February 17, 2016
As my readers know by now, I will take natural beauty over a city almost any day except a rare sunny San Francisco day. Anyway, we left the Capitol of New Zealand after I extracted the car from the dozen story parking structure with a one lane, two direction exit path. I just followed a taxi about two feet behind his rear bumper. Other drivers saw him and bailed out of the way. Bobbie and Peggy were waiting with the luggage on the sidewalk. We loaded up and split. It was raining a little. We drove and the rain stopped as we cleared the city. That has to be poetic.
An unintended stop at the Nga Manu Wildlife Sanctuary was a good one. The non-profit park shelters endangered animals and also has a trail system that is both educational and informative and beautiful. We spent at least three hours exploring the aviaries and the swampy jungle that makes up most of the preserve.
As you might be aware, NZ is home to most of the world’s flightless birds. The ostrich and emu are the only ones outside of New Zealand that come to mind. We had managed to see several species in the wild like the Weka. Now we had a chance to see a Kiwi although enclosed in an artificial nocturnal habitat. We figured that finding a wild Kiwi would be too much of a challenge since we like to sleep at night. We watched the two large chicken sized Brown Kiwis poke around with its long beak for a long time as they searched for bugs.
After leaving the Kiwi and owl aviaries, we enjoyed the Kaka and Kea parrots that are quite accustomed to humans both in cages and the wild. There was one Tui that had been injured by a cat. We would soon find ourselves chasing them down in the jungle. On the South Island, we had seen one lone flightless Kakane, the bird with the Jimmy Durante nose. Here there were a dozen or so competing with the ducks for food and tourist attention.
We hit the jungle trail for a couple hours. I am sure I will suffer stretched neck ligaments from the effort to spot the birds that carried on in a joyful chorus of melodies unique to the jungle. The Tui, with its little white ruff on its neck was the most elusive. They were all over the place but spotting them and getting a decent picture is tough. They reside in the canopy and move constantly. Beside birds, we learned about the unique life cycles of many of the plants. It was fun.
We finished off our visit at the sanctuary with visits to the lizards, geckos and other reptiles. The eel pond visit was enough to never order eel sushi again. We finally decided to hit the road and continue north. The countryside is mostly flat or rolling hills. It was much dryer than the west coast of the South Island. The drive could have been along Highway 101 in Central California. Like that region of California, the farms produce row crops and fruit of all kinds. When we reached Wanganui we visited a local fruit and vegetable markets for dinner supplies. Kiwis were $1.5 per pound and Rock Melons (cantaloupes) were a buck a piece. We munch on fruit as we drive. There are plenty of options.
We wandered around Wanganui despite missing a boat ride on the restored paddle wheeler. I was expecting a small Delta Queen or at least the Disneyland river boat. Instead, the paddle wheeler looked more like the African Queen without Humphrey Bogart to pilot it. Maybe it was just as well that we missed the boat.