Kapiti Island is a great place for birdwatching
Image: DOC


Kapiti Island is host to one of the largest accessible island bird sanctuaries in New Zealand, set in one of the nation’s most valuable nature reserves.

A world-first conservation effort is the most recent phase in the island's history of geological change, warfare and whaling.

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.


Kapiti Island is now one of the nation’s most important sites for bird recovery. Based on recent counts species such as kakariki (red-crowned parakeet), robin, bellbird and saddleback have increased since the eradication of rats.

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.

Other 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 that can be seen 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.


Kapiti Island is 10 km long and about 2 km wide, covering an area of 1,965 ha. The highest point, Tuteremoana, is 521 m above sea-level.


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.

Conservation history

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 entirety was overrun by feral animals.

Despite its status, 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.

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