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The internationally renowned sanctuary for New Zealand native birds, native forest and New Zealand wildlife and marine reserve

What is Kapiti Island?

Kapiti Island is around 5km off the west coast of the southern North Island, just one hours drive north of Wellington. It is 10km long and around 2km wide and it covers 1,965 hectares.

The Island is a nature reserve – an area set aside for the protection of native plants and native birds, and where human influence is monitored and kept to a bare minimum.

As a nature reserve it remains the most protected of public lands, and today the sheer abundance and diversity of birdlife gives testimony to the decades of careful management, good planning and much hard work.

Having been lifted by earthquake, then eroded by climate and ocean the highest point, Tuteremoana, sits 521m above sea level.

For over a hundred years now Kapiti Island has been managed by the New Zealand Government in order to protect its flora and fauna.

Kapiti Island stands as ‘one of the jewels in the crown of New Zealand’s conservation estate’ as it provides the necessary ‘pest and predator’ free environment for many of New Zealand’s most endangered bird species.

But Kapiti is more than a ‘conservation island’.

For over eight hundred years people also have lived on this island, and their history survives today through the stories and legends told by their ancestors, and through historical sites and artefacts.

History

Many tribal groups have left their marks on Kapiti Island during a long and colourful history. For instance, from here the famous chief Te Rauparaha controlled his middle NZ empire between 1830s and 1860s.

Over the last 150 years, Kapiti Island has been home to some five waves of particular European interest. First came the explorers, including Captain James Cook who named Kapiti “Entry Island” because of its proximity to Cook Strait.

Then came the foreign trading ships which affected the balance of power: They were encouraged to the Island by signal fires on top of the hills.

Soon after came commercial whalers, with some 2000 people living on Kapiti Island, including Australian and American whalers using their ‘long boats’ to chase the whales.

They processed the meat in large ‘blubber pots’ (some of which still remain on the Island).

In 1897 New Zealand’s Prime Minister Richard Seddon introduced a bill to Parliament in order to acquire Kapiti Island ‘to conserve the flora and fauna of the Island’ (as already the diversity and abundance of native species was recognised).

Of the total 1965 hectares, the local tangata whenua (Māori people of the land) together kept 13 hectares around Waiorua Bay, and this is where the Lodge is today. Otherwise (now for over 100 years), Kapiti Island has been managed exclusively as a wildlife sanctuary.

Until recently, the entire Island was totally ‘pest and predator free’ for decades. in 2009 Kapiti Island Nature Tours and Kaitiaki o Kapiti Trust supported the Department of Conservation’s stoat eradication programme to once again return Kapiti Island to its former preditor-free status.

The difference this makes to the plant and animal life (and especially the birdlife) is huge.

Birds

As a world-renowned bird sanctuary, and as a result of years of conservation efforts, Kapiti Island is blessed with an abundance of native and endangered species like Little Spotted Kiwi, Takahe, and the cheeky Kaka who have not survived so well on the mainland.

Kapiti is one of the oldest and most secure publically accessible nature reserves in the world. Free of all introduced pests and predators, visitors can expect to see many endemic bird species that are already extinct on the mainland.

  • Kaka
  • Weka
  • Little Spotted Kiwi (if you stay overnight)
  • Tieke (Saddleback)
  • Kokako
  • Hihi (Stitchbird)​
  • Ruru (Morepork)
  • Tui
  • Korimako (Bellbird)
  • Kakariki
  • Kereru
  • Toutouwai (North Island Robin)
  • Popokatea (Whitehead)
  • Piwakawaka (Fantail)

Marine Reserve

The Kapiti Marine Reserve links the Kapiti Island Nature Reserve and the Waikanae Estuary Scientific Reserve on the adjacent mainland shore to form a rare and special part of New Zealand.

Two areas of sea either side of Kapiti Island make up the marine reserve, where all marine life, habitat, objects and structures are protected. This nationally significant recreation, education, ecological and scientific resource contains some of the finest underwater scenery in the greater Wellington region.

Today, Kapiti Island, Waikanae Estuary and the marine reserve in between create a very rare continuum of protected land, sea and estuary habitats.

The island is known as a sanctuary for Kiwi, Kaka, Takahe, and Saddleback and the estuary is a feeding ground for birds and a nursery for a variety of fish. With these two reserves linked by a marine reserve, animals that move between shore, sea and river habitats get special protection.

Shags, terns, gulls and penguins roost and breed on land but rely on the sea for food. Native freshwater fish, such as whitebait, lay their eggs in estuarine waters and the young fish are swept out to sea before returning to swim up streams where they mature.

Where is Kapiti Island?