Take a trip back in time at a wildlife sanctuary off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island, writes Claire Nelson
The boat bumps against the pebbly shore at Rangatira, and straight away I hear birdsong ringing out from the forest. We’ve arrived at Kapiti Island, one of New Zealand’s most valuable nature reserves, and a haven for native species – including many that no longer exist on the mainland. From the beach at Paraparaumu – an hour’s drive north of the capital, Wellington – the boat takes 20 minutes to reach either of the island’s landing points: Waiorua Bay in the north or Rangatira at its centre.
The only way to visit is with Kapiti Island Nature Tours, run by the whanau (family) which has lived on the island for generations and remains its kaitiaki (guardians). Our guide gives a traditional Maori welcome, then walks us through the island’s history, environment and wildlife. It’s mostly birds; before people arrived in New Zealand, the only native land mammal was a small bat, but over time, countless invasive species destroyed the natural order. Here on Kapiti Island, it took decades to eradicate them – the removal of possums alone took six years and 125 miles of trapline.
Now, the island has been pest and predator-free for almost a quarter of a century, and native vegetation is flourishing thanks to biodiversity regeneration efforts. To immerse myself in this sanctuary, I take one of the hiking tracks up to the island’s 521m summit through a forest of tawa and kanuka trees. There are birds everywhere: a flightless weka (woodhen) struts across my path and a few piwakawaka (fantails) flit closely in my wake. I pass a feeding station for hihi, a frenzy of little yellow-chested birds taking in supplemental nectar. Only 400 of these birds still exist, almost a third of them here on Kapiti.
A day trip includes guided or self-guided exploration, or there’s the option to stay overnight at Waiorua, enjoying a communal meal in the lodge and sleeping in cabins or glamping tents, with a guided night walk to spot the iconic kiwi on its nocturnal rambles. Kapiti Island is a glimpse of New Zealand as it once was – as close to time travel as one can get.
Audley Travel offers tailor-made itineraries to New Zealand. A 19-day trip to the North and South islands, visiting Kapiti Island, Wellington, Mount Cook and Queenstown, costs from £6,850 per person, based on two sharing. The price includes all flights, B&B accommodation, hire car and excursions.
PICTURES: Shutterstock/Rudmer Zwerver, S Watson