Nature always wears the colours of the spirit, so do these small wonders of nature that astonish and amuse us. And a nocturnal walk at Zealandia—a 255-hectare eco-sanctuary, six kilometres from downtown Wellington in New Zealand—is the best way to experience such wonders. A tui, a honeyeater with its distinctive tuft of white feathers flying overhead, and flocks of olive-brown bush parrots called kakas with flashes of crimson under their wings squawking in large groups, make it feel like one is walking through primeval Jurassic Park.
Witnessing kakas peeling tree barks and feeding on sap, and listening to tuis making sounds and even imitating humans, while trudging through leaf litter and narrow paths in the dim light of a torch, is mesmerising. Amid all this, a star-spangled sky frames the tall pines and palms like a velvet canopy.
Home to more than 40 species of native birds—24 of them endemic to New Zealand—Zeelandia is a unique sanctuary run by a team of volunteers.
The sanctuary feels more like a remote wilderness, rather than just miles outside the city. The eco-park has a unique 8.6-km predator-proof fence that keeps out mammal predators such as rabbi, stoat, and possum away. It has several walking paths and trails that loop around an old reservoir, and go up and down the valley.Outfitted with red flashlights and audio receivers, the nocturnal walk starts near an old reservoir. Walking down to a pontoon on the reservoir, one can spot pied shags (as cormorants are called in NZ) on branches, and flocks of ducks waddling behind the mother.
Walking along the narrow trail one can see takahe—one of the rarest species of indigenous birds. These flightless birds have red legs, and a huge conical bill, which aids in cutting vegetation. There are less than 300 takahe in the world. They were officially declared extinct for 50 years until found in Fjordland in 1948, and were then bred, so watching them is a very special experience.In the distance is a shrill, distinctive call. It’s a male kiwi. Kiwis bond for life and today there are about 1,600 spotted kiwis in the wild, out of which over 100 are in this reserve.
The walk through tree ferns and five-finger bushes is magical as there is always a possibility of spotting something new. The next wildlife encounter is spotting tuataras in burrows on a ledge. These prehistoric lizard-like species have an ancient lineage that goes back to the time of the dinosaurs. A tuataras can survive by breathing once every couple of minutes; they also have a lifespan of 100 years. In the red light of the torch, they scamper with their leathery spine-studded hide and are masters of camouflage.
Though, by this time, one’s eyes get accustomed to the darkness, all of a sudden dots of lights shining like small fairy lights take everyone by a surprise. These are glow worms with slime-coated silken threads that trap unwary insects.
On the walk back, one can see several tiny wooden feeder boxes with humongous furry, cricket-like insects called weta (it means ‘god of ugly things’ in the Maori language), which have been in existence around for 190 million years. These are one of the heaviest insects in the world and are nocturnal.
And if one is lucky enough, spotting a plump, brown, kiwi foraging on the forest floor, may come into your path, leaving you entranced and giving a perfect end to the fairy tale night.