Seeing Kiwis in New Zealand
The kiwi is the national icon of New Zealand. It is on their 1$ coin. They use it on tons of marketing. The people even refer to themselves as kiwis. So I knew I had to see one if I could on our trip to New Zealand. So in planning I set out to find the sanctuaries in the towns we went through. We ended up finally seeing them in Rotorua at Rainbow Springs, and here is a bit about the experience.
Finding a Real Kiwi
So in American English a “kiwi” is pretty much one of three things. A fruit, a person from New Zealand or a small flightless bird. I know a few kiwi people from living in Freiburg. I have seen and eaten kiwifruit at one point or another. And although they kind of look like the small furry body of the bird, where not what I was looking for. So what was left was the nocturnal reclusive flightless bird. This was going to take some doing.
Although there are actually a number of kiwi sanctuaries around New Zealand, including one in Queenstown that we walked by, I picked Rainbow Springs to go see my first kiwi bird. It was near the end of the trip, so something to look forward to. We started the trip with natural beauty at Milford Sound and saw the birds near the end of the trip. They also tout the opportunity to see a hatchery and baby kiwis.
Rainbow Springs is a nature park on the outskirts of Rotorua. They have a number of exhibits of native New Zealand flora and fauna, but the highlight, at least for me, was their kiwi experience. They are part of Operation Nest Egg, sponsored by the Bank of New Zealand, and one of several places that bring kiwi eggs in to raise for release. I was excited to see some of these endangered and reclusive icons of the island country.
The park is outside of town a bit. There is a bus on normal days, but as we were there on January 3 (apparently a holiday this year), we had to organize a shuttle. You could conceivably go to Rainbow Springs and only see the zoo and ignore the kiwi experience, but why?
My only complaint about the park isn’t their fault. They offer a nighttime viewing in an open cage of kiwis. And your ticket during the day even works at night, but neither the bus nor the shuttle transport ran in the night for us to get out there. It would have only worked if we had our own car, but it sounds awesome.
So kiwi birds are nocturnal. They don’t deal with light well. Apparently not too long before we got there, someone carelessly took a flash photo of a kiwi in the habitat. Despite repeated promises to double-check our flashes, we were not allowed to take pictures of the actual kiwis. So you have to take my word for it. Kiwi chicks are cute!
We started with learning a bit about the kiwi bird and its mating habits. The females lay an egg that if compared with humans would be like being pregnant with a 4yearold. In classic kiwi (the people) ingenuity, cracked eggs are fixed with nailpolish or masking tape depending on the severity of the crack.
Eggs are brought to the center for incubation and hatching. Then the kiwi chicks are placed in yellow incubation boxes. We got to see a few in their boxes through the glass windows of the observation room. They are much bigger than I expected, bigger than a furry grapefruit. And even in the darkened room, the distinctive shape and motion was visible and cute. Rainbow Springs has hatched over 1000 eggs since they have been a part of the program.
Afterward, we were led into a darkened hallway. On either side glass habitats contained kiwi birds. I saw two of the three that were in there. They are good at hiding and only really active at night. Again far bigger than I was picturing in my mind. They are much easier to see if you look for the whitish beak and not try to find the dark body in the shadows.
Outside of the hatchery area they had a small museum with information panels and stuffed examples of the various kiwi species.
Kiwis are unique creatures. They are almost a mammalian bird. The feathers are more like fur. They have apparently two working ovaries(well the girl kiwis do, and apparently you can’t even visibly tell one sex from another without DNA tests). They have marrow bones which are heavy unlike a flight-ful bird. And yet their biggest predator are mammals. Stoats and weasels that have made their way to the island endanger the birds. The aim is raise the kiwi chicks until their are 6 months old and big enough to fight off predators better. This helps increase their survival rate.
I am all for saving endangered animals. Especially ones that humans have had a big hand in endangering. It is a bonus for the ones that are this cute.
Save the Kiwis
I know there are not great up-close pictures of me holding a kiwi. I did ask, they laughed in that way that makes you feel embarrassed about asking. I really enjoyed the few hours at the sanctuary wandering around. The other animals were nice, but finally seeing living kiwis (even behind glass) was great. I definitely recommend visiting if you are in the area.
We did manage to take a few kiwis home though.
Rainbow Springs did offer a discount for us to visit the park. Though all of my opinions and words are my own. And we gladly paid the donation to support the kiwis.
Saving Kiwis in Rotorua | Ali's Adventures
June 11, 2012 @ 8:01 am
[…] are many other animals and plants to see at Rainbow Springs, the main attraction is the kiwis. Kiwis are endangered birds native to New Zealand, and the sanctuary is determined to protect them and […]
April 4, 2012 @ 7:36 pm
We did a camper van road trip of New Zealand a few years ago and seeing the Kiwis was the very last thing we did – so worth it.. they are such a weird little bird. It’s kind of a bittersweet memory too because we saw them at the Christchurch Kiwi House, which is right across from the Cathedral and just before the earthquake hit. Still, I remember going in and seeing the bird, it freaked out and started shrieking and the keeper telling us we were lucky because not many people hear that. Great end to an awesome trip!
April 5, 2012 @ 1:36 pm
Nice story. Were you there for the earthquake too? Did it scream because of the quake?
March 31, 2012 @ 9:47 pm
I was in NZ for nearly a year before I finally got to see a Kiwi, and like you, it was in a sanctuary, although not the Rainbow Springs. That one is an excellent sanctuary though – I lived in Rotorua for a couple of months, and learnt about the great things that they do for Kiwi conservation.
Kiwi are so darn cute.. and like you.. I have very little in the way of photographic proof to share! I was surprised as to how big they were though. And did I mention their cuteness yet? 😉
April 1, 2012 @ 1:54 pm
I do think you mentioned the cuteness, but definitely worth multiple mentions. They are furry and have whiskers, its like a rolly polly bird-y cat.
It was a great experience to hear about their efforts to save eggs.
March 30, 2012 @ 12:36 am
I had no idea that kiwis were nocturnal or endangered. Would love to see the chicks but understand how the flash would be a problem, sad that someone still decided to ignore the sign and take a photo anyway.
April 1, 2012 @ 1:52 pm
Yup. The problem was not ignoring a sign as I understand it. But that they used to allow pictures without flash and the person didn’t have the right setting and it flashed anyway.
Bret @ Green Global Travel
March 29, 2012 @ 1:43 pm
I admire them for wanting to protect the kiwis from the glare of camera flash, and am glad you were able to have a good time at the sanctuary regardless. My daughter would love those kiwi stuffed animals almost as much as the real thing!
April 1, 2012 @ 1:51 pm
When I first arranged the tour, I was assured I would be able to take pictures. This issue they had sounded recent and they changed the rules. I was disappointed about that, but happy to have seen them. The stuffed animals were cute. They have a little tag saying “I saved a kiwi today” as I guess a bit of the proceeds go to a program. We saw another one on the desk at our hotel in town. We almost didn’t get them, but happy we decided too.
March 29, 2012 @ 12:04 pm
That was a fun day. And I’m glad we were able to take 2 of them home 🙂
April 1, 2012 @ 1:49 pm
Yup, glad to have you with me.
March 29, 2012 @ 9:50 am
A good place in New Zealand to see Kiwi is Pukaha Mount Bruce http://www.pukaha.org.nz/ which is home to the rather famous white Kiwi Manukura and her white sibling Mauriora. The best place in the USA is our National Zoo in Washington DC. They have an excellent Meet a Kiwi program Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11 a.m. hosted by Keeper Kathy Brader. See http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/Birds/Kiwi/default.cfm
April 1, 2012 @ 1:49 pm
Thanks for the additional information Eileen. That is really helpful. I did find a number of kiwi sanctuaries around NZ, but only made it to Rainbow Springs.
Christy @ Technosyncratic
March 28, 2012 @ 7:49 pm
I didn’t actually know what a kiwi bird looked like before this post! Too bad you couldn’t take photos of the chicks – I would have loved to see them.
March 28, 2012 @ 9:06 pm
I had only seen pictures. I was just really excited to see them in real. It is a shame we couldn’t take pictures, but in the dark they might not have come out. I understand why you can’t flash though. The kiwi chicks really kind of look like little brown furry balls with a white stripe that moves as their beak.
March 28, 2012 @ 5:49 pm
The little toys look so cute 🙂 I had no idea kiwi birds had such a long beak.
March 28, 2012 @ 9:04 pm
Yeah, it is at once one of the longest and shortest beaks of birds. Apparently most birds have nostrils at the base, so the beak measure is normally nostrils to tip. Kiwis have the nostrils at the tip, so their measured beak is very short. I remember our guide talking about using the beaks to dig for grubs and such.
March 28, 2012 @ 4:28 am
Baby Kiwis are so cute! I had no idea they were such unique birds.
March 28, 2012 @ 9:02 pm
Our guide explained a lot and there were a bunch of info panels. The birds have a lot of mammalian traits, which is weird as there are no native mammals in New Zealand other than a single kind of bat. The kiwis kind of filled that roll.
John of Travel Rinse Repeat
March 28, 2012 @ 3:46 am
I saw kiwis in a zoo (I think San Diego) where they had them in a ‘nocturnal’ habitat. After our eyes had adjusted, we could see their shadowy figures moving about the ground.
March 28, 2012 @ 9:01 pm
Cool. I didn’t realize there were any outside of New Zealand. I have no clue how they get the well lit pictures, everything was so dark.
March 28, 2012 @ 12:18 am
Aren’t Kiwis adorable? Your trip looks like a lot of fun!
March 28, 2012 @ 9:00 pm
They are indeed. Furry little balls.