Rotorua day 3 – Whakarewarewa Thermal Village and Rainbow Springs

Tuesday 21st May 2013

Whakarewarewa Thermal Village

In the morning we visited the community at Whakarewarewa, a Maori village that demonstrates how geothermal energy can be used in daily life. We took a guided tour of the village and saw how steam from the ground is used to cook food in oven-like wooden boxes (hangi), create hot pools used for cooking as well as more temperate pools for washing and relaxation.

Just next to Whakarewarewa is Te Puia. Te Puia is the competing cultural experience and the precise location for impressive geysers such as Pohutu and Te Tohu (Prince of Wales Feathers). However,  from the viewing platform at Whakarewarewa we were still able to get a good view of some boiling hot water shooting towards the sky.

There was also a cultural performance, similar to the one we had seen at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, although here we also got to see a demonstration of how they manipulate the flax plant to create skirts.

We got to eat some sweetcorn (corn on the cob) that had been steamed in a hangi oven, along with a hangi pie – meat and veg wrapped in pastry and cooked by the heat of the earth. It was delicious. After eating we walked around the village seeing all that it had to offer, and picked up some Rotorua mud (apparently renowned for its skin restoring qualities).

Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park

When we stopped at the Waipoua Top Ten we had been told to make sure we visited Rainbow Springs to see the Kiwi and so we did. And the Kiwi Encounter tour was definitely another one of our highlights so far.

Kiwi are nocturnal creatures and all their foraging for food (they’re omnivores so have a diet of insects, grubs, earthworms, seeds and fallen fruit) takes place after dark. However, unlike most night birds Kiwi don’t have big, powerful eyes to help them see but instead have an incredible sense of smell, big ears to help them hear and long, sensitive whiskers to locate food. As well as having poor eyesight the Kiwi isn’t helped against predators because it taps its bill along the ground, probing the soil to a depth of 12cm and sniffing loudly – making quite a racquet!

On the Kiwi Encounter tour we went behind the scenes of Rainbow Springs’ nursery. It takes between 16 months to three years for a Kiwi to be sexually mature enough to breed but when they get there they produce the largest egg in the world relative to the size of the bird laying it! It also contains the largest proportion of yolk, which comes in handy for the chicks who are sustained by the yolk for the first few days.

As we’d heard yesterday the Kiwi has an extensive list of predators that includes stoats, ferrets, weasels, cats and dogs. That means only 5% of Kiwis hatched in the wild survive to adulthood. It’s for that reason that the ‘Save the Kiwi’ recovery programme has to exist. Kiwi Encounter at Rainbow Springs is New Zealand’s largest and most successful kiwi conservation centre – they’ve nurtured over 1000 eggs since 1995. They receive eggs from 13 conservancies and community kiwi trusts around the North Island as part of ‘Operation Nest Egg’ a programme coordinated by the Department of Conservation.

The Department of Conservation staff and field teams monitor male kiwi and when they have established incubation of eggs in the field the teams then lift the eggs from the burrows and bring them to Rotorua partially incubated (I was left wondering how the wild Kiwi feel when they return to those burrows and discover that their eggs had disappeared). Rainbow Springs completes the incubation artificially (it takes 78 days to incubate in artificial conditions, slightly longer when in the wild) and raise the chicks to 1kg in weight before they are returned to the wild.

After the tour we explored the rest of the park, coming face to face with all the other animals they have. We even had a go on ‘The Big Splash’, a very gentle log flume introducing you to the history of the New Zealand fauna and flora.

Because of the nocturnal nature of the Kiwi, Rainbow Springs have a special viewing area where some Kiwi body clocks are altered so that day and night are inverted (which seemed a little bit manipulative). When we poked our heads in we didn’t manage to see any but fortunately tickets to Rainbow Springs include access to the park in the evening so you can come back when these famous animals are awake. We decided to hang around until 1830 instead. It was a lovely place to pass some time and we enjoyed the peace and quiet of being almost the only people in the park as the sun set surrounded by birds, fish and reptiles.

The 4 Kiwi in their separate enclosures played hard to get but after a fair amount of patiently peering into the gathering gloom we were rewarded with sight of 3 of them. A handful of people watched in hushed awe as they shuffled and snuffled their way around their enclosures.

There is such a huge conservation ethos in New Zealand. We’d now heard several times about the need to control the cat, rat, mouse, possum, stoat, etc populations and been shown how different communities and companies were taking a stand on protecting New Zealand and its habitat. Although repetitive it’s fantastic to know New Zealanders are trying to raise awareness of the need to preserve their ecosystem and how much commitment there is to trying to undo some of the effects of human habitation.

Distance travelled: 17km

Total distance travelled: 21,534km

About Benjamin Welby

Hi, I'm Benjamin Welby. I'm a displaced northerner currently living in Croydon, I church with a group of Christians who meet in a Soho nightclub on Wednesdays and I support Bradford City. I've an academic background in History, Politics and International Development. I work for the Government Digital Service but I left my heart in local government. This blog is infrequently updated and may feature any, all or none of these things...