Kiwis and geysers

My last day in New Zealand dawned and I still had not seen a single living kiwi bird. Stuffed dead ones? Yes, in the museum in Auckland. Living ones? Not a one. Apparently they are “elusive” and “on the verge of extinction”. But so help me, I was not about to get on a plane for 500 hours without seeing one in the flesh.

I had two options: A kiwi hatchery where everyone else had seen baby birds while I was hiking the Tongariro Crossing (and which had denied me when I tried to go the next day, claiming the tour was full and resisting all my attempts to charm my way in anyway). And a Maori culture/nature center called Te Puia that offered crafts, geysers, and a newly opened kiwi shelter with three live birds. Since Te Puia was closest and opened first, we decided to give it a try.

Thus, at the early hour of sometime before 8:30am, Taryn, Karl, and I drove down to line up at the entrance of the park.

On our way in, we practiced our best haka poses in the hopes of winning favour with the kiwi-bird gods.

And the kiwi-bird gods were happy: We had the shelter virtually to ourselves, and two of the three birds were out and active! The dim, red-lit room tricked the birds into thinking it was night, so they were on the hunt through bush and bracken to find bugs and other tasties in the dirt.

I have no pictures, but I instantly loved them deeply and feel they are the avian spirit-kin of the wombats that so charmed us in Australia last year (although possibly without the square poos). They are surprisingly large and stocky — I had expected something more like a snipe; think instead of a big-boned chicken. And the feathers looked more like hair than feathers, which, with the absence of discernible wings and tail, made them look a bit like balls of beaver fur on stilts with chopsticks in their mouths.

After probably a good 45 minutes in the dark with the kiwi birds, marveling both at how lucky we were to see them, and at the miracle that they’re not already extinct (because seriously: nearly blind, flightless, they lay one giant egg at a time, which when hatched, is abandoned by the parents, and the newborn chick sleeps completely defenseless on the ground for three days). Then we walked back out into the sunshine to see the geysers.

On the way there were mud pots that reminded me of the scary bits from The Land Before Time . . .

. . . followed by some dramatic minerally cascades that looked white mud but were probably something else . . .

The signs said the big geyser only blew once or twice an hour, and we figured we had missed it while we were in the kiwi shelter — we had no intention of sitting around breathing sulfur fumes until the next one. But wait, what’s this roaring noise?

Turns out the geyser was actually cool. Never having seen one before, I thought it would be kind of boring and last maybe a few seconds. This one kept going for quite a while. First the tall plume, then followed by more mid-tier plumes. It felt like the natural version of some fancy fountain you might see at a the Bellagio.

After enjoying the show, we made our way to the gift shop and back to the house to help Heather and Kevin and the kids pack up.

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