Back in October, I regaled you with stories about how I was embarking on training for night tours at Zealandia. Were you not entertained? Since then I’ve been shadowing night tours, co-guiding (meaning me leading the tour, but having an experienced guide along as backup if needed), learning all the night emergency procedures, and taking a first aid course. Shortly before Christmas, I was assessed by the training coordinator, and passed as competent to lead a night tour.
On our return, however, I was back into the thick of it straight away. January is the busiest month despite the lack of cruise ship business, as it’s school summer holidays; and just as everyone in Wellington heads off to other parts of New Zealand for their holidays, many people come to Wellington on theirs. I’m currently scheduled for two day tours and two night tours per week, but may do additional tours as needed to fill in gaps in the schedule. So far I’ve taken two night tours.
The format of the night tour is similar to the day, but the main attraction for most people is seeing a kiwi out in the wild, and this is where we concentrate our effort once night falls. Before then, however, there’s still plenty of other things to see and talk about. When it comes to seeing kiwi, I emphasise that we’re not a zoo and nothing is guaranteed. The species we have in Zealandia is kiwi pukupuku, or little spotted kiwi – the smallest kiwi species. I introduce the “Close Encounter” scale, as in the film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind – a device I shamelessly stole from another guide, who admitted that he’d nicked it off someone else as well!
This is great, because as soon as you step inside the sanctuary, you’re already at First Kind! And hearing kiwi is also pretty much a given too – there’s activity throughout the year. So far, I’ve been lucky, and seen at least one kiwi on every tour I’ve shadowed or led. Overall, around 80% of tours get a sighting of at least one kiwi; the most I’ve seen on one tour is three, but there are stories – stories – from other guides of seeing seven in one night. As I get more experience I’ll learn to hear and pick out the rustling sound, but most of my sightings so far have been because I’ve been alerted by my assistant – when we go out on a night tour there must be at least two Zealandia personnel present. The assistant will go off ahead, particularly towards the end of the tour, and then they are able to listen for kiwi better as they are away from the main group with their footsteps, talking etc.
So that’s my work cut out for the summer. Tell your friends! Heck, tell your enemies too!
1 Kiwi are notorious sheep thieves