Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Heading for the big green tractor

Launched from the back of a tractor

A selection of bird's we might see

A Saddleback or Tieke

Janine our guide

A view from Kapiti

Smile please

I know where the food is

The feeding station for the Hihi

Time to leave Kapiti

Sylvia’s Comments

Another early morning rise to phone the boat operator to check the weather conditions for today. Just as the DOC officer has said it was a lovely day, the trip was on and we were to meet the boat behind the big green tractor on the beach at 9.30am. Whilst using our laptop last night there had been a small bang, a smell of burning and the computer went dead. So with the later start for our trip we would be able to call at the computer shop where we had used the internet to get it repaired. So we left the campsite and drove to the car park and walked around to the shop and left the laptop. The news was not too good as we were informed that it was very costly to repair laptops as everything is soldered together and not individual components as is on desktops. Well we will worry about that when we return at 4pm.

We now headed for the beach and found the big green tractor but no boat, so we waited with a small group of people until our transport arrived. Before boarding the boat we had to empty all our bags out to ensure we were not carrying mice, rats or any other pests which might endanger the birdlife on the island. Once we were all checked we were soon off and speeding past the rival tour boat that had set off ten minutes beforehand. On arrival at the island we were instructed to walk to the shelter where we would be given an introduction talk before we were free to walk the tracks.

Kapiti Island is one of NZ’s most valuable nature reserves. It is the only large island sanctuary for birds between Hauraki Gulf in the north and NZ’s southern outlying islands. The island is 3miles off the west coast of the southern North Island and is 6 miles long and just over 1 mile wide. The Muaupoko tribe were believed to be the first inhabitants of the island, later the Kahungunu Tribe arrived. Life was peaceful and parts of the island were cleared and cultivated, especially around the lagoon and Rangatira. In 1822 Te Rauparaha, having travelled south with his people hatched a plan to capture Kapiti and use it as his own base. He feinted to attack another area that caused the defenders on the island to relax their guard, thus not being prepared when the attack came. Once on Kapiti, Te Rauparaha established himself and his people building three large pa (defensive villages) around the island. It was about this time that the European settlers were arriving and the area was popular with whalers. Te Rauparaha established trading links with the whalers and European boats that passed the island trading safe havens and shrunken heads for weapons, thus maintaining his power base.

Retaliation against him was inevitable, but it took two years to gather enough support for an attack and in early 1824 over 2,000 warriors from all over the lower North Island and parts of the South Island assembled for the attack. They used the same tactic that Te Rauparaha himself used, pretending to attack elsewhere so that vigilance was relaxed. A vast armada of boats approached Kapiti overnight and attacked at the northern end of the island. They were very near successful when Te Rauparaha arrived with reinforcements and the invaders were routed. The largest Maori force ever assembled along this coast was defeated by one of the smallest.

In 1840 the first of three farms was established and many animals were introduced including sheep, cattle, pigs, goat’s deer, cats and dogs. When the Maori people arrived they brought with them the kiore (Polynesian rat) as a food sauce, and later the whaling boats brought the Norwegian rat. Possums were introduced in 1892 to develop a fur trade. It was in 1897 that some far sighted naturalists, seeing the destruction of NZ’s unique forests began to realise the potential of island sanctuaries and urged the government to act. The Kapiti Island Reserve Act was passed in 1897. Efforts to improve the island as a habitat for birds began but it was not until 1987 this were done with more efficiency. Between February 1980 and November 1986 22,500 possums were exterminated. In 1996 an operation to kill the rats began and within a few months it was noticeable that small lizards were becoming more conspicuous on the island. Today the island is being used to preserve endangered species such as the saddleback, stitchbird, takahe and kokako, brought here for insurance purposes.

After Janine gave the introductory talk on the history of the island and the birds we were likely to see we were free to wander off. Jeff and I, along with another lady joined Janine on a guided walk along one of the tracks. Janine was a very interesting guide and the hour long walk extended into over one and a half hours as she imparted Maori folklore about the island. The northern end of the island is still owned by one of the Maori tribes and Janine is a descendant from that group. She pointed out some of the rarer birds for us such as the Kakariki, a parakeet shaped like a budgerigar, a striking iridescent green with a red crown and azure wings. You need to be quick to spot these shy creatures as they fly off when they hear you approach. We also saw a saddleback (tieke) one of the most endangered species. It is black with a bright chestnut saddle across its back.

After we left Janine there was not sufficient time for us to climb up the track to the summit of Tuteremoana, the highest point on the island at 1,704 feet, but Janine suggested we walk to the half way point where there was a picnic table and feeding station for the stitchbird (hihi). We ambled our way up the track stopping to watch the playful robins who would settle at our feet looking for grubs, listen to the tuneful tui’s and bellbirds singing and watch out for many saddlebacks. Once at the picnic table we settled down for our sandwiches and were joined by an inquisitive weka looking to see what we had got to eat. Soon after this a kaka, very large bush parrot, flew in to try and join us for lunch. We were told they often land on visitor’s heads and backpacks, where they will try and undo the fasteners to get inside. I quickly put the plastic lid on our lunch box, but that did not seem much of a deterrent to this guy as with his powerful hooked bill he made to attack it. Removing the box off the table I sat on it, this I discovered was not such a good idea as he knew exactly where it was and the look in his eye made me hastily put it back in our backpack. Not satisfied with this he had a go at the camera case to see if there was anything worth while in there.

Whilst all this activity was going on I managed to see one stitchbird fly into the feeding station. These birds are more dependant on nectar than the bellbirds and tui's (who will also eat fruit) so feeding stations are placed around the island to assist them in order to secure their existence. Although this little bird has settled well on Kapiti Island their future is still not assured.

All too soon it was time to make our way back down to the beach to meet our boat. We had had a lovely day on the island and would recommend this trip to any keen bird watcher. It is with thanks to those far sighted naturalists that we owe the chance to see these nature reserves, and it is with hope that my generation will also work to save these special places for other people to see in the future. Our only disappointment was in not seeing any takahe, a bird that was thought to be extinct, until rediscovered in 1948. We were told they often hung around the shelter where the visitors arrived, but it seems this group have gone walk about to another part of the island where food is more plentiful at the present time. Well we cannot have everything. Once back we called around to collect our computer only to be told there was nothing wrong with it, so happily we paid our bill and returned to the campsite.

The following day it poured down all day so we decided to stay put and move off on Saturday when the weather forecast promised more sunshine.

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