September 8th, 2013
I first came to the mountain in November 2011 with friends from the United States. My Kiwi friends, Kerry and Marion, joined us there for an evening of Kiwi spotting – the birds, not the people. With 47kms of predator proof fence enclosing 3400 hectares in a sea of pastureland, it is the largest ecological island on mainland New Zealand. It is, without doubt a must-see experience. I could not wait to return!
Marion and I headed out long before the dawn. Right about the time we began pulling our binoculars (bins) out, drops began to fall from the sky. Not to worry though, Marion had six (yes, 6!) umbrellas in the back of her car!
It was a little eerie to walk in the darkened forest. We could hear, but not see the birds as they awakened from their nightly slumber. We climbed to the top of the observation tower in time to greet the rising sun. There is nothing more magical than to be alone in the forest with only wild birds as your companions as the sun kisses the earth.
We didn’t see much in the dark and the rain, but the clouds lifted as we headed back down the hill for breakfast at Out in the Styx. Upon our return an hour later, things were quite different. This time, the only drops were those that fell from the wet vegetation that towered above us.
We walked toward the feeding area where we were thrilled to see a very large, and very red parrot!
Maunga staff feed the birds in this area once daily around 11 a.m. And the Kaka, one of the native parrots of New Zealand, were waiting.
We also had good looks, but not great photos, of the native Hihi, or Stitchbirds, that came to the nectar feeders. Small and fast, it was only with extreme patience that my friend, Charles, managed to photograph this individual when we were there in November 2011.
In addition to the birds, just being in a primeval forest among the ancient trees can be a life-altering, almost religious experience. My favorites were the giant silver ferns, the national symbol of New Zealand.
It is easy to understand the Koru symbol, so widely used in this beautiful country when one gazes upon the gently rounded, unfurling of the new fern fronds. However, not all ferns seem to grow this way.
Some just seem to carry and nourish their newborns until they are large enough to survive in the cold, hard ground.
Along the way, Marion continued to gather leaves for her dye pots.
As we walked out of the forest, our short visit at an end, the skies were brilliant and we could see Sanctuary Mountain in all its glory! Sanctuary Mountain will be one of the stops on my New Zealand Tour in April 2014. It is pure magic!