Why does New Zealand need wetlands?
Wetlands can be just about anything that involves water. That means harbours and estuaries, lakes and swamps, springs, volcanic crater lakes, flax wetlands, swap forests, water supply reservoirs and even water treatment ponds all count as wetlands.
With so many wetland areas in and around Auckland, the city is a very special place in New Zealand.
So what makes them so important for both Auckland, and the country as a whole? And why do conservationists fight so hard to do everything they can to preserve and protect our wetlands?
The simple fact of the matter is that wetlands support a huge part of our ecosystem.
Many of our bird species live and thrive in wetlands, including the grey duck, banded rail, marsh crake, NZ dabchick, Australasian bittern, and spotless crake. Naturally, there are also plenty of fish species living in these waters, such as the black mudfish, kokopu and inganga – all of which are native to New Zealand.
In Auckland alone, there is an estimated 3,700 hectares of freshwater wetlands and 14,000 hectares of estuarine wetland. Amongst these areas, we have about a third of all New Zealand’s nationally threatened plants.
Lake Wainamu is just one of these wonderful wetland areas in Auckland, and is extra special because it’s a 14 hectare dune lake. Here you’ll find fernbirds, bittern, eels, kokopu and much more in the way of wildlife, which is why we love introducing visitors to the spot on our Waitakere Ranges tours. It’s the ideal place for walks, but activities such as boating, fishing and camping are not allowed in order to best protect the area.
Tawharanui – our other major tour area – is another Auckland wetland area with both coastal wetlands and freshwater inland. It features a saline wetland and lagoon and has re-introduced species such as the brown teal (the pateke), which we nearly always see during tours!
Top 5 things to do in Auckland in Summer
Summer has well and truly arrived in Auckland, and there are few places in New Zealand as diverse and exciting as the City of Sails during the warmer seasons.
Whether you’re new to this gorgeous city or just need some inspiration, here are five of the best things to do in Auckland during summer!
1. A swim at Mission Bay
Mission bay is just 7 kilometres from the Auckland CBD, and on a nice day, it becomes packed with locals along this stunningly beautiful stretch of golden sand. If you’re up for a walk, you can’t beat taking this stroll from town to the beach, grabbing an ice cream or frozen yoghurt from one of the shops along the shore, and setting up by the water for the day.
2. Walk up a volcano
Much of the Auckland region has been shaped by thousands of years of volcanic activity, and you can still see plenty of evidence of these forces of nature today.
Mt Eden is a stone’s throw from the central city, and is the highest volcano in the city at 196 metres, which makes for a rigorous walk to the top. There’s a large crater in the middle, plenty of New Zealand bush up the sides, and an arresting view of the city from the top.
3. An Auckland nature tour
New Zealand is known for its vast green spaces and diverse flora and fauna, and these treasures are at their best during a warm summer’s day!
A nature tour to Tawharanui will introduce you to the glorious landscape of this national park, as well as the small-town New Zealand experience in Matakana. At Tawharanui, you’ll walk an ecology trail and see some of the country’s rare endemic wildlife such as the Brown Teal, Kaka, Saddleback, and Kereru. A day tour to the Waitakere Ranges head in a different direction for views of awesome black sand beaches, Lake Wainamu, and the Cascade Kauri Park.
4. Fish’n’chips on Devonport Beach
Fish’n’chips are a Kiwi staple, so enjoying this tasty treat is a must-do on any New Zealand holiday – the question is simply, where?
Devonport is the small township directly across from Auckland downtown. It takes less than 10 minutes to get there by ferry, and is full of cute shops and quirky cafes. Once you’ve had your fill of strolling up and down the main street (with a walk to the top of Mt Victoria for some impressive views), head back to the shore with fish’n’chips to relax and enjoy the view!
5. A sail on a yacht
Auckland is known as the City of Sails, and it’s a special treat to experience the adventure behind the nickname. Book yourself on board one of the yachts in the harbour, where operators take visitors on an exhilarating and exciting spin around the waters in the Hauraki Gulf right in front of the city. On some of these tours, you’ll even get to help out the crew by steering or working the spinnakers!
Turtles make themselves at home in Auckland’s waterways
Turtles are probably one of the last things you’d expect to show up in Auckland City’s waterways, but that’s exactly what’s happening with a surge in numbers of Red-eared sliders in our rivers and lakes.
The Red-eared slider turtle is a common species used as pets around New Zealand. They are very cute and sweet when young, but can become temperamental and grumpy as they grow older and larger. Those aged around 10 years old can be as big as dinner plates, and they can live for up to 50 years.
While many of these turtles are kept as pets, they have also been showing up more often in the wild, thought to have potentially been released by pet owners. At first, it was thought that New Zealand would be too cold for the species to live in the wild, but it appears that groups have been surviving in our waterways.
In fact, Auckland may soon have to take measures to remove some of the turtle population from the waterways, as they can be damaging to our delicate ecosystem by harming small animals and fish. It’s for this reason that the turtles are already illegal in Australia.
As the turtles continue to live and breed in our waterways, steps are being taken to review their status as a pest. The results of the review could mean a cull in turtle numbers, and perhaps a law change around red-eared sliders to help ensure the situation does not arise again.
Dr Imogen Bassett is an Auckland City council biosecurity adviser, and she clearly explained the issue to the NZ Herald in December.
“We have lost a huge proportion of our wetlands to drainage. The last thing these already under-pressure water bodies need is to have turtles added to the mix,” she said.
Why we love honey (and you should too)
Honey is a staple in many homes around the world as a sweet toast topping, a baking ingredient, a relief for sore throats, and even a sweetener for teas and coffees. It’s the only food product in the world that will never spoil in its pure form, and of course, it’s utterly delicious.
And, as honey is made by bees, it’s even more special than you might think. There are 28 native bee species in New Zealand, 925 in Australia, and there is a global total of approximately 20,000 bee species around the world, living in all corners of the globe except for Antarctica.
Sadly, a recent parasite has been devastating the honey bee population around New Zealand, leaving scientists and beekeepers alike extremely worried and scrambling for answers and measures to halt this decimation in bee numbers. So far, scientists have been reluctant to links these disappearances to cases of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that have been seen in Europe and North America.
Fortunately, we can still find plenty of bees and honey in New Zealand.
One of those suppliers is Earthbound Honey, an organic operation found at Bethells Beach just outside of Auckland. The hives here are dotted along the coast near to thriving bushland full of wildflowers, pohutukawa trees, and Manukau forests. Recently, we’ve started making a stop at the wonderful Earthbound Honey hives as part of our day tours to the Waitakere Ranges.
Another of New Zealand’s most famous honey names is Manuka Honey. The name comes from the trees the bees pollinate to create the honey, and it’s known for both being a particularly tasty food product, but also for medicinal purposes such as for being anti-bacterial an anti-inflammatory. You’ll also often see manuka honey products throughout New Zealand such as lip balms, hand creams, and soaps.
Tristan shares his top tips and favourite NZ photography spots
As some of you may (or may not) know that Tristan Cullen, the passionate owner of Habitat Tours and the main guide for both Tawharanui and the Waitakere Ranges day tours, is also a keen photographer.
Many of our guests arrive on our Auckland tours with a powerful camera packed and ready for the trip, and that’s about all it takes to start a tour-long conversation about photography.
Some of the most common questions Tristan hears relate to his favourite spots in New Zealand to spend time behind the lens, what he likes to photograph most, and when to shoot!
Here are a few insights into the world of an avid New Zealand photographer:
The best NZ places for photography
The wonderful thing about New Zealand is that no matter where you find yourself, if you’re not already in a beautiful place, you can travel perhaps 20 minutes in any direction and find yourself somewhere phenomenal.
Head off the shore from Auckland central, for example, and you’ll discover the Hauraki Gulf and its inviting seascapes dotted with islands on every horizon. Dolphins are not unheard of around the Gulf area, and you’ll be spoilt for choice for beach and coastline photos at any of the small and large islands.
Within Auckland itself, there are countless places to capture both the metropolitan side and the natural side of the city. Take a stroll along the waterfront and be inspired by the sails against the bright blue ocean, or take a walk up some of the higher points such as Mt Eden or Mt Victoria in Devonport for breath-taking views of the city and surrounds.
Head just north of Auckland and you’ll find more of Tristan’s favourite spots, such as the stunning coastlines from the Harbour Bridge and all the way north of that. Of course, with gentle farmland slopes that dip to meet the ocean and views of Little Barrier Island, Tawharanui is a constant focus of Tristan’s camera.
Tristan’s perfect photography day out
The perfect day would be at the diverse and impressive Waitakere Ranges. At Muriwai Beach, a gannet colony of approximately 1,200 pairs nests year for half the year, making for a mesmerising mix of birdlife and rugged coastal New Zealand.
A little further inland, the rainforest scenery is something not to be missed – especially after a recent rainfall. The stillness, water droplets, and mist at places such as Cascade Kauri make this a magical place ripe and ready for a keen photographer to visit.
The Karekare Falls near Karekare Village is another special spot, and many visitors to the country may have already seen some of this thriving yet remote landscape in the movie ‘The Piano’. Another waterfall, that of Kitekite at Piha, offers stunning beauty set in native rainforest to finish a perfect day of photography.
The best times for photography in NZ
It can be tough to choose one season, as each month seems to offer new delights to the photographer’s eye with a new mood, colour range, and light for every season.
That said, a winter’s day does offer many of the features a photographer craves; freshness, clarity, a lack of people and distractions, a certain moodiness from the raindrops, and the enchanting mists of winter. That setting is simply tough to beat – just don’t forget your umbrella and raincoat!
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist