It may be the rarest Kiwi in the world, but the Rowi isn’t that hard to find – you just need to know where to look.
At Franz Josef Glacier on New Zealand’s South Island is one of the West Coast’s newest tourist attractions: the West Coast Wildlife Centre.
A public/private partnership with the Department of Public Conservation, the Centre was opened in late 2010 to house the BNZONE (Operation Nest Egg) program – a project that involves removing Rowi eggs from the forest, placing them in a predator-free environment, and nurturing them until they are large enough to fend for themselves and be released back into the wild.
In 2 ½ years, the Centre has successfully nurtured and released nearly one hundred Rowis back into the wild, with over fifty birds released this year alone. To put its importance into perspective, there are only 400 of the critically endangered Rowi in existence.
For Kim, who is introduced as the “mother” of the birds on site, saying goodbye to her children is bitter sweet.
“They don’t grow attached to us, but we grow attached to them,” she said of the Rowi, who are naturally anti-social and aggressive (but still incredibly cute).
Upon our visit, there are three birds on display: Aoraki, Biddy and Kink (named for her curved beak). As the Kiwis are nocturnal, the viewing area is dark inside, and we must remain quiet. But a red torch gives us a good glimpse into the Rowi at work.
For those wanting an even closer look at the rare bird, there’s a behind-the-scenes tour that takes visitors through the breeding and incubation facility, where the Rowi lays the biggest eggs – in proportion to its size – of any bird in the world. Just be sure to drop in between September and March, when you can see the eggs incubating and the chicks brooding. Backstage Pass tours depart at 11:00am, 12:30pm, 2:30pm and 4:00pm daily.
Chosen as one of the top twelve places to visit in NZ by Lonely Planet, the West Coast Wildlife Centre is, just like the Kiwis it houses, a relatively small-sized attraction. And while the entrance fee is a little on the high side (NZ$30 for an all day unlimited pass), it’s nice to know that your money is going towards a worthwhile cause, which this definitely is.