Kiwis and mussels
Trip Start Nov 06, 2003
87Trip End Jan 24, 2004
On Christchurch's northern fringe, we halt for a few hours at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. Two days before Christmas, the place is wonderfully bereft of people. We get the big nocturnal kiwi house to ourselves. The birds are bigger and faster than I'd expected, flitting about from bush to cover at a great clip on their stick legs. New Zealand's national symbol, besides being flightless, has the distinction of nostrils at the end of its beak. In the building's dim, expansive interior, you can hear their little snuffles and whirs as they dig in the dirt or groom one another. One bully doesn't so much groom its cell mate as corner the poor thing against a pylon and peck at it
Kiwis are a threatened species in their homeland. Until the arrival of the Maori, New Zealand was in essence a giant bird aviary, the only land mammals being bats. Many other flightless birds, including the 10-foot-high moa, were hunted to extinction, both by the Maori and the dogs and rats that hitched along. Today, active kiwi recovery programs use everything from fences to poison to protect kiwis from dogs and other mammals.
Travelling north towards Blenheim, we stop to consume an orgy of bivalves at Mussel Boys in Kaikoura. Lucy finds her feet for the first time in her high chair, and celebrates with a collection of new noises and gurgles. This area is a big maritime exploration gateway for sperm whale watching, shark diving, and dolphin and seal swimming. It's also the start of a spectacular drive. The Seaward Kaikouras range grinds east to the seashore, cutting off our route, so the road careens along the coast, threading through tunnels and along the cliffs beside the railway.
The ruggedly spectacular scenery continues for over an hour until we cut in to the Wairau Plain near Blenheim. Suddenly hawks fill the sky and the vista flattens into farm land. We're on the edge of two of New Zealand's most visited areas - the wine region of Marlborough and the beaches and parks near Nelson. Sadly, we're booked on the ferry tomorrow for the north island, so we'll have to leave the kayaking and pinot gris for another trip.