Heading North: Cheeky Keas

Published: March 21st 2010
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Kea at Arthur's Pass
Keas are mountain parrots, found only in New Zealand (in fact, they're the only parrot in the world which lives in an alpine environment).

Here's why they're fun: they're very, very smart. And very cheeky (translation: bold, irreverent).

We first came across keas during our Milford Sound trek, three years ago. On the last morning of the hike, we woke up to find a kea trying to get into the bunkhouse. He was determined to do it, inspired perhaps by visions of lining his nest with the softest synthetic REI sleeping bag filler material - or maybe he just wanted our PowerBars. We were effectively hostages, trapped in our bunkhouse prison (keas have long, sharp claws and are not to be messed with).

When Adrian approached the door, with 18 other people looking on in awe/slight terror, the kea just squawked louder. Adrian had to threaten the kea with a chair in order to get it to move away from the door so we could exit the bunkhouse and access the bathrooms and dining hall.

The locals have endless, fascinating stories regarding the intelligence and cheek of keas. One of our favorites stories is of a kea
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Two Keas at Arthur's Pass
who, having spent the better part of an afternoon patiently observing two hikers coming in and out of a remote mountain hut, promptly flipped the latch on the door, effectively locking them both in for the afternoon. It took the hikers hours to get out of the hut.

Keas are very beautiful birds with green wings lined with red and yellow markings. They're not at all shy and will come right up to humans when they are looking for food or nest materials. When keas get bored they'll even go after your car. Their favorite trick is to peel the rubber off of windshield wipers for use in their nests. We guess they like the durability of the rubber in harsh alpine weather.

Strangely, despite warnings from park rangers, we didn't see any keas on the Routeburn Trek or on any of our day hikes in the Fiordlands. We saw our first kea today when we arrived in Arthur's Pass National Park.

We're in transit from our 3rd base in New Zealand (Queenstown) to our 4th (and final) base - Nelson. Our path has taken us north to Mt. Cook and we're now crossing the Southern Alps,
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Kea waiting for a snack at the general store.
heading towards the northern part of the west coast. Rangers in Mt. Cook promised us that we would see keas in Arthur's Pass National Park - and sure enough here they are.

The town of Arthur's Pass is quite small - only a few hundred people (at most), about half a block long with a few motels, one restaurant and one general store. What it lacks in amenities and people it make up with keas. The keas appear to love this area and congregate, not surprisingly, around the general store and pub (appropriately named "The Wobbly Kea"). We saw keas on the roof of the general store, on picnic tables, waiting at doors and, of course, wandering after people on the street.

They're very cute and funny - but we knew not to feed them. When keas become dependent on humans for food, they don't learn to hunt for their own food and, sadly, end up starving during the winter.

We wish we had more time here to explore. The alpine scenery is stunning and there are miles and miles of excellent hiking trails. But it is off to Nelson for fun in the sun.

Additional photos below
Photos: 5, Displayed: 5


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Alcoholic Kea??
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Don't feed the Kea.

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