The Lonely (and Confused) Kakapo Male

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January 25th 2010
Published: March 14th 2010
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And so here we are in beautiful, windy Welly!

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and is the second largest city in terms of population (about 400,000 Kiwis call the greater Wellington area home, far behind the 1.3. million in Auckland). It sits at the very bottom of the North Island.

For us, Wellington is hands-down the most cosmopolitan Kiwi city and has a wonderful energy that Auckland lacks. The city is clustered around a stunning bay, not unlike a mini San Francisco. There aren't many flat bits; this is a hilly city and you begin to climb within a few blocks of the water. Like our hometown, Wellington also sits on an active fault line and is known for having slightly unpredictable weather.

We've decided to spend two weeks here to explore the city and surrounding area (vineyards, hiking trails, etc) and learn more about various aspects of the culture.

Wellington's greatest treasure is undoubtedly Te Papa, their extraordinary national museum. Interestingly, we're not museum people. We generally avoid them and its rare that we find one that we truly enjoy. But we absolutely love Te Papa and have spent many hours wandering around Te Papa since we arrived in Wellington (fortunately, it is free and so it is easy to pop in and out).

What's great about Te Papa is how the exhibits are presented. Most are very interactive, e.g. a video game in which you create a bird (feathers, head, feet, etc) at a spooky haunted house; "sailing" a ship from Polynesia to New Zealand guided by the Southern Cross in the night sky, similar to how to earliest Maori settlers navigated the great distances; listening to passionate and, one might say, racist comments about the effects of the Treaty of Waitangi today (basically Maori rights; it's powerful - sort of what you'd imagine a lot of people in the U.S. secretly feel about racial relations there but most would never, ever vocalize).

The exhibits span a wide variety of topics but the common theme seems to be a desire to convey a better understanding of this amazing country: geology (earthquakes, tectonic plates and the resulting mountains and valleys), flora and fauna (especially the impact of introducing new species to an island ecosystem), the Maori history and culture, etc.

We even saw an enormous giant squid at in a tank of formaldehyde.

But our favorite exhibit, hands down, is an overview of the sex life of the poor, dim-witted kakapo, a cute and critically-endangered parrot. There are only ~120 left in the world (they only live in New Zealand). They are the target of an active breeding program but have a lot going against them: they're the only flightless parrot in the world (an easy treat for their predators), they breed only once every few years (when there is a particularly abundant fruit crop) and the males sometimes get a little, well, confused about exactly how to do it. It has been documented that males will, at times, attempt to breed with human . . .heads.

This excellent Te Papa exhibit is entitled "Operation Kakapo Copulation". Unfortunately, we can't find a very good copy of the video online but you might be amused by a related video on Youtube. Just go to Youtube and search under "Stephen Fry Watches Rare Bird Hump Zoologist". We guarantee it will brighten your day.

If you do ever make it to Wellington, be sure to save at least 3 hours for this incredible museum.


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