There are, apparently, 100 little spotted kiwi in newly named Zealandia, and double the number of tuatara.

Sadly, however, all of them seem to be suffering from stage fright when we drop by for a nocturnal tour of the Wellington park, formerly known as Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.

Our volunteer guides Pam and John do, however, shush us when, as dusk falls, the squat, flightless birds start calling to each other across the valley. And although not everyone in our group is a native New Zealander, all of us get a shiver down the spine when we hear this endangered species in its natural habitat.

What's more surprising is that the 225ha sanctuary is a mere 10 minutes from downtown Wellington. But, thanks to a 2.3m-high predator-proof fence - designed to keep out nasties such as possums, hedgehogs and local cats - and a vision to return the valley to its pre-human condition, the kiwi and tuatara here have been given a second chance.

But it is not just the stars of the local endangered world that are benefiting. The bit players in nature's complex drama, such as the saddleback, hihi and giant weta are also winning the numbers game here.

Pam tells us that prior to the construction of the fence almost 10 years ago, the Karori Reservoir Valley's native bird population had dwindled to just 12 species. Today, that number hovers around 30.

In a bid to go and meet some of them we board a boat and cruise smoothly across a lake to one of the tracks that criss-cross the sanctuary. Marching single file, we embrace our inner botanists as our guides share their endless knowledge of flora and fauna.

We venture part-way across the top dam, built in 1908 and one of only a handful of gravity arch dams in New Zealand. Once upon a time the two reservoirs here supplied Wellington's residents with water, but both were decommissioned in the mid 1990s when it was realised a major earthquake could result in widespread flooding.

Unlike the kiwi and tuatara, the local glow-worms aren't shy about showing off. We also get up close and personal with the kawau, or black shag, and the fast-disappearing native pateke (brown teal duck). We can also see just how much the native bush has regenerated in the past 10 years.

As darkness falls, I turn on the weakest torch I've ever encountered. It's that way to prevent alarming the wildlife while still guiding us against falling on the tracks. As my night vision isn't what it should be, I stumble into my companions more often than is polite.

Perhaps they think I'm drunk because we did, after all, begin the evening's activities with oodles of wine and food.

Entitled "A Walk on the Wild Side', the wine and sanctuary tour is the brainchild of Donna McCormack, a native of California's Napa Valley.

McCormack started her company Feast & Vine a few months ago when she realised that New Zealand wasn't promoting the food and wine pairing experience the way she'd seen it done in the United States.

"The whole idea is to uncover why certain foods and wine make good matches and to bring the two together in a fun and educational way," says the cook who trained at the Culinary Institute of America.

"The trick is for participants to find their own palate through the use of seasonings as well as their taste and smell senses. And to do so in a setting as lovely as Zealandia."

So before our nocturnal tour, we enjoyed a two-course meal lovingly prepared by Teresa Yee from Wellington eatery, Finc Dining Room.

We tuck into spinach, rock melon and feta salad, seasoned with a kawakawa dressing, we sip delicious New Zealand wines of varying acidic levels, under the expert guidance of wine expert Nicola Belsham.

She advises us to match food that's high in acid with Tietjen Witters Viognier, while less acidic foods such as the salad go perfectly with a high-acid Murdoch James Riesling.

Round two comes in the form of lamb, fish and falafel wraps, using wild spinach grown in the sanctuary. We match that with a savoury and spicy Wishart Syrah from Hawkes Bay and an Omaka Springs Pinot Noir from Marlborough.

Blame it on too much alcohol and not paying attention, but by now my sweet and sours are starting to blur. Belsham suggests a useful rule of thumb is to add salt or sugar if a food or wine is too acidic; opt for spice or acid if it's too sweet; salt or acid if it's too spicy; and go the spice route if it's too salty.

As pens furiously jot down tips, we find space in our stomachs for oversized horopito cookies which we all expect to be savoury but which turn out to be a uniquely Kiwi version of shortbread.

Then, after a quick bag check to ensure mice and other predators aren't hitching a ride into Zealandia, we're off in search for those elusive kiwi and tuatara. z Sharon Stephenson was a guest of Feast & Vine www.feastandvine.com

Holiday fun

Feast and Vine at Zealandia is for the grown-ups, but Karori Wildlife Sanctuary has a full programme of events for kids during the school holidays. There is a daily schedule of activities and events, including Easter egg hunts (today and tomorrow) as well as a variety of craft and art classes, drama workshops, nature trails, storytelling and much more. Alternatively, it's a great place to pack a picnic and let the kids explore for themselves.

The sanctuary is open daily from 10am to 5pm. There are also night tours, including Feast and Vine. General admission is $14 adults, $6 children or $34 for a family of two adults and three children. Guided tours are extra.

For a full schedule of school holiday events and tour prices visit www.sanctuary.org.nz.