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Meet the locals at Wellington Zoo

By Heather 21 Oct 2015

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I'm off to the zoo, zoo, zoo. How about you, you, you?

I was invited to have a look at Wellington Zoo's new 'Meet the Locals He Tuku Aroha' area opening this Labour Weekend. And as the billboard says, it really is their love story to New Zealand.

The intention is to showcase how 'local' fauna, animal and birdlife contribute to the eco-systems and our food chain, in an interactive and fun way - from sea to pasture to mountain.

We started at a sculpture made from local recycled overseas passenger terminal timber with many words and images to set the tone - animals, marvel, play, grow, connect, conservation, and more. So now knew we were entering a place where our inner child would be welcome.

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Then we passed an old surf boat and boat sheds to start our 'local' journey right from the heart of Wellington. Kids will be able to jump into the boat and feel like a surf hero riding the waves.

And behind us was an interactive blowhole, which starts with the uplift of a rock. My advice here - think very carefully about which way the wind is blowing before stepping onto it!

zoo boatsheds

Next was the new Little Blue penguin enclosure, as part of our local coastal eco-system. All signage has been carefully crafted to provide interesting and bite-sized information, with many ‘voices’ forming the stories. 

The voices are five different groups sharing their perspective on that particular display - the animal voice (how the animal sounds), the zoo voice (how the zoo cares for this animal), the future voice (what kids wanted to see in relation to this animal), and  the community voice (how animals and plants form part of the local eco-systems). The Taranaki Whanui were invited to share the Iwi voice, and local artist Ngatai Taepa has developed four Pou Korero – providing guardians and stories which will be unveiled in a special staff blessing.

The zoo even matched the voices by geographic location, so the penguin voices are people who live around the Breaker Bay area, the farm voices from Wairarapa farmers etc (my inner farm girl wanted to break into a rendition of baa baaa black sheep here, but at the last minute I remembered I like having friends). 

zoo signage

It just so happened at the end of our visit that the first two penguins were arriving to their new playground, so we lined up to check it out. Sure enough two keepers turned up with suspiciously rustling boxes and made their way to one of the compound nests. After a dollar each way on whether they'd come out to explore, you'll see below that they weren't shy at all and pretty much ignored us with all the disdain a 1 foot bird can muster.


After the penguins you'll pass eels, through sheep (literally) and can herd your kids through a sheep race on the way to the barn (there was that baa baaa black sheep urge again!). The barn will be a place to learn about what chickens, pigs, cows and other farm animals contribute to our lives, as well as activities like making beeswax candles, or learning how to knit. It will also be available for community events in relation to conservation and food.

And while you're recovering from chicken and egg overload (which really did come first?), you can mosey out to the garden and help plant some more natives. Or learn about bees and how they contribute to our eco-systems, in particular our food chain. The zoo hosts, who are clearly enthusiastic about bees, shared a couple of tidbits about bees filling an internal air pocket before flying and that because their sense of smell is so amazing, some are being trained around the world as sniffer bees (were they having us on?).

After all that thinking, you'll need to stagger off to the nearby gumboot climbing frame to give the brain a rest and have a play. The only reason we didn't monkey around was because the frames were still covered in plastic (and our hard hats probably wouldn't have stayed in place!).

And finally we came to the bush builders area, where a huge number of natives have been planted to help regenerate the area (4,000 in total) in addition to what has naturally evolved over the last four years. The natives have been been chosen to entice the local birdlife to visit and the pathways have been developed as meandering possibilities so you can explore this area however you fancy. 

Here we saw a weta hotel (although we didn't have to check any in or out thankfully), more play areas, a swing bridge, and a Conservation Champions area, where the zoo shares stories of some lesser known New Zealand natives and the work they do with conservation partners

The activities for kids will include things like teaching how keas are tracked, how different native trees feed different birds, how Wellington has contributed to the conservation of species like the Maud Island frog or Grand and Otago skinks, as well as other fun stuff like making shelters out of sticks, ropes and tarpaulins, or creating delicious mud pies. Alas it wasn't wet enough for mud pies today, but I'm thinking mud pie with cream cheese icing for my next visit, mmmmm.

And when you've had enough fun meeting the locals, there's still the whole zoo left for the kids to drag you around. Good luck, and do let me know what your fave bit was in the comments below if you get a chance to visit this Labour weekend!

zoo otters

Wellington Zoo

Home to New Zealand's native treasures and endangered exotic animals, you can get up close and personal with wildlife at the Zoo.

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