A baby kiwi is strutting her stuff in the wild after being named and set free by supermodel Rachel Hunter.

Hunter named the 3-week-old kiwi Matariki, after the star cluster that signals the beginning of the Maori New Year, before releasing the chick on Motutapu Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf.

"I love the stars and I just thought it was fitting for her," said Hunter who was also influenced by the Maori story behind the name and a recent trip to Great Barrier Island, which has become a dark sky sanctuary.

"She's gorgeous, she's special. She was feisty on the way over [to Motutapu] and then a superstar when she came out [into the wild] and kind of just chilled out and fell asleep," she said.

A group, including people from the Department of Conservation (DOC), Motutapu Restoration Trust and local iwi Ngai Tai Ki Tamaki, gathered to watch and help Hunter release the kiwi into the bush.


"I'm very, very honoured and very, very lucky," she said.

"We know how sacred they are to their environments out in the wild…and to be able to come out here and…release one into the wild is super special."

Matariki, the kiwi chick named by Rachel Hunter before being released on Motutapu Island. Photo/Jason Oxenham
Matariki, the kiwi chick named by Rachel Hunter before being released on Motutapu Island. Photo/Jason Oxenham

Matariki, which weighed less than 500 grams, was hatched at Auckland Zoo from an egg collected in the Coromandel.

She would join 55 other Coromandel Brown kiwis on pest-free Motutapu, including Whauwhau who was released by former Prime Minister John Key and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2014.

The number of kiwi released on the island has ramped up since May 2017 as part of charity Kiwis for kiwi's aim to increase each species of our national bird by 2 per cent a year.

The charity's efforts, drawing on an $11 million Government grant to save the kiwi, worked in step with the DOC's decade-long kiwi recovery plan, which had a goal to lift the total kiwi population back to 100,000 by 2030.

DOC operations manager for the inner islands Keith Gell said the vision was for Motutapu to become a creche for kiwis so, when the population became big enough, surplus birds could be used to boost numbers elsewhere.

Yesterday's release was also a chance for Hunter to catch up on some of the conservation work happening on Motutapu.

The supermodel has been paid $50,000 by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) to be an international ambassador for the city.

Ateed general manager Steve Armitage said it was "fantastic" to have Hunter back in New Zealand.

"As an international ambassador for Auckland, she is a passionate advocate for all the things that make this city such a great destination, including the precious Hauraki Gulf and the islands within it.

"As New Zealand's largest marine park it is such an important part of Auckland's visitor offering and we are abundantly aware of the need to protect and preserve it for future generations."