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Weka: New Zealand’s Flightless Bird, which isn't a Kiwi!

Weka (Gallirallus australis), a flightless railA Case of Avian Mistaken Identity
“I’ve just seen a kiwi outside my hotel room!” is one of the more common phrases you might hear from first-time visitors to New Zealand when they’re travelling down the northern half of the West Coast of the South Island – and 99.9999% of the time, they’re, unfortunately, wrong.

Walk like a Weka
The weka, a member of the rail family and known as ‘bush hens’ by early settlers to New Zealand, is a flightless bird about the size of a chicken or, yes, a kiwi. They’re a sturdy mottled brown bird about 50cm (20 inches) in length and they tend to scoot along with brief bursts of energy followed by cautious walking. (This funny movement is why we named our Weka cycling tour after these cheeky ground-dwellers.) 

Where to Find a Western Weka
The Western Weka is the subspecies that you’re most likely to see on our Rimu and Manuka trips or Weka cycling tours and one of the most common places to see them is around your lodgings or while hiking the trails in the rainforest near the seaside hamlet of Punakaiki, on the South Island’s West Coast. They’ll be searching for fruit and insects, but will eat almost anything, including mice, rats and even rabbits. Their call is a distinctive series of rapid whistled shrieks.

Watch out for Wekas
Wekas are classed as being a vulnerable species, so New Zealand’s Department of Conservation is making efforts to increase their numbers and reduce predation. Unfortunately, a common cause of death for wekas is being hit by motor vehicles. Although wekas do have reduced wings, they are flightless and are therefore obliged to walk everywhere, including across roads. Despite this awkward mode of transport, wekas have been recorded to walk distances of up to 130 km (80 miles).

So how do you tell the difference between a weka and a kiwi?
Well, kiwi are largely nocturnal for a start, so don’t expect it to be a kiwi if it’s daylight outside. The weka also has a more elongated body than the kiwi and a much shorter beak (about 5 cm long) that it uses as a weapon. And kiwis are extremely rare – most New Zealanders have never seen a kiwi in the wild, whereas if you travel down the West Coast, there is a pretty good chance you’ll see a cheeky weka outside your hotel room.

Trip Reviews

  4.52 out of 5 (from 4879 reviews)

Rimu is Wonderful - A few tips if you plan to go...

My husband and I took the Rimu trip in early November 2016 and had a really terrific time. I encourage everyone who is seriously considering the Rimu to go ahead and sign up. That being said, with all of the fun we had, I do wish we had known a few things ahead of time. I include these tips for you, the soon-to-be Rimu traveler, to make your trip more enjoyable. However, I can promise that even if you do none of these things, you will still have a marvelous time:

1. Guys, if you opt to snorkel with the fur seals be sure to shave your mustache before you leave home. It seems obvious now, but it never occurred to my husband that the mask wouldn’t seal properly to his face with his mustache. Do yourself a favor and shave it off or spend the afternoon dealing with a leaky mask.

2. I also wish I had known just how intense and challenging the 3-day multi-hike through Nelson Lakes would be. If you’re an office worker and occasional hiker like me, then I encourage you to take this trip but do lots of practice/fitness training in advance. Load up your pack and get on the stair-master or start climbing really steep hills. The hike is gorgeous and worth it, but I can promise you it will be a lot more enjoyable if you’re in good shape for it. Also, there are no showers at the huts and only latrines (port-a-potties) for toilets, so bring baby wipes for exactly the same reason you would use them on a baby (wink wink). And also bring hiking poles! I know it says optional on the gear list, but I really found them to be essential. As for the water bottle – leave that at home and invest in a good water bladder system (a “Camelback” or similar). We found the water bottle to be a hassle to take in and out of the bag (forcing us to stop each time), which made us want to drink less water. The water bladders allow you to keep moving and you’ll find you’re more hydrated.

3. The sea kayaks (and, honestly, New Zealand in general) are not made for people over 6’ 2” in height (187 cm). Watch your head everywhere you go, and as for the kayaks, it may help to have the taller person sit in the front seat of the kayak instead of the back.

4. Also, pack enough clothes for a week and then expect to do laundry. Bring some travel-sized laundry soap packets to help save money and make sure you have enough 1$ and 2$ coins for laundry before you get to the hotel (the machines are generally pretty expensive: about $3 for the washer and between $3 - $5 for 30 minutes in the dryer).

5. Bring good cycling shorts – yes, the ones with the weird-feeling padding on the bum. It will help prevent the dreaded ‘grumpy grundle’.

6. And finally, a heads-up to my fellow outgoing introverts (yes, we exist): this trip contains long days of social interaction (think 7:15 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.), with few breaks for introspection/solitude. If you need some down time, skip dinner or unfurl all of the emergency blankets and build your own fort at the back of the bus and hang a sign that says, “Stay Out!” (just kidding about that last one).

A great big thank you to our guides, Rachel and Jordan, who were informative and helpful beyond measure. How they managed to remain cheerful and engaging considering they had to do all of the exertion we clients had to do, plus all of their work on top of it, is beyond me. They are the embodiment of Kiwi hospitality! We are already thinking of coming back for a North Island tour sometime soon.
Lauren Gerth Review Image
– Missouri, United States
Rimu, November 2016
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