I was lucky enough to be shown a real gem last week that I previously knew nothing about, in the form of the Orokonui Ecosanctuary just north of Dunedin.
Orokonui is a 307Ha, predator free, native filled, ecosanctuary based near coastal Dunedin and contains a large majority of New Zealands protected birds and plants and more.
On Thursday I had a meeting here at Orokonui followed by a lovely lunch at the Horopito Cafe, then a guided tour of the area from the Tuatara enclosure to the Long Fin Eel pond to the Otago skinks.
Shown below as the Tuatara, the Otago Skink, the Green Jeweled Gecko (about to shed hence the dull colour) and another Otago Skink out basking in the sun
As well as the very knowledgeable guide who took us through, I was lucky enough to have a walking, talking, bundle of knowledge in the form of Janet Gregory who I work with at Landcare. I certainly felt like I came out a lot more intelligent that when I walked in and can confidently identify a whole bunch of native trees and plants.
Our guide pulled out some pieces of leaf for us to have a taste and identify with the instruction of chew 3 times and spit it out. Naturally I did not spit it out after 3 chews and chewed away for 30 seconds or so... Not the best idea - It was Horopito! (aka Pepper plant/Pepperwood)
Horopito has a number of uses and was used as a traditional Maori medicinal herb with anti-fungal, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy and bug repellent properties as well as numbing and assisting with tooth ache! It's also used for cooking and has a pepper-like taste.
This crazy creature is another new plant to me and is called a 'Greenhood Orchid'. They live down on shady forest floors and eat bugs that are attracted to their sugary insides
The bird life and sounds were spectacular too. Tuis, Bellbirds, TomTits and Wood Pidgeons - even a new baby Takahe if you are in the right place at the right time!
I thoroughly enjoyed this place and would highly recommend a visit for the school holidays! If your kids are old enough to really take it in then I would suggest a guided tour to really get the most out of the experience.
For more information and bookings, check out http://orokonui.nz/
The drive from Dunedin to Orokonui is only 25 minutes.
I drove it yesterday from Timaru in about 2.5 hours (add on a little more for when you stop in at Riverstone Kitchen of course)
From Oamaru it will take about 1hr20min