parrot, which can fly. They're very inquisitive and bold, especially young males. Well, let me tell you... Stephen and I walked in there, and this one young male kaka immediately flew over and landed on my head. Then he got on my shoulder. And he WOULD NOT GET OFF.

Apparently, either my shampoo or my bath gel was *crack* to kakas. This guy sat there on my shoulder, and repeatedly rubbed his beak up and down my neck and throat, making a clicking noise, and then he would turn and preen the scent he was trying to pick up all over his own feathers. Rub, preen, REPEAT. (Please, take a look at that beak for a moment.)

Stephen tried to reach over and coax the kaka onto his hand. The bird *pushed* him away with his beak and went back to the rubbing and the preening. I tried to sidle up to Stephen and angle my shoulder to get the kaka to transfer to his shoulder. *PUSH* I tried to reach and get the kaka to step onto *my* hand. *PUSH*

Finally, he did fly off on his own -- presumably to go show off his New Improved Scent to all the Lady Kakas, or something. And I beat a hasty retreat. (It was only a little alarming, in the sense of, "Seriously, how am I going to get this bird off me so I can leave?" Otherwise, it was loads of fun, and of course, comedy gold.)


Okay, so NZ has three species of large parrots. The kaka is the smaller of the three. The kea is the middle-sized one, also flighted. (The largest is the kakapo, which looks a bit like the kea, but which is flightless and thus even more endangered than the other two, only surviving on a few island reserves.)

This is a kea. Fortunately, in the kea enclosure, we did not experience a repeat of the being-landed-upon. But this kea was very engaged and inquisitive. Like the kaka, they're known for that. They inhabit mountain passes on the South Island, and they are particularly known for stealing things from tourists and hikers, and descending on parked cars and methodically picking out all of the rubber bits -- including, like, the seal around your windshield.

That sort of thing is usually the behavior of young males. This young male, a keeper told us later, likes to play the "key game", as in, stealing the keeper's keys whenever he comes into the enclosure.



Finally, some Paradise Shell Ducks, just because, they're pretty. And we saw them all over the place, as well. They're also kind of interesting, in that the white-headed one is the female of the pair. (Kind of backwards to what you might expect.) Unfortunately because of the sunlight, this pic came out more saturated than I would have liked, but if you click through to the largest version you can see some of the lovely subtle patterning on the feathers on the male's back.

The rest of Nga Manu offered swans (both black and white, but I didn't get a good pic of the black one, more's the pity); many kinds of ducks, some of which seriously tried to mug us for food; Canada geese (oooo, exotic! *rolls eyes*); a tui (some nice close shots but all through a cage netting); a heron; many lovely birdcalls in the bush walk; some kereru (an extremely large, pretty native pigeon, which sounds like a herd of rhino, crashing around up in the canopy); and invisible eels. (The eels were THERE, we just couldn't see them; tragically, we arrived after the last scheduled Eel Feeding of the day; man, I would have liked to see that!)

Next time: Rotorua, thermal hotsprings, and the Art Deco delights of Napier!


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 9th, 2007 06:25 am (UTC)
Kaka!crack heee! I think I would have been freaking out at that bit because as you say, *beak*, *face* - but he's a handsome chap :-)

Enjoyed the heck out of this batch :-) And you were lucky to see a tuatara, no? They're pretty rare, aren't they?

Lovely shots hon, looking forward to the next batch :-)
Sep. 10th, 2007 03:37 pm (UTC)
I had to assume that if the kaka were in the habit of really ripping into people, they would not have left him in an enclosure where people could walk right in and he could land on their heads.

But yes, I was very aware that he was not a *pet parrot*, but a wild kaka habituated to human interaction.

Tuatara are very rare, and I felt EXTREMELY luck to have seen one "in the wild", and so close! (We were only about 3 feet from it.)
Sep. 10th, 2007 08:57 pm (UTC)
Not just in the parks
You sort of might expect birds in a wildlife park situation to be tamer, but the wild kaka on Kapiti island will come and sit on you, too. And mug you for your lunch.

RE: Karori -- the cool thing about Karori (and Kapiti, too, to a certain extent) is that because it provides a save haven for the birds (no cats, rats, weasels, etc.), once the population in the protected areas gets big enough, they spread out to the surrounding suburbs. There's been an huge increase in native birdlife in Wellington in the last decade or so, with tuis right in the CBD, and I'd swear we even got a bellbird through Tawa last week. People on the coast are getting the kaka coming over from Kapiti. Very cool.
Sep. 9th, 2007 12:00 pm (UTC)
TOTAL comedy GOLD! Heee! And oh that beak. Meep.

I love reading your descriptions, and the photos, yay! I have Alpaca socks and they are the best ever. Remind me to drag you to that store in town that sells them next time you're up this way.

Also, those shoreline phots are spectacular. And seriously, wow, lots of amazing birds! *smooch*
Sep. 10th, 2007 03:38 pm (UTC)
Oooo, alpaca socks!

I had been hoping to buy some alpaca knitwear while there, but -- at the moment, there is not enough of it to sell on its own, so it's mostly blended in with amounts of Merino wool. Which... that's very nice, but all sheep wool makes me itch, so...

(I learned more than you could possibly imagine about the State of the NZ Alpaca Industry.)
Sep. 10th, 2007 09:46 pm (UTC)
They're a thing of joy and beauty. And they're at Haywards!

As for sheep wool...me too. ack.
Sep. 9th, 2007 01:50 pm (UTC)
Ha-HA! I knew that was from Te Papa because I took the EXACT SAME PHOTO!!!
Sep. 10th, 2007 03:39 pm (UTC)
You've got to figure everyone does, don't you? :)
Sep. 9th, 2007 07:23 pm (UTC)
Hah! I recognized that shot from the marae at Te Papa! I loved Te Papa, and was very very sad that I didn't get more time in Wellington. Such a beautiful city; I would totally go back there, and I'm jealous you got several days there.

Keas! I only got to meet keas in zoo-type circumstances, which made me sad, since I did a fair amount of hiking on both islands and hoped to see some. But it was not to happen. Still, very cool!

I'm a bit envious you got to Napier: we never made it over there.
Sep. 10th, 2007 03:41 pm (UTC)
Yeah, we were hoping to encounter kea in the wild at some of our stops in the South Island, but we never did. Whenever we were in the right areas, the weather was so crap that even the kea were staying in.

Of course, this might have been a blessing. Because while I sort of wanted to encounter wild kea, I really didn't want the trip to be derailed by having to find a replacement windshield for the car, or something.

I wish we'd had more than 4 hours to spend in Napier, in retrospect. It was a very nice little place.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )