Located in Wellington, New Zealand, Zealandia is 225-hectare fully-fenced wildlife sanctuary recreating the natural habitat of the island prior to the arrival of humans and the introduction of non-native land mammal species. The microcontinent of Zealandia was formed approximately 60 to 85 million years ago after a mass of continental crust broke away from the Australian continent.


Though the mass was nearly entirely submerged approximately 23 million years ago, it is considered a microcontinent rather than an island and in recent years, many scientists have advocated for its reclassification as a proper continent. Prior to the arrival of humans on the continent, approximately 60% of the area that now comprises the city of Wellington was covered by a vast broadleaf forest and home to abundant bird, plant, and reptile life. The area was given the name Kaharore, modernized as Karori and translated to “the ridge for snaring birds,” by the continent’s indigenous Maori people, who used the area as a fish hunting, agricultural, and food and medicine gathering area.

After the arrival of Europeans to the continent in the 19th century, much of the forest’s land was cleared as a result of fires meant to transform the area into farmland. In 1906, a large portion of the former forest area was cleared for use as a water catchment area by Wellington’s public water works system, and in 1908, a dam and reservoir were installed. As a result of human activity, the area’s natural flora and fauna reached the point of near-extinction by the early 1990s, though a natural native ecosystem had begun to develop around the water catchment area. The implementation of the city’s “Natural Wellington” project in the early 1990s led to the creation of the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary Trust nonprofit trust in 1995, spearheaded by Zealandia founders Jim and Eve Lynch, which envisioned the creation of the world’s first mainland island urban wildlife sanctuary. Plans for the sanctuary were approved by the Wellington City Council in 1998, and in 1999, the Trust entered into a 30-year lease agreement for the facility.

Attractions and Animals

Today, the Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary is owned and operated by the Karori Sanctuary Trust nonprofit community organization, which oversees the restoration of mainland New Zealand’s native wildlife and ecosystem habitats. As a fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary, Zealandia is internationally acclaimed for its achievements in the field of urban ecological restoration and invasive species eradication, centered on the implementation of a pest-exclusion fence around the 225-hectare facility, implemented in 1999. Due to the fence’s exclusionary technology, the habitat has largely recovered from its pre-industrial state and has been repopulated with a large number of native flora and fauna species that were previously near extinction. 18 species have been reintroduced as part of the sanctuary’s programming, including six species that had been absent from the mainland for over a century, giving the sanctuary a local reputation as a “Jurassic Park” of sorts.

More than 40 unique bird species populate the sanctuary’s valley, with most species being endemic to the New Zealand mainland. Reintroduced bird species include the red-fronted kakariki parakeet, the little-spotted kiwi, the bellbird, and the takahe, a native bird of the South Island. Native land animal species include the famed tuatara, a lizard-like reptile that is the only surviving member of the order Rhynchocephalia, as well as the giant weta, the Maud Island frog, and the shining cuckoo. A wide variety of trees, plants, and shrubs are also preserved, with more than 80% of flora species found only on the island.

Ongoing Programs and Education

In addition to general visitor admission to the sanctuary, which is open daily except for Christmas Day, a variety of special wildlife tour packages are offered, including a two-hour guided day trip, an after-hours Zealandia By Night program, a Twilight Tour package, and family-friendly Kids’ Night Walks programming. Private guided tours for small groups and organizations are available, with tour topics available for customization. A variety of educational programming is also available, including curriculum-incorporated tours for school groups, in-classroom outreach programming and distance learning programs, and school holiday public events. Other public special events throughout the year include children’s storytime events at the sanctuary’s eco-friendly Rata Cafe, nature-themed art exhibitions held at the sanctuary’s galleries, and events held in conjunction with local wildlife groups such as Predator Free Karori. The sanctuary may also be rented for private special events, including weddings and business conferences. A Heritage Lawn, historic boatshed area, visitor center, and meeting rooms are available for event rental, and on-site catering may be provided by the Rata Cafe.

53 Waiapu Road, Karori, Wellington 6012, New Zealand, Phone: +64-49-20-92-13

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