What will you find in New Zealand’s waterways?
Here at Habitat Tours, we love to talk about New Zealand’s birdlife and plant life – a lot. However, we don’t want to forget the creatures that inhabit our waterways, either!
So what will you find lurking beneath the waterline? Here are just a few examples of some of the country’s coolest underwater inhabitants.
New Zealand eels
New Zealand longfin eels spend most of their lives in freshwater, which is why you’ll find them in streams and lakes throughout the country. It’s only when it’s time to spawn that they head to the ocean. Sadly, these eels are slowly losing numbers. Part of this is due to the fact that they only reproduce once, and the other main reason is due to fishing.
The shortfin species is fortunately much more abundant, although they can look quite similar to the longfin variety. Both species are only found in New Zealand.
Crayfish are New Zealand’s lobster. In fact, the two species are known as the red rock lobster and the packhorse lobster. The only way they are different is that crayfish don’t have the large pincers on their first legs like lobsters do.
Red rock lobsters grow to 45-50 centimetres and can weigh 2-3 kilos. Packhorse lobsters are much larger at up to 60 centimetres when full grown, and up to a whopping 15 kilograms at their heaviest.
Both species are found throughout the country, largely in coastal areas.
Whitebait are the juveniles of several types of fish, many of which are only found in New Zealand waters. Despite the fact that whitebait are great hiders and tend to stick around bushy streams, they are still caught and eaten throughout the country as a favourite spring dish. Even then, there are strict regulations on whitebaiting.
What is the significance of the New Zealand koru?
The New Zealand koru is a symbol you’ll see everywhere from the Air NZ logo and on tattoos to art galleries and maraes. So what does it mean?
Arguably the most important place that you’ll see a koru is while out in New Zealand’s great outdoors – perhaps on a nature tour from Auckland. The koru is a stylised symbol of a fern, which is one of the country’s most iconic plant species.
As a fern is a young and vibrant example of our flora, it has come to symbolise growth, strength, and new life. The word itself means ‘loop’ in Maori, and as the fern unfurls, it also has connotations with constant movement and growth, all the while remaining connected to one original point.
New Zealand is currently determining whether or not to change the national flag, and as part of that decision, the public were invited to vote on one of five flag options. While ultimately unsuccessful, one of those options used a simple yet beautiful black and white koru design.
You’ll often see the koru depicted in jewellery made in New Zealand – specifically that carved from pounamu (greensonte) or even bone. When given as a gift, the koru symbolises the start of a new relationship, or new phase in a relationship, as it suggests growth, harmony, and new beginnings.
There are approximately 80 fern species found in New Zealand that don’t exist anywhere else in the world, as well as more than 100 other fern species. They grow in damp forest areas and often take up much of the undergrowth in bushland. As New Zealand itself is a relatively young and ‘unfurling’ country, it’s no wonder that this beautiful example of our flora is such a fitting icon for the country.
What reptiles can you find in New Zealand?
New Zealand is world-famous for its diverse flora and fauna, but what’s not often mentioned are our reptiles. We have a small collection of them – just tuatara, geckos and lizards.
Many explorers will love to know that despite being so close to Australia (and its mostly toxic 140 species of land snakes), New Zealand doesn’t have a single snake to its name.
Here’s what you might find in our wilderness!
The tuatara is an extremely special little reptile. It’s sometimes known as a ‘living dinosaur’ due to its familial similarities with these extinct beasts, and is found only in New Zealand.
Once a common sight on the mainland, these reptiles have only survived in the wild on offshore islands, and are now a focus for conservation and a massive interest to biologists around the world.
There are more than 99 species of lizard in New Zealand, according to the Department of Conservation, and many of them are geckos and skinks.
Geckos are quite common around the country, with at least 39 species ranging from bright green to yellow and brown. They are noisy and can live for a long time, and can drop their tails as a defence mechanism (which then grow back in time).
As many as 33 of our skink species are endemic, and these sun-loving reptiles are a favourite of household cats, but are still abundant throughout the country.
Habitat Tours’ bird of the month: the kaka
New Zealand’s kaka (not to be confused with the kakapo) is our bird of the month this April. Not only is this endemic species quite rare, they are also an exquisite, fascinating bird as well.
How to spot a kaka in the wild
Firstly, you’ll need to be in the right place. You might find them in the north around Auckland and the Coromandel, in the central North Island, or almost anywhere on the eastern side of the South Island.
Once in one of these areas, head to a native forest, as these birds love to live and forage amongst our unique tree species.
When you do see this elusive bird, you’ll identify it thanks to its large, parrot-like appearance. They have olive-brown feathers with a pale grey crown, as well as an eye-catching red-orange hue on the underwing and a dark red belly. The only bird you might confuse it for is the kea, which is in the same family, but is more green than brown.
There are actually two sub-species of kaka. The larger, more vividly coloured bird lives in the South Island, while the slightly smaller one inhabits the North.
Another way to spot the kaka is to listen for its call – a distinct ‘ka-aa’ that they cry when flying overhead. Most of the time, you’ll be able to see one when they are out during the day, but they are known to stay up late for fine weather and full moons at night!
Why isn’t the kaka more common?
It’s likely that there are fewer than 10,000 kaka left in the world, even though they were once commonplace.
Like many New Zealand bird species, the biggest threat is that of pests. Namely, stoats and possums. Another threat that has contributed to the kaka’s downfall has been the deforestation of its natural habitats.
The Department of Conservation strives to recover the kaka population largely through efforts to control and understand pest populations, which has been shown to offer positive results for the kaka.
What makes the kaka our bird of the month?
You’ve simply got to love this boisterous bird. They even get their Maori name due to their entertaining rabble they produce when they get together in groups morning and night.
They’ll make you laugh as they use their feet for just about everything, from holding onto food to hanging off branches so they can reach berries and treats further away. The kaka have strong bills, so you might even see one as it rips open the tough cone of the kauri tree to get at the seeds inside.
Plus, due to their native forest habitat and love of berries and seeds, they play a big role in pollination throughout New Zealand.
Much like its cousin the kea, the kaka is a much-loved New Zealand bird that will hopefully see a resurgence in numbers as efforts are made to remove threats from native forests.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist