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Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

Unfortunately, the once so beautiful town of Christchurch was hit by a terrible catastrophy a couple of years ago, and it wasn’t only hit once – but twice – only with a two year interval. What happened was that most of the once so fabulous City Center and many of the old traditional English-inspired suburbs were crushed in two giant earthquakes. Actually one can’t notice anything when arriving at the airport or when driving around in the area around the airport, but as soon as you try to explore other parts of the once so ravaging city, it is actually just a very sad story. Of course the inhabitants have tried to clean up, rebuild, work on new projects, but the point is that certain areas are quarantined due to the fact that new quakes might occur in the near future, and logically there is no point in putting in a lot of effort to rebuild something that might be swallowed by the next possible catastrophy.

Anyway, many of the previous inhabitants of areas that were struck have moved to other towns in New Zealand or even emigrated to Australia, while many brave souls keep up their good spirits and stay on. Lots of positive things are happening I Christchurch – among other things the City Council has approved initiatives such as free book trading stands, large outside dance floors with an all-night music scene, local markets, thrift stands, small removable cafes and so on in the centre of Christchurch where the earthquake hit hardest, and which is of course regarded as relatively safe for now anyway. This has led to a fantastic community spirit in Christchurch, and many of the remaining citizens are of the opinion that amidst the terrible crisis that struck the town, something good has started to grow.

We were very relieved to find out that our favourite place in Christchurch is situated outside of the earthquake area, and is therefore fully intact. Willowbank Wildlife reserve is a fantastic wildlife centre.

It does not at all resemble a zoo since all the animals are either free roaming around lakes, rivers, small forests or grasslands, or have enormous enclosures, so they probably never understand that they live their lives in captivity. The obvious goal of the centre is to educate visitors. You can for instance learn of the kiwi breeding work being achieved at Willowbank with a NZ Kiwi Tour

or a Kiwi Breeding Tour. Or what most people do, embark on a journey through New Zealand. See the impact of introduced species in "wild New Zealand", meet old live-stock breeds in "Heritage New Zealand" and enjoy the native wildlife in "Natural New Zealand".

You get in close contact with most of the animals. Pellets are sold for those who want to feed some of the species – well you are not allowed to feed other than the ducks, the hens, the domestic farm animals and the wallabies. The latter is not very interested in the food, they’ve probably had enough from the hundred of visitors who try to feed them every day.

Willowbank is just a great attraction, especially since you get to see most of the endemic species of New Zealand. The absolute highlight is that people can enter the enclosures of the Keas, New Zealand’s large Alpine parrot. If you’re lucky you can even get to touch one, but be careful – they have a tendency of kidding around with tourists – all of a sudden they just grab your finger by their beaks and bite as hard as they can. I had blood everywhere. But it was worth it.

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