Kiwi Birds, Lizards, Fish and Insects in Whangarei!

Places like Kaikoura might be famous for its wildlife, but we are definitely on a wildlife streak up here in New Zealand’s northernmost region. We started our trip up north with a stop at the Goat Island Marine Reserve where we used Clearyaks to see an array of fish beneath the ocean’s surface and yesterday we went scuba diving and swimming with seals in Poor Knights Islands. Today, we’re going to be checking out some of New Zealand’s native land animals and birds including the elusive kiwi bird at Kiwi North right here in Whangarei!

Our first ever sighting of a gecko!

Kiwi North is only a 5-10 minute drive out of Whangarei, and when we arrive we are surprised to see that it’s more than just a kiwi house. The complex also holds the Whangarei Museum and the Heritage Park. Really, we are doing three activities in one today! However, we are not wasting any time: we are heading straight for the wildlife section of Kiwi North, which just happens to start in the gift shop! A glass case reveals a couple of gecko, a tiny New Zealand lizard that either blends in so well with green leaves or brown tree bark depending on what species of gecko they are. In true lizard fashion, they sit perfectly still in their position: one getting some high ground balancing on a leaf, while the other lies half buried under a log. While these guys are playing an intense game of ‘freeze’, the gecko we’re about to see are going to show us some action. Until then, we walk into the first corridor of the Kiwi House – a corridor of critters. Kiwi love eating insects and Kiwi North rear up a few fascinating insects right here.

Insects getting frisky

The insects that steal the show is a case full of locusts. We can see females munching away on grass with so much detail while, oh yeah, a male is ‘on’ her back. Yep, there is pretty much an orgy going on the locust case!

A not-so active insect at this time of the day is the native tree weta. A small door on the blacked-out weta case opens up to reveal the sleeping weta inside. These are huge insects that we have been lucky enough to see in the wild too.

Locust life Locust life
Hanging out with some native fish Hanging out with some native fish
Trying to find the camouflage geckos Trying to find the camouflage geckos
Gecko is closing in on the fly... Gecko is closing in on the fly...

Fascinating freshwater fish

From insects to fish, we now look into a tank with some of New Zealand’s native freshwater fish. The banded kokopu is a medium-size fish with blue scales. It’s also joined by a slightly larger fish called the giant kokopu, which is decorated in spots and wiggly lines. We’re lucky enough to catch a feeding where small insects are dropped into the tank for the kokopu to gobble up in a rapid motion.

Gecko Vs. the fly

Now it’s time for some more gecko action! We are totally fascinated by these creatures that we have rarely seen even in other conservation houses. One green gecko in particular is getting so close to catching an unsuspecting fly. The way they stalk their prey is as careful and patient as a cat. It makes tiny movements in steady intervals not to scare off the fly. Sure enough, it gets close enough to jump forward, eat the fly, and lick its lips afterwards.

If one gecko isn’t doing anything, there is sure to be one that is as there about six different gecko enclosures at the Kiwi House.

The living dinosaur

Although the tuatara, often called the “living dinosaur” as it is a living decedent from the dinosaur era, is quite a late riser during winter, we are lucky enough to see a tuatara’s head poking out of a tree trunk. Because they have a slow metabolism, they save energy and rarely move if they don’t need to.  If we look super closely, we see its throat moving as it slowly breathes and a blink in the eye every so often. The tuatara is arguably one of the most fascinating wildlife stories in New Zealand, so reading the information panels on the wall is a must!

Keeping an eye out for the elusive kiwi

the state-of-the-art kiwi house

The time has finally come: we’re going to see a kiwi bird… maybe two! We walk into a small dark room before entering the kiwi house which gives us an opportunity to check if the flash is off on our camera – photography is allowed by no flash! A TV screen also show live footage from cameras set up in the kiwi enclosures, so we can see where the kiwi are. In one enclosure, the male kiwi is foraging in a particular path around a tree just outside its burrow, while the female is somewhere out among the natural setting of her enclosure. For the time being, the pair are separated until they are ideally old enough to mate and the female is at a good size to hold the egg. When you see the size of the replica kiwi eggs they have on display at Kiwi North, you’ll understand why she needs to be a particular size!

Watching the active kiwi birds!

We walk into the dark room with huge walls of glass looking into an enclosure. Dim lights make it possible to see what’s going on in the enclosure, which is quite a lot right now. The kiwi are very active! The male continues the route around his burrow, probing into the ground with his long beak, just as they would have to forage for food in the wild. Meanwhile, the female lovingly gazes at the male from a thin wall separating the enclosure. She is quickly distracted when it comes to feeding time, which happens at particular times throughout the day just to ensure the kiwi are feeding well. We could watch these unusual flightless nocturnal birds all day, but knowing there is so much more to see at Kiwi North, we finally decide to leave the kiwi house and see the light of day again.

The living dinosaur of New Zealand The living dinosaur of New Zealand
New Zealand's old wildlife was pretty awesome too... New Zealand's old wildlife was pretty awesome too...
Checking out the rooms of the heritage homstead Checking out the rooms of the heritage homstead

The Whangarei Museum

After walking through another shorter corridor of geckos, we come back to the gift shop and onto another section of the building, the Whangarei Museum! Up the stairs, we walk into a small room displaying relics of early European settlement in the Northland region, before entering a larger open-plan room filled with heaps of displays! The first that takes our eye is the almost complete skeleton of a moa, which is a giant extinct bird! On the subject of wildlife, display cases of taxidermy specimens go through the type of fauna found in this part of New Zealand. The maritime aspect of Whangarei and Northland is also displayed with a huge waka (Maori canoe) and a skeleton of a mink whale.

From natural history to social history, there is a vast display of World War Two relics, Maori carvings, and even a “mystery item” where visitors are encouraged to guess what an unusual-looking item is and submit it into a box.

A sneak peak into the days of old

The social history offering continue outside in the heritage park. Although some of the hertiage buildings are not open at the moment, we do get the chance to have a sneaky peak into the Clarke Homestead. This house, built in the 1886, gives an insight into New Zealand life back in the day. We can look into various different rooms of the homestead, made up with original furnishings and decor. Even the wallpaper is authentic!

We walk back out of the heritage park, past the blacksmiths and over the railway lines where we end our visit to Kiwi North, the Whangarei Museum and Heritage Park. From here, it’s back to our very own heritage accommodation, the Bunkdown Lodge, which was built in the early 1900s. It even has its own wildlife display in the front garden with caterpillars and butterflies.

Join us tomorrow, where we really are going to be checking out some of the free things to do in Whangarei! (We know we said that yesterday, but plans change). See you tomorrow!

Laura and Robin

The wealthy displays at the Whangarei Museum!
The wealthy displays at the Whangarei Museum! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Have you read yesterday’s post about scuba diving in the Poor Knights Islands? How about these articles?

Until tomorrow’s blog post, be sure to check us out on the HerePin app, we also post travel tips on Facebook, as well as pretty NZ pics on Instagram. Join the Facebook Group to ask us questions, buy/sell, and find travel buddies.

See you tomorrow!

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