an air b&b&b (binos in bed with breakfast)
now in new zealand: pure pods, (at a pretty price); glass houses, from which to avoid throwing stones. and to view mother nature.
tokoeka (pronounced toko -EE-ka) pure pod, on stewart island, off the coast of the extreme tip of southern new zealand, is just the place for a) astronomers looking for a bright, unobstructed night sky while under covers (even the roofs are made of plexiglass); or for b) conservationists and naturalists seeking to prevent the encroachment of predators on endemic wildlife; or for c) birdwatchers pining for a peek at the elusive kiwi, the shy national bird that only comes out at night (except for the photo above).
pure pods are the brainchild of grant ryan, a self-styled “serial inventor” who has come up with what he calls “the cacophony project”, to help make new zealand predator-free in order to “bring back the cacophony of birdsong”, perhaps as in “snap, crackle and pop”. (hey, he’s a cereal inventor!)
ryan’s pure pods are essentially one-off apartments (pods). they are constructed mostly of glass/plexiglass and situated in secluded spots (like mountaintops). tokoeka, on stewart island, is surrounded by a predator-proof fence that allow kiwis (birds) and other rare and defenseless creatures to roam free. they needn’t fear being eaten by the possums, rats, cats and other predators that european settlers (wingless kiwis) introduced to new zealand a couple centuries ago along with their horses, cows and sheep.
kiwis (the people) love their birds (the kiwis). so these pods are designed for maximum viewing convenience. people (mostly kiwis) can watch the birds (mostly kiwis) from the comfort of their beds (mostly mattresses).
so how do kiwis (people) watch birds (kiwis) that only come out at night? tokoeka pod is equipped with red night lights that don’t disturb the kiwis (birds), so people (mostly kiwis) can watch the nightlife.
full disclosure: we didn’t see a single kiwi (bird) in three nights at the tokoeka pure pod. we tried. but frankly, we fell asleep as soon as we settled in, (we were exhausted and the beds were awfully comfy) and each time we’d get up in the middle of the night to “take care of business”, there were no kiwis to be seen. therefore our conclusion: kiwis were on holiday. but anyway…
the kiwis (people) on stewart island are friendly, knowledgeable and talkative about their feathered friends, which they’ll tell you are best seen on ulva island, a slip of terra firma a ten minute ferry ride away from the stewart island’s only town, oban. ulva island is strictly for the birds. no people, and no human detritus (trash)
the ferry service to ulva island appears to be the region’s chief industry, except for maybe the grocery store and pub/kitchen in oban, the island’s “commercial hub”. the kiwis (residents) seemingly comprise an omnipresent gaggle that congregates around the pub in oban to spread the word about the glories of ulva island (and anything else you’d like to talk about).
ulva island is surely among the best bird sites in the underworld (south of the equator). it’s predator-free, unspoiled by anything as refined as a cafe or coffee shop. other than portable toilets, and the ferry landing, it is virgin territory. the only exception is the primitive paths installed so visitors can find their way. (no one’s disappeared in a few weeks, at least.)
it’s walkable from coast to coast in less than an hour, even counting multiple stops for viewing the vast array of “in your face” avian species. i
the one character who made the biggest impression, however, was a kaka bird, unique to new zealand, who distinguished himself by alighting on the tree on the front deck of tokoeka pod and eating it, right in front of visitors. that’s right. eating the tree, branches, bark and all. it was evident he’d been working on it for some time, because many of the branches were reduced to gnawed-off stumps.
this feathered fellow was so unafraid of human intruders, he posed happily for photos from a distance of about three feet (one meter) as he chomped his way through the branches. it’s easy to see why he’s fearless. he’s got nothing to be afraid of. stick your hand within his reach and whoosh!, captain hook.
and now about the rest of kiwiland. and soccer. women’s soccer, to be precise.
the trip to new zealand was not, as a reader might have been tempted to infer, about birds. it was really about the women’s world cup draw, which was staged in auckland, on new zealand’s north island. the 2023 women’s world cup will be held in australia and new zealand in july-august. denmark is among the qualifiers, so we were there to attend the draw. the big news (talk about burying the lede) is that denmark is in group c, pitted against china in its first match of the tournament. that game will be in perth (australia) next july. group c’s four nations also includes england, one of the tournament favorites, so the danes will be hard pressed to progress from the group stage to the knockout stage of the competition. stay tuned next july for updates.
on the way north from the south island, a stop in wellington is almost mandatory. it’s the capital, and it’s mid-country, on the southern tip of the north island. while there, it’s worthwhile to pop in to zealandia; which is, you guessed it, mostly about birds. last time in “en-zed”, we did the night tour of the sanctuary, this time we tagged along with our host and honorary danish consul general karen puller for an afternoon outing. karen lives only a few blocks from zealandia, so for her it was just a a routine walk in her back yard.
so…what’s to see in the bird sanctuary? lizards! tuataras to be precise. (ok, it’s mostly about birds, but…) these non-threatening reptiles hide there, living mostly on insects and other microscopic characters too small to be of concern. they’re darned hard to see. it took me nearly five minutes of looking at this bit of underbrush to make out the tuatara hiding in the photo.
“en-zed” and oz are sure to be on the radar next winter, southern hemisphere time, as women’s world cup play begins. we’ll be paying close attention. meanwhile, back to the kiwis.