It was a long time since I had visited Kapiti Island, the last in 2010! The island was the same, I had changed. More of that later.
I grew up on the Kapiti Coast and the island had always been somewhere special and when I became an adult I came to realise just how special it was. Special not only for it’s magnificent endemic birds (I had grown up to become a bird fanatic, an amateur photography fanatic) but also for its spiritual presence.
The opportunity to visit arrived with a half price ticket, I couldn’t refuse.
The island, full name Ko te Waewae Kapiti o Tara Raua ko Rangitane, is the summit of a submerged mountain range created by earthquakes 200 million years ago. It lies 5 kilometres (3 miles) offshore from Paraparaumu, It is 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) long and roughly 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) wide. The highest point on the island is Tuteremoana, 521 m (1,709 ft). The seaward (west) side of the island is particularly rocky and has high cliffs, some hundreds of metres high, that drop straight into the sea. It has a rich history.
The island was surveyed in 1770 during the first voyage of James Cook. In the 18th and 19th centuries Māori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) settled on the island.
The sea nearby was a nursery for whales, and vessels began calling in 1827 and, by the time the trade peaked in the mid-1830s, there were five whaling stations on the island. 2,000 people were based on the island and by the 1840s it ceased. Whales can be seen once every year during birthing season, along with orcas.
During the 1840s, much of the land was cleared for farming and sheep, goats, pigs, deer, cats, and dogs were introduced.
In 1897 much of the island was purchased by the Government for the purpose of protecting its natural heritage, ‘to conserve the flora and fauna of the Island’ (as already the diversity and abundance of native species was recognised). Since then Kapiti Island has been a nature reserve hosting some of New Zealand’s most endangered birds. Its protected waters are home to an abundance of marine life.
The history of Kapiti Island is interesting and both colourful and complex. The process of it belonging to the Māori and becoming a sanctuary wasn’t straightforward. Past governments often took what they wanted or paid token amounts. I can recommend a lovely book about it’s history, Kapiti by Chris McLean.
The opportunity to visit Kapiti Island arrived with an online half price ticket; I couldn’t refuse.
My fitness in 2019 was abysmal, in 2010 it was great. Then I confidently climbed straight up from the shore to the top – 521 meters (1710 feet) through the bush. As I knew I wasn’t going to repeat the performance, not even closely, I booked to go to the north end.
Twenty hectares at the northern end of Kapiti Island at Waiorua Bay is privately by a whānau (family, extended family) dedicated to preserving their whakapapa (the line of descent from one’s ancestors) — including the land and everything upon it — and sharing it with the world. The Barrett whānau are direct descendants of the original Māori settlers.
To visit the island it is necessary to have a Department of Conservation permit and visitor numbers are strictly controlled. This is included with the ticket.
I was excited to be visiting. I had done little photography in the last two and a half years and the island was the perfect place to indulge in my passion.
It is home to a number of native birds, mostly re-introduced. These include takahe, North Island kōkako, brown teal, stitchbird (hihi), North Island saddleback (tieke), tomtit (miromiro), fantail (piwakawaka), morepork (ruru), weka and North Island robin (toutouwai). The brown kiwi and little spotted kiwi were released on the island between 1890 and 1910, and the island is now the stronghold for the latter species. Rat eradication has led to increases in red-fronted parakeets, North Island robin, bellbirds, and saddlebacks and the island is considered one of New Zealand‘s most important sites for bird recovery, as well as a major breeding site, for seabirds. In April 2005, the critically endangered short-tailed bat was introduced to the island from a threatened population in the Tararuas, providing them with a separate, safer habitat.
While I didn’t expect to see Kiwi, Takahe or bats, I was hopeful I may see one or two of the more uncommon birds.
The boat ride from Paraparaumu to Kapiti Island only takes about 20 minutes. As the beach is shallow, we climbed onto the boat on shore and a tractor took us out until the boat could float.
The sea was pleasant. I love boats of any size. We stopped to let off those who were visiting the centre of the island, Rangatira, and carried on to the northern end. Most of us were visiting for the day, some were staying overnight.
An interesting introductory talk was provided for us and I decided to explore the flat area around the lagoon and the bush edge.
Unfortunately the track on the shore was closed as the sea birds were nesting. The walk on the other side of the lagoon to the north was not long; the latter part across small rocks. There were few birds on the lagoon unfortunately I would have loved some photos.
There were no birds at the destination either. Busy birds raising babies.
The landscape was almost bleak and was windswept as it is exposed to the north. The rocks meant I had to be careful for where I was walking: maturity has it’s downside :).
I didn’t spend as much time there as I should have, with hindsight. Many birds like to hide in that type of landscape and it is good for camouflage. I will go again soon, when the shore track is open and the birds have finished nesting.
I wasn’t going to climb the track, couldn’t resist the challenge. Once, not that long ago, it would have been easy but for me at the moment it was a slow climb.
Those with an average level of fitness will have no issues at all. It’s only 198 meters (650 feet)) and said to have a gentle gradient, 4.8 kilometre (3 miles) taking 1.5 hours return.
I saw few birds; several tuis (the photographs were poor) a kakariki and a kereru or two. There was plenty of bird song.
Kapiti Island has many North Island wekas (Gallirallus australis), a member of the rail family. They are charismatic birds, the size of a chicken and flightless, attracted to humans and most famous for stealing food. Caution is required when having lunch!
Traps were very evident. Kapiti has been predator free since 1998. Possums and rats were eradicated by 1998, quite a feat considering the size of the island – an area of 19.65 km2 (7.59 sq mi).
Kiwis and little blue penguins nest here, I’m not sure who this belongs to.
I had accidentally set the camera to video, it was interesting to hear the play back, there was some puffing happening and I was happy to know I was almost at the top.
The view was lovely. The sea was calm and there were many boats out fishing. I had lunch here, weka free.
I saw after there was another route to the one I had come up on. I wasn’t aware of it nor do I know which one I came down! It was a lovely walk down.
I was very pleased to have a North Island robin (Petroica longipes), Maori name toutouwai, join me as a sat at the edge of the bush. They are sweet little birds, not at all shy and very trusting. They will come very close to humans.
Shortly after I came across a Kereru, New Zealand pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) endemic bird. They are big birds, one of the biggest pigeons, the size of a small chicken.
Kereru make occasional soft coo sounds. Their wings make a very distinctive “whooshing” sound as they fly. It’s very loud and unmistakably a kereru, even though you may not see the bird. The are quiet birds, seemingly disinterested in us, potting around on the ground looking for fruit, leaves, twigs, buds, and shoots of over a hundred native, and fifty exotic, shrubs and trees. Occasionally, they gorge so heavily on ripe fruit that they become very full (or “drunk”) and have been known to fall out of trees.
The day went quickly, I wasn’t ready to leave.
There is the opportunity to stay the night at the Lodge. Kapiti Island is home to over 1,200 Little Spotted Kiwi making it the most prolific population in New Zealand. Here is one of the most reliable opportunities to see them in the wild, especially during the night tour as kiwis are nocturnal.
Time to go after a perfect day but knowing I had a booking in November for another visit, this time to Rangatira, in the middle of the island, which is quite different.
The end of a perfect day.