Every six months or so Wellington city has taken to making all the city-owned tourist attraction free for a gold coin donation (NZ$1 or NZ$2). I took the opportunity to see if Zealandia’s wopping NZ$28 (US$21, £13, €16) fee for the combined entry into the visitor centre plus the wildlife sanctuary was worth it. As the whole funding of Zealandia is currently subject to fairly heated local debate, I thought I’d take the opportunity to see for myself.
New Zealand’s Environmental Disaster
Lets roll back a bit. New Zealand has/had a rather unique fauna and flora. New Zealand has been isolated from the rest of the world for 80 million years, since before mammals evolved. The birds ruled here. Literally. And an awful lot of them never took to the skies – they didn’t have to, the only competition were reptiles, and the Tuataras and native frogs weren’t exactly fast-moving. So giant Moa wondered around and all was good. Then – maybe 1000 years ago the Polynesians from the Pacific turned. And with them came dogs and rats. The Europeans dropped by from the 17th century, introducing more rats, plus deliberately releasing animals like goats and pigs to provide food stocks for the next Europeans who washed ashore. With organised settlement came the deliberate release of such European pests as rabiits (to shoot), stoats (to control the rabbits) , while the Australian opposum jumped ship from the big island in the West.
It was a complete disaster for New Zealand’s natives of course. Even the country’s iconic Kiwi nearly died out, and is still very, very rare on mainland New Zealand.
Some species have only survived on remote islands, while others have been re-introduced to islands which have been cleared from all the immigrant mammals.
So What Is Zealandia?
Zealandia has two attractions: the new indoor “visitor’s centre” plus the sanctury itself, you can do both or only one. The Sanctury is a “mainland island”. The valley that the sanctury is located in is surrounded by a predator-proof fence. Once the fence was erected, all of the non-native animals were removed. Then native species were re-introduced. Walking the trails even the total non-bird watcher (me) will get close to natives that you’d never normally see outside of a zoo.
To be honest, the sanctury is pretty cool, and for a bird ethuaiast – its an absolute must-see. For the visitor with limited time and some interest in seeing NZ’s native species and regenerating native bush it may also be worth the $18 entry. Also worth it if you aren’t spending time actually tramping in New Zealand’s bush - most of the tracks are easy to walk and well-maintained.
If birds aren’t really your thing – you will see great native bush in the nearby Otari-Wilton Bush – for free.
Zealandia – Value For Money?
So if you are in Wellington on a budget – should you spend the extra $10 to see the visitor centre? In word – no. I deliberately went back to Zealandia to see the Visitor Centre – it had opened since I was there last. The good points: the cafe including the deck with a nice view over the lake, the gift shop (free entry) is one of the best in Wellington. The exhibits – frankly I wasn’t impressed. There was only one moving moa – the rest were static displays and some slightly interesting films. But for $10? No definitely not worth it. Te Papa Museum has a great natural history section – visit it instead – oh and its free!
Conclusion Zealandia – For the Visitor.
For the budget traveller – skip it and visit Te Papa and Otari instead. Or go for a tramp.
For the nature or bird enthusiast - skip the display and enjoy the sanctuary, most of NZ’s birds are nocturnal – so if you want to see kiwis you will need to come back, and pay extra for, the night tour. And yes Zealandia is only open until 4pm - despite it being daylight until 8pm here in the summer.
Zealandia – Quick Facts
Open: 10-5pm (6pm summer weekends) 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day)
Located: About 2km from the CBD. I’d recommend taking the Cable Car to Kelburn and then walking the 20 minutes or so through Kelburn and Karori tunnel – Zealandia is down the no exit street first on your left, after the tunnel. There is free (but very limited) parking. There is also a free shuttle which runs from the top of the Cable Car and iSite in central Wellington (plus other pick-ups). Plus you can catch a local bus (#3, #13, #18, #21, #22, #23) and get off immediately after the tunnel.
What over-priced tourist attraction have you regretted spending money on?