Around New Zealand With A Sparrow

Baby Jack {Sparrow}

I’d like to tell you a little story. It involves two British vagabonds in New Zealand, a tiny camper van and a sparrow called Jack {what else could we possibly call it? although it did turn out to be a girl!}.

One of the greatest things about travel is the stuff you don’t expect. These are the moments that truly stay with you forever.

We had arrived in New Zealand and bought ourselves a tiny camper van from a guy in Tauranga. After a bit of a drive around the north of the North Island we ended up in rural Cambridge, a small town on the edge of the Waikato river.

We had gone to visit friends who had emigrated over. After looking into doing some WWOOFing our friends gave us the opportunity to stay with them instead and work on their small holding, gardening, weeding the vegetable gardens and helping with the animals {a small flock of sheep, a kune kune pig, three miniature highland cows, some hens, a cat, two dogs and an Eclectus Parrot}.

It was great to settle in one place for a while. Chris did all the manual stuff, I weeded and baked. It was a good base from which to explore the middle of the island from and lovely to spend time with the family. It was early summer.

At the front of the house is a huge tree, it stands in the middle of the lawn. This tree was full of House Sparrows. They were nesting, noisily.

Sparrows don’t build the neatest of nests, after a number of very windy days we would find broken nests, eggs and even naked baby birds on the grass. The sparrows just got on with it.

One afternoon, Sam {the daughter} came running in with a baby bird. Not quite naked, some feathers were just coming through. It wasn’t very pretty. It would need food, warmth and overnight care. We took it on.

We fed it crushed cat biscuits soaked in water, using a yellow pair of plastic tweasers. It fed well, we repeated its name when feeding it so that it would learn to recognise it. That was the plan and it worked.

We trained a sparrow!

Her nest was an ice-cream tub with a wooden spoon threaded into it for a perch. Once it got older this became its ‘car-seat’.

She came along on days out with us while she was still small. We carried her around in a small thermal bag, the sort you carry chilled cans in. She did an afternoon tea cruise along the Waikato river on a paddle steamer and a walking tour around art deco Napier (she peeped during the guided talk at the start, confusing a lot of people,

Jack after a bath“is there a bird in the room?”

Erm yes, it’s in our cooler bag).

We had planned to meet up with some friends from back home in Napier. They were also on a world trip, and this was where our paths crossed.

We spent the following weeks, over Christmas and New Year, doing a bit of road tripping in our vans. Jack, of course, came along.

At campsites we would let her out, she would flit about, learning to fly. I found it fascinating the things she instinctively knew how to do, like preening, bathing, dust bathing and flying.

We drove from Napier to Rotorua where we stayed at Waikite Valley Thermal Pools Camp. Beautiful hot pools to wallow in, perfect in the early morning when the camp guests get to use them before the public are allowed in. Bliss.

It was here that Jack first flew up to me when I said her name, a momentous moment.

Rotorua is an absolute must-do for New Zealand. Approaching it on the highway you get a sulphurous whiff of what’s to come. This, my friends, is geothermal activity to feast your eyes on and soak your bodies in. You get used to the smell.

As well as the wonderful thermal pools in the Waikite Valley, my favourite spot was Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Cheesy names aside, this place is amazing, this is nature on acid. The hot water rises up, mingling with, and depositing, minerals which creates pools of colour.

From Rotorua, our next stop was Waitomo, for the glow-worm caves.

Best thing we did in the entire New Zealand.

We went black water rafting through the caves, marvelling at the twinkling glow worms which covered the ceilings like millions of little blue stars as we floated along in an inner-tube.

It wasn’t quite as serene as it sounds, we had to throw ourselves into a cold river, clamber through small gaps and jump backwards off a waterfall inside the cave. It certainly got the adrenaline pumping, it was great fun but we were all very happy to get hot soup and a shower at the end.

It was a little painful though as we lost Jack before we set off to do the rafting. She had got blown into a huge tree on the campsite nearby and we couldn’t call her down.

We had to go without her as we had booked and paid for it.

Four hours later we returned.

I wandered down towards the tree, expecting her to have vanished. I could see a small bird on the grass, could it be her?

As I walked near it didn’t fly away so I called her name.


The little bird lifted her head then flew up onto my shoulder. I have to admit that I had a little happy-cry!

We spent Christmas at a different Hot Spring resort in Taupo, having a lot of fun on the water-slide before setting off to make Christmas dinner. Jack joined us at the dinner {picnic} table, which raised a few smiles for the other campers.


In between Christmas and New Year we headed to the Tongariro National Park where we had a wonderful hike through amazing scenery {Jack stayed in the van for this}. A little tour around the Coromandle then a wander around a Kauri forest.

We ended up back at Waitomo for the last night of the year where we had a few drinks in the local bar then saw in the new year sat under our awning, complete with fairy lights and garlands, contemplating the future with whiskey and wine.

We headed back to Cambridge, we had weeding to catch up on. Jack loved coming out gardening with us. Any bugs we found were food for her, she loved pecking around in the rows of corn.

She would peep if we called her name. We had weened her on mealworms and wax moth larvae from the pet shop.

Jack's favourite spot.

Jack’s favourite spot.

I would take her out into the fields so she could properly exercise her wings. I would put her on the ground, walk away then call her name. She would fly straight to me. Sometimes she would fly and I’d run along side her.

These are the memories I cherish the most.

The time came when we had planned to drive down to the South Island. Now Jack was fully fledged she wasn’t suited to life on the road. We couldn’t leave her  at the house as there was a hungry, but adorable, cat.

We found an amazing woman called Judi who rescued birds in Taupo. She had a lovely aviary and was more than happy to take Jack. We said our teary goodbyes and had a wonderful adventure driving around the South Island

We visited Jack twice before we left New Zealand. She always remembered us, returning straight away to the nape of my neck {one of her favourite places}.

I can’t thank Judi enough. Jack ended up roosting among her lovely pottery for a while until she eventually wanted to go free. I think she didn’t roam to far from Judi’s garden, there was always food around.

Our six glorious summer months in New Zealand were fantastic, but sharing and making some of those memories with a small, familiar little bird made it extra special.

I was proud to be a crazy bird lady!

Me, having a Snow White moment!

Have you ever travelled with a pet or rescued one on your travels?

By Rachel A Davis   Follow on Bloglovin

15 Responses

  1. Ayla says:

    This is possibly the most lovely thing I have ever read! You know I love my animals but this is just amazing. To think that you can bring up and train a baby sparrow and for it to know it’s name and never leave you is just incredible. This honestly sounds like the best road trip ever! I don’t think I would have been able to leave her though – that must have been so hard! What a wonderful little story Rachel ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Rachel Davis says:

      I cried my eyes out when we left her but we visited her a couple of times before we left and so wonderful when she clearly remembered we were her parents.
      Every little sparrow fledgling makes me broody!

  2. chef mimi says:

    Oh, I’d forgotten the jack story. So so sweet!

  3. Emma says:

    This is such a gorgeous adventure!

  4. Man… I was more into the story of the bird than the attractiveness of New Zealand. I can totally imagine how painful it was to say goodbye to your little friend! But anyway, do you have pictures of those glow worms? Are they like glow-in-the-dark stuffs you stick on your ceiling? ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Andy says:

    Great story story, thanks for sharing it! Isn’t it interesting how we can connect with nature sometimes?

  6. bakearama says:

    That is fantastic! What a lovely story and a fantastic way to remember the trip. New Zealand is one of my favourite countries; your post has made me even more excited for our upcoming trip – headed across for my brothers wedding in Christchurch in Aril!

  7. Dave says:

    Wow, this is an absolutely gorgeous story. Beautiful! Sending that off to all my peeps.

  8. mmmarzipan says:

    What a lovely adventure you had! I love Rotorua too. We stayed with my friend’s nan when we went there in 2003… she comes from a very old local family and had some great stories to tell and local knowledge to share ๐Ÿ™‚