Friday 9 September 2022

Pellets to pillows

This morning I filled in an odd gap in my personal history - I visited Willowbank Nature Reserve, which opened three years before I left Christchurch on my OE, never to return to live. I can't think why I never went there, but am very glad I have now. It's a gorgeous place, really pretty and well laid-out through woodland threaded with ponds and streams, and dotted with old farm buildings and equipment. It's full of interest. It's also, after yesterday's solid hike around the Ashley Estuary, much less demanding to explore, so it was busy with mothers pushing delighted infants along the paths and boardwalks.

It started out as a zoo, but soon transitioned into conservation, though its appealing difference is that it's not rigidly exclusionary of all exotic animals - there's a range of unusual farm animals from the pioneer days, there are geese and parrots, wallabies and deer, all of them long-established in NZ, and lovely to see. Even rabbits from Enderby Island, and pigs from the Auckland Islands! It's nice, to see them recognised as part of our history, and not discriminated against as non-native.

Of course there's a wide range of endemic and native species, including a handful of kea, or alpine parrots, which fully lived up to their reputation as nuisances. Having happily photographed one mugging a schoolgirl, I then got attacked myself and had to fight really hard to snatch back the glasses case it stole out of my backpack. I had fun feeding the eels - I had pellets for the birds and farm animals too, and that was really good for up-close interaction. Alpacas are very delicate and polite nibblers, I can report.

I loved seeing capybaras sunbathing, horses being bolshy, ducklings everywhere, otters splashing about, lemurs canoodling... it's a really lovely place to spend time.

Then I headed away out of the city, onto Banks Peninsula to visit Akaroa in its collapsed and drowned volcanic crater. I was delighted to discover that, for the next two nights, I'll be staying at French Bay House, which is so pretty that I had already taken photos of it on a previous visit. The house was built in 1874 as the doctor's residence (also surgery, but they're not emphasising that part) and is decorative outside and elegant inside. And my pillows are SOFT! The front door is left unlocked 24/7, which tells you a lot about Akaroa.

The town was first settled by the French, who arrived in 1840 (ten years ahead of Christchurch, spit) so it was appropriate, if entirely coincidental, that my guide for the afternoon's outing was Kevin, who is as French as his name isn't. He drove us, chattering informatively all the way, over to the outside of the crater, to Flea Bay for a Pohatu Penguins tour. We passed new-born lambs on the way - literally two hours old - and met some more, super-cute Valais breed with their black eyes, noses and knees, at the farm in the bay, where we were given bottles of milk to feed them. Always fun!

Then we visited three of the over 200 wooden nesting boxes on the farm where white-flippered little penguins lay their eggs, as well as down burrows. They are only found here, and were seriously endangered before the Helps lived up to their name and worked hard on their conservation. Now their numbers are good, and we heard all about them as we went to a hide to watch a raft of them floating out in the bay, socialising, and waiting for dusk to come ashore. It would have been nice to see that, but we had at least got close-up views of the nesters.

Then we drove back as the moon rose, and I wandered in total safety around town in the dark for a tasty meal at Aihe, and then back home again to luxuriate in those comfy pillows.

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...