Up Close to the Birds of Prey at Wingspan

Rotorua seems to have everything, doesn’t it? It has an unusual landscape of geothermal activity; it has Maori culture; it has adventure activities; and as we are about to find out today, Rotorua has a wild side too! We hit the road this afternoon to check out the National Bird of Prey Centre, Wingspan, thanks to the head up about the place from our night wildlife walk in Whakatane about a week ago.

Wingspan is a mere 15-minute drive from Rotorua centre. We arrive with plenty of time to check out the everything the centre has to offer before the flying display takes place at 2pm, which happens daily.

Rare birds of prey in the Wingspan Aviary

We waste no time hitting the aviary where the birds of prey, also known as raptors, are held is captivity due to rehabilitation or part of breeding programmes to help increase the populations. This gives us a unique opportunity to see wildlife that we have both never seen up-close and never seen – period! And straight away, we see those very birds that we have never been lucky enough to see out of all the wildlife sanctuaries we have visited during our 365 Days: 365 Activities – the New Zealand falcon.

Meeting Hisan, the New Zealand falcon

Two of them sit high in their room perched on a suspended branch. They look around to check us out but are disinterested in our presence, unlike the next New Zealand falcon who gets a room all to himself. Hisan sits close to the viewing window looking at us well before we have noticed him. This guy is much more active, flying around and back up to us. We learn from Heidi, who is going to be doing the flying display soon, explains that Hisan is the bird who will be flying and he is getting restless closer to his flight.

There's nothing to see here... There's nothing to see here...
Watching this incredible bird of prey swoop above us Watching this incredible bird of prey swoop above us
Laura makes a new bird buddy Laura makes a new bird buddy
An intrigued swamp harrier An intrigued swamp harrier

The cutest owl we ever did see!

Each viewing window has an information board on the bird currently residing in each room, giving its name and why it is in the national bird of prey centre. The next little guy (or girl) we spend time with is “Whare”, a morepork or “ruru” who was found as a chick abandoned in someone’s back garden. The native owl species pokes her head out of her bird house and flies right in front of us!

“She doesn’t know she’s a morepork,” Heidi explains when she sees us mingling so close to the owl. Without a mother to show her the ways of a morepork, Whare has taken more of a shining to people than your average morepork. Nevertheless, we are melting at the sight on the tiny owl that we could probably fit in our hands. We almost can’t handle the cuteness when we see her huge yellow eyes!

Barn owl to Harriers

We only get a glimpse of the native barn owl who refuses to budge from its bird house, but the next species we have a good look at are three swamp harriers, or as they are more commonly known, hawks. We have seen these guys all over New Zealand, often feeding on squashed possums on the road, but we have never got to see these beautiful birds this close!

With just a little bit more time before the flying display, we take a look around the small museum showing taxidermies of interesting raptor species from all over the world. There is also a display on the history of falconry, as well as information on New Zealand’s extinct birds of prey.

A peak into the morepork’s lair

the flight of the falcon!

As 2pm rocks around, we sit outside in the viewing area for the flying display, feeling super keen after seeing some of these beautiful creatures in the aviary. Heidi comes out of the aviary wearing a thick falconry glove topped with Hisan the New Zealand falcon. She explains that flying birds like Hisan everyday is part of the process to get birds trained up for life in the wild. Heidi releases a leather strap attached between the glove and the falcon’s leg, then Hisan is free to do whatever he wants. At first, it’s not much. Then he takes flight and flies off into the forest a few paddocks away completely out of sight… Erm, this is awkward… Is he coming back?

A close encounter with the rare falcon itself!

With a blow of a whistle and the enticement of a lure made with duck feathers, Hisan is seen speeding out of the forest and now does a dance with Heidi as she challenges him to catch the end of the lure. With this, we get to see the falcon’s amazing agility, speed and intelligence as it circles in the sun to hinder Heidi’s ability to see him. He impressively catches the lure four times in between Heidi explaining heaps more about these amazing birds and the conservation behind saving them from extinction.

At the end of the flying display, each of us gets the opportunity to put on a falconry glove and hold the New Zealand falcon ourselves – giving us the closest look yet and seeing how the falcon feels has it holds onto the glove.

Watching the geothermal wonders in Rotorua Watching the geothermal wonders in Rotorua
Steamin' like a demon! Steamin' like a demon!
Cheers to another awesome day in Rotorua! Cheers to another awesome day in Rotorua!

Mooching around a free geothermal park in Rotorua

As complete wildlife nerds, we had a blast at Wingspan. To top off a great day, we head back to Rotorua, check into the Base Backpackers, and go over the road to Kuirau Park. This is a free geothermal park that you can explore right in Rotorua city. We have a wander around the many pools of bubbling mud that are a bit on the watery side thanks to all the rain. A pathway takes us past crazy-coloured rocks, tiny silica terraces, tiny spluttering geyers, and finally to a large steaming lake. We are mesmerised by the patterns of the steam being blown around by the wind seen from many different viewing platforms around the lake. There is even a boardwalk taking us right through the middle of the lake and in the thick of the steam!

Backpacker budget-friendly Lava Bar

The evening draws on, so we hit the Lava Bar just next to Base for some “cheap as” food and drink. We get ourselves some sweet cocktails called “Lava Jars” and a pizza each while listening to a mix of tunes that have been playing in clubs, even back in our home countries, since the dawn of time. It gets us reminiscing on some of our favourite clubs we have visited all around the world.

Just because we can, we treat ourselves with an ice cream to share, a round of pool, and a mingle with other punters. It’s not a late one, as we always start our days at 5am (how else do you think these blog posts get written?!)

Speaking of early starts, tomorrow we are going on an adventurous hike up Mt Tarawera, so join us then!

Laura and Robin

close encounter with a New Zealand falcon!
close encounter with a New Zealand falcon! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Have you read the yesterday’s post about Zorbing and relaxing at the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools? How about these articles:

Until tomorrow’s blog post, check us out on the HerePin app to meet other travellers in your area. We also post travel tips for New Zealand on Facebook, as well as our adventure on Instagram. Join the Facebook Group to find people to travel with, ask us questions, and buy/sell.

See you tomorrow!

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Comments
  1. Fantastic Blog. Really enjoyed reading.

    Comment avatar Yani
    31/08/2017 at 11:54 pm
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