Kapiti Island

A couple days before my parents finished up their NZ holiday, it was finally time to make our second visit to Kapiti Island. Off the nearby Kapiti Coast, the island is a native bird sanctuary and free of mammalian predators, thanks to over a century of hard work. We had visited six years ago on my parents’ last visit, but the weather hadn’t been in our favor, and we hadn’t made it far on the island’s trails before getting completely soaked. This time around, the weather gods smiled down on us!

Keen for the full experience, we’d booked an overnight on the island. First thing in the morning, we drove up to Paraparaumu, boarded our boat on the beach and were then launched into the sea for our short trip over to the island, along with a group of other visitors. After a wonderful introduction by an island ranger (a highly sought-after post amongst Department of Conservation rangers), we set off on the Wilkinson Track to the island’s highest point.

Last time, we’d heard the haunting call of the kōkakō, the rare wattle-bird known as the grey ghost. As we meandered uphill, this time Andy sighted a pair in the trees overhead. They were hard to capture in the low light, but we were able to watch them for a long time, and it was an incredible experience. You can just make out the blue wattle and black mask.

The North Island kōkakō has managed to outlive its South Island counterpart (with orange wattles), which is thought to have gone extinct in the early 1900s, though there are still sightings to this day. On the North Island, there were only 330 pairs in 1999, but at last count in 2021, there are 2,080, thanks to pest control and sanctuaries like Kapiti.

Other native birds flew above as we continued up and up and up, the perfect excuse to take it slow during the climb and whip out the binoculars or camera. A cute North Island robin flitted between tree branches around us, waiting to see if we’d turn up any bugs with our footfalls. They’re very clever!

After a couple hours of switchbacks and steady uphill trekking, we finally made it to our lunch spot, the island’s peak. Tuteremoana is 521 meters (1,700 feet) above sea level, which of course means there are great views. The South Island was about as clear as it gets, the Kaikoura Ranges rising above the Cook Strait in the distance.

After a delicious lunch of way too much cheese in the sunshine (I mean, we had to finish it!), we began the descent. Thanks to their unique call, and Andy’s keen eye, we spotted not one, but two more kōkakō pairs.

About halfway down, there was a hihi/stitchbird feeding station, which we spent some time at, watching the hihi and korimako/bellbirds flit in and out for the sweet nectar. They’re very hard to capture since they move so quickly, but this korimako was kind enough to pose.

And a few hihi perched for long enough to capture them, one just as it was lifting its feet for takeoff.

Back down at sea level, we wandered by The Whare. Thought to date back to the 1860s, it was originally a homestead for farmers in the island’s pastoral days. Luckily, those times are in the past, and it’s now the oldest building associated with nature conservation in this country. Over the years, it has served as a caretaker’s residence and home base for scientists, trappers, students and visitors.

We headed to the beach to cool off while we waited for our ferry to take us to the other side of the island, where we’d be spending the night. After a quick trip (you can’t walk, because much of the island isn’t accessible to visitors for good reason), we made the short trek to the Kapiti Island Nature Lodge. My parents were in a cute cabin, and due to a slight booking mix up, we ended up being upgraded to an incredible yurt. We couldn’t have asked for a more idyllic spot, surrounded by regenerating bush and the sounds of native birds.

I thought I heard a familiar sound coming from the wetland nearby, and when I went to investigate, my hunch proved right. Takahē! From my time spent volunteering at Zealandia, I knew their gentle tones of communication, and it was incredible seeing them out and about in the wild. We gave them some space so they could go about their foraging undisturbed.

After speaking to our host, it sounds like this was a parent and juvenile. They have a wide range on the island, so we were very fortunate to see them right outside our door. Takahē were thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered in a remote mountain range on the South Island in 1948. After many years of recovery programs, there are now just over 400 birds. Though this sounds like a small number, it’s a huge achievement considering how much they have had to overcome. Again, places like Kapiti give them a safe haven away from the many predators a flightless bird has to contend with, until they can hopefully one day establish wild populations on the mainland.

Already feeling incredibly lucky with bird sightings and our gorgeous accommodation, we were further amazed by the incredible meals included with our stay. Our hosts were generous with wine and beer as well, and who could say no to some refreshments with a view like this, especially after a day spent hiking?

We even had some cheeky kākā to contend with. They’re repeat offenders, so water bottles were stationed around for guests to spray them. It works… kind of.

There were about a dozen others staying the night, and we had a lovely group of hosts to keep us informed and entertained. That night, after a delicious dinner, there were organized excursions into the forest to scout for kiwi. While we heard some, we didn’t get a glimpse this time around, and we were very ready for bed after a long day at that point.

The next morning, we woke to birdsong and a delicious breakfast overlooking the sea.

There are a few private residences on the island, mostly holiday homes, but there is an agreement with DOC that they can not sell land to anyone else and it must remain within the original families. Permission also has to be sought to make any updates and there is a clear respect for the island sanctuary, further reiterated by the lovely older woman we spoke to, the sole full-time inhabitant of the island. Our incredibly talented chef was also a local, and any leftovers were gladly snapped up by the nearby families.

Time to set out on our next hike, this time through a slightly different coastal habitat.

It was a hot day, so we were glad we set out early. The view from the top was well worth a little sweat!

Off in the distance, we could just make out the central North Island volcano Ruapehu, as well as Mount Taranaki. Ruapehu’s snow-covered heights can be seen towering above the horizon below, almost 200 miles (300 km) to the north:

The view looking down wasn’t bad either.

While we all took in the view, a cheeky weka came by to see if it could snipe any food. No such luck, friend. The cheese is long gone!

Time for a family photo.

On the way down, we spotted some kererū in the mānuka trees overhead. Although they’re not a rare sight, they’re always a welcome one.

Just don’t stand underneath them.

The coast around this part of the island was closed for shorebird breeding season, and you can see why it’s an important habitat, especially free from the predators that often plague any nesting population (often cats and dogs, sadly).

Back at the lodge, we spent some time relaxing, wading in the sea and reading before it was time for our afternoon ferry back to the mainland. It was hard to say goodbye, and would’ve been easy to stay another night. We will definitely be back!

Farewell, incredible Kapiti! We highly recommend Kapiti Island Nature Tours, and although the overnight cost may seem steep, when you consider all that you get for that, including transport, accommodation, two days on the island, incredible meals and wonderful hosts, it’s well worth it. Going for the day is also a fabulous option, but trust me, you won’t want to leave.

I’ll leave you with our last video compilation from the trip. Until the next adventure!

1 thought on “Kapiti Island

  1. Wonderful photos of the birds, a great trip for you all.


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