FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Elusive sights and surprising encounters

Posted in New Zealand, Wellington by folkestonejack on March 27, 2013

The prospect of a good forecast gave us the perfect excuse to get out of the city centre by bus with the intention of taking the walk up from Scorching Bay to Fort Ballance, a coastal artillery battery constructed in 1885 to defend Wellington Harbour from the threat of Russian invasion.

Scorching Bay

Scorching Bay

The fear of attack must have seemed very real at the time and the urgency of the work is apparent when you consider that most of the forts in New Zealand’s coastal defence system were built around the same time. Along with its neighbouring battery at Fort Gordon, Fort Ballance effectively ceased to be of significance by the early twentieth century when the emphasis of the coastal defence system switched to Fort Dorset.

Unfortunately for us, we picked just about the worst possible day to attempt this! After reaching Scorching Bay we soon discovered that the fort was completely off-limits during a tricky exercise to remove a rare eight-inch disappearing gun (See the Dominion Post story: Gun defended NZ from Russians). One for next time…

Our walk back through Scorching Bay included a better view of some of the private cable car systems which local properties use as a convenient way of transporting heavy goods up the steep hillsides in the area. As we walked back up the steep hillside in the midday sun we could understand the appeal entirely!

Across the waters at Scorching Bay

Across the waters at Scorching Bay

Although the impressive sight of Fort Ballance eluded us we had better luck with a visit to Wellington Zoo where I was at last able to get a good view of a kiwi. The kiwis at the zoo live in an enclosure dressed up on the outside like a bush hut, which opens into a red lit interior called ‘The Twilight’ (Te Ao Māhina). At first I thought I might not improve on my one kiwi sighting (the bottom of a wild kiwi at Trounson Kauri Park!) but after a few parties of screaming kids had passed through the enclosure quiet descended and a couple of kiwis could be seen stretching their legs. One came up to a feeding tube close to us and began dipping in with his/her beak for a lengthy snack. Absolutely marvellous.

Later, we joined a hushed audience watching ‘Vets in the Zoo’ as two vets set out about giving a beak wash to an injured kiwi suffering from a fractured beak. It’s in little aspects like this that Wellington Zoo really lives up to its self-proclaimed billing as the best little zoo in the world.

One of the funniest encounters came as we passed a keeper walking a one year old dingo pup on a lead around the zoo. The eager dingo was fascinated by his surroundings, happily ignoring the tourists on the path to take a better look at the enclosures. The pup pulled his keeper over to the sun bear enclosure and stood up, paws on the ledge, to watch the bears. It was a lovely moment and one that I really wished I had photographed!

The remainder of the day was a relaxed affair, including visits to Old St Pauls and Te Papa, before heading on to the bars/restaurants of Courtenay Place for the perfect ending.

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