Walking the Pūkaha Loop Track
by Helen Cordery
Aotearoa New Zealand. A place that intrigues visitors from all over the world who come here searching for their very own slice of “Lord of the Rings” paradise. There is a lot more to New Zealand than Middle Earth, however. This is the land that time forgot, where creatures evolved as they did nowhere else on Earth and where birds reigned supreme. Pūkaha’s 942-hectares of restored forest is home to wild native birds of all shapes and sizes, and our Loop Track takes you deep into their world. It’s time to go wild …
Walking the walk
Once you pass the Loop Track sign, you officially enter wild New Zealand bush. The track is no longer accessible by wheelchairs, pushchairs or mobility scooters. The walk will ascend – at times quite steeply – up to the hill until you reach an amazing lookout point over the whole Te Tapere Nui o Whātonga. It will also descend just as steeply until you return to the Pūkaha aviaries. There is very little mobile phone coverage here, so bear that in mind before you leave.
Time (approx.): Two hours return
Difficulty: Low to medium depending on your fitness ability (children can do it without too much difficulty).
Entering kōkako territory
Pūkaha has some history with the kōkako. In 1979, Pūkaha began breeding kōkako for release across New Zealand. Then in July 2003, fully grown kōkako were transferred from Mangatutu Ecological Area (near Te Kuiti) and released into our forest. Their first offspring were recorded in 2004.
If you’re quiet and eagle-eyed, you might spot a wild kōkako for yourself (sightings aren’t guaranteed – these are wild birds). Below is a video of a kōkako snapped right beside the Pūkaha Visitor Centre so you never know!
What you might discover
Apart from the beautiful kōkako, you may also see North Island kākā (or at least hear them – they can sure screech!) or the plump kererū, our native wood pigeon. We are also proud to have tītipounamu (rifleman), silver eyes, miromiro (tomtit), korimako (bellbird), and tui, as well as native skinks and geckos such as the moko kākāriki (read this for more).
Our forest is also home to plenty of insects and plants that are just as amazing as our birds! You may find a tree wētā or even a peripatus, one of our most unusual invertebrates. Our forest is alive and evolving so you never know what you might discover.
And when you’re finished
Take a breather beside the roaring fire in the Kākā Café – maybe with a hot soup with crusty sourdough bread? The best thing about our Café is the fact that it overlooks the takahē, New Zealand’s very own conservation miracle that was bred for the first time right here at Mount Bruce. In summer, our Café deck is the favourite playground of some of our boisterous wild kākā – careful with those cheese scones! Rambo, one of the local kākā we have come to know over the years, has a particular fondness for cheese (but it’s not good for them to eat our food).
You may also like to wander around the aviaries where we breed birds such as kākāriki. Although you won’t get to see the tūturuatu (shore plover), they are not far away. We keep them off-display for a reason; tūturuatu are very skittish, vulnerable birds and they don’t like it when strange people come to see them! If you are around at 1:30pm, don’t forget to pop by for our tuna (eel) feed down at the creek. We have quite a few of these wriggly longfins, one of New Zealand’s most remarkable endemic creatures.
Ready to go?
You don’t need to book a ticket in advance to do the Loop Track but you do need a ticket. Make sure you bring water (if you forget we have water bottles for sale in the Visitor Centre) and some snacks but remember there are no rubbish bins in the forest so what you take in you must also take out. Kōkako don’t enjoy food wrappers, thank you!
During winter, we close the Loop Track in the afternoon so best to come before midday. This isn’t just for our benefit – early morning is when the birds are at their most active so listen out for the flap of wild kererū wings or the trill of the korimako (bellbird).
Enjoy the walk and let us know what you find!