The faces of Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

Yesterday we explored Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, where New Zealand’s most famous characters, many endangered and others simply indigenous, safely reside on protected land.

Normally, I’m not one to shell out money for zoos when I’m traveling; with the San Diego World Famous Zoo in my backyard, I don’t need to. But this was different, and since New Zealand is home to a supremely unique cast of flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world, I had to.

So we saw special monkeys and indigenous geese, a hundred kinds of birds and even a dozen breed of pigs. But I was also privy to the elusive kiwi bird, native only to this land and the namesake of the people who live on it. It’s a funny little thing – a furry, flightless, nocturnal bird with more natural predators than I could keep track of. We scouted for the little beasts in the dark, artificial night of their zoo house – and when I finally saw one scurrying around in the bushes, I (accidentally) almost blinded the poor bugger with my camera flash.

Luckily, another one came out to eat, and I was able to capture him on film – without blinding him.

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I did, however, get better pictures of some of the reserve’s most animated residents. Never mind if they were New Zealand natives or not, they grabbed my attention because of their rather, er, spirited personalities.

Take a look:

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And then some of the rest of the reserve, including a Maori village, a lemur, and an otter who looks cute…until you see the giant sign proclaiming DO NOT FEED — WILL BITE on his enclosure.

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By the way, this is a pond. Covered in pond scum. Purposely. I’m so glad I didn’t step onto the thick layer of green that looked so enticingly like lush New Zealand grass.

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