New Zealand has its very own version of Owlcatraz – situated in the small town of Shannon. Nothing like the scale of the more famous San Francisco version, but interesting to visit, just the same. And we didn’t have to do the sea crossing to get there, just let the car take us gently down the long winding drive.
April was my turn to organize an outing for our SLG friends – these monthly get-togethers with our group of friends have been happening for quite some time now. About 25 years, at a guess. What to do and where to go, I wondered. Over that long time span, there are not many places that we haven’t been to. But repeat visits are OK, so that’s what I planned.
We had previously visited Owlcatraz quite some time ago, so long ago, that really I couldn’t remember when. We gathered in the visitors centre for morning tea before our guided walk. “I’ll make the (complimentary) coffee and you bring some baking for your friends”, I was told when I made the booking. The table was set up for our morning tea, coffees appeared like magic, and I passed a container of Hokey Pokey biscuits (cookies) around the table.
Joey the cockatoo was very vocal and kept us entertained. He likes to rip up cardboard boxes for fun, we were told, and he had a nice pile of his demolition work tucked away under his cage.
Joey the cockatoo
On display in the shop is the head and hide of Big Red, who died in April 2004. He was a South Devon steer standing over 6 feet at the shoulder and weighing over 2000 kgs. Reputably the world’s largest cattle beast, he was bred at Rosewood Stud in Manawatu. This huge steer was saved on a trip to the meat works, and lived a happy peaceful life at Owlcatraz. This gentle giant was a real hit with visitors, and we can remember getting our photos taken standing beside him on an earlier visit. Big Red's weight had given him trouble with his hips and legs, and he died during an operation on his feet.
We said hello to Big Red in the shop
We were then taken through the “owl house”, home to the New Zealand native owl, Morepork, or Ruru. These birds are known as “Priests of the Forest” and they can glide by with soundless flight. This purpose built area has no glass or cages so there are no barriers at all between the birds and visitors. The moreporks were all sleeping or dozing so we did not see one in flight. With names like Owl Capone and Owlvis Presley, you can see that theme is a theme going on here. Understandably, no photos were allowed in the darkened owl house.
Janette outside the owl house
Our group was then handed to the care of another guide, and we were taken on a farm walk, past an assortment of ducks, hens, and tiny fluffy chickens, the babies going “peep peep” and looking gorgeous. The large kune kune pig sat patiently as it waited for the treats to arrive, and we watched in amazement as the pig delicately took a biscuit from the mouth of the guide.
Sit, piggy – and she did!
We talked to the goat
And admired the donkeys.
The female donkey is playing “hard to get” and has rejected 3 suitors so far. She beats them up, we were told. Perhaps she thinks a partner and babies is just not for her, and prefers the single life. The ostrich gobbled up her food as quick as a wink, and an ostrich egg was passed around the group. What a whoppa, that would make a giant omelet indeed.
That’s a big egg!
And in the paddock beside the ostrich was a posse of alpacas. They have such pretty faces and look at you with those big brown eyes as if they understand every word you are saying.
Feeding the alpacas
Our walk continued through native bush to Lake Owlsmere.
And then we were back at the visitors centre and posed on the steps for the obligatory group photo. Next stop, lunch.
Our SLG friends at Owlcatraz