Friday, January 10, 2014

3 January 2014: Karori Sanctuary, Wellington

A big day is in-store for us!  Our students were ready on time (they’re fantastic like that, really!), but we faced an immediate obstacle to our day: the high winds from yesterday blossomed into a full ‘southerly’ (a gale-force wind blowing to the south).  To boot, torrential rain accompanied the wind later in the morning, which eliminated doing anything outdoors!

Our guide for the day, Russ, a facilities manager, gave us an introduction to the history of animals in New Zealand, the geology and formation of the ‘sinking’ continent of Zealandia (only 5% of the continent remains above water; that land is known as New Zealand!), and the ways in which the conservation goals of the sanctuary are achieved.  Russ was a witty Kiwi and kept our students smiling as the lesson proceeded.  We learned that the major predators of the birds and reptiles of New Zealand, weasels, stoats (similar to our long-weasels), ferrets, and rodents (mice and rats), were eliminated from the sanctuary over the period of 1990-1995, and then the reintroduction of native species began, as the land was now free of predators.  Today, several hundred Brown Spotted Kiwi, North Island Saddlebacks, and North Island Robins inhabit the Karori Sanctuary.  The sanctuary serves as a beacon for what many Kiwi (inhabitants of New Zealand) ultimately hope for the country: to be rid of introduced predators and the recovery of the precious birds and reptiles whose populations were decimated after humans arrived in New Zealand.

Following Russ’ presentation, our group had a walk through the informative multi-room display in the main building, which included an amazing movie on the history of New Zealand from the time before humans arrived until the present.  The students were captivated by the portrayal of the mighty Moa, a group of 11 species whose largest species stood at 9 feet (3m) tall!  We had the chance to ask Russ more questions about the species of bird now inhabiting Karori following our visit of the exhibit and it was impressive to hear our students ask such detailed, informed questions.  Right on!  Score points for Mount Saint Mary College students!  A clearly-impressed Russ had bad news for us, though: the howling wind was now accompanied by torrential downpours, which would preclude any work taking place outside.  Rats (pardon the pun)! Our second ‘service’ project was thwarted!  Ah well, we should score points for our good intentions!

The rest of the day was spent dodging rain drops.  Many students focused on completing their main assignments for the trip (daily journals and journaling on the activities that we participated in, e.g., listening to Russ’ presentation at Karori in the morning), or jockeyed for the few washing machines found in the hostel.  The rained did stop later in the day and it afforded us an opportunity to visit Mt. Victoria, one of the tallest points in the harbor around Wellington, and conveniently located ‘just’ up the hill from the hostel.  A 10-min van ride up a 15% grade hillside landed us at the top and afforded us incredible views of Wellington and the Lower Hutt region of the North Island.  At 10pm, when it was just nearly dusk, we made our way back to the hostel.  It was a mixed-up type of day, but it turned out well in the end!

Tomorrow: Te Papa, the national museum, and our ferry ride to Picton.

Russ, Operations Manager at the Karori Sanctuary, talks to our group about the sanctuary and the history of New Zealand.

Sean Harrison (Business, 2016) holds a mounted specimen of an Australian Possum, a predator introduced to New Zealand for its fur, but quickly became a pest species that ate native wildlife.

Me holding a mounted specimen of a juvenile Little Spotted Kiwi from the Karori Sanctuary.

Our intrepid group that drove to the top of Mt. Victoria.  Wellington, the capital city, is in the background.

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