W1702 – Wellington walks

In my last post, W1702 – Tauranga Tour, I described a long shore tour to the Lake Rotorua area made from the port of Tauranga on the north coast of North Island, New Zealand. Following Tauranga, we had a day at sea sailing around the east coast of North Island, and early the next day we sailed into Wellington, on the extremity of the south coast.

Wellington is the capital and second most populous urban area of New Zealand, with 405,000 residents. It is the major population centre of the southern North Island and is the administrative centre of the Wellington Region, which also includes the Kapiti Coast and Wairarapa. It is the world’s windiest city, with an average wind speed of over 26 km/h, and the world’s southernmost capital of a sovereign state. In 1839 it was chosen as the first major planned settlement for British immigrants coming to New Zealand. The settlement was named in honour of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington. The city is situated near the geographic centre of the country, and is well placed for trade. It has been New Zealand’s capital since 1865, and the Government, Parliament, Supreme Court and most of the civil service are based in the city. Despite being much smaller than Auckland, Wellington is also referred to as New Zealand’s cultural capital.

As usual I was up on deck early with my camera to watch and take photographs as the ship sailed into port, but it was one of those mornings that the moment I stepped on deck I knew I should have been there at least half an hour earlier as the light and scenery were stunning:

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After some very wet and inclement days in New Zealand, at last the forecast was set fair for our final day ashore in the country (although we had a couple of days sailing around South Island to come). In the morning I was booked on a half day tour walking around two attractions very close to the city – Zealandia and Otari-Wilton’s Bush garden.

It was only about a 15 minute coach drive through and out of the city to the first stop, Zealandia, a native wildlife eco-sanctuary. This protected natural area of around 225 ha of forest, formerly part of the water catchment area for Wellington, is being restored. Most of New Zealand’s ecosystems have been severely modified by man’s introduction of land mammals, which have caused a devastating impact on the native flora and fauna. A huge pest exclusion fence has been built all around the sanctuary, and a long term project has begun to eradicate the introduced pests from within the sanctuary to eventually allow the area to return to it’s original appearance and condition. This work also involves planting of native species of plants and trees, and the reintroduction of several native birds.

We first visited the Visitor’s Centre where we were shown a short introductory film, before being divided into small groups, each of which was lead by a guide on a walk of around an hour and a half around the sanctuary. We had to pass through a system of interlocked gates to enter the sanctuary, and were first taken to see one of the two reservoirs still present in the sanctuary:

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The path then led us past an example section of the perimeter fence, and our guide explained how it was designed to exclude 14 species of non-native land mammals, featuring a small mesh size, curved metal top cap to prevent animals climbing over, and an underground foot to prevent animals burrowing underneath. We could see the fence snaking it’s way up the hillside across the other side of the valley to us:

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He explained about the system of eradication of the non-native animals from the sanctuary, which ranged from mice & rats to rabbits & hares to goats & deer. Monitoring continues using track traps, and any incursions whether through the fence or by being brought in by a bird are dealt with by trapping.

An aerial photograph on a nearby noticeboard showed just how close the sanctuary is to the city centre:

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Our guide then led us on a walk around part of the sanctuary, pointing out examples of the native wildlife flourishing there as we did so:

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One of the big success stories at the sanctuary is the takahē – once thought to be extinct on both islands of New Zealand:

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All too soon we were heading back to the Visitor’s Centre where the others enjoyed coffee or tea – I just perused the shop and exhibition areas there.

It was just a ten minute ride in the coach to our second attraction, Otari-Wilton’s Bush garden. This is the only public botanical garden in New Zealand dedicated solely to native plants, and it contains some of the oldest trees in Wellington. It consists of around 100 ha of native forest, and a further 5 ha of plant collections.

Again we were divided into small groups, and each group was guided around parts of the gardens in differing orders. The first part of the walk for my group was along a wooden walkway high in the trees:

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As we walked around the guide pointed out many native species of plant and tree, and also the defenses some of them had developed over the generations to combat being eaten, such as being covered in long spines:

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One plant was covered in huge cobwebs:

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Particularly striking were two wooden poles intricately carved with animals and birds:

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I also loved an area dedicated to ferns and tree ferns:

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Leaving the gardens we drove a different route back to our waiting ship, at one point having great views across the harbour area:

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I very much enjoyed this half day tour, not least because at last it was done in warm sunshine rather than the wet and inclement weather that had been the feature of all our previous days in New Zealand. The walks around both attractions had provided great opportunities to see and photograph local fauna and flora.

Postscript: On returning to the ship I met up with my girlfriend Carol, and we took the free shuttle bus from the quayside into the city centre. From there it was just a short walk to the waterfront area, where we spent a lovely afternoon enjoying the views across the bay and just people-watching. On our way back to the shuttle bus we saw a huge ray swimming in the harbour water:

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Setting sail that evening we left the North Island of New Zealand, and sailed south. After a day at sea, the next day would be spent sailing through three of the famous South Island fjords – this will be the subject of my next post.

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