Disabled group visit an ecosanctuary

A group of tourists with a learning disability enjoy getting up close to some of New Zealand's icons at Orokonui Ecosanctuary.

After disembarking their cruise ship the twelve Australians were welcomed ashore at Port Chalmers by their Ability Adventures guides. A short drive up remnants of an extinct volcanic crater and on to the Sanctuary saw them very quickly transported into a treasure trove of New Zealand native flora and fauna. 'Orokonui Ecosanctuary is the flagship biodiversity project for the South Island where multiple species of plants and animals are protected from predators. A predator fence surrounds 307 hectares of Coastal Otago forest, pests have been removed, habitat enhanced with weed control and planting, and many rare and endangered species re-introduced.' Easy, level and compacted trails around the top of the Sanctuary provided good access for both the slow walkers and wheelchair user in the group.

A multi sensory experience was in store! First up was a meeting with a Tuatara, New Zealand's living dinosaur, and some endangered large skinks, all basking in the warmth of the sun. The tuneful calls of Bellbirds, the woosh of Kereru (NZ pigeon) swooping by at low levels and the interspersed grunts and clicks of Tui were sounds that resonated from the forest. Native Kowhai of all sizes were adorned in brilliant yellow blooms, and by contrast ground hugging alpine daisies with white petals and yellow centers looked a treat in the threatened garden section.

The hot peppery taste of the Horopito (Pepper tree) leaf was a bit of a wake-up call for the tongue! Further along the path there was the opportunity to put the olfactory skills to the test. Who could identify the smell of the mottled, yellowy, green leaves with curly edges? They definitely had a lemony smell, and were identified as from the Lemon wood or tarata. Not so pleasant though was the foul smell of the aptly named coprosma foetidissima or stinkwood! Time to move on to watch the comings and goings at one of the bird feeding stations. And to just soak up the atmosphere of this magical spot before moving on to explore other Dunedin treats.

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