44. Learn about New Zealand's natural world at Zealandia
When it comes to unadulterated outdoors and authentic wildlife experiences, New Zealand over delivers: here is No. 44 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
Wellington/Te Whanganui-A-Tara’s ground-breaking urban eco sanctuary is a brilliant place to learn about New Zealand’s natural world and how humans have changed it – and how they can change it back again. It’s also the perfect place to meet many of the special birds that make the capital city such a rewarding place to live. Opened in 1999, Zealandia/Te Māra A Tāne occupies a big, bushy valley enclosed by an 8.6-kilometre predator fence with a 500-year vision to restore the Wellington valley’s forest and freshwater ecosystems as closely as possible to their pre-human state.
It’s home to more than 40 rare native species including some of Aotearoa’s most beloved birds. These include the beautiful blue takahē, kākā (one of New Zealand’s two native parrots, pictured above right), handsome kereru (native pigeon), the melodic tūī (pictured below), and lovely little gems such as the korimako/bellbird and pīwakawaka/fantail. There are also more than 150 little spotted kiwi roaming free. Other special critters include the prehistoric tuatara and the leggy wētā.
Walking tracks winding around the valley are a great way to meet the wildlife and soak up the tranquil sanctuary atmosphere. The two-hour guided tours are highly recommended, as are the exhilarating night walks that offer a chance to see nocturnal critters including kiwi, tuatara, glow worms and wētā. You’ll also likely hear, if not see, the cute native owl, the ruru/morepork. Children will absolutely love this after-dark adventure through the forest, torch in hand! You can also explore the sanctuary independently with the help of a self- guided map. Wander around for an hour or two or stay all day and soak up the goodness. Many of the trails are wheelchair and pram-friendly, too. At the entrance of Zealandia is a colourful, interactive visitor centre with something to satisfy all ages. It provides an informative introduction to Aotearoa’s unique conservation story and how Wellington ended up with the world’s first fully fenced urban sanctuary. The modern building also houses the lovely Rātā Cafe.