It was a momentous and sacred occasion when 14 kōkako with Pirongia lineage were returned to their "ancestral home" on Saturday.

Around 60 people gathered at the foothills of Mt Pirongia at dawn to witness the special event that was the culmination of many years of planning, pest control work and iwi consultation.

It was a huge milestone for Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society, whose founding goal in 2002 was to re-establish a self-sustaining kōkako population on Mt Pirongia.

Volunteers, from left, Norma Baker, Kay Milton, Morag Fordham and ecologist Dave Bryden with kōkako Mihipeka, named after author Mihipeka Edwards. Photo / Amanda Rogers
Volunteers, from left, Norma Baker, Kay Milton, Morag Fordham and ecologist Dave Bryden with kōkako Mihipeka, named after author Mihipeka Edwards. Photo / Amanda Rogers

The restoration society is now one step closer to reaching its goal.

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In the 1990s the last kōkako were dying out in the Pirongia area due to introduced predators and habitat loss.

The last ones were caught and transferred to a captive breeding programme in the hopes their genes would survive.

The offspring of those birds found their way to Tiritiri Mātangi Island and Kāpiti Island.
It was their descendants that returned to Mt Pirongia on Saturday.

The 14 kōkako were captured from Tiritiri Mātangi Island last week and transferred by ferry to Gulf Harbour.

On Friday they were driven in a van to Pirongia Forest Park Lodge where they stayed overnight under the close watch of conservation scientist Kevin Parker.

On Saturday the birds — six pairs and two juvenile females — were released by supporters of the project which included Taranaki-King Country MP Barbara Kuriger and local primary school students.

The birds will be monitored and next year up to 10 more kōkako will be translocated to reach a target of 40 founder birds — enough to start a new population cluster.

Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society chairperson Clare St Pierre says the translocation would not have been possible without the work of the capturing team and support of the community, volunteers and funders.

"I'm proud that we have achieved it simply as volunteers who care about our special maunga," she says.

"Our precious volunteers have been turning up, year in and year out for our baiting and monitoring work.

"What they do is basic but it adds up to a much bigger and brilliant outcome — that of bringing our maunga back to life."