What’s on the menu: Willowbank

What’s on the menu: Willowbank

Willowbank is an iconic wildlife sanctuary that many different generations of Kiwis (quite literally) have grown up with. With an incredibly diverse range of wildlife the park’s team needs to always ensure feed is exactly suited to each individual animal. 

Willowbank is a lot like Topflite in many ways. Like us, the family-owned business in Christchurch started in the 1970s. Back then Michael Willis and Kathy Rangiwananga wanted to create an experience where visitors could get up close with the animals – hand-feeding many in a beautiful and tranquil natural setting.

While Michael and Kathy are still involved with the business the next generation is now heading the day-to-day operation of the 16-acre park. Willowbank’s General Manager Kirsty Willis describes the change that has occurred since 1974.

“When it was opened over four and half decades ago this area was a barren riverbed,” says Kirsty. “Now visitors can enjoy a journey through 16 acres of beautiful trees, bush and waterways.”

This journey through the park tells a story in itself.

First the Zoo area, which is home to exotic species like capuchin monkeys and ring tailed lemur. This space also includes a range of introduced species and explains the impact these animals have had on the wider environment. The Farm area highlights our diverse livestock heritage and farming methods – and visitors love getting close to the animals here.

A highlight for many is the Native section of the park. Here many of our iconic and rare species can be found, including kiwi, tuatara, kaka, takahe, kereru, kakariki, weka, karearea and whio.

With a large range of animals to care for Kirsty knows how important it is get their dietary requirements absolutely right.

“We review our diets regularly,” says Kirsty. “There’s a lot to consider – from the season to the various animal cycles – such as breeding. Then there’s the general availability of some food, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, and the advice we receive from the vets.”

Topflite provides a wide range of birdseed to the park for both native and exotic species. This includes budgie mix, parrot mix and sunflower seed, as well as Vetafarm Macaw Nuts and Lorikeet Food. Supplements D Nutrical and Calcivet help keep the animals healthy and the resident capybara also appreciate the Vetafarm Cavy food we supply.

Willowbank advocates for using sprouted seed in much of their feed also, the Soak and Sprout and Super Sprout products providing optimal nutritional benefit to the birdlife there.

Topflite General Manager Greg Webster loves visiting the popular visitor attraction.

“It’s a great spot for families to enjoy a day out,” says Greg. “There’s a wide range of birds, from the small budgies up to the larger parrots like Macaws, and the environment they’ve created out there is first class. It’s one of those places that really rewards repeat visits.”

It’s not just the visitors who are rewarded at Willowbank. The centre has an active role in education, advocacy and protection for New Zealand’s wildlife.

The New Zealand Conservation Trust and the South Island Wildlife Hospital are both run from the park, the former helping with the important kiwi breeding programme and the latter providing free veterinary care to sick and injured NZ wildlife.

We’re proud to supply Willowbank with Topflite feed and highly recommend garden city visitors put aside a few hours to explore the beautiful Harewood setting and get up close to the delightful animals. Christchurch locals too – if you haven’t been for a few years it’s well worth a return trip!