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Emperor penguin Peka Peka Beach

It had been a quiet weekend for the DOC wildlife callouts in Wellington and then our distinguished visitor arrived on the Kapiti coast and things went a bit hectic, and a bit surreal.  Since the first sighting of the emperor penguin onPeka Peka Beach, the phone lines have been running hot for the Kapiti Wellington biodiversity team.

I put out the initial media release on Tuesday afternoon and within hours our biodiversity spokesperson was getting media requests from across NZ, as well as from Australia and London, and emails from France, US, Canada, the UK and more.  Such has been the interest that a cursory Google search for ‘Kapiti emperor penguin’ currently brings over 29,000 hits – if you look now there will probably be a few thousand more …

It’s not the first time that an unexpected animal for the Antarctic has graced our shores, but this emperor- and its remarkable journey- has certainly captured the hearts and minds of people all over the World.

 Lucky kiwis are flocking for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see one of these magnificent birds and as testament to how much we care about nature, local communities have joined forces to keep watch. 

 DOC rangers are on alert 24/7, the Kapiti Council have a security guard stationed daily on the beach and local residents have organised shifts to keep a close eye on the penguin- many keeping vigil until midnight.    

Emperor with DOC ranger Clint Purches

 We hope that the emperor of Peka Peka- looking very healthy and showing no signs of stress- will take to the water soon, but in the meantime everyone’s enjoying this rare spectacle.

Emperor Penguin with Kapiti Island

Noticed that little island in the middle of Wellington Harbour? Not sure whether it’s worth a visit? Didn’t even know you could go there?

Matiu/Somes Island, Wellington Harbour.

Matiu/Somes Island, Wellington Harbour

Well Matiu/Somes Island Scientific and Historic Reserve is open to the public 364 days of the year. Now with the Matiu/Somes Interactive Tour you can check it out before you go! 

Matiu/Somes Island lighthouse

Matiu/Somes Island lighthouse

Before I joined the Department of Conservation I wasn’t sure what the deal was with Matiu/Somes Island. One person told me there were heaps of lizards and a lighthouse – not much else. But then I didn’t have the benefit of the interactive tour to get a taste of what’s really there.  

I know I’m the Wellington community relations ranger, and I don’t use this word lightly, but Matiu is an AWESOME place with a lot more to see than just lizards and a lighthouse! You can see for yourself by following the link and having a virtual wander around to glimpse some of the things that make it such an important place for helping to conserve some of our endangered species, habitats and historic heritage. 

The historic caretakers cottage

The historic caretakers cottage

The team at Beek developed the Matiu/Somes Virtual Tour using 360° panoramic views to maximise the interactive experience, allowing you to ‘stop’ at the click of a button and look all around at some of the views and features, explore information panels and discover some ‘hidden’ attractions, including Wellington’s iconic little blue penguin and the gentle giant weta – one of the world’s heaviest insects.  

Blue penguin

Blue penguin

You can even enter some of the buildings to explore and get a real sense of some of the island’s history. See if you can spot the World War II anti-aircraft gun… 

Now if you’re a bit of a natural cynic like me you might be thinking why do I need to bother going to the island if I can see it all from the (relative) comfort of my own chair? Well, for a start you don’t get to take the Dominion Post Ferry ride (look out for feeding penguins on the way) or meet the friendly island rangers – who are always happy to answer questions and spin you a yarn or two about island life. 

You can also stay the night on the island in one of two houses available to rent or at the campsite, dotted with majestic cabbage trees with a stunning view down the gully towards the southern part of the harbour. Another thing you can’t do online is take a nightwalk where you’re almost guaranteed to see penguins and if you’re lucky and very quiet a tuatara or two – the only surviving reptile of an order that roamed the earth 200 million years ago. Tuatara are also regularly seen in the daytime, along with a host of other animals including seven species of skink and gecko and many people’s favourite – the chattering red-crowned parakeet (kakariki). 



Tempted to take a trip over? 

For more information check out Matiu/Somes Island on the DOC website.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could create a slice of wild New Zealand in your own backyard? 

But where to start?

Well you could start by replacing your weeds with native plants.  With a bit of careful planning, consideration and patience…who knows…you could also attract a range of native birds, lizards and invertebrates.  I’m organising Wellington City’s 5th Weed Swap on September 19th and hope that once again Wellingtonians will turn out in numbers clutching their garden nasties to swap for free native plants.  Since the first Weed Swap in 2005 thousands of native plants have been handed out and tonnes of weeds collected and disposed of.

What is a weed?

In a nutshell it’s an unwanted plant with the potential to cause damage to our native ecosystems.  So, for example, you may not think of your agapanthus as a weed but once it escapes into the wild it can become a serious problem, forming tough, dense clusters at the expense of native plants- and they’re very hard to eradicate. In any case, why plant agapanthus when you could plant native rengarenga lilies?  Why have a sycamore when you could have a totara?  Why let birds disperse holly seeds when they could be dispersing the native tarata or pigeonwood?

Woody Weed

Woody Weed- Weedbusters mascot

75% of the weeds that are invading our bush and replacing our native plants originated in peoples’ gardens usually as popular garden plants.  At Weed Swaps people can get involved in learning how to identify, eradicate and dispose of these weeds and kick start their own native garden with a free plant!

For those who want to continue creating their native havens the DOC publication Plant me instead offers suggestions on garden alternatives to weeds.  Most, but not all the alternatives are natives but if you are going to concentrate on natives then try to get eco-sourced plants (plants propagated from local areas).  For a start, they’ll adapt more easily to your garden and if you plant a range of shrubs, climbers, and ground covers that provide shelter and all-year- round fruit, seeds and nectar you’ll have a higher chance of attracting native birds, lizards and insects! 

Weed Swap 2008

Weed Swap 2008- Civic Square

So how does the Weed Swap work?

Simply bring in your weed, we’ll help you identify it and then you choose from a range of native plants- one weed and one free plant per person.  There are spot prizes for particularly ‘nasty’ weeds and information and displays on gardening to attract native animals.  It’s at Wellington’s Civic Square, 1-4pm, Saturday 19 September.

Hope to see you there!