Tane Davis, Ngāi Tahu, and Fiona McKenzie, Ngāti Manuhiri, release a kākāpō
Image: Deidre Vercoe | DOC


Ngāi Tahu has strong cultural, spiritual and traditional associations with kākāpō.

Ngāi Tahu is the predominant iwi (tribe) of New Zealand’s South Island.


Seasonal journeys to food-gathering places (mahinga kai) were pivotal to the Ngāi Tahu way of life in Te Waipounamu (South Island).

Mahinga kai were connected by a network of trails, stretching from the mountain haunts of the kākāpō to the sea. Māori memorised each trail as a sequence of named landmarks, river systems, and resting places. Each had stories that connected them to ancestors and tribal history.

Māori took advantage of the mating behaviour of the kākāpō by hunting them during the summer months, usually using dogs to sniff out the well-camouflaged birds.

Most of the kākāpō were plucked or skinned ready to eat. Others were preserved in their own fat in wooden baskets made from the inner bark of tōtara, or delicate containers made of kelp. Bunches of kākāpō tail feathers were attached to the containers to identify the contents and provide attractive decoration.

Feather cloaks

The feathers were sometimes woven into cloaks, and the skins softened and used to fashion beautiful garments for the wives and daughters of leading chiefs. They had a high value.

Some of the cloaks have been handed down through the generations and provide a link with ancestors. They are taonga (treasures). Even today, when someone complains about being cold they will often be given the response:

“Me kauhi ranei koe ki te huruhuru Kākāpō, pu mai o te tonga?”

“Shall I cover you with the feathers of the kākāpō, heaped up here from the south?”


The New Zealand Government, through DOC, acknowledges the association of Ngāi Tahu with the kākāpō. We consult them when making policy decisions concerning the protection, management or conservation of kākāpō.

Through the Ngāi Tahu Deed of Settlement, Ngāi Tahu also has a representative on DOC’s Kākāpō Recovery Programme. Tane Davis has represented Ngāi Tahu in the Kākāpō Recovery Group since 2005.

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