This morning we woke to low cloud cover, so gave up the idea of seeing the glacier again. We were supposed to visit Fox Glacier today, so we’re glad we moved it to yesterday. We saved the lower elevation hikes and activities for today.
We headed out on the Tatare Tunnels Walk, starting along an old 4WD road beside the river, then a narrow and steep trail up to an old water tunnel.
We had been told that several hundred meters into the tunnel we might see glow worms.
We headed back to our hotel for a quick lunch, then visited the WestCoast Wildlife Center in Franz Josef. It is a fairly small facility, but we were able to see their two kiwi and the tuatara.
The kiwi is a nocturnal, flightless bird endemic to New Zealand. They are of the same order as ostrich, emu and rhea. Kiwi are omnivorous and will eat worms and other invertebrates such as weta, spiders, slugs, snails, lice, centipedes, and crickets as well as the fruit and seeds of native plants.
The kiwi is more like a mammal than a bird in several ways. Unlike most birds who have hollow bones, the kiwi’s bones are solid. Their feathers are hair-like, they have whiskers like a cat and they have external nostrils at the end of their long beak.
Kiwi lay huge eggs, up to 25% of mom’s body weight – like a human giving birth to a 3-year old!
The biggest threat to the kiwi is the stoat who will kill adults and eat eggs so the Wildlife Center runs a conservation program to protect newborns.
Rowi or Okarito kiwi are the rarest and most critically endangered of the 5 species of kiwi in NZ, with likely only 600 left in the wild. Rowi are unusual in that both male and female individuals take turns incubating their eggs. Mom usually only lays one egg per year. If it survives infancy, a Rowi can live up to 100 years of age, which is about twice as long as the life expectancy of the North Island Brown kiwi.
The Kiwi is the national icon of New Zealand and its unofficial national emblem. New Zealanders have been nick-named ‘Kiwis’ since the first days of World War I. The name was bestowed by fellow Australian soldiers using New Zealand boot polish with the image of a kiwi on the tin. The nick-name is not considered offensive, rather it is generally viewed as a symbol of pride and affection.
Tuatara (Maori for ‘peaks on the back’) are reptiles endemic to NZ and are called the oldest living dinosaur. The lineage of the tuatara dates back 200 million years; they were considered to be extinct until they were found on local offshore islands and introduced back onto the mainland during a breeding program in 2005. Despite looking like lizards, they belong to their own order.
‘Fun’ sign at the wildlife Center. Sandflies love Dave; Dave does not love sandflies. Kris is the one who is typically bitten by all varieties of insects, but this time it’s Dave that is being attacked more. The bites we received back in Lake Moeraki are still itchy and annoying!
Tomorrow we leave our rainforest haven and head north to Hokitika.