There’s something special about interacting with animals you’d otherwise never see in your daily life.
Patting fallow deer on the nose, stroking a bunny’s ears, scratching a Llama’s head, feeding wallabies or just lining up behind some waddling geese, Christchurch’s Willowbank Wildlife Reserve offers a charmingly unique experience with each of it’s furry and feathered residents.
Located just 20 minutes drive from Christchurch CBD, the Wildlife Reserve makes for an easy day trip from the city and doubles as a chance to explore some of Christchurch’s outer suburbs along the way.
Unfortunately, the day we had set aside for our wildlife experience had taken a turn for the worse, with gloomy grey clouds occupying Christchurch airspace from the early morning onward.
Despite constant showers, we decided to stick to our itinerary, with Willowbank Wildlife Reserve staff offering some sturdy umbrellas and a bag of complimentary deer pellets to help revive the experience.
One upside to the weather was the subsequent lack of visitors. We were the first to arrive at the reserve and were treated to some pretty special one-on-one experiences with the wide variety of wildlife on display.
The rain had also prompted plenty of activity, with a lack of foot traffic allowing some of the reserve’s more open-range residents to stretch their legs and occupy the paths.
What to do?
The reserve walking track takes you on a large loop through the property, surrounded by lush greenery, ensuring easy navigation between enclosures and a comforting sense of nothing being missed along the way.
Feed the animals
The start of your journey features a short boardwalk over eel infested waters to arrive at an enclosure full of boisterous fallow deer.
Word of warning, the deer are quick to confirm whether you purchased any food before the beginning of your tour, and happily follow you alongside the fence as you pass (I lost the majority of our pellets here).
Some of the herd’s particularly keen members will go above and beyond to make themselves known, poking their heads between the railings in the hope of receiving a handful of pellets.
After making acquaintances with each individual deer and ensuring a fair and even distribution of food, our journey continued along the gravel paths beneath our umbrellas, carefully navigating between growing puddles.
Explore the tracks & Enclosures
As we approached a bend in the track, we were met by a waddling goose making his way around the corner, followed in perfect synchronisation by four of his fellow geese, each as chuffed with the weather as the next.
We did the polite thing and moved to the side to let them pass, before continuing on to the next enclosure.
The reserve is full of exciting encounters, with 50 different types of animals, including wallabies, kea birds, tiny morepork owls, lemurs, emus, monkeys and a wide variety of colourful birds and parrots.
See native New Zealand animals
One of the key drawcards for the reserve takes place in the kiwi enclosure. A dark room brought to life by dim red lights and the faint rustling of its small, feathered inhabitants.
The reserve promises a guaranteed kiwi sighting, and this was quickly fulfilled upon entering the enclosure, with kiwis scurrying along the surrounding artificial bushland floor on either side of the path.
The illusion of night created by the enclosure encourages the kiwi’s to embrace their nocturnal instincts, as they happily rustle through the leaves that litter their enclosure, in search of food.
There is strictly no flash photography to be used inside the kiwi enclosure, for the safety and protection of the animals. However, if by chance you struggle with spotting the iconic bird by yourself, simply find one of the rangers and they’ll help point one out for you.
Other New Zealand natives on display included the Tuatara, Kaka, Takahe, and the Kunekune Pigs (which translates to fat fat pigs, an accurate name for the full grown male).
Among the Lemurs and otters, the llamas and the goats, Willowbank Wildlife Reserve also provides a peaceful stroll through some intricately themed sections of the reserve, helping to transport your mind from habitat to habitat.
From Monkey Island, home of the capuchins, to the alpine aviary, home of the Kea, the wildlife reserve offers a truly personal experience accompanying each inhabitant.
Have a coffee at the café
Upon completing the loop, we were welcomed back into the café, where you’re reunited with your deer friends from tables overlooking their paddock. This is a great chance to enjoy a coffee or tea and some typical bakery nibbles.
Some of the stand out attractions at Willowbank included the native Kiwi and Kea bird enclosures. Both enclosures were set up in a beautiful open living arrangement, which incorporated all sides of the path, making for an exciting visit. Feeding the Fallow Deer and Wallabies was also one of the more memorable experiences from the reserve and purchasing a bag of pellets is an absolute must.
Your ticket to the park gives you access to the reserve, while all additional add-ons are at the expense of the customer, including bags of pellets, food and drink, or merchandise. If it is raining, however, the reserve staff will happily offer you one of their umbrellas free of charge, sheltering your journey through the park.
This is a great experience for visitors of all ages, especially those with children both young and old. The sheer size of the reserve is something to admire, and the collection of animals both native and exotic make it one of the best animal experiences in the region.
In addition to exploring the reserve, you can also learn about Maori culture with their cultural performance and hangi dinner combination, which offers a unique look into Maori customs, including a traditional Maori dance and delicious hangi meal.
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