Orokonui afternoon

Last updated 12:13 01/02/2013

Last Sunday afternoon I finally got the time to visit the Orokonui Ecosanctuary just out of Dunedin. I took my Mum, which meant we talked for the entire four hours we spent wandering around inside, resulting in the bloke wondering how we'd managed to see any birds at all. But we saw plenty of wildlife, and I think that the Orokonui Ecosanctuary is a credit to a city already well known for its nature highlights.

Gecko at Orokonui Sanctuary

This little fellow loves life at Orokonui Ecosanctuary so much he was found inside the visitors' centre this week! (Photo: Orokonui Ecosanctuary)

The fact that I haven't spent time in Orokonui has been a huge omission on my part since I spent the biggest part of my adult life in Dunners, and was working at DOC down there when the concept of an Orokonui Ecosanctuary was first floated.  Unfortunately, having spent the last eight years or so away from Dunedin, except for whizzing down to visit family, I hadn't made time to go and see what they'd been up to, especially since the predator-proof fence was put in (in 2007).

If you don't know what Orokonui is, it's another one of our growing collection of sanctuaries where native wildlife can live, breed and thrive within the outer barrier of a predator-proof fence (or intensive predator control). The first and probably best-known fenced example is Zealandia (formerly known as the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary) which has been running for 13 years. 

Sanctuaries in or near cities are a fantastic thing, bringing people up close and personal with our wonderful wildlife - a connection that many of us have lost over time. Some Wellington residents are now familiar with the sight of a gang of kaka in their backyards, though the introduction of wildlife did take some getting used to. There was the debate that occurred over the burgeoning tui population's early morning wakeup call, for example. Staff at Zealandia also told me that when the kaka first start moving around Wellington, someone phoned the sanctuary to complain that there was a kaka in their kowhai tree... presumably something we should expect to see in a natural New Zealand landscape. 

My lovely Wellington friend once shrieked down the phone at me that she had half a dozen kea in her backyard on her deck eating bits of fruit. She was uber-excited to have seen such a spectacle, and this wasn't dampened in the slightest by me telling her it was the cousin of the cheeky kea, the kaka she in fact had visiting her.

Tomtit (Photo: Janice Vallance)

Spot the tomtit - this wee fellow hopped around us while we gossiped up a storm on our walk around the lovely tracks at Orokonui. (Photo: Janice Vallance)

So back to Orokonui. I had visited once before, when I escorted that blimmen "rockstar kakapo" Sirocco on the plane (he even spent time in the Koru Lounge) down to Dunedin to spend time at the Orokonui Ecosanctuary. But I was only there at night, briefly, and only had time to traipse up the track to see him and back again. I'd never seen Orokonui in the pure light of day. And what a day it was! Dunedin put on a stunner of an afternoon, too hot for even a cardie, and Mum and I were keen to explore. The sanctuary has had a fence for only five years, yet we saw an abundance of tui, bellbirds, tomtits, fantails and other wee forest birds, as well as a fat kereru gorging on miro berries.  

What I really wanted to see was a kaka. We've lost so many kaka from much of our bush because the chicks (usually hatched in nests in hollow tree trunks) are simply "sitting ducks" for predators like stoats. If the mother is on the nest, she's toast as well. So in ecosanctuaries, they can thrive - and they really are comical characters to enjoy.

We checked all the feeders for kaka, but no joy. We were both starting to flag in the heat, and I suggested we walk up to the aviary to at least see a captive one. For both of us, this was getting tiring (we'd been walking around Orokonui for three hours by then!), but we trudged up the hill anyway (Mum was not impressed, since she had pulled her calf muscle, sorry Mum!). But it certainly paid off, for there next to the aviary was a wild kaka, oblivious to our presence, letting us walk up close to take photos of him. Result! 

Kaka (Photo: Janice Vallance)

Seeing the kaka was worth the walk up the hill in the hot sun! (Photo: Janice Vallance)

We spent quite a bit of time watching him, his beautiful fiery red wings and cheeks the perfect contrast to the olive green of the rest of his feathers. By that time we decided we were starving, and headed back up to the Visitors' Centre, stopping only for a look at the eel pond, before arriving at the cafe for an ENORMOUS pile of cheese rolls. It was then I remembered just how much I love Dunedin. I especially love how the town has owned its nature image (from albatross, to penguins, to sea lions to ecosanctuaries) - and I highly recommend a visit to Orokonui to anyone living there or visiting.

Have you visited Orokonui Ecosanctuary yet? What was your visit like?

» Please feel free to email me to send me your questions, feedback, ideas or photographs for In Our Nature blog posts. You can also join the In Our Nature Facebook page.

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