What is Kapiti Island?

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


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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. For some, witnessing this kind of environment can be an experience that can affect the way they see themselves in the world. 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.

Whatungarongaro te tangata
toi te whenua

Men (people) disappear from sight,
the land remains.

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.

Geographical position

Kapiti is the most westerly of a series of folded ridges receding into the distance. Walking along Kapiti’s ridgeline is reminiscent of a tramp across the southern Tararua tops. In both cases cliffs on the western side drop away hundreds of¬†metres while the eastern slopes are more rounded and less steep.

Kapiti’s re-emergence as an island as a result of the most recent phase of global warming is especially significant. Isolation from the mainland has made Kapiti attractive, first to generations of Maori seeking the security of this natural fortress surrounded by sea and then, since the 1890′s to conservationists concerned for the survival of birds threatened with extinction on the mainland.

Being an island it has been easier to protect and to modify than the adjacent land mass. In the past it was occupied by a succession of tribes and as one was removed by conquest, another took its place. More recently, wild cattle, sheep, cats, possums and rats have been eradicated and endangered birds have been brought to the island.

Kapiti, Chris Maclean, The Whitcombe Press. ©1999
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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.