Wondering where to see New Zealand’s birdlife in Wellington? Zealandia is the answer, especially if you are short on time and can’t venture far from the city on your trip. Make your way to Zealandia instead of Wellington Zoo. Listen to the distinctive calls of New Zealand’s birdlife as you wander the quiet paths! There’s a lot to see if you are interested in the birdlife in this unique country (i.e., tui, kereru, kaka, hihi, tekahe, and even kiwi).
After almost a year of living in Wellington, I still had not explored the eco-sanctuary Zealandia. I live on the other side of town, and I sort of forgot it existed. Then two things happened. One, I listened to Jane Goodall speak, and low and behold, she spoke about a wonderful place in my backyard called Zealandia (if Jane Goodall recommends it, I ask no questions). Two, my coworker insisted I go on a nice day because it will feel like a peaceful haven from the city. When I found a deal on GrabOne, off I went! Zealandia is Wellington’s eco-sanctuary nestled in the hills of Karori, just outside the city. However, you honestly feel like you are a million miles away from Wellington when you’re walking the paths in it.
Zealandia has several different options for walking paths as well, varied in length and difficulty, which head through forests. The woods in New Zealand are beautiful and I was impressed with the eco-sanctuary’s offering in this area! It is not manicured, but essentially a reserve for New Zealand’s animal and plant life. There are a few scheduled walks you can go on with Zealandia volunteers (what I did) if you want to learn about the plant life, birdlife, and history of New Zealand. There’s also an option to go at night to try to spot kiwi!
It is critical to know the history of New Zealand to understand the wildlife, but especially the bird life. Because New Zealand’s birds didn’t have any native predators, many of the birds adapted to become flightless (for example, the takahe, kiwi, kakapo). However, since humans have settled the islands of New Zealand, many species have been introduced including rabbits, dogs, deer, stoats, rats, and goats. Some of these animals have directly impacted the country’s native wildlife by killing birds that cannot defend themselves since they are flightless. Others have been impacted indirectly as their food sources have been stripped away by getting eaten by other animals.
Learning about the background helped me gain an understanding of why some of the birds are the way they are. The goal of Zealandia is to restore a portion of Wellington to provide a safe haven for native animals and to preserve the country’s unique wildlife. Quite a few of New Zealand’s birds cannot be found anywhere else in the world and are in danger, so it’s a great platform to educate the public in hopes of making a real difference.
Zealandia is a fenced-in portion of Wellington. The fences were built to keep predators out and is the first of its kind in the entire world. They are a couple of meters high and even go underground to prevent animals from burrowing underneath. The only thing it has proven to not keep out are baby mice – so unfortunately, they were forced to make a new design and are slowly rebuilding it. Zealandia covers an area bigger than the size of Monaco at 560 acres (Monaco is 500 acres).
Animals you can see in Zealandia:
The tui is one of the most well known native birds in New Zealand. Tuis are easily identified by their distinct calls. They even have the ability to mimic human speech, doorbells, and phone ringtones! The tui has a cluster of white feathers on its neck and has flashy iridescent aqua colored feathers on its head and wings. They are very common and easy to spot!
The Takahe was my favorite bird in the eco-sanctuary. Zealandia has two, although one of them was sadly in the hospital at the time. The one that I saw is in fact 23 years old (!!!). I mean, just look at those colors! With the introduction of animals like stoats these flightless birds are now in real danger. Takahes also compete for food resources with deer, so they are now very much protected.
The kakariki is New Zealand’s parakeet. In Zealandia, you can see the red-crowned kakariki. Fun fact: kakariki means green in Maori!
The kaka is smaller than the kea, which is found in the mountains, but they do look similar. The Kaka differentiates in its orange/ brown coloration and it has a distinct screeching call. They are mischievous and entertaining parrots – I probably could have sat for an hour watching them interact with each other.
You can find 36 species of shag worldwide, and New Zealand has 12 of them (8 are found nowhere but New Zealand!). 4 species claim Zealandia as their home. Phew! That was a lot of numbers.
I saw the pied shag, which is a black and white shag that has a few blue and yellow markings on its face. Interesting fact about the shag: they have less oil on their feathers so that they are able to dive deeper. They nest in the fallen branches and in trees.
The paradise shelduck can also be found here. It’s a common duck but beautiful nonetheless with a white head and rust colored feathers!
I discovered the only kind of pigeon I can tolerate. I know I’m an animal lover and all, but pigeons reeeeally gross me out. HOWEVER, New Zealand being New Zealand, of course they have beautiful pigeons. Actually, the kereru has a vital role in New Zealand’s ecosystem, which is dispersing large seeds of fruits that other birds can’t carry because of their size.
This iconic New Zealand bug (which Weta Workshop was named after) is indeed found in Zealandia. Someone encountered one on the lawn, and I got to see it for the first time. It’s definitely not the most pleasant bug, but it is interesting because of its immense size. So thankful I saw it in Zealandia and NOT in my house….
Other things you can see (but I didn’t)
It is possible to see the elusive kiwi on a night tour. Also, Zealandia has plenty of tuataras, which are reptiles found only in New Zealand. Other birds that can be found here include the hihi, saddleback, and three other kinds of shag.
There’s plenty of flora to be discovered here as well, although I generally stick to the animals, you can find a list on Zealandia’s website here.
If you can’t head out on one of the guided walks, have no fear, there’s plenty of information on Zealandia’s website about the individual species.
Which animal would you like to see in Zealandia?