Birdlife abounds on Kapiti Island, however the star of the show was too shy, writes Pamela Wade
The trip to Kāpiti Island was meant to be all about the little spotted kiwi — but clearly nobody had told the penguins carousing loudly under my floorboards most of the night.
No sooner had I zipped up the tent and tucked myself cosily into bed than they started partying — or courting, or squabbling, it was hard to tell — and clearly were aiming to make a night of it. Add to that the harsh shrieks of kāka, the mellow hoots of ruru and the calls of the kiwi themselves, and Kāpiti nightlife was turning out to be a lot rowdier than I'd expected.
Fortunately, thanks to Kāpiti Island Nature Tours, I'd had a busy day out in the fresh air exploring the island, so falling asleep wasn't a problem. We had all met up on the beach at Paraparaumu and climbed a ramp on to the boat, which a tractor backed into the sea.
We whizzed across to the island in just 20 minutes, where guide Rochelle welcomed us with friendly enthusiasm and a wealth of information about what we would see, hear and even taste during our stay.
Nibbling on kōkihi, bush spinach, we learned about the long Māori occupation of the island, which was followed by intensive whaling and farming and then the far-sighted declaration of Kāpiti as a nature reserve, way back in 1897. Later, DoC got busy, with the splendid result that, in 1998, the island was declared completely pest-free and now boasts a little spotted kiwi population of more than 1200 — so many that they are regularly relocated now to other sanctuaries on the mainland, where they had become extinct.
The vegetation too has flourished and, on a solitary hike to the trig point tower 521m above the sea, I followed a well-made track up through dense, lush bush. The star, in May, was the exotic-looking kohekohe, flowers sprouting straight out of its bark — a once-in-five-year special. There were plenty of tuneful tūī, kererū, kōkako, tīeke and hihi serenading me on the way, but Rochelle had warned me to be on my guard for cheekily confident kāka and weka, both of which were liable to mug me for any food I exposed. To our mutual disappointment, at the summit I found I had forgotten my packed lunch. It was a consolation, at least to me, that the view along the coast and out over the turquoise sea was so spectacular but that meant nothing to the weka I left there, sad-eyed and hungry.
Back down at sea level, I was delighted to pass by two placid takahē nibbling at seed heads, before I rejoined Rochelle at The Whare, the island's oldest building and once home to Richard Henry, New Zealand's first conservation officer. Among the information inside is the exhausting but inspiring fact that more than 22,500 possums were eradicated on Kāpiti — as well as rats, cats, goats and deer.
Once we had all returned from our various wanderings, we took another hop in the boat up to the northern end of the island. Here Wayne, representing the local iwi who are the sole landowners on the island, welcomed us with afternoon tea and fascinating local insight into Kāpiti's history and nature.
The lodge here is unpretentious but comfortable and homely. My wooden-floored tent out in the grounds was the real treat. Tucked away by itself, beyond a lawn where kererū
were grazing like sheep, it was the perfect, literally back-to-nature, place to spend the night.
First though, there was a wander past Okupe Lagoon to watch the sunset gilding the rocks along a wild coast, then a cheerful and chatty dinner to enjoy back at the lodge. Thanks to Wayne's tutorial, when we ventured afterwards out into the dark on our kiwi-spotting mission, we knew that the high-pitched whistles we heard were a male calling, and the lower trills a female responding; but sadly tonight they kept out of our sight.
Never mind: in compensation there were weta and geckos, kāka and penguins - and above us all, a cloudless sky that dazzled with stars. Nobody was complaining. And what were we expecting anyway? There's a reason why it's called the little spotted kiwi.
Kāpiti Island Nature Tours (kapitiisland.com) will be recommencing operations from September 1. The Overnight Kiwi-Spotting Tour costs from $393 per adult, $230 per child, which includes a choice of lodge, cabin or tent accommodation, guided walks, meals, DoC permit, boat transport from Paraparaumu and the night-time kiwi-spotting tour. Their Day Tour, beginning and ending in Wellington, costs $320 per person. Day trips with an optional guided tour are also available with Kāpiti Eco Tours kapitiislandeco.co.nz.