A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand - Christchurch and Willowbank

Gardens, animals and park

3rd Kaikoura to Willowbank Zoo (kiwi, kea, kakapo, monkeys, eels, tuatara)
Christchurch (Hagley Gardens, Botanical Gardens, Avon river, Canterbury Museum, tram ride)
4th Christchurch, Governors Bay, meal with friend

Wednesday 3rd February 2016 Willowbank wildlife, kiwis and Christchurch

Kaikoura to Christchurch
We reluctantly said goodbye to beautiful Kaikoura and set off down the spectacular coastline, passing Fyffe House with its unusual whale rib foundations. The coast was mainly empty, due mostly to the strong waves and currents making swimming very tricky. Past Peketa, Rileys Lookout/ Panau Island (left), Goose Bay and finally Oaro before heading inland through very English sounding settlements- Hawkswood, Spotswood, Cheviot. The road (State Highway 1) then crossed the lower plains of Canterbury into its main wine region (Waipapa Valley), across riverbeds and estuaries, mostly empty or swampy until we arrived on the outskirts of Christchurch. It was a lovely day and we had not wanted to stop anywhere,
so we were quite early into Christchurch.

We realised that we were close to Willowbank Kiwi Centre (60 Hussey Rd Harewood), so decided we go in there. It was an excellent choice. The centre started on the edge of a lake with some typical Canterbury river eels. These ones were very tame and came right up to eat out of our hands. We followed the path around to see a variety of birds typical in NZ, like ducks, emu, takahe and pukeko, then onto to a group of tame wallabies milling around with the geese and then Monkey Island with its cute and lively capuchins. The other monkeys were nearby- some lemurs and gibbons next to the macaws and parrots. As the stream ran through the whole cleverly arranged complex the next stop was the otters, playing with some shells. The farm area was next with a variety of usual and unusual animals- from rabbits to llamas. On leaving the farm area it was into the NZ indigenous animals, starting with an aggressive duck, through to kaka, kunekune pigs and kea. The pigs had some so sweet piglets! The kea struck me as particularly clever in using strategies for getting his food from a piece of wood. A small hut housed the tuatara and geckos. The highlight, of course, was the nocturnal kiwi house. Luckily we were the only ones in the house, so once we were quiet the kiwis came back out. As our eyes adjusted to the dark we were able to see them rifling through the leaf litter for food. When they began screeching they were incredibly noisy! The kiwi house led to the compound dedicated to native birds such as kea, kakapo and kaka; all very clever and amusing.
Willowbank Kiwi Centre http://www.willowbank.co.nz $28 has 50 different species (500 animals) in individually designed enclosures or wandering free. Wild New Zealand exotic wildlife, Heritage New Zealand farm animals, Natural New Zealand natives. Wild New Zealand
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❖ Fallow Deer – these tame deer will eat right out of your hand.
❖ Wallabies – hand raised orphaned Lilly, Hope, and Kingsley
❖ Monkey Island – home of our capuchins.
❖ Asian Small Clawed Otters
❖ Parrots – Sam, our Sulphur Crested Cockatoo loves to talk to visitors.
❖ Macaws – These long living birds from Wellington and Timaru are a pair.
❖ Siamang Gibbons – Mr. B, Sue and Intan are a family unit.
❖ Ring Tailed Lemurs – 2 years old twins Kanuka and Kowhai
❖ Black and White Ruffed Lemurs.
Heritage New Zealand
● Peacocks – mostly in the picnic area, except Nigel who stays by the restaurant for chef to bring grapes.
● Clydesdale – called Sam.
● Llama – Gandalf the llama walks to meet the public.
● Goats – Arapawa island goats were a feral goat species that originated from an extinct Old English breed.
●Chickens – Polish Bantams, Chinese Silkies, Silver Hamburgs and Buff Orpingtons; you may be “mugged” by “the Mafia” Game Bantams in the farm.
● Miniature Horses – Giggles and Koha are friendly miniature American horses.
Natural New Zealand
❖ Eels
❖ Kea – world’s only alpine parrot. They are intelligent, curious, and cheeky.
❖ Kunekune Pigs – kune means ‘fat’, effectively making their name ‘fat fat pig’. Hercules is our large male. When he was a piglet he was so small he lived with the Guinea Pigs. Kunekune pigs can be toilet trained making them great pets.
❖ Tuatara – living dinosaurs unchanged for 220 million years.
❖ Kiwi – North Island Brown, Great Spotted, Okarito Brown (Rowi), and Haast Tokoeka varieties. The North Island Brown variety is in our nocturnal house.
❖ Kaka – South Island subspecies west Southern Alps, Fjordland, Southland, Stewart Island
❖ Takahe - the largest species of rail in the world and found only in New Zealand. They are the last remaining giant herbivorous birds, believed to be extinct until their rediscovery in 1948. Captive rearing, wild releases and island translocations have helped prevent extinction. The last 80 wild takahe live in the alpine tussock of Murchison Mountains in Fjordland.

Before humans settled in New Zealand, it would have been an extremely noisy place! Large tracts of lush native bush supported an incredible variety of bird life. As they evolved, wings became unnecessary for some birds, as they had no natural predators. As a result, several of New Zealand's native birds became flightless, including the kakapo parrot, kiwi, takahe, and the world's largest bird, the (now extinct) moa. As Maori settled New Zealand, they hunted birds and brought predators including rats and stoats, which along with habitat loss led to the extinction of the moa and huia.

Eels. The ancestors of New Zealand eels (Anguilla dieffenbachii) have swum in New Zealand waters since the early Miocene (23 million years). The longfin is one of the largest eels in the world and found only in the rivers/lakes of New Zealand. Tuna (Māori for eels) were historically important to Māori, and their taonga (heritage)- the reason that they are allowed to take small numbers from the River Avon in Christchurch. They are great climbers and elvers can climb waterfalls and even dams by leaving the water and wriggling over damp areas. Baby eels are 1mm long, but grow up to 2m. Eels are slow growing - 15-25 mm a year. Longfins live over 60 years; the biggest are old females that, for reasons not understood, have not migrated to sea to breed. The biggest longfin eels weigh 40 kg. Pictures of huge eels used to appear regularly in newspapers, but today are rarely heavier than 10 kg. Eels have long, slender tubular bodies. When small, they have smooth heads but as they grow becomes bulbous, with a prominent dome behind the eyes. They change shape again when they are ready to migrate to breed. The head becomes slender and tapered, and the eyes double in size. They appear scaleless, but tiny scales are embedded in a thick, leathery skin, sensitive to touch (to help it navigate). Longfins are dark brown but occasionally partially or wholly bright yellow. Small longfins feed on insect larvae, worms and water snails, but larger ones take fish, fresh-water crayfish and even ducklings. During the day, eels hide under logs, rocks or riverbanks. They hunt by smell rather than sight, using tube nostrils protruding from their head, above the upper lip and a large mouth with rows of small, sharp teeth. Longfins breed once, at the end of their life. When ready to breed (23 for a male, 34 for a female) they swim 5000 km to the tropical Pacific to spawn in deep ocean trenches near Tonga, after which the adults die. The larvae, called leptocephalus, look nothing like an eel, being transparent, flat, and leaf-shaped. They reach New Zealand drifting on ocean currents, and on entering fresh water change to familiar eel shape, although they remain transparent for another week.
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Kiwi (Apteryx=wingless) are unusual in many ways; they are the only bird with ovaries, have huge eggs relative to their size (20%), uniquely have nostrils at the tip of the beak, no visible wings and are flightless. The kiwi is New Zealand's national bird, and the name is often given to the human inhabitants too! There are 5 species (North Island Brown, Southern Brown, Little Spotted, Great Spotted, Okarito). Willowbank has North Island brown kiwi. They have spiky brown plumage, streaked reddish brown, and a long, thin ivory bill. During the day they rest in a burrow, hollow tree or under thick vegetation and emerge at dusk. They feed by walking slowly along tapping the ground and when prey is detected probing their bill into leaf litter or rotten logs; or plunging their bill deep into the ground. They call into the dark to advertise territory and maintain contact with a partner. Once we were quiet for a while, they started calling to each other, and were very noisy indeed. They are territorial, and fight with their sharp claws. Kiwis eat small invertebrates, earthworms, larvae, cicadas, moths, spiders and weta. Some small fallen fruit and leaves are eaten. Kiwi’s have a keen sense of smell, very poor eyesight, are territorial and mate for life.

Tuatara are the only surviving members of the beak-headed order Rhynchocephalia (so, NOT a reptile), which was widespread 200 million years ago. All except for the tuatara became extinct 60 million years ago. Tuatara are of huge international interest to biologists. They once lived throughout mainland New Zealand but have survived in the wild only on 32 offshore islands. Until recently two species of tuatara were recognised; Brothers Island tuatara (a small island in Marlborough Sound) and 2 subspecies; Northern tuatara and Cook Strait tuatara, but DNA research has shown tuatara is a single species with geographic variants. There were no tuatara left on either Island by the time of European settlement. Rats are the most serious threat to tuatara. Another threat is their low genetic diversity. Tuatara are slow moving and can live for over 100 years. They tolerate lower temperatures than most cold-blooded animals as they have a very slow metabolism and can hibernate in winter. A tuatara couple in Southlands had their first brood at ages 111 and 68! Their name is ‘peaked back’ in Maori, referring to the soft skin spikes/crests along their back which males can raise for courtship. The tuatara has a third eye on top of its head (the parietal eye), which has a retina, lens, cornea, and nerve endings, but it’s not for
vision. The parietal eye is only visible in hatchlings, as it becomes covered in scales and pigments after 4-6 months. Its function is a subject of ongoing research, but may help absorb ultraviolet rays and set circadian and seasonal cycles. The tuatara can break off its tail when caught by a predator and
regenerate it. Tuataras have a single row of ‘teeth’ (in fact sharp points on the jawbone) on the lower jaw and a double row of teeth on the upper jaw, with the bottom row fitting between the two upper rows. Worn down/ broken teeth aren’t replaced, so old tuataras switch from hard insects to soft prey like worms or slugs. Young tuatara come out in daylight to avoid their cannibal elders.
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Gecko and skinks- New Zealand has more than 99 species of lizard, geckos and skinks. 33 skinks are found nowhere else in the world. Skinks are more slender than geckos, with narrow heads and small eyes, a narrow neck nearly as wide as the head, and have smooth, shiny, scales. The ornate skink is in decline on the mainland, but increasing on predator free islands. The striped skink is one of NZ's least known lizards. The species is easily recognised by the pale stripes running down the length of its body, and makes an eye-catching sight with lightning quick movements. The striped skink is widespread in central North Island although its secretive nature means accurate population monitoring has not taken place. Their diet in the wild is largely unknown, but in captivity they mainly eat insects, but will also eat soft fruit. Striped skinks are good climbers and spend most time in the canopy, beneath flaking bark and crevasses in trunks, branches and epiphytes. They have a high rate of evaporative water loss making them susceptible to dehydration, which may account for their habit (damp areas).
There are at least 39 species of gecko in New Zealand, but only 18 have been formally described, and discoveries of new species are likely. These species belong to two genera: 1. Hoplodactylus (11 fully known, 20 species yet to be described). Most are grey or brown, with mottled, striped or banded patterns, except the harlequin gecko, which is brightly coloured. They are mainly nocturnal/ crepuscular although the harlequin is active in the day. 2. Naultinus (7 fully known, 1 yet to be described), bright green/ yellow.
● Geckos are able to vocalise and produce a chirping sound. Green geckos are loud for their size and produce a sound more like a ‘bark’
● Geckos have ‘sticky’ feet: their toes are covered with microscopic hairs to let them to climb sheer surfaces and walk upside down across the ceiling.
● Unlike skinks, geckos can’t blink so lick their eyes to keep them moist.
● Geckos ‘drop’ (autotomise) their tails.
● In New Zealand, geckos are long-lived: at least 42 years in the wild.
● Duvaucel’s gecko is the biggest gecko in the world, 160 mm and 120 g.
● New Zealand geckos are unusual as they give birth to live young rather than laying eggs; the only other geckos that do this live in New Caledonia.

Blue duck- one of a handful of torrent duck species worldwide; a river specialist inhabiting clean, fast flowing streams in forests. Nesting along river banks, they are at high risk of attack from stoats and rats. Their Maori name is whio whio, and they are found nowhere else in the world. They are believed to have appeared at a very early stage in evolutionary history. The blue duck's isolation in NZ has led to a number of unique anatomical and behavioural features. In contrast to other waterfowl, blue ducks obtain all their food (aquatic insect larvae) and rear their young in fast moving rapids. Where blue ducks reside in middle-river habitats, population densities are much higher; the upper-river habitats where they are found today are sub-optimal habitats. Blue ducks are at risk from a predator plague caused by high levels of seed production ('beech mast'). Strong bonding results in pairs occupying the same stretch of river year after year, which they aggressively defend. The pre-European fossil record suggests that blue duck were once throughout New Zealand, but are now limited to the West Coast of South Island. Blue ducks have unique features such as streamlined heads and large webbed feet to enable them to feed in fast moving water. The upper bill has a thick semicircular, fleshy ‘lip’ that overlaps the lower bill allowing them to scrape off insect larvae that cling to rocks, without wear and tear. The male makes a distinctive high-pitched sound “whio”, contrasting with the rattle-like call of the female. They are active during early morning/ late evening, hiding in the day; some populations have adopted an almost nocturnal existence.
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Paradise duck (putakitaki, pūtangitangi)- The paradise shelduck is New Zealand’s only shelduck, a worldwide group of large, semi- terrestrial waterfowl with goose-like features. Unusually, the female is more eye-catching than the male, with a pure white head and chestnut body, while males have a dark grey body and black head. Paradise shelduck fly in pairs. They are very vocal, with males giving a ‘zonk zonk’, while females make a shrill ‘zeek zeek’. Paradise shelducks breed only in New Zealand and are widely distributed in pasture, tussock and wetlands throughout the mainland and offshore islands. Paradise shelducks declined during the 19th century due to over-hunting, but have increased since then. Pairs stay together for life and return to the same nesting area year after year. They nest under logs, in holes in the ground, haysheds and tree holes.
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Fernbird (mātātā in Maori), is a small insectivorous passerine. Locally common in dry shrubland, tussock- covered frost flats up to 1000m altitude in Tongariro and Kahurangi and dense low wetlands, Fernbirds are small (18cm, 35g), long-tailed songbirds predominantly streaked brown. The mainland subspecies have a chestnut cap and a prominent pale stripe. The loosely-barbed plain brown tail feathers have a distinctive tattered appearance. Fernbirds are poor fliers; they typically scramble through dense vegetation, though occasionally fly short distances with their tail hanging down, just above the vegetation. Fernbirds have a gamey smell, which makes them irresistible to dogs. Their call is ‘u-tick’ given as a duet.

Kaka parrot- once common in NZ, kākā are now limited to localised forest strongholds in central North and South Island. The birds are mainly diurnal but active at night during fine weather or full moon. Kākā have a brush tongue to take nectar from flowers. Their strong bill can open the tough cone of the kauri to obtain seeds, as well as a “third leg” to assist with climbing trees to reach food. They make extensive use of their feet to hold food and hang from branches to reach fruit and flowers. Their diet includes berries, seeds, and nectar of kōwhai, rātā and flax. They also like grubs and are will dig invertebrates from rotten logs. Kākā play an important role pollinating flowers. When Europeans arrived in NZ, they found kākā in abundance, but by 1930 the numbers had declined. The call for each subspecies varies regionally (they have distinct dialects). Kākā are one of the most musical of parrots with a variety of melodic whistles and warbles sitting along more typical parrot-like screeches. Introduced wasps compete with kākā for the shimmering honeydew (excreted by scale insects), which forms on the barks of beech trees. Both mistletoe and honeydew supply sugary food, which is an important part of the bird’s diet, and may be essential for it to breed. Having evolved in the absence of mammalian predators, kākā make easy prey. Kākā nest deep in hollow trees, where there is no escape if they are cornered by predators such as stoats, rats and possums.
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Kākāpō parrot- Large, flightless, nocturnal, this eccentric parrot, can live for decades. It is not closely related to other parrots and has a combination of biological features not shared by any other. It is the only representative of a unique sub-family, Strigops habroptila, and has particularly soft plumage. With mottled moss-green feathers, camouflage is its main form of defence. Kākāpō are the heaviest parrots in the world; males can weigh 2kg. Unique among land birds, it can store large amounts of energy as body fat. Kākāpō is the only parrot to have a 'lek' mating system where males compete for 'calling posts' (specially dug-out bowls in the earth) and call for a female. The male’s low-frequency mating boom travels over several kms. It is the only parrot to have an inflatable thoracic air sac. A bird can walk several kms in one night. Although it cannot fly, it is good at climbing trees. The birds are herbivores and eat roots, leaves and fruit. Possibly as defence against its ancient predator, the giant Haast eagle, kākāpō are nocturnal and freeze at times of danger. Early Polynesian settlers hunted them for plumage and meat. From the 1840s, settlers hunted them, and set fire to bush for farming, destroying the habitat. By the 1970s, only a few isolated birds were known to exist in Fjordland, South Island, of which one, a male called Sirocco, is famous.

Kea are the world's only alpine parrot, and one of the most intelligent birds in the world. To survive in the harsh alpine environment kea have become inquisitive, nomadic social birds, characteristics that help them find and utilise new food sources. Kea (Nestor notabilis) are in reasonable numbers throughout South Island. Raucous cries of "keeaa” give these birds away. However, their endearing and mischievous behaviour can cause problems. Kea will congregate around novel objects, and their strong beaks have enormous manipulative power. The kea is related to the forest kaka. It is thought to have developed its own special characteristics during the last great ice age, by using its unusual powers of curiosity to search for food in a harsh landscape. The kea will happily attack a car in order to steal a windscreen wiper or other bits of rubber!
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Morepork Owl- often heard in the forest at dusk and through the night, the morepork is known for its haunting, melancholic call. Its Maori name, ruru, reflects this call. The much larger Laughing owl became extinct in the 20th century. The German or little owl is a smaller species found on open/ lightly wooded farmland. Morepork have acute hearing and are sensitive to light. They can turn their head 270°. In Māori tradition the morepork is a watchful guardian, part of the spirit world as it is a bird of the night. Although the more-pork call was thought to be a good sign, the high pitched, piercing, ‘yelp’ call was thought to be an ominous forewarning of bad news or events.

Pukeko is the New Zealand name for the purple swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio). The subspecies Porphyrio porphyrio melanotus landed in NZ 1000 years ago from Australia. Pūkeko are common along marshy roadsides and low-lying open country. However, it is essentially a bird of swampy ground, lagoons, reeds, rushes and swamps. Pūkeko are a member of the rail family, which also includes the takahe. Pūkeko look similar to takahe, although takahe are much heavier. They have distinctive colouring; deep blue, with black heads/ upper parts, white feathers under the tail, and a red bill and legs. Although reluctant flyers, they are good waders, swimmers and runners. Pūkeko can be aggressive and territorial. They're mostly vegetarian, but will eat invertebrates, eggs, frogs, small fish, chicks and mammals. They have adapted well to urbanisation. Pūkeko are cooperative breeders, with multiple male and female birds sharing a nest and responsibility for eggs and chicks.
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Takahe (l) Pukeko (r)
Takahe - a colourful green-blue bird with an impressive red beak and short stout legs. The flightless takahē (Porphyrio Notornis hochstetteri) is a unique bird from an era when large flightless birds were common in NZ. The takahē has clung to existence despite hunting, habitat destruction and introduced predators. The takahē was once thought to be extinct, but in 1948 it hit world headlines when an Invercargill doctor, Geoffrey Orbell, rediscovered it high in the tussock grasslands of remote Murchison Mountains, Fjordland. Aren’t they just fat pūkeko? No! A takahē looks similar to the pūkeko, because they are distantly related. Pūkekos are skinny and blue with a black back; takahēs are larger and more colourful. It has a large, strong red beak and stout red legs. It's gorgeous feathers range from an iridescent dark blue head, neck and breast to peacock blue shoulders and turquoise/ olive green wings and back. Adult takahē are the size of a large hen, and can weigh over 3 kg. Takahē wings are only used to display during courtship or as a show of aggression.

Tui- are attractive passerines in the honeyeater family (which means they feed primarily on nectarof native plants such as kōwhai, puriri, rewarewa, kahikatea, pohutukawa, rātā and flax). They live in beech forests and are famed for their beautiful singing and white 'parson's collar'. If you glimpse one you will recognise it immediately by the distinctive white tuft under its throat. This tuft contrasts dramatically with the metallic blue-green sheen to their underlying black colour.

New Zealand pigeon (kererū) is a large bird with iridescent green and bronze feathers on its head and a smart white vest. The noisy beat of its wings is a distinctive sound in forests. There are two species of native pigeon: the New Zealand pigeon, known to the Maori as kererū (in Northland as kūkū or kūkupa); and the Chatham Islands pigeon (Hemiphaga chathamensis) or parea. Kererū are large birds and since the extinction of the moa, the kererū and parea are the only seed dispersers with a bill big enough to swallow the large fruit of karaka, miro, tawa and taraire. The disappearance of these birds would be a disaster for the regeneration of native forests. The birds also eats leaves, buds and flowers, the relative amounts varying seasonally and regionally. Long-lived birds, they breed slowly. Key breeding signals are spectacular display flights performed mainly by territorial males.
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After an excellent trip around Willowbank it was getting towards lunchtime, so we drove to our hotel, Camelot Motor Lodge in Papanui Rd and checked in.
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After a brief rest we decided on a walk to the Botanic Gardens, as it was very close. The roads were busier than anywhere else we’d seen, but not too hard (as long as you realise that a green man still means people can drive around the corner from the right on their red light). We had a pleasant stroll through the gardens and park down to the Canterbury Museum. We went into the museum, looking at their excellent recreation of a 19th C Christchurch street, then up to the third floor for a bit to eat in the cafe. The view into the park/ Botanic gardens was lovely, so after lunch we headed back into the gardens. Passing the Phoenix/ Peacock fountain we strolled along the riverbank as far as the bridge to the rotunda. Then we headed right past the Peace Bell and into the beautiful rose gardens, which were fully in their summer bloom. We had just missed the glasshouses opening, so we went left into the native NZ section, of which more later.

It was getting late, so we wandered back to the hotel to change as we were meeting an old colleague of Steve’s. We ordered a taxi and drove to Dux Central bar in Lichfield Street. We could see the earthquake devastation more clearly now. After a few beers and cocktails we found each other and decided to eat there as it did a nice tapas/ shared plates menu. http://www.duxcentral.co.nz/#Home

Posted by PetersF 05:21 Archived in New Zealand Tagged gardens monkeys zoo museum island south bay christchurch botanical kaikoura tram avon eels kiwi canterbury kea governors willowbank kakapo tuatara hagley

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