A gold coin is all you need
Make the most of Wellington’s Open Day this Sunday.
On May 27, admission to 21 activities throughout the city will cost just a $1 or $2 donation. Riding the cable car, spying some stars at Carter Observatory, touring backstage at Downstage Theatre, hopping on John’s Hop On Hop Off Tour, seeing seals on the south coast safari, or birdwatching at Zealandia are just a few of the options available at a fraction of their usual cost.
Intrepid Wellingtonians should venture further afield to Staglands Wildlife Reserve, which is participating in Open Day as well as celebrating its 40th anniversary. Tucked deep into the Akatarawa Valley about an hour’s drive from Wellington city centre, it would be unfair to call Staglands a petting zoo – it’s more like walking into a Dr. Doolittle book set in the New Zealand bush.
Winding tracks through beautiful native plantings are interrupted by modest early 20th century style livestock barns, pools of trout and goldfish, and walk-through aviaries, all the while being trailed by a couple of kune kune pigs, a clutch of peacocks, lop-eared rabbits, and a variety of waterfowl. White doves swoop overhead, waxeyes flit, and tui snicker from the trees.
“I think this is the way animals and birds should be shown to the public. I bought this property specifically to do this. It’s not the most commercial place to be, but it’s where I wanted to live,” says John Simister, the British ex-pat with a passion for animals who built Staglands literally from the ground up, with lots of earthmoving equipment, Clydesdale horses, a portable timber mill, and heaps of red wine poured with helpful friends. He tells the story of transforming a former Japanese prisoner of war’s bush hideaway of pigweed infested paddocks to a wildlife reserve in Staglands: The First Forty Years, published to commemorate the anniversary.
“Everything’s been created,” says Simister. “A frequent comment we get is ‘oh, you’re so lucky to have this beautiful natural area.’ Well, we built it, so that’s a hell of a compliment.”
In addition to fallow deer, mules, goats, sheep, and horses, Staglands breeds two varieties of rare pigs and works with Department of Conservation to house native birds for breeding and rehabilitation, including blue duck, kaka, falcons, and kea.
“It all hangs together quite nicely. We’re obviously very focused on natives, but we’re also interested in old rare breeds that were brought here by the settlers.”
While many of the animals are primed for handfuls of grain from the guests, it’s still possible to witness shyer species like falcon and kaka, hanging in the shadows. Very little of the reserve is fenced, and what is still offers access to guests, like the ToeToe Aviary. Walking through it is like snorkeling in lush tropical waters, feeling truly surrounded by an animal’s environment as cockatiels, zebra finches, parakeets, and countless other introduced and native species fly past, feeding and cooing and fighting for perches. Simister says it’s one of his favorite spots in the place he’s called home for 40 years. Experience it yourself on Open Day.
Open Day, various locations, 10am-5pm, May 27, http://www.wellingtonnz.com/