What to visitors to Rotorua notice when they arrive? The smell of sulphur, steam rising out of the ground, and bubbling hot pools. It’s like entering another world – and having all that volcanic activity just beneath your feet is a bit scary. Rotorua is one of the best known thermal areas in the world, and is always buzzing with bus loads of tourists. They spilled from the buses down at Lake Rotorua this morning. The lake was looking calm and peaceful and covered in little black scaups, also known as black teal, which are the only true diving ducks. With their dark, almost black feathers and bright yellow eyes, they are pretty little ducks indeed, much quieter than the raucous mallards.
The helicopters were lined up on the wharf waiting for some rich overseas tourists to take a ride, over Mokoia Island, which was the scene of a long ago Maori love story. Tunanekai sat and played his flute across the water to his beloved Hinemoa, but she was a maiden of high birth, the marriage was forbidden. Longing for her true love, one night Hinemoa decided to join him. With the help of floating gourds, she swam all the way across the lake to the island. In the face of such passion and commitment, the families relented and the couple were able to marry and went on to have a long and happy life together.
Lake Rotorua and Mokoia Island
Just across the road from the Rotorua Hospital is Kuirau Park, full of steam rising from the gardens and hot water pools. There is even a pool where visitors can sit and soak their feet after a hard day of sightseeing, if they are so inclined. And best of all, this park is free to visit and enjoy – just keep to the paths to stay safe.
Without doubt, the highlight of our day was a trip to Wingspan, Birds of Prey Trust, a place we had long wanted to visit.
We walked through the light and airy aviary, and peeped through the windows at hawks and owls – not at all easy to photograph through the mesh. Wingspan takes in injured birds, and also has a captive breeding programme. Many of the young birds are later successfully released into the wild.
The rain was coming down in sheets and we wondered whether the flying display would take place at 2.00pm. Just like magic, the rain stopped in time, the falconers wiped and dried the seating, and the show started. First we saw Ozzy, an eleven year old male falcon, and quite a small bird, when seen up close. Flying free, he flew from one post to the other, just for a tiny taste of chicken.
We were reminded that these birds are wild, and occasionally take off to hunt and kill a rabbit or a bird. The birds are light, with some hollow bones, but pack a punch when they slam into their prey. The speed of these small birds is impressive, as we saw when Ozzy swooped down as the hand lure was swirled around.
At the end of the flying display the public was invited to put on the falconer’s glove and hold some meat out for the bird. After the kids had been up, nothing would hold Robin back from getting up close to one of these remarkable birds. Ozzy then flew back to the aviary, and the next bird was brought out.
Next out was Atareta, a seven year old female falcon, who are larger than the males. She was put through her paces, using both a hand lure and a pole lure, with duck wings attached to simulate a wild bird. There are only seven practising falconers in New Zealand, we were told, and most of them work at Wingspan.
At the end of the display, I got a turn to have a falcon sit on my hand. What a thrill that was, I can tell you!
This was a great outing, and one that we will remember. Congratulations to Wingspan Trust and their sponsors, for all the wonderful work they do, working with these wonderful protected birds. Their numbers are even less than the kiwi, surprisingly.