21.06.2010 - 21.06.2010 17 °C
After waiting for the relentless rains of yesterday to cease, I was quick to spring from my sleeping bag after glimpsing the blue sky through a crack in our campervan curtain. There was no need to prepare the makeshift table for breakfast this morning; the cupboards lacked anything remotely breakfasty. However, the bumping and banging about had attracted the attention of our neighbours, not the human kind, but the bird kind. Soon they were flocking around our door squawking loudly and tapping on the metal.
These are the native New Zealand Pukeko birds that ste made the fatal mistake of feeding on our first day at Cosy Cottage Camping. Now they have practically eaten us out of house and home. They have eaten our cornflakes and most of our bread! I’m not even sure if our tyres will be there in the morning if we don’t feed them! They seem to be scheming, as they stare at us through the van windows. They are attractive, but funny looking birds, with electric blue and black plumage, bright red bills and long gangly toes that they use like fingers to hold the chunks of bread you throw to them. They seemed to get the message when I started up the engine, and they promptly ran to another van that was stirring.
I didn’t mention where we were heading. We had received free tickets to Paradise Springs Wildlife Park, which is just a short distance from the centre of Rotorua. The leaflets had promised the chance to ‘Pat a lion cub today!,’ if a young enough one was available and so this was our main intention for visiting.I was actually really excited about the prospect of being able to come face to face with a lion cub. You would never get this chance back in England; safety first and all! I think Ste on the other hand, was a little apprehensive, but then again he is scared of chickens. After a quick stop along the way to grab some brekky we arrived!
The park was set in a beautiful location in the hills and they had done very well in keeping ti looking as natural as possible. In some ways it reminded me of the Southlakes Zoo in Cumbria. It was very well maintained.
Our first stop in the zoo was the adult lion enclosure, and we were shocked to find that the only thing separating us from the jaws of death, was one layer of chicken wire, the sort you would expect to see in a school playground, prized apart in places and curling in the corners. We would be at whiskers length from these mighty animals if we were to stand next to the fence, so close you could touch them, if you were slightly insane!
We felt a little on edge being the only two people in the presence of these colossal cats. Saftey in number comes to mind in this situation. Well we were outnumbered 2.5 to 1 and I couldn’t see anything at a reasonable distance to climb, should one decided to try and scale the not so high fence. After deliberately scaring ourselves with ‘what ifs,’ we decided to venture elsewhere in the park.
A visit to the lion cub was next. I had imagined it to be very controlled and restricted, when in fact a sign invited you to enter the specially designed enclose, where the cub could roam freely, play with its toys and not to mention pounce on young children! You were welcome to just stand at a distance, or sit down right beside him. This was our first metting with Chase the cub and he was adorable. The woman invited me to sit down next to him, where he was sprawled out, looking very lethargic, which is no surprise considering lions sleep on average 20 hours per day.
The cub’s fur was much coarser than I had expected, but then again I hadn’t really thought about what it would feel like beforehand. He was also much bigger than I had expected. He was four and a half months old and weighed 20kg. His paws were disproportionately large in comparison to his body; as big as his head! But he wasn’t in the least bit bothered by all the attention he was receiving, according to his keeper he “tolerates it” but I imagine he quite enjoys some of the affection as he has no siblings to play with and he was rejected by his mother at birth. The pride won’t accept him at this young age and he is too small to be put in with them. So the only contact he has is with humans. It was an amazing feeling to sit with a lion cub under such relaxed supervision. Chase was what everyone had journeyed to see and he was definitely worth the time. The keeper suggested that we come back a little later when he might of perked up a little bit, so we took the opportunity to see the rest of the park.
Most of the park could be reached along beautiful boardwalks in the dappled shade.
Every step of the way there were crystal clear pools of trout which were all at different stages of their life cycles. They had displays of native birs, such as the cheeky Kea, which is a type of parrot. They also had live possum, which made a change to seeing roadkill Possum; although this is how the Kiwis prefer to see them, because there are over 70 million possum in NZ and they eat so much vegetation and also the eggs of native birds. Their presence in New Zealand has apparently had devastating effects on the birdlife. The park also had a brilliant man made wetland, with a huge array of ducks in a myriad of colours, shapes and sizes, all wanting to be fed and therefore tracking you throughout the entire area. The most bizarre ducks of all were the Paradise Ducks that tried to eat your shoes instead of the food you fed them, while making a noise like a rusty old bike horn and honking in unison. Apart from this noisy duo the park was extremely peaceful and not busy.
Time for another visit to see Chase and he had certainly perked up. When we entered the enclosure, he was dashing about and playing tug of war with his bed cushion. He then tried to chew a man’s legs! Luckily for him, Chase had his front canines filed down for safety. Good job too, as he was soon trying to pounce on a small child that immediately started crying. Everyone was grappling to take photos, but they soon cleared off until just a few of us were left. The keeper picked Chase up so we could have a look at him properly and I managed to give him a cuddle while he nuzzled my face, before trying to bite my neck! Playfully…I think! The keeper was giving him some rough and tumble and the cub loved it, pawing at him and tugging on his clothes. We stayed and watched in awe for almost and hour. I could have stayed there longer to be honest. Maybe I should be a zoo keeper! I was so nice to see a genuinely happy animal in captivity and it was obvious that Chases keeper really loved him.
2.30pm was lion feeding time and on return to the lion enclose, all the lions were up and pacing against the fence, waiting for their food. The same keeper, who had given us so much insight into the cub, was also caring for the adult lions. He proceeded to lob the meat over the fence, while calling out each lion’s name that the food was intended for. Each lion received around 2 kilos of meat – they obviously eat all parts of the meat. I was a little concerned when a couple of chunks of meat became hooked on the top of the fence and the male lion was staring up at them with a fixed gaze. I was thinking- please don’t say he can reach that! Luckily he was wise to the pain of the electric fence andjust waited patiently until the kepper prodded it down with a huge stick. I couldn’t believe how close we were to these animals; you could bend down and be just 2cm and at eye level with the feasting lions.
Just when we thought all the fun had come to an end for the day, the keeper invited us to come and view the Possum. We waited at the Kea cage where the Keas roaming freely around your feet. The next thing I knew there was a possum sitting on my shoulder “Can I touch him?” – “Yeah sure” He was silky soft; his coat would make a lovely rug I thought! Well, we have seen possum fur turned into practically everything in New Zealand; even willy warmers! I felt pity for this creature that everyone detested so much. He had silly saucer eyes, boney fingers and a bizarre prehensile tail…he looked very comical and also very nervous. The keeper soon had him back in his cage as he was being restless.
It was then like some moment from snow white, when the farm animals descended upon us to be fed. Everyone joined in the feeding until the food ran dry. It started to rain which was the cue to return to our vehicle
We were soon home and having our ears talked off by the campsite caretaker. I think he was under the impression that we wanted to move to New Zealand, even thought we hadn’t insinuated anything of the sort. So he was giving us instructions about how to emigrate, as he had done. Our plans to take a stroll to the lake didn’t materialise because the man didn’t stop talking until the sun went down; maybe tomorrow?!