Did you know that there were no mammals in New Zealand before the humans arrived there some 900 years ago (well except for some that can swim like seals)? Hard to believe with all the farm animals around! But there are plenty of birds that do not exist anywhere else in the world, and many of them do not fly.
As birds are characteristic for New Zealand, we wanted to show some for the kids. So after seeing the devastation in the city centre of Christchurch, we went punting, as one there does (if one doesn’t want to pay for that, one can see just as much walking along the river), and one of the highlights was to see the small black ducks and their ducklings that were only a few days old play and dive in the clear water. Of course the most fun for the kids was to see one of the ducklings poo in the shallow water. Check, they do it to so one less thing to explain to the kids.
Obviously we had to spot a few pukekos as well, kids needed to see what Perky the Pukeko looks like in the nature
Many of the birds are hard to spot though, like the nocturnal kiwi that has led to the nickname to the citizens of this beautiful country. To ensure we’d see some, we decided to visit the Willowbanks wildlife reserve in Christchurch. It was hardly advertised, but great value for money: We thought we’d pop into Willowbanks for half an hour to see some birds but we ended up staying for about two hours. We had happily stayed longer but had to begin our drive to the north.
We watched eels being fed (ewww!), fed and patted wallabies (awww!), saw a number of different animals, laughed at the monkeys, kids had a donkey ride each, rehearsed milking an artificial cow that had a water bucket with “udders” (yay!!!), fed goats and chicken etc. One can buy food to give to eels, farm animals and birds. I did feel a bit sorry for the horse that seemed to have achy hooves and the donkeys that were overly well fed and could have done with more exercise, but over all the animals seemed to have plenty of space and also an opportunity to hide away from eager spectators.
At the end there was the NZ bird area. I liked it but honestly kids were getting a bit tired at that point. But we saw wekas, kakapos and others. We also saw tuataras, the native lizards. But going kiwi spotting got exciting: everyone has to be very quiet when going into the dark kiwi compound (no cameras allowed). My daughter was very good at spotting kiwis in the dark but my son was more excited when he, in the dark, happened to find a lamp… At the end there was an exhibitions of the most known extinct native birds, and one can only say that moas sure were huge.
Willowbanks wildlife reserve was a fantastic experience, and after the 2 hours the kids were pretty happy to sit another 2 hours in the car to Kaikoura.
PS We once before visited the Te Papa museum in Wellington. It had a room made into what New Zealand would have been like before the homans came: an impressive experience, to me it seemed the country was filled with ferns and birds in various sizes.