While most of us have trouble telling an Aussie accent from a Kiwi accent (and that’s a serious error in these parts), here’s a hint. In New Zealand, they change the vowels. They pronounce ‘e’ as ‘i’; then ‘i’ as ‘u’. So if someone were to say, “Wye luk ta ite fush an chups, eh”, it is English and it’s not a question. They like to end sentences with “eh” but that sounds Canadian to me.
The weather was beautiful in Wellington, despite the forecast and contrary to what their summer had been like until now. Wellington is sometimes called “the windy city” but it wasn’t today.
The city is wedged in between the water and the volcanoes, so it stretches a long way around the harbor. Houses are working their way up the sides, which in some cases are so steep that the only access to the house is a private cable car. Some people have friends who won’t come to their house. I understand all the volcanoes are dormant, but that’s not the same as extinct and it would make me nervous too. And the earthquake last fall, which was closer to Christchurch on the South Island, still did some damage in Wellington.
We took the public cable car up to the Otari Botanical Garden dedicated solely to native plants, which looked pretty exotic to me. Yes, I know ‘exotic’ means ‘not native’ so calling the native plants exotic is like calling the New Zealanders foreigners.
Then we went even higher to the Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary. We couldn’t really do it because of steep paths and lots of steps. But it was impressive with kiwis, tuataras, Maud Island frogs, the giant weta, and lots of previously endangered birds species. They managed this by building a predator-proof fence to keep all the exotic predators out. While the birds can come and go at will (except the kiwi, of course,) most have enough sense to nest on the right side of the fence.
Other fun facts to know and tell: compared to their body size, kiwi have the largest eggs of any bird. Little kiwi are ‘precocial’, meaning they come out of the shell looking like miniature adults. They have enough yolk in their stomachs to survive several days while they figure out what’s good to eat.
Tuataras are very ancient lizards, with a family tree that goes back 200 million years. That would put them on the southern super-continent before it split up, but New Zealand seems to be the only place they survived.
The Maud Island frog’s claim to fame is it is the only frog that skips the tadpole stage. They hatch as miniature frogs, which I guess makes them precocial as well but that’s more typical of reptiles than birds.
The giant weta are insects about three inches long. The Mãori name translates as “god of ugly things” but I didn’t get the word, which might have been useful to know. They are almost as ancient as the Tuataras.
Nobody saw any kiwi because we all know they are nocturnal.