Just 3km west of the city centre in the suburb of Karori is a pristine oasis called Zealandia, named after the Zealandia microcontinent that broke away from the super-continent of Gondwana some 85 million years ago. Started in the late 1990s, the sanctuary is successfully restoring native New Zealand bush and its wildlife to 2.25 square kilometres of urban Wellington. Sited around two century-old reservoirs that formerly supplied Wellington’s drinking water (and still do in times of water shortage), the managing trust first designed an 8.6km-long predator-proof fence to keep out all introduced mammals. As well as restocking the area with native trees, eradicating weeds and fostering the existing morepork and tui, the trust has introduced native birds – little spotted kiwi, weka, saddleback, kaka, bellbird, whitehead, North Island robins, takahe and kakariki – plus tuatara (back in a natural mainland environment for the first time in over 200 years) and the grasshopper-like weta to the sanctuary from the overspill of the conservation and restocking programme on Kapiti Island.

This far-reaching project won’t be entirely complete until the forest has matured in around 500 years. You can already walk the 35km of paths (some almost flat, others quite rugged) listening to birdsong heard almost nowhere else on the mainland – making it easy to understand why early arrivals to New Zealand were so impressed with the avian chorus.

The sanctuary grounds

It’s worth spending at least half a day here wandering past viewing hides, areas noted for their fantails or saddleback, and even the first few metres of a gold-mine tunnel from the 1869 Karori gold rush. Also worthwhile are the guided night tours that give you a chance to watch kaka feeding, see banks of glowworms and hear kiwi foraging for their dinner. With luck you’ll even see one or two. The sanctuary is already having a wider effect, with increasing numbers of tui, bellbirds and kaka spotted in neighbouring suburbs.

Admission includes entry to Zealandia’s state-of-the-art visitor centre. Spending around an hour touring its interactive exhibits before exploring the sanctuary puts Zealandia’s evolution into context. There’s also an on-site café serving quality deli-style food.

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