Kapiti Island is a nature reserve hosting some of New Zealand's most endangered birds. Its protected waters are home to an abundance of marine life.
Creating a place where endangered species can once again thrive has also created a rare experience for the small number of people who are allowed to visit Kapiti Island each day.
Kapiti Island Nature Reserve is ten kilometres long and two kilometres wide. Visitor numbers are strictly limited - access is only by licensed launch and a landing permit from the Department of Conservation is required. For a summer visit, you'll need to apply for a permit one to two months ahead.
Your launch departs from Paraparaumu Beach, 50 kilometres north of Wellington by car, coach or train. You’ll skim for 15 minutes across the surface of the marine reserve that lies between the mainland and Kapiti Island.
Stepping ashore you’ll begin to understand what it takes to maintain a land before time. Having eradicated all mammalian predators, and fostered the restoration of the once giant rainforests, today’s guardians of the island are not about to let this work be undone. Visitors’ luggage is inspected for small stowaways, and smoking is only permitted under supervision at the water’s edge.
Guided walks can emphasise either the natural history or the cultural history of the island - you choose.
Kapiti Island is now one of New Zealand’s most important sites for bird recovery. Stitchbird, kokako, takahe, brown teal, and saddleback have all been transferred to Kapiti since the 1980s. Earlier releases (1890s to 1910s) included two types of kiwi and weka. The little spotted kiwi thrives on Kapiti Island.
As you’d expect, the island is also home to dense populations of less endangered native and marine birds. Having grown-up on the island they’re blissfully unaware of predators, and they’ll show you a level of trust seldom experienced by humans.
You may see black shags and little shags fanning their wings to dry, or blackbacked gulls nesting on rock stacks during spring and early summer. Little blue penguins cross the beach at night. Their tracks can often be seen along the beaches. Eagle rays sometimes bask in the shallows close to shore.
Equipped with the fresh knowledge from your professionally guided walk, you’ll have the opportunity to leave your small group and explore the island on your own, before returning to the mainland.