When I asked the driver and tour guide of my trip to the Farewell Spit Nature Reserve a week ago about attractions on the South Island that he thought I might like as much, he told me about two places that were new to me. One of those places, the White Heron Sanctuary, was certainly one of the high points of my visit to New Zealand so far. The other one, the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, which I visited Tuesday, was another.
I went to the wildlife reserve after walking into Sumner from Graeme’s home on the cliff overlooking the village. I needed a better map of the Christchurch area and I wanted lunch and to connect to the Internet. I got a detailed map at a bookstore, enjoyed both tarihiki and gurnard, two fish that were new to me, at Sumner Seafoods, and connected at a coffee shop.
While the map was necessary for me to find my way across Christchurch, it wasn’t sufficient. I got lost more times than I can count on what should have been a 40 minute journey, according to the most helpful manager of the bookstore, who detailed the route to me. In the event, I took about two and one-half hours to get to Willowbank.
At the time, I didn’t realize that my delayed arrival at about 4:30 p.m. was one of the best things that happened to me. Here’s why.
The big thing about Willowbank, according to the tour guide who told me about it, is that this is the most successful place where kiwis breed. He was talking about New Zealand’s iconic bird, not the people of this country, who of course breed everywhere.
For a century New Zealander’s have been calling themselves Kiwis. Soldiers in the New Zealand military were the first to become known as Kiwis, and now this nickname has become an important part of this nation’s identity. So this rare little bird is even more of a symbol to the people of this country than the bald eagle is to Americans.
Unlike the Kiwi people, the kiwi bird sleeps during the day and is active at night. Also unlike the Kiwi people, this bird is endemic to New Zealand, having lived here for around 30 million years, and is found only here.
The kiwi is one of the few flightless birds. It belongs to the family that includes the ostrich, the emu, and the extinct moa. But this bird is the only one in the world whose nostrils are at the tip of a very long bill.
The kiwi starts to get active at dusk. This was my good fortune. By arriving at the wildlife reserve so late and by spending even more hours at its other sections first, I eventually got to a large room where the kiwis were waking up and starting to dig for food.
But I faced a further problem when I got there — almost no light. Even the fastest camera couldn’t capture a image of one of these birds without flash. However, I didn’t see any sign saying I couldn’t use flash, and for the hour that I spent it the kiwi shed I was totally alone with the birds.
Shooting in the general direction of where I heard a kiwi scampering around, I eventually got some adequate shots of this unique bird.