In the “Stewart Island/Rakiura Conservation Management Strategy and Rakiura National Park Management Plan 2011-2021

Codfish Island/Whenua Hou, situated three kilometres off the northwestern coast of Stewart Island/Rakiura (see Map 11) has been identified as a Place due to its unique management needs. Codfish Island/Whenua Hou was initially classed as scenic reserve in 1915, with this designation being upgraded to nature reserve in 1986. Codfish Island/Whenua Hou has outstanding conservation values and has, since 1987, been used extensively for the Kākāpo Recovery Programme.

Due to the cultural significance to Ngāi Tahu of Whenua Hou Nature Reserve, Codfish Island/Whenua Hou is the subject of a Deed of Recognition under the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998. Deeds of recognition require the Department of Conservation to have regard to Ngāi Tahu values when making management decisions.

Advice on the management of Codfish Island/Whenua Hou is sought from the Whenua Hou Committee, a subcommittee of the Southland Conservation Board which consists of Ngāi Tahu as well as Southland Conservation Board representatives. This committee is provided for under the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998.

2.3.1 Spatial definition of Codfish Island/Whenua Hou as a Place

Map 11 - Codfish Island/Whenua Hou as a place

Aside from Ruapuke Island, Codfish Island/Whenua Hou is the largest offshore island of the Stewart Island/Rakiura group, and the largest within public conservation land. Codfish Island/Whenua Hou is 1396 hectares in size and rises to a height of 250 metres above sea level. The boundaries of this Place include the small islands and rock stacks adjacent to the main island. The boundary of the Whenua Hou Nature Reserve extends to the line of mean high water spring.

2.3.2 Rationale for the Codfish Island/Whenua Hou Place

Conservation General Policy seeks that a ‘Place’ is identified for the purposes of integrated conservation management, which in this case has been determined by:

  • geographical features - being the island environment of Codfish Island/Whenua Hou;
  • boundaries and land status - being a nature reserve with distinct legal boundaries and having a Deed of Recognition placed on it under the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998;
  • major recreation and tourism destinations - under the Reserves Act 1977, public access is prohibited unless a permit is issued;
  • commonality of management considerations - management decisions regarding Codfish Island/Whenua Hou apply to the whole island; and
  • unique management needs - management direction must consider the nature reserve status of the island, its use for species recovery programmes and the management advice received from the Whenua Hou Committee.

2.3.3 Natural resources

Codfish Island/Whenua Hou contains the Whenua Hou Nature Reserve. It is covered mostly by coastal and podocarp forest, of a similar type and nature to that found on Stewart Island/Rakiura, with some areas of pakihi type vegetation as well as an important sand dune community at Sealers Bay.

Most of the coastline is rocky and rugged but a long sandy beach occurs at Sealers Bay on the north-eastern side of the island. A number of small islets and rock stacks surround the main island in all directions.

Codfish Island/Whenua Hou has been the site of several successful introduced animal eradication programmes. For example, possums were introduced to the Island prior to 1925 and eradicated by the New Zealand Wildlife Service between 1984 and 1987. Weka were introduced to the Island sometime before 1894 and were well established by 1920. These were removed by a joint operation between the Wildlife Service and the Department of Lands and Survey from 1979 to 1984. Approximately 1000 weka were captured live and transferred to Stewart Island/Rakiura during the removal exercise up until 1982. Kiore were eradicated by the Department of Conservation in 1998. The Island has been free of the effects of possums for 21 years, rats for 10 years, and weka for 24 years. As such, it provides a significant sanctuary and breeding ground for the highly endangered kākāpo, mohua, and Campbell Island teal, all of which have been introduced to the Island.

Codfish Island/Whenua Hou is important to other marine and land species, supporting breeding colonies of a variety of species including Cook’s petrel, mottled petrel, Fiordland crested penguin/tawaki, yellow-eyed penguin/hoiho, kaka, red and yellow crowned parakeets/kakariki and the endemic Codfish Island fernbird. The Island supports New Zealand’s only colony of the South Georgian diving petrel. It is also the stronghold of the southern lesser short-tailed bat. The Island fulfils an important habitat niche in the southern hemisphere for many migratory seabirds which nest and breed here before departing on their annual migrations.

The coastal megaherb punui (Stilbocarpa lyalli) is found on the Island, and has undergone a substantial recovery following the removal of possums and rats from Codfish Island/Whenua Hou.

The Department of Conservation operates a small hydroelectric power generation system on the Island. This was built to assist the kākāpo recovery effort by providing the operation with a reliable and more environmentally friendly source of electricity.

2.3.4 Historical and cultural heritage

Codfish Island/Whenua Hou is a highly significant place to Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Mamoe and Waitaha, as well as the wider Ngāi Tahu whanui who connect to this Island on a spiritual, physical and cultural level. This connection is largely due to the settlement that existed at Sealers Bay between 1800 and 1850, comprising European sealers and their Māori partners.

Many Ngāi Tahu families descend from these relationships, with the settlement at Sealers Bay being the first permanent association between Māori and European people in southern New Zealand. The Māori/Pakeha settlement site at Sealers Bay is a recorded archaeological site containing significant buried taonga and urupa. This site is of national importance. There are several other archaeological sites across the Island relating to occupations as early as the 13th century.

In the past Ngāi Tahu have referred to the Island as Kanawera, in reference to a powerful Ngāti Mamoe rangatira who had a long association with the Stewart Island/Rakiura area. It has also been referred to as Pukehou.

In 1898 a pastoral lease for the Island was issued, but attempts at farming here were not successful and in November 1915 the Island was gazetted as a scenic reserve.

From the 1960s, the importance and potential for the Island as a sanctuary for native species became apparent and a number of ecological restoration measures were taken, including a restriction on public access in 1968. The restriction on public access was introduced in the wake of the Big South Cape/Taukihepa rat infestation in 1964 which caused a number of native species extinctions. Removal of animal predators from the Island allowed for the recovery of many species that were already present on the Island, and paved the way for species transfers starting from 1987.

In 1986 the Island’s status was changed from scenic reserve to nature reserve, reflecting its ecological importance. The Island has been the scene of many major conservation efforts during the past half century and is widely known as a successful example of island ecosystem restoration. The change from scenic reserve to nature reserve in 1986 was of concern to tāngata whenua, due to the limitations surrounding access to nature reserves and given the cultural significance of Codfish Island/Whenua Hou.

2.3.5 Public benefit and enjoyment

Under the Reserves Act 1977, public access is prohibited unless under a permit. This regulation of entry is essential to ensure that the values of Codfish Island/Whenua Hou are preserved into the future. Therefore, much of the public use and enjoyment of Codfish Island/Whenua Hou comes from the knowledge that it plays a significant part in restoring populations of endangered species such as the kākāpo.

Kākāpo were first transferred to the Island from southern Stewart Island/Rakiura in 1987, following the possum eradication. Kākāpo acclimatised successfully on the Island and proved that they were able to successfully breed here, although the presence of kiore hampered efforts to rebuild the population until their eradication in 1998.

In recent years, a number of kākāpo viewing opportunities have been provided whereby kākāpo are displayed at various locations around New Zealand and made available for the public to see. These viewings have been successful, providing the New Zealand public with a chance to see the results of the conservation effort taking place on the Island.

2.3.6 Outcome, objectives and policies


Codfish Island/Whenua Hou is managed holistically with aggressive control of introduced animals and plants, biosecurity measures to maintain its introduced animal and plant-free status, and to ensure continual improvements to its natural state.  It provides a safe haven and refuge for the intensive management of New Zealand species, bringing these species ‘back from the brink’. General public access remains prohibited to ensure that the introduced animal eradication work undertaken thus far and the species recovery programmes are not compromised. There is respect and understanding for Codfish Island/Whenua Hou’s historical and cultural heritage and we continue to learn more regarding Codfish Island/Whenua Hou’s human and ecological history, which is of national and international significance.

Management objectives

  1. To provide for the continued protection and functioning of Codfish Island/Whenua Hou and its native species, habitats, biodiversity and ecosystems.
  2. To provide a sanctuary for the introduction and management of threatened New Zealand species.
  3. To liaise and consult with papatipu rūnanga with regard to the management of Codfish Island/Whenua Hou while recognising and providing for the Whenua Hou Committee and its management role for Codfish Island/Whenua Hou.
  4. To provide for the protection and management of historical and cultural heritage, including archaeological sites within Codfish Island/Whenua Hou.
  5. To work with agencies having statutory roles to achieve the integrated management of Codfish Island/Whenua Hou.

Management policies

  1. Will manage Codfish Island/Whenua Hou in order to protect and restore its native species, habitat, biodiversity and ecosystems, including species introductions, reintroductions and transfers where necessary and appropriate.
  2. May use Codfish Island/Whenua Hou as a source for the transfer of species to other areas.
  3. Will manage Codfish Island/Whenua Hou as far as possible as an island sanctuary free of introduced plants.
  4. Will recognise the Deed of Settlement placed on Codfish Island/Whenua Hou and ensure Ngāi Tahu values are taken into account when managing the Island.
  5. Will consult with and have particular regard to the advice of the Whenua Hou Committee, wherever it is practicable to do so, on all matters relating to the control and management of Codfish Island/Whenua Hou.
  6. Should prohibit general public access to the Whenua Hou Nature Reserve on Codfish Island/Whenua Hou. Access for specific purposes, including scientific research and filming, will be considered on a case-by-case basis provided that consultation has taken place with the Whenua Hou Committee and the proposal is consistent with the outcome sought for Codfish Island/Whenua Hou. Applications for permits should be made on the understanding that a high standard of test is placed on applications, including whether proposals can be located at an alternative site.
  7. Will ensure that all visitors to Codfish Island/Whenua Hou comply with biosecurity measures as required by the Department of Conservation.
  8. Should actively manage the māori/sealer occupation site at Sealers Bay for its cultural and historical values.
  9. Will work with the Southland Regional Council to ensure that activities within the foreshore and the coastal marine area surrounding Codfish Island/Whenua Hou do not adversely affect the outcome sought for this Place.

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