Unlike its neighbour Australia - a scary place where every living thing tries to either poison you or eat you - New Zealand’s’ native flora and fauna are very peaceful. Some might even call it quite insignificant. Colourful birds that flutter by and sing their beautiful songs; small plants with tiny flowers in bloom that smell like spring. The fantasy of Hobbiton is actually not that far off. But, unfortunately, there’s not Hobbits, but Humans living here. And Humans tend to do more harm than good to nature. We went to visit the Orokonui Ecosanctuary near Dunedin to learn more about the native ecosystems and their very important conservation work.
Ok, we have to be honest with you. Before we came to this place, we did not know a lot about New Zealand’s native ecosystems. We did, of course, know that there is a very elusive bird living on these islands, by the name that New Zealanders call themselves: the Kiwi. But apart from that, well, we just named all the interesting flora and fauna we saw on our hikes ‘awesome trees’ and ‘beautiful birds’. Luckily for us, there was Sue, the head guide of Orokonui Ecosanctuary to take us on a one hour tour and tell us all about the birds and the bees (pun intended).
From Dunedin, the Orokonui Ecosanctuary is about a twenty-minute drive up north and is located on top of a beautiful hill, overlooking the bay. The first thing you’ll notice when arriving is a long fence winding over the hill, surrounding 307 hectares of native Coastal Otago forest. “This gate is essential to our success” Sue explains, “as this keeps all the (by European settlers, red.) introduced pests out.”
The Europeans brought many mammals like cattle, cats and accidentally rabbits, stoats and rats to New Zealand. Most of these mammals were needed for farming and, of course, they had to eat. So they ate from the plants causing the slow-growing native forests to shrink smaller. The birds, who heavily rely on the fruits and nectar of these plants showed a huge decline in numbers. And the forest relies on the birds to spread their seeds. This kicked off a very unfortunate vicious cycle that eventually, but drastically changed the lives of the not-knowing European settlers, as they saw their food supplies drop as well.
The Orokonui Ecosanctuary, a project of the Otago Natural History Trust (ONHT), has now successfully restored the balance of the Orokonui forest and their hard work is certainly paying off. There are over 25 rare and unique species to spot in their natural habitat. The amazing story of the once believed extinct magnificent Takahē bird was especially inspiring to us, as their numbers are now back to over 400(!). The ecosanctuary strives to create a ‘healthy, self-sustaining ecosystem, where people can enjoy a peaceful encounter with nature, and from which they may take recreation, refreshment, new knowledge, new skills and a new commitment to conservation.’
“THE AMAZING STORY OF THE ONCE BELIEVED EXTINCT MAGNIFICENT TAKAHE BIRD WAS ESPECIALLY INSPIRING TO US”
We absolutely loved the one hour guided tour by the very knowledgeable Sue. Her enthusiasm and joy in the way she explains everything is very inspiring. Whether you are a bird-lover, a tree-admirer, nature-addict or if just enjoy a nice walk with beautiful scenic views, we can’t recommend the Orokonui Ecosanctuary enough. Be sure to support their cause and give them a visit!
Explore the outer coast of Pohatu Marine Reserve and marvel at its spectacular towering cliffs, rock stacks, reefs, and deep sea caves. Observe the diverse wildlife and marine species such as penguins, seals, various sea birds and possibly the world’s smallest dolphin!