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Bird -Watching in New Zealand

Christmas time 2012

Last time Morten and myself went to New Zealand was back in 2007. We drove around most of the South Island, enjoying small and remote villages, extremely accommodating and interesting people and the fabulous scenery that is unique to southern New Zealand. What I could not forget was a parrot sanctuary that we just happened to pass by on our way to Dunedin.  In 2007 we enjoyed several hours watching, talking to and petting the hundreds of different parrots that were gathered there. It was situated in a scenic area amongst lush gardens, trees and meadows. The parrots had large enclosures, all of them enjoying the company of their own kinds. Actually a kind of parrots’ paradise.  The guy in charge told me all about how he rescued parrots from all over New Zealand, parrots that nobody wanted to take care of, parrots that needed medical attention which their owners didn’t want to pay for, or even parrots that were so maltreated that he had reported their owners to the police.

Anyway, over the years the guy had gathered some hundred different parrots, some emus, a couple of ostriches that he took care of. In order to finance his help center he needed to open the sanctuary to the public, so he charged 10 dollars entrance for a whole day in his gardens, letting people enjoy the sights and sounds of all kinds of parrots.

So we’re back in Dunedin, my absolute favorite town in New Zealand. The problem now is that we could not remember exactly where the sanctuary is situated. We checked all possible guidebooks, the internet, asked a bunch of locals. The bird sanctuary seemed to be like some sort of Fata Morgana. There was no information to be found anywhere. What we had to do was to take Highway 1, drive northwards and try to spot the place wherever it might be situated.

So we went off early one morning from Dunedin, following the scenic drive, taking it real easy on the way, hoping that we would find our main attraction. To tell you the truth, actually this bird sanctuary was my main reason for going back all the way to Dunedin this year, instead og staying cool and relaxed further north in Christchurch.

After two hours on the highway luck hit us! I spotted a large Macaw in plaster and a small sign which read: Bird Sanctuary – visitors welcome. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I made a fast turn, parked the car and made a run for the entrance. Morten took care of the car and the keys, my wallet and my  camera. I just needed to get started on this fantastic adventure.

To my disappointment, the entrance door was closed, and a sign told me to ring the doorbell. I pushed, and I kept pushing, but nothing happened. I started looking around, and I had to admit to myself that the place appeared to be rather derelict. I walked around a little bit, and had to face the fact I didn’t really want to face. The bird sanctuary had disappeared. All that was left were the signs, the houses, the enclosures and an overgrown garden area, looking more like a rainforest than the lush garden I enjoyed last time I was there. I got really curious as to what had happened, so I went to the nearest house to check it out. Entering the driveway, I realized that his must be some kind of “Hillbilly” home. Pat Benatar’s voice was heard through large loudspeakers, giving me a kind of retro 1980ies feeling, and as I knocked on the door, of course nobody heard my knocking until I actually opened the door and knocked on the wall, shouting out as loud as I possibly could.

A good-looking, medium tanned woman with Hollywood-colored white teeth appeared, happily waving at me in order to make me enter her living room. She turned pat Benatar’s rock concert off, offered me a drink, and then she asked me what I was doing in her house. I told her that I had travelled all the way from Norway to see the sanctuary, and that I at least wanted to know what had actually happened to all the beautiful parrots that were there some years ago. She poured herself a ginger ale, offered me a Steinlager, and started telling me about the abolition of the sanctuary that had taken place some three years earlier. Actually she was the owner’s wife. In 2009 they had realized that they no longer had the means to run the sanctuary. Very few visitors came, the parrots thrived and multiplied, more sick an maltreated parrots kept coming in, and they had unwillingly concluded that the responsibility of caring properly for 200 or more parrots was more than they could chew. So they had spent a year transferring parrots to different zoos around New Zealand and to breeders who guaranteed the birds’ welfare. In 2010 their lifelong adventure had ended.

Before I left, she tipped me about Oamaru’s pride, namely the blue penguin colonies , just aten minute drive from her house.  If you want to know more about the penguins, just go to The Blue Penguins of Oamaru.