Last updated on September 9th, 2019
Before we arrived in Wellington last April, we had never heard of Kapiti Island. Tourists rarely know this island, but hanging out with some locals in Wellington, we began to hear more and more about this magical island off the Kapiti Coast. It all sounded so amazing, that we quickly added it to our, already way too big, Wellington bucket list! We, therefore, were really happy when we got the opportunity to go on an overnight tour with Kapiti Island Nature Tours. During two days, we hiked to the top of the island, enjoyed the awesome bird life, camped in the cutest little cabin and went for a nighttime kiwi spotting tour. In this blog, we’ll tell you all about Kapiti Island and our experience!
Beautiful Kapiti Island
Kapiti Island is a nature reserve island around 5 km off the west coast of the southern North Island, just off the Kapiti Coast. The Kapiti Coast is just an hours drive north of Wellington and it is just the most stunning area of the whole Wellington region in our opinion. Golden sand beaches, beautiful islands and the most stunning sunsets. What more could you ask for? From one of the main towns of this coast, Paraparaumu, you can easily get to Kapiti Island.
Like said, the island is a nature reserve: an area set aside for the protection of native plants and native birds, and where human influence is monitored and kept to a bare minimum. This means that today there is a great abundance and diversity of colourful bird life, with birds you will never ever see on the mainland of New Zealand!
The Saddleback bird
But did you know that the whole of New Zealand was like that before the arrival of humans?! New Zealand evolved without any mammal predators, which meant it had one of the biggest bird diversity in the world, including many flightless ones. But when us pesky humans arrived we brought along a lot of unpleasant things like rats, possums, cats, and weasels. This was super damaging to New Zealand’s birdlife who had never met creatures like this before. So not long after the mammals arrived, a big part of the bird population went extinct or close to extinction.
Luckily, in the late 19th century, people began to realise that New Zealand was a special place filled with unique birds that deserved to be protected, so they started to clear the small off-shore islands (like Kapiti Island) of pests like rats, and then reintroduced the endangered bird species. This was incredibly successful and it made sure there were many bird sanctuaries and reserves formed, one of them Kapiti Island, which you can visit today. By 1996, Kapiti Island was completely pest-free!
One way to visit Kapiti Island is with Kapiti Island Nature Tours. This organisation actually consists of only one whanau (family) which are connected to Kapiti Island since 1820. Their ancestor, the famous Maori chief Te Rangihiroa, first arrived during that time, settling on Kapiti as base and stronghold. Since then, 8 generations of their whanau have had place on Kapiti Island. Pretty impressive right?!
During the years, Kapiti Island has been a whaling station with even a couple of thousand people living on the island, before it was taken over and acquired by the Dept. of Conservation (DOC). Almost all of Kapiti Island is now government land, except for the 13 hectares on which the whanau lives and preserves. It’s on this piece of land where the lodge and Kapiti Island Nature Tours is run from.
Kapiti Island Nature Tours offers different options to discover Kapiti Island for yourself. They simply offer just the return ferry transport to explore the island yourself, or they offer a day tour on which you’ll get a guided walk, a chef prepared lunch at the lodge and ferry transport. BUT if you really want to experience Kapiti Island and want to get the chance to see a wild kiwi with your very own eyes, then you definitely have to do the Overnight Kiwi Spotting Tour, which we did as well when visiting Kapiti Island. This tour has different sleeping options available, including a cabin and glamping.
The view from the summit of the island
Ferry ride and hiking time at Kapiti Island
During a sunny weekend in June, we started our Kapiti Island Nature Tour off at Paraparaumu Beach, where you can easily get to on an hour drive north of Wellington on Highway 1. From here, we checked in at the cafe and quickly jumped into the boat and onto the blue waters to Kapiti Island.
Our first stop of that day was at Rangatira, which is DOC managed land and where there is an abundance of choice between walking tracks. We first walked to the visitor shelter of the DOC, where we got a really interesting introduction talk about Kapiti Island and its beautiful birds.
Shortly after, it was time to head for the summit of Kapiti Island, Tuteremoana, at 521m high! There are two ways to get there: on the steep Trig Track or on the more easier Wilkinson Track. We decided to go for the Wilkinson Track, which takes around 3 hours return. We have to say it was a pretty hard hike to get up, with some steep spots in places, but it was also very beautiful walking through the bush. We immediately noticed the great abundance of bird life here. You literally hear birds singing everywhere! Don’t think we’ve ever heard so many birds together at one place.
After about 40 minutes of very steep climbing, we passed a hihi feeding station, where we decided to have our lunch.
Shortly after we sat down, a few weka birds came running to us, hoping to get some food (which you aren’t allowed to give of course!). The Weka bird is one of New Zealand’s iconic flightless birds and often gets confused with the kiwi. They are pretty curious and love to come close to people. Only Kapiti Island, you can see plenty of them!
Besides the Weka bird, we saw many other birds flying around, like the hihi, kereru, saddleback, and tui. While we were not really bird lovers before, we have to say that we find the birds of New Zealand pretty impressive!
We continued our way and after around an hour of more steady climbing, we finally reached the top of the island! Unfortunately, there were some big clouds passing us, so we couldn’t really see much. Sometimes, however, the sky cleared a bit and we could see the mainland of New Zealand and sometimes even as far as the South Island! Despite the fog, we still made some great pictures.
And then it was time to head back down again. We were actually in a bit of a hurry because, of course, we spent too much time making pictures, so we had to be quick in order to make our boat. But in less than an hour we were back down at the beach, just in time for our boat ride to the next location!
The boat now brought us to the north end of the island, where the land and lodge of the whanau of Kapiti Island Nature Tours is located. Arriving there, we were warmly welcomed by the local family and headed to the beautifully located lodge. With our guide for that evening and the next day, we sat down with some tea and coffee as he explained a bit more about this part of the island.
We loved the whole atmosphere at this place so much! We were really just staying at a local families place and therefore, it didn’t really feel like a ‘lodge’, it felt more like we were in a home of the family. Those things are actually what we really love and are always looking for while traveling. We really love to experience local culture and to experience the more hidden, local places and we think you can’t do that better than here with Kapiti Island Nature Tours!
That weekend we were supposed to sleep in a luxurious glamping tent, but because it was already winter and getting pretty cold at night the family suggested it would be better to sleep in a cabin for the night. We agreed with that, as we are not fans of the cold, and the cabin was also very beautiful and cute!
Of course, we couldn’t help but also check out the glamping tent we were supposed to stay in. It looked like a pretty, luxurious tent with even your own little toilet. Definitely recommended when you’re visiting in summer!
Can you spot the weka bird?!
While we were walking around, we noticed a lot of other cool birds like the cheeky kaka and we even saw two rare Takahe birds! This flightless bird was thought to be extinct but rediscovered in the 1940’s and now there are only 347 left in the whole world. So it’s pretty unique to see one!
As excepted, life on the island is pretty basic, with only electricity from a generator and limited water, but that didn’t bother us at all. It’s what’s part of nature! After checking out the accommodation at the lodge, we decided to have a look at the beach that afternoon. The sun was just setting, which gave the sky beautiful colours. Yes, this island sure is magical!
Dinner with Kapiti Island Nature Tours
At around 7 pm it was time for an amazing home-cooked meal at the lodge, while we met the two other people who were also staying the night. It was super cozy to sit there chatting with other people at the warm fireplace with a beer and wine while getting to know more of the island and the family that lives here.
Guided kiwi spotting walk at night
After dinner, it was time for the most exciting thing of the whole tour: kiwi spotting at night! Kapiti Island is home to over 1200 Little Spotted Kiwi and because it’s a small island you’re almost guaranteed to see a kiwi here at night. However, when it comes to wildlife spotting we are often the most unlucky people in the world haha, so you can probably imagine what happened that night. Nothing! For more than an hour, we walked in the dark around in the bush but didn’t see or hear any kiwi. Our guide told us this is very strange and that you are at least supposed to hear some kiwis at night, but we only heard one. He had no idea how it could be possible but well, that’s nature! Sometimes you see many kiwis and sometimes you see none. Still, the walk was really beautiful and it was pretty exciting to walk around at night. We could literally see millions of stars above our head!
The overnight stay on Kapiti Island
After the walk, it was time to get some hot water bottles ready and go to bed. The beds in the cabin were super comfortable and it was nice and warm. Even at night, we could still hear a lot of birds making sounds in the distance, and then especially the Weka bird. We actually loved sleeping to that and therefore had a really good sleep that night!
Saying goodbye to Kapiti Island
We just had an amazing time on Kapiti Island and therefore were pretty sad when we had to leave the next morning. After a delicious breakfast, the boat brought us back to the mainland from where we had to get back to the city of Wellington.
We didn’t really know what to expect of the island before we visited, but we are so happy we did! The island is just beautiful and here you can really get a taste of what life used to be like in New Zealand before human migration. Still unknown to most people and with rugged, unspoiled nature and wildlife: just how we like it! And who would have ever thought that we would become interested in birds?! Well, Kapiti Island might have changed us a little bit! By all means, we definitely recommend visiting this island to everyone!
Thank you so much to Kapiti Island Nature Tours for hosting us. Of course, all the opinions in this blog are our own 🙂
It’s so green on Kapiti Island!
Interested in going to Kapiti Island with Kapiti Island Nature Tours as well? You can book your return ferry here or a Day Tour here. Also want to stay the night and experience a kiwi spotting walk like us? Then book the Overnight Kiwi Spotting Tour here! Check what the different accommodation options are here.
Read all our other blogs about New Zealand here!
So what do you guys think of Kapiti Island? Sounds like paradise to you? We would definitely like to hear what you think and if you want to visit as well!
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