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Published: March 5th 2019
North Island, reputedly less scenic than South Island, is hilly rather than mountainous, but just as wooded. It’s hard to know how much of the forest is indigenous, as a lot of trees have been introduced by settlers, but Trevor is a mine of information on a lot of them. The problem with introduced species of anything is that it will often smother what was there before. The conservation societies are trying to get rid of ‘wildings’ - so that areas can be returned to their original makeup.
New Zealand's original wildlife consisted of mainly birds, most of them flightless; its only mammals were a couple of bats. The Maoris hunted the several species of moa (a large flightless bird) to extinction, hard to envisage when you see the size of some of these were over three metres tall. And then the European Settlers arrived, bringing rabbits, and then stoats and ferrets to control the rabbits. These weren't controlled, but the indigenous birds, being flightless, were almost eradicated. Some of them are now in breeding programmes on uninhabited islands that have been cleared of predators, and numbers have increased, and are being introduced back into the wild. Possums were introduced from Australia and are hunted for meat and the fur used with merino wool for clothing.
We managed to see one kiwi in the National Wildlife Centreconservation park north of Masterton. We hadn't seen any wildlife since being in New Zealand apart from the odd bird of prey
hovering in the sky. Jane and I needed to see a kiwi and a penguin, and as we only had 20 minutes to spare, the lovely lady at reception let us in for half the price. ‘We haven't any penguins,’ she said, ‘but we have a baby kiwi. A white one. It's not an albino, it's a recessive gene, thrown up by two brown parents and it's the only one in the world.’ Jane and I had to go in and see it. We shot in, finding our way to the nocturnal shed from the badly designed map. There was a guided walk going on and a group stood round a case while the guide described the habits of some gecko type creature. We tried going on past her, but couldn't find a way through. Jane was completely blind in here, as her specs were reactolite and took a while to respond to darkness. We interrupted the guide who directed us through, ‘There are two tunnels, and the kiwi will be in one of them.’ We felt our way through the first tunnel, me leading Jane by the hand. At the end of the second tunnel I could see a pale round shape moving about near a tree stump. It was a little fluffy white bum, about the size of a bantam hen rooting around in the earth. Occasionally he lifted his head and I could see the shape of his long thin beak. I tried taking a photo, but had no idea how to take a photo at night, so I have a picture of a grainy reddish ball in the middle of a black rectangle. So I took a photo of the picture of him with his mother that was outside his enclosure.
Another type of wildlife we haven't seen a lot of is sandflies. We were warned about these with horrific tales of their number, virulence and itchiness, but everywhere we were told they would be, they seemed to be absent. I got a couple at Fox River, but though the itchiness had not been exaggerated, the numbers were. At Wellington I left off the insecticide and got bitten by something else, which drove me mad in the night, until Sylvia, Jane's cousin, told me about the efficacy of roll-on deodorant for reducing itching and inflammation. She is right, it's better than Anthistamine and Piriton.
Little towns have similar architecture to New England in the USA or Australia, houses mainly one storey and made of wood. Shops, banks and hotels have stone facades either side of a broad main street. Parking is easy and free, public toilets are plentiful, clean and free. One, in Eastbourne, suburb of Wellington, has oral instructions. ‘Press the button to lock the door. You have ten minutes’. Then it plays jazz for the duration.
Napier is a beautiful Art Deco town, built to design after a massive earthquake decimated it in 1931. A two hour guided walk showed us round the best of it, and described the conservation efforts to keep it intact. There are controls on building to protect against future earthquakes, and there are likely to be more; there was one the day before we got there, 5 on the Richter scale.
Tuesday 5th we drive west across the volcanic plains to Tongariro National Park.
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