We were down in Rotorua for Queens Birthday weekend, and there’s a place down there that I believe everyone should visit at least once. And once you’ve been, you’ll definitely want to go again.
The place is called Wingspan, and it was set up for the conservation of New Zealand’s birds of prey – especially the New Zealand Falcon.
As you may or may not know, the New Zealand Falcon is on the endangered species list and Wingspan was set up in the 1980s in an effort to prevent its extinction.
The entrance to Wingspan is nice, but modest. However, the real experience is in the buildings behind. There is a small walk-through aviary, where you can view owls and falcons, but the highlight of the visit happens at 2:00pm every day.
After the walk through the aviary, you go and sit outside. First up is Founder and Director of Wingspan Debbie Stewart, who will give you a detailed rundown of the New Zealand Falcon. Debbie, like all of the staff there, is obviously very passionate about saving these birds, and what she has to tell you about them is fascinating. Next, she brings out Ozzy, one of the resident falcons, and he and Debbie demonstrate how Wingspan train injured or captive-bred birds in order to be able to release them into the wild. The flying demonstration is awesome, and this is where you get close and personal with the New Zealand Falcon. Debbie and Ozzy (listen for the story of how they named him!) were followed by Ineke, another falconer and staff member, who continued the demonstration.
And yes, there is even an opportunity to allow the birds to perch on your hand (protected with a falconer’s glove) so make sure you take a camera. It’s impossible to describe the feeling when you’re inches away from an endangered bird of prey, looking into its eyes.
Wingspan is absolutely not to be missed the next time you’re in Rotorua. They are recognised as New Zealand’s leading Research, education and conservation organisation for birds of prey, and their website can be found here.