Probably everyone visiting New Zealand wonders where to see kiwis. Unfortunately, in fact it’s not that easy… These birds are highly endangered, and to make things even more complex – they are nocturnal. Even many New Zealanders have never seen them in wild… So how to meet them anyway?
Kiwi in danger – how did it happen?
In the 80’s, a few million kiwis lived in the country. At present the population is estimated at 70,000 birds and without the support from conservation centers, species would extinct within two generations. What happened?
This bird-symbol of New Zealand is unfortunately a victim of the reckless humans, who in 1987 brought possums here, for profit. Their fur was meant to be a perfect mix with merino wool. Unfortunately, these predators don’t have any natural enemies here, so their population has risen rapidly (up to 70 million nowadays!). Their main victims are New Zealand birds, especially kiwi, which can’t escape too high as he can’t fly… Hatching chicks are especially vulnerable – the whole process of getting out of an egg takes up to a week, while the chick behaves quite loud – a possum can easily locate his next dinner… The problem with possums is reeealy big: while we were driving at night, we passed 6 possums in 10 minutes! Unfortunately, also dogs are a serious threat to kiwis.
Fun fact: Possums are also in Australia, but there their population is very small and they are even protected… How come? Possums are the favorite dish of Australian dingo!
Where to see kiwi?
In wild, only 5% of kiwi chicks have the chance to survive, but with the help of humans, their chances are increased up to 65%. The Department of Conservation monitors kiwi males laying eggs and at the right time, they transfer them to incubators in conservation centers throughout New Zealand. There chicks can peacefully hatch when reach the appropriate weight, they are released into the wild. Visiting such a center is the best way to see kiwi. If you would like to meet them in the wild, there are special night encounters in the forest on Stuart Island (unfortunately we haven’t checked, but they promise 100% efficiency). We saw these birds in several different places (Franz Josef Glacier – Te Puia – Queenstown), but especially one place really impressed us …
Rainbow Springs – amazing park
The conservation center in Rainbow Springs Nature Park (Rotorua) is the largest and most successful one in the world. They are focused on incubation of eggs, raising chicks and releasing them to the wild. When we visited Rainbow Springs, they managed to hatch 118 chicks this season solely! Nice!
You can watch the kiwis during the day in a special room adapted to their needs – darkened and through the glass. But a visit at night is much more impressive – after 9 pm a special outdoor pavilion is open for “night encounter”. Special area has been set up for adolescent chicks with low fence, so you can see them really closely and without any glass. If you are quiet, these curious birds will approach and sniff you with their beaks! Kiwis are very shy, so you can’t make noise or take pictures of them.
You also have to go on a “behind the scenes” trip – maybe you’ll be lucky and see some chicks? We were able to participate in the weighing of one of them – seeing a small, sleepy bird with a large beak was really unforgettable! By the way, you will learn many curiosities about these extraordinary birds and you will see how to take care of eggs. Did you know that a nail polish is used to repair broken ones?
What else you should see?
Rainbow Springs Nature Park is not only about kiwi. While visiting this place, you will also a chance to see other New Zealand native birds and reptiles. We saw two quirky parrots there for the first time – kea and kaka. We met kea also in the wilderness while traveling through the South Island (although their population was also a victim of possums…)! Tui, pukeko, whio, tuatara – if these names don’t ring a bell, you have to visit this place. The whole park is maintained in the spirit of New Zealand wild forest – with enormous silver ferns, pools with trouts and even… redwoods! You can even take a boat ride, which ends with a giant splash! 🙂
How much time do you need? One day – spend a few hours wandering through the park and go on the backstage tour, then come back in the evening for the night encounter with kiwi!
Where to stay? Rainbow Springs Nature Park is located on the outskirts of Rotorua – big city which offers both budget and luxury accommodation. We can recommend you the Ambassador Thermal Motel with perfect location in area full of restaurants, next to Rotorua Lake. There are even mineral pools!
Fee: 40 NZD for a daily pass and a night encounter. The “behind the scenes” tour costs additional 10 NZD, but the whole sum goes straight to kiwi conservation.
For more our adventures in the New Zealand, click here!
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