Staglands Wildlife Reserve

Trip Start Oct 17, 2007
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Saturday, August 30, 2008

While the equinox is still some weeks away, the first signs of spring are starting to become apparent here in New Zealand: the odd blossom, some warmer days, later evenings.  All this, plus, importantly, fine weather, led us out into the countryside this weekend.

Making our usual leisurely departure for our Saturday, we first headed up to the suburb of Petone, at the top of the harbour, for some lunch.  While part of the much-derided-by-trendy-Wellingtonians suburban Hutt Valley (full disclosure: I don't find the Hutt such a bad place, all in all), Petone has a couple of things to recomend it: a long, sandy shoreline, and a pleasant strip of shops and cafés along the main drag of Jackson Street.  Our Entertainment discount book leading the way (and after it first led us, oddly enough, to a café in the Home Depot-like Mitre 10 Mega, on which we decided to pass for the time being), we lunched there in the Palace Café.  I'm always a big fan of New Zealand café food, and this one was not a disappointment.  Sheila had an exemplary seafood chowder, and I a perfectly decent vegetarian phyllo.

From there, we headed north to Upper Hutt and Akatarawa Road.  Akatarawa Road is a 35-ish kilometre-long narrow and windy road connecting the upper end of the Hutt Valley to the west coast at Waikanae.  In the middle of that stretch lies our star attraction of the day: the Staglands Wildlife Reserve.  Staglands houses a collection of native and non-native fauna in a very pleasant setting.  It's arguably aimed at those with children, but Sheila and I are always suckers for animals (count us in for the petting zoo at the county fair!), and I think it was rather worthwhile as an adult.

As are so many things in New Zealand, Staglands was well put-together.  A figure-8-shaped track (of maybe 1-2 km in length) takes you around all the sights, which include various New Zealand and other birds in aviaries (Keas and Kakas and doves and many others), some of which you can walk through, plus various attractive chickens, peafowl, swans, and tons and tons of ducks of all varieties.  On the mamallian front there were pigs (including a breed brought to New Zealand by the Maori which are oh-so-ugly but pretty personable despite all that), donkeys, deer, and goats.  Most of the donkeys were together in a pen along the main trail, but one was separated.  He was some distance of the end of a little spur trail, and we probably wouldn't have noticed him but for his loud and insistent braying.  We scrambled over to where he was, and on the fence impeding his progress there was a sign introducing him: "Hi, I'm Moses the brown donkey!  Sometimes I bite."  So this was why he was sequestered!  Sure enough, the first several times we put our hands near his head, his mouth opened up to bare some long teeth.  In the end, we were able to pat him a bit and I think we became friends.  He was obviously hungry for attention, but it goes to show that if you want a life in a wildlife park, you can't be a bitey donkey.

Later on, we came across several goats.  Typically wily, one of them managed to circumvent our careful food rationing (as we'd purchased one of the $2 all-purpose food bags: good for birds and pigs and donkeys and goats and deer!) by biting through the bottom of the bag, thus spilling the contents all over the ground.  The goats ate well.

While those several goats feasted on the spoils, we noticed another goat with kids atop a hill.  I went to investigate.  While curious, the mother goat was wary of me what with her adorable young children around.  We just eyed each other from a distance.  As I was paying full attention to the goat, I was surprised to turn around to find a deer just on my heels.  There were a number of such animals in the same enclosure as the goats, but most of them kept their distance from me as I passed.  Not this one; this was the gregarious deer.  It let me pet it and it nuzzled me happily.  I even thought it might want to come home with us, but it held back halfway down the hill and let me go on my way.  Probably just disappointed that I had no food for it (not my fault; talk to the goats!).

A minor attraction of the park was a large pen full of guinea pigs and rabbits.  While that's neat enough on its own, this pen was even better: you're allowed to climb in it to commune with the animals.  Since I've never gotten over my childhood fondness for guinea pigs, this was great fun for me.  Talking to an employee later on, we learned that they breed the guinea pigs (well, I imagine they do most of the work themselves with little prompting) and sell the excess to local pet shops and such.

Toward the end of the circuit, we met a lamb.  It's a very early lamb for the season, and its mother must have met with some distress, as an employee had just fed it a bottle of formula, in her absence.  In any case, it was acquitting itself well on the cuteness scale as it bounced around persistently trying to get at the (now empty) bottle.  This sheep will do well at the park, I can see.

From there, we tackled the rest of the road on the way out to the coast.  For a number of kilometres, it's more-or-less a single lane twisting through the forest, until you come out to some lovely views down the valley and out to the coast.  We continued out to the beach at Waikanae for a brief look at the nearly-sunset before heading off to a pleasant dinner at the café Vella, which was certainly recommendable.
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