Thursday, March 09, 2017

jurassic park xxvii

"Ah, now eventually you do plan to have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour, right?"

It is one of Jeff Goldblum's best lines in Jurassic Park. And I could hear its echo today.

Our port stop was Akaroa, another of New Zealand's tidy little towns with lots of character and very few services. For services, you need to get your feet over to Christchurch, the largest city on the south island. Yup. The city with the earthquake history. Just an hour away by coach.

Last night I decided it might be interesting to see some wildlife while I am in New Zealand. And to improve my chances of seeing something living, I booked a zoo trip. More accurately, I decided to visit the Orana Wildlife Park just outside Christchurch.

The tour had an added bonus: a gondola ride to the top of a volcanic ridge with a great view of Christchurch and the surrounding bays. (Without volcanoes, New Zealand would not be an infamous earthquake zone; neither would it exist.)

The bonus gondola would have not have been worth the two hour return bus ride. I have had more spectacular rides in Japan, Switzerland, and Colorado. Even Oregon.

But the effort to get to the top was minimal and the view was adequate. And, in the scheme of life, it was quite fine.

What had my travel meter pegging was the wildlife park. Especially the possibility of seeing some of this part of the world's major creatures. Kiwi. Tasmanian devils. Keas. Plus there would be lions and tigers and, even though there would be no bears, there would be cheetahs, gorillas, giraffes, rhinos, and the ever popular crowd-pleasing monkeys.

The Orana Wildlife Park is based on the same concept as Winston, Oregon's Wildlife Safari and the Duke of Bedford's Woburn Safari Park. The goal is to set up an environment as close as possible to the animals' natural habitat, without frightening the children by mixing the emus with the cheetahs.

The downside for visitors is that animals left to their own devices when provided with a full meal each day, like some corporate welfare queens, will often choose to take a long nap on these warm and sunny days.

And so they did. Just like Jurassic Park, paddock after paddock was perfectly signed, but each was as vacant as an Elizabeth Warren stare. When animals were present, I was sitting on the wrong side of the bus. The Tasmanian devils must have been perfecting their demonic ways in their lairs.

The park has several buildings deicated to New Zealand's native species. That part of the tour did not begin well.

The lizards, geckos, skinks, and a lone tortoise may as well have caught a cab into town. Their tanks and displays were void of activity.

The aviary was filled with bird song. But the birds themselves could have starred in a Where's Waldo drawing. Our guide told us a local parrot (Kea) fills the monkey niche in New Zealand. It is playful, intelligent, curious, and will try to steal anything not tied down. Or so she said. But this was the best shot I could get of one.

It did not seem particularly playful. Bored would be a better adjective.

My last hope was to capture New Zealand's national bird, the kiwi, on my digital storage card. (That hardly sounds as romantic as film, does it?) Our guide told us the kiwi house would be very dark because the kiwi is nocturnal.

She was correct. The display was so dark my fellow travelers were stumbling over one another, and complaining they could see nothing. Most of them shuffled out mumbling dire predictions for such a poorly-created display.

Patience almost always pays off. And it did at the kiwi display. There were two birds. At first, I could barely see them because my night vision is not as good as it once was. But the wait was worth it. The birds did little more than eat. But it is the closest I have ever been to one. Or two.

The kiwi stop (if not my photograph) helped turn around a rather disappointing trip. And then Africa came to the full rescue.

Giraffes are always popular. They look like fashion models in clown outfits. And that contradiction makes me laugh every time I see them. I suspect the first giraffe I saw in person was at the Portland zoo. But I never tire of them.

This encounter had an extra element, We were allowed to feed the three girls leaves still on tree branches. They are even stronger than they look.

But the stars of the visit were three gorillas. Bachelors who are being preserved from almost certain extinction in the wild.

There is something about major primates that causes human intelligence to drip out through the ears. Within seconds, we adult visitors were making faces, talking baby talk, and trying to start conversations with three animals who had no care for us. They simply turned their backs on us. We were that inconsequential.

One of my fellow travelers got so caught up in the excitement, he interrupted our guide, who had repeatedly said there were no indigenous mammals in New Zealand, to ask her:"Where in New Zealand do these gorillas come from?" At first, she just stared, and then politely told him they came from the African part of New Zealand.

So, overall, it was a good nature day. I wish I could have seen more animals and a bit of downtown Christchurch to see how the city has recovered from its recent earthquakes. But the tardiness of some of the passengers prevented that portion of the trip.

That is the trade off with travel. You never can see everything you want to see. It is why God created return trips.

And when I return, I can tell Jeff Goldblum: "Yes. There are dinosaurs on this tour." 

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