Karori Wildlife Sanctuary

The Wellingtonian editorial:

The Karori Sanctuary, rebranded last year at a cost of $25,000 as Zealandia for reasons that still remain elusive, is entering dangerous waters by raising its entry prices so steeply. …

Will the price rises cause visitor numbers to fall, and if so by how much? Is Mcintosh-Ward being wildly optimistic when she says she expects visitor numbers to increase from about 70,000 a year to 190,000 over the next three years.

McIntosh-Ward told The Wellingtonian last week the price rises were necessary to cover the cost of the new $17 million centre.

In addition, annual costs were expected to double to $4 million.

She said prices had to rise to reflect the value of the new experience offered.

But that value is strictly subjective.

Faced with having to fork out so much for a family outing, many parents may now elect to take their children for a stroll through the nearby Otari-Wilton bush reserve, where the birdlife and greenery are impressive and entry is free.

I love Otari-Wilton bush and first discovered it in the mid 90s when the soc.culture.new-zealand Usenet newsgroup had a picnic there. It was a fabulous day.

Anyway the editorial reminds me I have had in my inbox a guest post from Phil Lyth, a volunteer guide at Zealandia. Phil says:

“Nice” said the on Friday. That’s not how I describe ZEALANDIA. “Nice” is what I said about the raspberry lamingtons at Kirkcaldie and Stains last month.

“Magnificent” is the right word to describe Karori’s wildlife sanctuary, a place that now ranks alongside Te Papa as a must-see destination in my view.

And, contrary to the impression given by your headline, it is available to every family in the Wellington region for only $8.25 a month. The family membership of $99 for the whole year allows people to visit as often as they want for no extra charge. (The equivalent Wellington Zoo family membership is nearly double, $175 for two adults and three children)

I have been a volunteer guide for ten years, talking to visitors and the wildlife and the project. I am attracted to the valley because of the vision – to restore the place to be “typical of Wellington pre-European settlement.” That is a bold goal, and one that is making a tremendous difference to the 250 hectares within the pest-proof and pest-free fence.

Since 2000, I have seen tremendous changes. At the start there were almost no visitor facilities, few native birds insects and reptiles. We charged $5 per adult for a 90 minutes guided walk, talking mainly about what was to come.

The Visitor Centre opening at Easter is a spectacular facility, but is just the latest of many that have been installed over the years: the wetland at the head of the lower lake, the mid-valley toilet block, the restoration and opening of the Morning Star gold mine (now home to our living treasure the cave weta), the tuatara research area, the upper dam Discovery Area, the upper lake viewing hides, live-cam and video of and saddleback chicks in their nests, and much more.

Then there is the bush restoration. Over 30,000 native trees shrubs and grasses have been plated including the forest giants that will in time tower 30 metres high: totara, rata, miro and matai. My favourite, the northern rata specimen 75 metres from the Visitor Centre, has grown from 1.5 metres to 5 metres. The flora is growing at a rate of knots, because there are no browsing pests: none of the goats, pigs and possums that devastate Wellington bush outside the fence.

Native wildlife is breeding after releases of over 15 species. Visitors can see kaka, North Island robin, bellbird, saddleback, stitchbird, falcon, silvereye and tui. On the water, there are shags, brown teal, and scaup. Reptiles include tuatara and gecko, and three species of the creepy-crawly weta are for the adventurous. North Island brown kiwi are heard and seen at night.

A walk to the upper dam is easily within the ability of visitors, and some choose to walk the 28km of tracks beyond that point. For myself there are still tracks not yet walked: one day I will enjoy the Tui Glen Track and the Rain Gauge spur.

I haven’t even touched on the Visitor Centre opening at Easter with two floors of interactive exhibitions created in Wellington by some of the world’s best designers, CGI specialists and model makers.

(And for the record, the total $17m spend includes far more than the Visitor Centre. It encompasses, for example, car parking at Appleton Park on Karori Road, and the Waiapu Road upgrade with retaining wall. Still for the record, ZEALANDIA is operated by a non-for-profit trust which must and will be financially sustainable over time, and which enjoys outstanding support from a tremendous number of Wellington businesses, community organizations, and individuals.)

There is far more at ZEALANDIA: the Karori Sanctuary Experience, that can be done in one visit or one day. The one-off admission of $28 compares favourably with the prices I would pay if I travelled within New Zealand: Auckland’s Kelly Tarltons in Auckland asks $31.50 per adult and the Antarctic Centre in Christchurch $55. Even a boat ride to Kapiti costs $55.

I recommend ZEALANDIA to anyone as one of the great New Zealand experiences, and attest that it is value for money.

For any Wellington family, $99 is excellent value for membership allowing one year’s unlimited visiting. And my friends from out-of-town will be encouraged to contribute $28 to experience a grand adventure of which I am proud.

Over 420 active volunteers are backing the sanctuary. Over 12,100 current members are. Positively Wellington Tourism is.

Will you?

It’s been a year or so since I have been to the sanctuary. Normally I take out of towners there, so will await my next visitor, and will check out the new visitor’s centre, to see if it is good value for money.

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