Formerly the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, since 2009 the much cooler sounding Zealandia, is a 225 hectare predator free reserve only 3km from Wellington CBD. Formerly a water catchment area with two dams, it became a reserve in 1995 and home to the first predator proof fence in the world for creating an urban sanctuary. In 2019 Time Magazine named it one of the hundred places in the world to visit in 2020.
It’s main call to fame is being able to see often rare native New Zealand species in the wild, thanks to the 8.6km long and 2.2m high pest proof perimeter fence, and extensive work inside the reserve to remove all introduced mammalian pests, such as cats, possums, rabbits and rodents.
The best places to see them are where they feed, where I’ve seen up to eight Kākā at any one time. These are beautiful endangered native parrots, with their red feathers enhanced by applying some Instagram filters.
The rarest birds at Zealandia are an elderly (more than 20 years old) pair of Takahē, of whom there are only 418 in the world. They were thought extinct until a population of around 250 birds was found in the remote Murchison Mountains, in Fjordland at the bottom of the South Island. From these birds breeding programmes and sanctuaries such as Zealandia and Tiritiri Matangi have resulted in the population increase, but they remain endangered.
Zealandia is also home to a number of Tuatara, quite surreal animals which are the only living members of a branch of reptiles that were around in the dinosaur era. They only survived on off-shore islands around New Zealand but have now been reintroduced in a number of protected places on the mainland. Their heart only beats once or twice a minute, and they are estimated to be able to live to over 100 years old.
Beyond the animals there is some wonderful scenery in Zealandia, with the valley and two dams often sheltered from the infamous Wellington wind, and surrounded by thick (mainly replanted) bush.
What appears to be a lookout tower was actually built as a winch tower for the construction of the upper dam, completed in 1908.
Most visitors head up the main path to the upper dam, stopping at the bird feeders, and return to the visitor centre and cafe. The upper dam is only about half way up Zealandia though, and for those keen on walking further, and probably getting a little muddy in the process, there are a number of tracks in the upper reaches of the reserve.
The Round the Lake Track joins onto the Faultline Track, which runs along by a pleasant stream.
The Rainguage Spur Track heads off from the Faultline Track and is a favourite of mine for it’s giant tree ferns.
It finishes at the Perimeter Track, which runs around the whole of the reserve. There is a much wider, publicly accessible track outside the fence, but this doesn’t offer the same views as inside. There are magnificent views across Wellington, including the neighbouring lone turbine on Brooklyn Hill, and fields of them at West Wind in Makara.
I returned along the Tui Glen Track, which sounded good, but in reality was a quite steep and very slippery path back to the Faultline Track with seemingly little to see. I was quite focused though on the muddy path and trying not to slip over…