Located in the Wellington/Kapiti region
Kapiti Island and its surrounding waters are noted for strong tidal rips and changeable weather – sea conditions can quickly become treacherous. Obtain an up-to-date marine forecast before boating in the reserve.
The marine reserve is popular with divers. On the exposed seaward side of the island, the reef extends to 25 m and divers can pass through the underwater Hole-in-the-Wall.
On the mainland side, divers and snorkelers can explore the sponge gardens and seaweed beds.
Kapiti's waters include reef fish like blue moki, kingfish and various rays and sometimes rare and subtropical fish such as the spotted black groper. Protected great white sharks and basking sharks have occasionally been sighted by divers around the island.
Whales and dolphins are regular visitors and many seabirds can be seen too, such as gulls, gannets, penguins and perhaps a fairy prion or Arctic skua and flocks of terns feeding on sprats.
You can kayak to explore the marine reserve but you cannot land on Kapiti Island.
Kapiti Marine Reserve is 30 km from Wellington city and is located between Paraparaumu and Waikanae beaches and Kapiti Island.
The marine reserve touches the mainland at the Waikanae River mouth. Foot access to the reserve is from Waikanae Beach or Paraparaumu Beach on either side of the Waikanae Estuary and river mouth. There are walking tracks through Waikanae Estuary.
If you would like to visit Kapiti Island or wish to snorkel from its shores, you need to travel to the island with one of the authorised boat services and ensure you have a valid day visit permit. See Kapiti Island Nature Reserve for more information about visiting the island.
Kāpiti Marine Reserve connects Kāpiti Island Nature Reserve with the Waikanae Estuary Scientific Reserve. This brings two major sea currents together: the cold southern current and the warm d’Urville current. This results in a unique environment, full of species that are typically only found further south or further north.
The reserve is one of DOC and Air NZ’s Marine Sentinel Sites. Working with researchers, citizen scientists and those with rights over tribal land (mana whenua) we’re learning all we can to help our oceans. Find out more.
Under the waves around Kāpiti Island are a huge variety of sea-beds. These include soft sediments with burrowing crabs and sea cucumbers, and beds of seaweed providing habitat for fish and kōura (rock lobster).
There are also stretches of sea anemones that snapper feed on. And deep rocky reefs encrusted with sponges. Rare rhodolith beds (or ‘ocean tumbleweeds’) are also found here, which provide for a huge diversity of wildlife.
You can explore under the waves with LEARNZ virtual field trip.
Kororā return a nesting site at the reserve every year. They come to hatch their eggs often just meters from where they were raised. When they’re breeding, they’re at their most vulnerable. Meeting people, roads, and dogs can threaten their survival.
You might see them at the reserve when they’re ashore between May and June or November and March. Remember to give them plenty of space as they’re easily disturbed. If you want to see them up close, check out the Kapiti Kororā Cam.
Kapiti Island is a tranquil island bird sanctuary and one of New Zealand’s most accessible nature reserves. It's a unique visitor experience in a predator-free paradise. Access is by approved tour operators only.
Bird watching, whitebaiting and walking are among activities you can enjoy at Waikanae Estuary. Enjoy walks through native or regenerating forest on tracks near Waikanae.
Eight research projects at Kāpiti Marine Reserve are helping us to understand our oceans. They’re supported by iwi, communities, scientists, and Air New Zealand.
This report card assesses the health of the marine reserve according to a range of selected measures. The status and trend over five years are reported for each measure.