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Kapiti Island Trip

A limited number of permits have been booked for a post-conference trip to Kapiti Island, a nature reserve near Wellington. Kapiti Island lies about 5km off the west coast of the southern North Island. It is 10 km long and about 2 km wide, covering 1,965 hectares. Nature reserves on the Island set aside areas for the protection of native plants and animals. Human impact is kept to an absolute minimum.

On Kapiti you may observe birds that are either very rare or absent from the mainland. Only Fifty people per day may visit Kapiti Island Nature Reserve.


Simon Gurnsey is organising this trip. Email him at to book a place.


The train for Paraparaumu leaves Wellington railway Station at 8:00 am Monday. There is a local bus from the Paraparaumu Station to the the Beach. The MV Te Aihe will depart from Paraparaumu Beach, immediately in front of the Kapiti Boating Club at 9:30am. If you are coming other than by train, you will need to be at the beach 15min before your sailing time.

There are two return sailings. These depart from the Island at 3:00pm and 3:30pm.


DOC Permits: $9 - pay Simon Gurnsey. Cash would be appreciated.
Train: $9 each way
Boat: $35 return


Lunch and drink, swimming togs (if its hot), comfortable walking shoes and a light waterproof jacket. The only facilities on the island are toilet facilities.


The boat trip operates subject to favourable sea conditions. The skipper (Tony) has full responsibility to cancel sailing if in their opinion the sea conditions may be unsafe. Simon will ring Tony on Monday at 7.30am. Ring Simon on 027 2767612 if the weather is stormy!

Permits are non-refundable; if the boat trip is cancelled because of bad weather you can re-book on another day. Your permit will remain valid for 6 months - or you can forfeit the permit.

About Kapiti

Kapiti Island lies about 5km off the west coast of the southern North Island. It is 10 km long and about 2 km wide, covering 1,965 hectares. The highest point, Tuteremoana, is 520m above sea-level. Nature reserves like those on Kapiti, are areas set aside for the protection of native plants and animals. Human influence is kept to an absolute minimum. Every effort is made to minimise the adverse effects of any introduced plants or animals that have managed to establish on the island. Most people never get an opportunity to visit nature reserves because access to them is so difficult. Kapiti is unusual because it is one of very few relatively accessible island nature reserves. Here, people may observe birds that are either very rare or absent from the mainland, and to see the recovery of vegetation after modification during last century. A marine reserve spans the gap between the mainland and Kapiti; a smaller area off the north- western shore of Kapiti is also marine reserve.


Kapiti Island is the summit of a submerged mountain range created by earthquakes 200 million years ago. At one time, moa and kakapo wandered the valley that lay between the mountains to the rest of the mainland. Several million years ago, most of this range was inundated by rising sea level. It was, for a time, part of a land bridge that extended across what is now Cook Strait. What remains is an island of wind-blasted hillsides to the west and lush temperate rain forests to the sheltered east.

Known as "motu rongonui" or "famous island" to pre-European Maori, a succession of tribes have used Kapiti. Settlements occurred on much of the eastern side, including Rangatira Point. Kapiti was the stronghold of the famous Te Rauparaha and a strategic location for Maori military activity as late as the 1830s. By this time, however, the island was shared with European whalers. During the 1840s, much of the land was cleared for farming and sheep, goats, pigs, deer, cats, and dogs were introduced. Whale numbers declined precipitously and the island was given over entirely to farming after 1850. Today, DOC preserves many artefacts from the whaling period, such as the "trypots", used for boiling down blubber, that can be seen on shore. In 1870, Kapiti was identified by naturalists as a possible site for a bird sanctuary. It was reserved for this purpose in 1897, however, much of the habitat on the island had by this time been cut down and the island entirely overrun by feral animals. Despite its status as a bird sanctuary, many native species did not survive. Much of the early work on using islands as bird reserves was pioneered by the visionary naturalist, Richard Henry, who arrived as a caretaker on Kapiti in 1908. The DOC whare near Rangatira was at one time his home.

By 1987, when the Department of Conservation took over the stewardship of Kapiti, many of the invasive species had been removed. Goats were eradicated from the island in 1928, followed by cats, deer, sheep, cattle, pigs, and dogs. Possums were destroyed between 1980 and 1986 in the first ever successful operation of its kind. More than 22,500 possums were killed during this process. Kiore and Norway rats were eradicated using aerial application of brodifacoum in September-October 1996, leaving the island completely free of introduced mammals.


Kapiti Island is now one of the nation's most important sites for bird recovery. Based on counts undertaken from April 1999 to January 2002, species such as kakariki (red-crowned parakeet), robin, bellbird and saddleback, have increased since the eradication of rats in 1996. Stitchbird, kokako, takahe, brown teal, and saddleback have all been transferred to Kapiti since the 1980s. Earlier releases (1890s to 1910s) included two forms of brown kiwi and weka. The little spotted kiwi thrives on Kapiti Island but is now extinct on the mainland. Birds you are likely to see in the bush include kereru (NZ pigeon), North Island tomtit, kaka, whitehead, tui, fantail, long-tailed cuckoo (in summer only) and silvereye. Birds around the coast include black-backed and red-billed gulls, white-fronted tern, variable oystercatcher, reef heron, and little, black and spotted shags. On the boat trip to and from the island you can often see gannets, fluttering shearwaters, and little blue penguins.


The original forest cover of Kapiti was dominated by huge rata and podocarps such as matai and miro. Some of these ancient trees have survived in the deep gullies which the fires of the 1800s missed. The main forests on the island today are kohekohe, tawa and kanuka. Many parts of the island are covered in scrub and scrub communities dominated by fivefinger, mahoe and kanuka. Some plants, such as karo, have been introduced to Kapiti because their flowers provided valuable food for nectar-eating birds.