Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Experiencing Kiwi

Well nobody said that seeing kiwi would be easy but I didn't expect it to be quite so strange. Last time I was in New Zealand in 2018 I managed to see little spotted kiwi, this time I connected with great spotted kiwi and Rowi (also known as Okarito brown kiwi), but that only tells half the story!

Kiwi are nocturnal so that presents it's own set of problems, but they also live in woodland and all species are pretty rare. We were staying in Franz Josef Glacier, only about 15 miles from Okarito so I booked myself onto a tour run by Okratiro Kiwi Tours because this seemed the only realistic way of seeing a Rowi, the rarest of all the kiwi.

Cameras, mobile phones, waterproof clothing, rucksacks and water bottles were all banned on the tour, and we were advised to bring insect repellent. During the tour we were positioned along a road, six of us all standing, shoulder to shoulder in hi-viz vests, all wearing mosquito nets. Everytime a car came along the road we all had to take one step back almost like we were doing some bizarre line dance, and then when it had passed we stepped forward again. Goodness knows what the drivers thought. It was pitch black and overhead we had great views of the Milky Way but the only constellation I could recognise was Orion which was strangely upside down! We stood here for 4 hours almost without moving waiting before we saw a Rowi. New Zealands only native species of owl, the Morepork called in the woods and on several occasions we heard the eerie cry of the kiwi, but boy did they keep us waiting.

The previous evening we returned to our hotel at Otira after seeing kea at Arthur's Pass and heard great spotted kiwi calling in the woods. This wasn't such a painful experience, but if possible it was almost more surreal. Our hotel, the Otira Stagecoach, was full of antiques and all kinds of oddities, including Gollum on the roof and Gandalf on the car park, and Elaine reckoned it was haunted! Even though we didn't see these kiwis it was a tremendous experience and their calls were loud and they seemed quite close, but the bush was just too dense.

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