There are some lines you draw when you are out touring. Some involve physical challenge. Some involve personal interests. And then there’s just a line to draw on cost. We have a little time before lunch to explore the Governor’s Gardens and the Rotorua Museum. The Museum is housed in the old original bath house and Bob has an urge to go see the basement, the place where the original pools were. When we go inside, the lady at the ticket desk shows us all the floors of the museum. It is not evident that we can even get to the basement and we would have to pay $12 NZD and spend time going through a museum rather than enjoying the sunshine. While $12/each may not seem a lot, I have no interest and Bob decides that it’s too much to pay for a look at the basement. We walk through the gardens instead.
When hunger persists, we pull into a Burger King just a short distance from the park we want to explore this afternoon. A little taste of home at a good price.
The Rainbow Springs Park is a bird and reptile zoo with some fish, mostly trout, as well. It is beautifully laid out and a pleasure to walk through but we are here for one specific creature, the kiwi. It is the national bird of New Zealand and is endangered. Added to that, it is also nocturnal so there is little chance of our seeing one on our own. We have opted for the behind the scenes tour and the return to see the kiwi at night. While it is quite pricey we chose to buy the tickets as this may be our only chance to see live kiwi. Our tour begins at one so we spend a few minutes looking around the park.
The Kiwi House is one of several throughout New Zealand that has been established to try and save the kiwi from extinction. Our guide tells us that there are only about 70,000 kiwis left in NZ and that includes all five or six different species. Several small mammals were brought to NZ to keep down the rat and mouse population but stoats and ferrets have proliferated to the point that they are endangering some of the natural inhabitants of NZ including the kiwi. Weasels also prey on the kiwi and dogs and cats can be a threat as well. Only 5% of the kiwis born in the wild will survive.
One of the facts about the kiwi I find fascinating is that they resemble mammals more than birds. The feathers are more like fur, its bones are not hollow and it has whiskers like a cat. It has small wings but cannot fly and it produces one of the largest eggs of any bird especially in relation to its body size. The egg grows to be almost 2/3 the size of the kiwi mother. She lays the egg—only one a season and only about 3 a year, and daddy kiwi sits on the egg. Mom’s apparently had enough after putting the egg in the nest. The egg is soft when first laid and hardens outside the bird but still, I’m surprised they want anything to do with having more. (Check out the x-ray picture to see the size of the egg.)
The Kiwi House foundation sends their workers out to collect eggs and bring them back to the facility to hatch. Since September of this year, they have hatched 13 eggs. They keep the kiwi here until they are six months old and then release them, tagging a leg of the males so that they can track them to another egg. After all, the male will be sitting on the eggs. They have determined that the birds they release at six months of age have a 70% survival rate. They are a little big for the smaller mammals to bother with and since the eggs and very young kiwi are the most vulnerable, the system is helping the kiwi to repopulate albeit slowly.
We look at eggs in the incubators, see how candling is done to determine when a kiwi might hatch, and then watch as dinner is prepared for some of the newer hatchlings. Some liver is cut up into small pieces to take the place of the worms in a kiwi’s diet. Then the small kiwi is hand fed to be sure it’s getting nourishment. Eventually the kiwi will learn on its own to forage for its food sources. We watch as one attendant puts the pieces of liver into the bill of the small kiwi she is feeding and he swallows it down.
Around a corner from the lab we have seen is a public viewing area with a kiwi behind glass. They have altered the lighting so this poor bird has his nights and days mixed up. But it enables the visitors to see a kiwi moving about. Much better than the stuffed one we saw on our last visit to New Zealand. We watch in fascination as the ball of furry feathers meanders about under a reddish light. (Please note: not picture taking is allowed so those posted are of the stuffed variety on display.)
In the evening, after sunset, we return to the park and are allowed into the area where there are four separate exhibits each with a kiwi. Low lights give just enough illumination that you can see some of the kiwi moving about. There are lots of children who are trying so hard to be quiet. Noise causes the kiwis to hide. I’m glad that we are among the first to enter for I fear that those behind us are going to have trouble seeing the kiwis. They have sensed the presence of the strangers and have scattered to the back of the enclosures. Still, it is fascinating and fulfills the desire to see real live kiwi. Like I said before, you make choices based on interests and desires when you travel. You budget for the good stuff.