Zealandia is up another big hill from me (shock, horror), which to be fair as hardly surprising since I live on reclaimed land minutes from Wellington harbour, and with these earthquakes, is probably getting closer and closer every day.
Zealandia is 622 acres of fenced bush reserve only 3km from the top of the cable car. It’s in the former Wellington reservoir gully – used before they realised the gully runs down a faultline, which is not really the best idea for your city water supply.
The sanctuary is fenced like Jurassic Park with a special purpose built fence that not only is taller than predators can jump (they tested it against over 200 animals!) but also is dug into the ground 40cm so mice can’t dig under it. It successfully excludes 13 types of pest, is not electrified (in case the power goes out and the Tyrannosaurus Rex escapes), and is 8.6 kilometres long, completely enclosing the Karori Reservoir Valley.
I visited on Sunday, which was a grey afternoon that worked in my favour as the reserve was not crowded at all. In fact it was quite easy to avoid other people on the trails by choosing to spend time in the different trail cutout areas to look at weta hotels, watch kakas hop from branch to branch and open special feed containers to get treats, hang around and watch the takahe cock their heads to the side as they scissor grass into their beaks like mini manicurists. On trails you could stop to listen to the birds and feel like the only person for miles. Tuis swoop through the trees like kamikaze pilots, eels tuck themselves under logs in the clear river, and grey warblers sing from somewhere up in the tree line – they always sound like a Hawkes Bay summer to me.
I met up with a guide for a 45 min group walk and talk around the lower valley which introduced us to different plant species and uses, and explained a bit of the history of the area. Zealandia is actually the result of one man’s vision; Jim Lynch. Such an incredible story and result! It remains a private sanctuary, with land leased from Wellington council.
I think you would constantly find new things every time you came out. I am a bit annoyed with myself that I left this place so long. I can bet its very different experience in summer, in spring, at night.
There are quite a few different trail options to choose from – so you could spend all day walking around the larger gully if you wanted, or just head out the most popular flat track for a 2 hour loop.
You would always find something different too, and being in the bush listening to the birdsong is really relaxing.
It feels super remote; in reality, the suburbs of Wellington are over the hill, however out of sight out of mind, and hidden beneath the tree canopy you would have no idea.