About me and my travel blog

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." - Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas

Walking in the bush with Flo, Tracey's dog. This is a big redwood
Looking down on Rotorua
Buggy friend

Lindsey and Emma

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Working with Kiwi birds

One of the Nocturnal houses
Rainbow Trout at Rainbow Springs
Tuatara
Some of the runs for the chicks, there is a predator proof fence going around with electric wires at the Kiwi Encounter. This is off limits to the public
Volunteering with kiwis
Billie is a big boy, and just came off his eggs
Volunteering at the kiwi encounter

Lindsey checking a chick
Billie and adult breeding male
Volunteering with a chick on my lap at the Kiwi encounter

Well I am already almost done with my stay here and I have neglected to write about the North Island Brown Kiwi and what it is I have been doing for the past two weeks. So here I go!

New Zealand is known for it's strange animals. The flightless birds, dinosaur like lizards and massive insects. Because it has been left so remote for so long birds were able to evolve here without the presence of really and predators. Sure some birds such as the Weka a flightless bird may have had a Kiwi egg or two but the island developed with no mammals on it besides seals living on the coasts and some species of bats.

Witi Ihimaera wrote:
"The tuatara, the ancient lizard with its third eye, was sentinel here, unblinking in the hot sun, watching and waiting to the east. The moa browsed in giant wingless herds across the southern island. Within the warm stomach of the rainforests, kiwi, weka and other birds foraged for huhu and similar succulent insects. The forests were loud with the clatter of tree bark, chatter of cicada and murmur of fish-laden streams. Sometimes the forest grew suddenly quiet and in wet bush could be heard the filigree of fairy laughter like sparkling glissando."

This was the New Zealand we would all have liked to have seen, before the Maori killed the moas off, before the the early settlers killed off the rest of the Huia. In our lifetime though we would not see these animals and New Zealand has made a great effort since to protect what species are left.

It was the same case for the kiwi. The flightless bird almost went extinct after Maori and settlers brought stouts, rats, dog, and cats to NZ. The bird that had every thing going for it at one point now had everything wrong going for it.

What makes the bird so special are a few of its characteristics that most birds lack. Here is a short list

Hair-like plumage
Vestigial wings
Marrow-filled bones
Heavy powerful feet and legs (yes they are good kickers, I have the scars to prove it)
Both ovaries are functional Large ear openings
Long Whiskers....yes just like a cat
Blood temperature of 37-38C
Large eggs/independent chicks.......you could have mistaken if for a dinosaur egg
Strong sense of smell
long lived

There are 7 different species of kiwi throughout both islands. I worked in the north island with the north island brown kiwi (my favorite). The are nocturnal and were also loved by the Maoris who made Kahu Kiwi Kloaks from dead birds. Only chiefs were allowed to eat them. They are a symbol of the country and New Zealanders did not want to have to change their nickname Kiwi once they believed the animal would go extinct. Needless to say it did not take long for everyone to jump on board to SAVE THE KIWI! The NZ bank funds a large amount of the projects to save them. Operation Nest Egg was set up to start breeding captive kiwis and release them in predator free zones. There are few zones scattered around the islands that are completely fenced off. Traps have caught whatever was left inside. These fences are not only pricey but time consuming. Some small off shore islands have also played a huge role in protecting species of birds. Once the predators were removed, the birds moved in. The islands are monitored by volunteers and the Department of Conservation (DOC). Peoples dogs here usually have to go through a course that teaches them to stay away from kiwi if they spend lots of time in the bush. As you can see it is a big deal here, lots of money, hours, volunteering, education, you name it goes into saving this unique bird. A very good example of what people should do with their endangered wildlife!

Upon coming here I knew this: I wanted to help out with the kiwi in any way I could, I wanted to learn as much as I could about them and I wanted to see one, even if it was just once. Well second day here I saw a kiwi at the Auckland zoo. A week later I came to the Rainbow Springs http://www.kiwiencounter.co.nz/ to see the kiwi. Not only did I see newly hatched chicks but I was able to see adults without a window blocking me. I asked about volunteering though I already had something set up in the Coramandel Peninsula. What ya know here I am.

Rainbow Springs is a great place to come see lots of native animals such as tuatara, and kea. It also has Kiwi Encounter, which is owned by a South Island Maori tribe and also is apart of Operation Nest Egg(ONE). It is the leading facility for ONE, and has a $1.4 million purpose built incubation and rearing facility. Eggs are collected by the DOC in the wild and brought here to hatch. There are also breeding pairs on site. The center has state-of-the-art equipment and technique and has achieved a 90 to 95 percent survival rate for the eggs.

So basically it was a lot to take in for the first few days, just learning all of their names was hard enough. Waiata, Swampfox, Wingnut, Alaska, Rosbell, Tika and the list goes on. Once I got the hang of it, it was a piece of cake...well sort of. I think there are well over 50 birds not including newly hatched chicks.

The people who work there are not only like minded people, but they are passionate about the kiwi as well as wildlife in general. They are all so intelligent and kind, I have had such a pleasure talking with all of them and exchanging stories or parasites to working with animals around the world.

Here is a list of pretty much what I do from day to day here in no particular order.

Make kiwi food....ox heart...veggies..fruit..cat food..all mixed up
retrieve food, and put it on a scale to see how much they have eaten
Find and count every single bird every single morning
clean food boxes (the food goes in to a box to keep bird out)
Clean water dishes
clean brooders (baby kiwi homes)
set up brooders
hold chicks and adults for staff to dose with medicine(I am actually good at this)
Bring newborns from Incubation room to brooder room (my favorite part, I usually tell the babies good luck as I drop them off)
Set up displays of food (did I mention that tourists watch me all day)
Clean...whatever I can
Water soil down for them to prob
get worms for birds.....yes I do not think I have to tell you this is my least favorite, I handled it pretty well though
Put food out
help weigh birds
wrote out names on dishes as well as food amount
dish out food, weigh everything

As you can see it is very diverse. I have gained so much knowledge during this time and so much more respect for people that work towards conservation. The kiwi is so soft and gentle besides kicking me a few times. It has been such an honor to work with such a creature! Though I do not get to see them out and about since they are nocturnal, I will miss them all the same!

If you are interested in the Kiwi Encounter follow this link, you can also sponsor a chick and even get to name it!

http://www.kiwiencounter.co.nz/

Living in Rotorua

Glow Worms in Redwoods
Possums
Glow Worms
Anita, Tracy, Nina and Steve at Carols in the park
Carols in the park
The Kiwi tree set up by Kiwi Encounter
Tracey and Anita at the house
Rotorua Museum
Government Gardens Rotorua
Pohutukawa tree, also known as a NZ Christmas Tree
Looking towards the house across from the park
A Tree Weta on Steves porch
Back at Huka falls


I have been pretty bad about writing on here but will bring you all up to date as of now.
I made it from Taupo where I parted with Nadine to Rotorua my home for 2 1/2 weeks. I had previously been here and stayed with Steve and Anita through Couchsurfing. When I asked to stay with them during my time of volunteering they said it was no problem. I was dropped off down the street at the Kiwi Paka hostel and walked over to the house. I had to wait for Steve to come home so I read my book The Whale Rider. His home is across from Kuirau Park, which has tons of Hot pools all fenced off of course. Anita came home and let me in and it felt like I had never left. Their friends are very sweet and we have hung out since, visiting hot pools at night, going to Carols in the Park and I made them a very good dinner one night! They all want me to stay and it is very tempting, I love their company not to mention the area here.

A little about Rotorua my new home.
It is located in the Bay of Plenty on the North Island. It has the largest population of Maori living here, which is one of the reasons there are so many cultural shows offered to the public. It is a top tourist destination and is also nicknamed Rotavegas. Above all it is known for it's geothermal activity here, and you can find lots of geysers and geothermal pools all over, even across the street from me. Sometimes I wake up and smell Sulfur in the bathroom, it is a pretty common smell here. There is also an impressive museum here, not actually whats inside of the museum rather the architecture of the building is stunning. It is one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand, and only a 10 min. walk from where I am staying! Yes Steve and Anita have a great location, right near town, bus stops and the park! Although Rotorua is a great tourist destination, it is also a place known for crime. Though don't let this discourage you from visiting!

Besides working 5 days a week here which I will talk about later on, I have finally had time to rest and take it easy! I can't believe it won't be long until I leave here. I have been offered so many opportunities to visit people for Christmas here, and it has taken me by surprise. One girl I was volunteering with for a few hours, just invited me to her summer home on a lake here for the night. I told her I was not use to people always being so generous, I mean I would not say it is very American like for someone you barely know to just invite you over. It seems to be a common occurrence here, the people are so giving and friendly, Kiwis are some of the best people on earth if you ask me!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Napier


Our Cake

Outside Wellington
We made it to Napier and had already said good bye to are friends from the Netherlands. Two more days together and soon Nadine and I would also have to part ways after 7 weeks of traveling around. She had learned so much English and it was always nice to have someone around. She always got me excited for things and taught me to take things as they go. We finally arrived in the coastal town of Napier known for it's fruit growing, earth quakes and art deco and made it to our nice hostel. The hostel was on the cheap side and was clean and nice. They even had a cat I met another traveler who lived in Central America and we swapped parasite stories. His dad not only had a bot fly but a tape worm as well! Nadine and I made plans to be really lazy the first day, we made a good dinner and bought a cake to celebrate our 7 weeks of traveling together. The next day we were lazy again and made it out of bed at 12. We did a little bit of shopping, I needed new Capri's as I have lost weight while traveling and nothing fits and it is going to be so hot in Australia so no point in wearing pants. We spent a lot of time on the beach reading and that was pretty much all we did in Napier. We did go out at night to see the lights on the water fountain and we could see a lot of the Southern Hemisphere stars! The next day on the bus Evalyn our friend from the Netherlands had met up with us again, she is also a horse rider so we have a lot in common. When we reached Taupo it was time to say good bye to Nadine, I almost cried (I always get sad saying bye to people), she gave me a post card and ended our trip. It was strange we both felt like we were starting a whole new trip. We stopped at Huka falls again as well, our driver was pretty good this time I thought. I made it to Rotorua and sad bye to Evalyn. I was dropped off at a hostel down the street from Steve's house. Anita his flatmate made it back first and we picked up where we left off. I fixed up my room a bit, which would be my home now for 2 1/2 weeks.

Farwell to the South

Frenchie
Wellington

Outside Te Papa Museum
The Crossing
Inter Islander

We left Kaikoura on a bright and sunny day, destination Wellington. We went past seal colonies on the way there and you could see them doing handstands. We made it to the Inter Islander ferry to cross over to the north island. It was so sad for Nadine and I to say good bye, we had so many good memories of the south and we knew that we would soon be parting from one another as well later in the week. The crossing was nice and warm, I had my shoes off for most of it, the wind was hard after a while. We made it back to Wellington and found it hard to get a bus to the Te Papa museum. Nadine went over to some girl and asked for a ride, the girl agreed and had just met a good friend of hers that she had not seen in years. It was really random and I would never have done it back home but it seems to be the norm here. Or at least we think it is. So we waited outside Te Papa our couchsurfer Emma to get off of work. Emma is a great girl and so kind, but definitely a hippie. She came out in bare feet (very common in NZ) and welcomed us. Her friend Phebe met us too and she wanted to go get food and eat down at the beach. Great idea except we had our big bags with us and had to go into the supermarket with them which was strange, then walked to the beach. We sat ate and drank and it was pretty nice out. We then caught a taxi to her house up in the hills overlooking Wellington. Let me just say I think it is a great city, but if I had to walk up those hills everyday, I would never live there, it was insane for me! We got to her place and met 3 other people visiting, 2 couchsurfers from France who I liked a lot, as well as a friend from Germany. She also had three other flatmates there so it was kinda cramped and as much as I liked them all I was happy to go in a few days so I could have my own space. We spent two nights there, the first night we went out to a local bar which pretty much sucked for me as far as bars go. I don't even know what kind of music it was but when the girl started screaming in a devil voice I was ready to call it a night. The French and Nadine agreed with me, we had a few good laughs about it. I felt bad since Emma was just trying to show us a good time. The French Max and Aline are traveling by hitchhiking all over the country. They also do something called woofing where you work on a farm for example and get free room and board and the two of them are somewhat crafty and like some travelers have found a way to make things and sell them. They take old juice or milk cartons and turn them into wallets, and sell them for $5 each. You have to give it to them for the effort. We finally made it to the Weta Cave one day. The cave is not really a cave but a place for Peter Jackson fans come to visit some of the creations of the Weta workshop. Weta works on movies like LOTR, Kingo Kong and lots of others. The cave was not that great, but it was one of those things I would have regret not seeing. On the way back we had to make it up the damn hill they live on and got stuck in the rain! That night we sat up and watched Flight of the Concords which is a HBO series about two Kiwis. We got a bus for the city and made it there to catch our next Magic bus to Napier.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Kaikoura


Hurt seal

Seal colony
Hurt seal




Albatross
Albatross
Sperm Whale








Old whale bones
The local library
We left Christchurch early in the morning, never even got to say goodbye to our couchsurfer Ross who had been so kind to us. MacDonalds was giving out free food and making the largest amount of eggs (free range) in history, it was nice getting a large free meal, being the poor backpacker I am I saved the food for later. We got on our bus up to Kaikoura which I knew was going to be a highlight of my NZ trip. Kaikoura is a sea side town once used as a whaling station. Today the only whaling being done is whale watching! The waters around Kaikoura are rich and attract all types of sea life including dusky dolphins, NZ fur seals and of course whales! Some whales migrate through such as Orcas, Right Whales, Blue Whales and several other species but Sperm whales stay all year long. They are bachelors that hang out in the area. I knew right away I wanted to see whales as my first activity! We had met up with 3 girls from the Netherlands that we had traveled with before. I always love meeting people from the Netherlands, they are my favorite travelers! We stayed in a hostel called the Adelphi Hostel, not great but it would do. We actually saw a mouse in the kitchen one night yeah kinda dirty but not by Bolivian standards. The weather was crap, they had even canceled some of the whale watching tours because the sea was so bad. We got lucky though and the next day our tour was the only one not canceled, I had been praying a lot you see. We also went as far as to book for another day just in case it was canceled. We had to take pills before the trip to make sure we did not get sea sick. Thank God for that because The sea was crazy, all of the older tourists on the boat were so sick. They never even came out to find the whales though so maybe this is why, fresh air is good. None of us got sick, in fact I thought it was pretty fun. When we stopped we came out to look for the whales that only come up for a bit only to descend back down the the dark depths of the ocean in search of food. We spotted our first one and I was thrilled, It was so large and almost graceful like in the water. There was another one not to far away. A few of the boats came up to watch it as well as planes. It soon went back down and we got a good look at its tail fin. Then we came across a bunch of Albatross that were being fed by the Albatross encounter boat which is another tour you can do there. After taking a million photos we were off to see another whale. First we spotted a seal swimming about and out of no where the whale appeared right in front of me! I actually screamed I was so shocked! It was my first experience with whales and hopefully not my last! They are amazing creatures and it was one more reminder of just how important they are to our world.

Well the weather was still pretty bad so we spent the rest of the day watching movies. We did go out to get food and ended up getting stuck in the rain at which point we asked a few local guys to drive us into town. We had to jump in the back of the truck, Nadine and Marleen on one another and I was sitting next to a small dog in a baby seat. The dog was named Blackie and I guess so was the owner, we could not stop laughing afterwards about the situation. The weather was still crappy the whole 4 days we were there. We had planned to swim with seals the next day but it was canceled and left us waiting around all day. Two Dutch girls, Leke and Evlyn came with me biking to see a seal colony. We came across a dying seal and it broke my heart, I spent the next day sitting with him for a bit. He had been hit by a boat and the DOC here would do nothing, I felt so bad and I could really tell that he liked me sitting with him. Evelyn and I decided to sign up for the next morning at 7am to try the seal swim again, hoping for good weather. So there we were ready to get our wet suits on then we drove out to the boat with the rest of our small group. We got in the boat and went out toward the seal colony we would visit. The waves were high and we saw seals along the way. Some people brought cameras with but I wanted to see everything with my own eyes and have the pictures in my mind. So often on my trip I find myself doing this, putting the camera away and using my eyes. We got in the very cold water which was the hardest part! I was so cold it almost became hard to breath at first and then seeing all of the fish in the water with my mask did not help. We made our way through some rocks to where the seals were sitting. We went by looking up at them and they gave us this look back, like what are you? We were not allowed to get up high because the males would see this as a threat. We also were not allowed to go on the rocks because the seals would kick our butts. Then the first seals came in to check us out, soon there were many swimming about and coming close, almost too close. They are such great swimmers and I am so happy to have had the chance to share the ocean with them! We got out and tried to get warm fast. I think I had seen a lot of seals because I would flip around in the water with them and get them interested in what I was doing. Later that day plans got canceled and I ended up walking to a seal colony again by myself with some music. I saw dogs herding sheep for the first time, the little puppy tried to join in but had no clue what he was doing and would not leave the sheep be. When we left the small touristy town it was bright and sunny. We had a long day ahead of us on the way to Wellington.