Zealandia: The Karori Sanctuary Experience

A slice of native paradise is not what you expect to find in a capital's inner city, but Wellington’s Zealandia - formerly the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary - is exactly that.

Just a few minutes by car from downtown Wellington, and nestled in a forested valley between city suburbs, Zealandia is an outdoor haven for some of New Zealand’s rarest native birds and animals and a living monument to world-leading conservation efforts.

The multi-million dollar project to create a predator-free eco-sanctuary was inspired by a vision to return part of the city to its pre-human condition - a thousand years ago when the islands of New Zealand were a sanctuary for unique species that had survived from prehistoric days. 

Conservation world-first

When the urban sanctuary was established in 1999, it was hailed as a world-first in conservation and, since then, it has become an award-winning eco-attraction attracting more than 100,000 visitors annually. 

In 2009, Zealandia was named by a leading international ecologists’ group as among Australasia’s top conservation projects.

In 2010, The Guardian (UK) newspaper selected Zealandia for its inaugural 2010 Guardian Green Travel List as one of the top 75 green tourism companies in the world.

The innovative sustainable measures include promoting sustainable travel in partnership with Switched On Bikes - an electric bike hire company operating from downtown Wellington. Visitors who use hired e-bikes to travel to Zealandia are refunded their Zealandia day admission fee when they return the e-bike. 

Mainland island

Zealandia is a mainland island - modelled on New Zealand’s many successful island conservation programmes - protected from introduced predators such as possums, stoats, cats and rats by kilometres of state-of-the-art exterior fencing.

Native flora and fauna have been reintroduced into the sanctuary, and native birdlife has also been boosted as birds have found their way into the protected island and begun to breed.

The inhabitants include New Zealand’s rare 'living dinosaur' tuatara, the ferocious giant weta insect, and threatened birds like the flightless kiwi, and brown teal duck - one of the world’s rarest ducks - which are all at risk in the wild.

In the park, over 35km of bush tracks and paths criss-cross 225 hectares of regenerating forest and wetlands, providing walks and activities for visitors of all ages and fitness levels.

Outside the sanctuary, neighbours report hearing the sounds of kiwi calling at night and significant increases in the number of New Zealand songbirds in their own backyards. The kaka breeding programme, which started out in 2002 with an introduced population of 14 has grown to 600 recorded specimens. These large colourful parrots, which had been effectively extinct in the city for a century, can now be found in gardens and parks throughout Wellington. 

Zealandia: The Exhibition

Zealandia: The Exhibition - is a visitor and education experience. The natural history exhibition showcases New Zealand's unique natural history, and tells the story of the world-famous conservation movement that is working to protect rare and threatened species.

Zealandia: The Exhibition, is an interactive experience that takes visitors on an extraordinary journey 1000 years back into history when New Zealand was the final remnant of 80 million years of isolation.

The journey begins on the day before humans arrived, and travels through centuries of catastrophic loss into the present day efforts Kiwis are making to protect and preserve their heritage.

Zealandia eco-sanctuary

'Zealandia' is the name of the lost landmass that broke away from the ancient super-continent Gondwana some 80 million years ago.

The islands of New Zealand, virtually all that remains of Gondwana, provided a final habitat for animals and plants found nowhere else on Earth.

Zealandia was formerly known as the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.