Kiwi Encounter at Rainbow Springs

Before we came to New Zealand, we just assumed these “kiwi birds” were everywhere – waiting for you to leave on the street so they could steal the crumbs of your lunch, stealing your fries at the beach, etc. Ok, we jest, but in reality, it is super unlikely that you will see a kiwi in the wild during a trip or gap year in New Zealand. First of all, they are nocturnal. Second, they are pretty elusive. And third, their population numbers are declining nationwide. One of your opportunities to see New Zealand’s national icons is at the kiwi conservation centre at Rainbow Springs, Rotorua!

A behind-the-scenes tour of Kiwi Encounter

We arrive at the Rainbow Springs Nature Park, home to all sorts of birds, reptiles and fish, but the first place we want to check out it Kiwi Encounter. We enter the Kiwi Encounter building at first to a static display of the different species of kiwi birds throughout New Zealand, as well as an unusual penguin-like depiction of what European explorers first thought a kiwi bird looked like after they found a carcass of the bird. Then our guide arrives to take us on a behind-the-scenes tour of Kiwi Encounter.

Kiwi encounter is a hatchery for kiwis, taking eggs from wild, hatching and looking after the kiwi chick until it is at least 1kg – big enough to defend itself against introduced predators, especially stoats, in the wild. Then it is released back to live a life of foraging and hopefully finding a mate. Taking a tour around Kiwi Encounter is like a fly-on-the-wall experience of seeing how this process works – in the meantime, hopefully seeing a kiwi chick! What you see really depends on what conservation work needs to be done (and there is something happening daily).

Learning about the hatching process of the kiwi Learning about the hatching process of the kiwi
A fluffy ball of cuteness A fluffy ball of cuteness
Weighing the chick Weighing the chick
It might not be wildlife, but a waterfall sure looks pretty It might not be wildlife, but a waterfall sure looks pretty

The kiwi bird hatchery

We walk into the first room to huge viewing windows showing four different rooms set up in the correct order of the kiwi egg’s journey through Kiwi Encounter. First, we see a display of a kiwi egg with tools used to measure and weigh the egg. In the next room, there is actually someone working in here, just arriving to turn one lonely kiwi egg in the incubation chamber. Usually they can fit eggs “by the dozen” in this room. In fact, the facility has hatched more than 120 eggs this year!

Our guide, Helen, then shows us a sped-up video of a kiwi hatching over a few days, which is amazing to watch, even on video! It’s incredible to think that those large birds can fit in that egg! We also get a huge insight into the hatching process of the kiwi bird, from the moment it first probes for air to, on average, five days later when it fully hatches with a yolk sack to keep it well-fed for about a week after hatching.

Seeing a real life kiwi chick!

In the next room, our chance finally comes to see a kiwi chick! After learning about the diet of these chicks, we see a conservation worker open the hatch of a hutch and pull out a tiny North Island brown kiwi. Cuteness overload, right here! There are no words… Usually you would see these little guys from behind the glass, but for photo and filming purposes, we got an exclusive look at the chick from within the room.

The conservation worker checks its eyes and stomach, then places it in a tub to weigh it. She writes down the results and takes the kiwi, who has been staying still this whole time, and puts it back in its hutch to continue its nap. It’s a brief encounter, to minimise the stress of the kiwi, but it’s enough time for us to be in absolute awe of this little creature. How can you not love kiwi birds?!

A Backpackerguide.nz exclusive look BEHIND THE SCENE OF the kiwi chick conservation room

The nocturnal kiwi enclosure

With that, we enter the nocturnal kiwi enclosure to see where display birds are kept that are not suitable to released into the wild – a theme of the rest of the creatures at Rainbow Springs. The nature park only takes in animals that have injuries or other issues that would decrease their chances of surviving in the wild. We see the fluffy ball of one kiwi sleeping under a tree in its enclosure.

Outside of Kiwi Encounter are outdoor runs for the older chicks to start stretching their legs and probe for food in a “wild” setting. Although there are no kiwis out here today, there is a wild fantail that has come to say hi, as well as a wild kereru (wood pigeon) that our guide tells us he is a regular visitor called Kevin.

So that was just the Kiwi Encounter, and we haven’t seen the rest of the park yet…

Feeding the wildlife at lunch and the big splash

In other news, we head into the main Rainbow Springs Nature Park for a quick pie at the cafe, where Robin literally feeds some small birds from his hands like he’s freakin’ Snow White. Then we shamelessly take a log flume ride called The Big Splash. Ok, we know it’s meant for kids but…

After getting our cheesy photo of our “Big Splash” we walk around Rainbow Springs passing many pools of the clearest water we have ever seen filled with trout! This water is pumped around the park and comes from the source that gives the park its name, Rainbow Springs. We even take drink of the spring water at a designated water fountain.

What are you looking at? What are you looking at?
This strong kaka stole Robin's backpack right off his back! We swear! This strong kaka stole Robin's backpack right off his back! We swear!
A hungry little kakariki A hungry little kakariki

From dragons and dinosaurs to big trout!

We walk down native bush-lined pathways to various reptile enclosures where we see water dragons and the famous reptile of New Zealand called the tuatara! They are known for being descents of the dinosaur era and they also have a “third eye”.

By now, we have seen plenty of trout along the way, but nothing stuns us more than seeing these bad boys underwater! A glass wall holding up a trout pool shows us some huge species of of rainbow trout, brown trout, tiger trout and more! Man, we never thought we could be so fascinated by trout!

The native bird aviaries

We’ve had a lot of fishy fun, but now we are coming to the native bird aviaries, where we can actually walk into the aviary and hang out with the friendly locals. Four kaka parrots and two kingfishers that we have never managed to get close to do their thing of walking a flying around the aviary, one in particular is very drawn to us, pecking at our backpack and shoelaces. Then we move into the kea enclosure, holding a species of the world’s only alpine parrot who look like they are living the high life here at Rainbow Springs, both kea munching away at their food.

Finally, we enter the “Tui Aviary” holding a nice fat kereru, a few small parrot-like birds called parakeets, and a tui. Once you get close to the latter, you realise how intricate their feathers are, shining all sorts of colours in the light.

Leaving the aviary and Rainbow Springs, we also stumble upon a paradise shelduck and a nursery pool of trout. Look at those tiny fish!

Back to Base for a hot soak

After a fantastic day of learning more about New Zealand’s fascination wildlife, both native that has evolved isolated from the rest of the world and introduced and the way they have changed New Zealand, we head back to the Base hostel. Another night in the hot pool? We think so!

Join us tomorrow where we are experience the Maori culture and geothermal wonders mixed into one at Te Puia!

Laura and Robin

A whole new perspective on trout!
A whole new perspective on trout! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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