Kapiti Island is the emblem of its district and a spring of well-being for those who visit. Above all it is a haven of safety for it’s avian residents, a place for birds more than people.
Whereas from the mainland Kapiti Island dominates the seaward view; from the summit the vistas are endless. The steep western flank of the island tumbles abruptly to frothing waters below and the landward views are edged with a frame of foliage.
Access to Kapiti Island is strictly regulated by Department of Conservation, the guardians of the island. Travel must be made with a licensed commercial operator. email@example.com can advise. Or visit https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/wellington-kapiti/places/kapiti-island-nature-reserve/
for up-to-date approved operators.
From the visitor shelter, bear left past the toilet and ranger’s house to the whare (5 minutes). The start of the tracks are signposted shortly after.
Although both tracks take around 1 hour to their meeting place 20 minutes below the summit, the Trig Track is steeper and more tricky to negotiate. The recommended route is to climb via the Trig Track and descend via the Wilkinson Track. If you prefer an easier walk, take the Wilkinson Track in both directions. There is little to choose in terms of bird viewing and scenery.
The Trig Track climbs steeply through vigorously regenerating forest. It becomes immediately apparent that the forest is alive. Kereru give themselves away by dropping debris as they forage in the canopy. Popokatea poke their white heads out from behind leaves and weka scurry along the ground, rifling through the litter in search of insects to prey on.
Avian residents extinct on the mainland such as saddleback and stichbird dart about between twigs and branches, while cheeky kaka screech overhead. This is the New Zealand forest as it was, as it should be, but will only ever be on island sanctuaries such as Kapiti.
The increase in altitude decreases the volume of bird call, although weka are still abundant and are often spotted by their rustling of leaves.
After 1 hour there is a bench by a stichbird feeder. Shortly after, head left at the signpost and the junction with the Wilkinson Track.
The final 20 minutes to the summit tower (521 metres above sea level) is aided with steps.
There is a palpable sense of achievement shared with your fellow Kapiti Island visitors at this awe-inspiring lookout.
The descent via the Wilkinson Track is punctuated with benches, placed to provide rest while being with the birds. The track finishes by the whare. Head left to return to the visitor shelter.
Introduction of livestock commenced in the late 1830s when cattle, pigs and goats were brought by early farming settlers. With the whalers came cats and rats.
In 1839, E Dieffenbach noted “The whole island is covered with a very vigorous vegetation, mostly of trees especially the rata, kahikatea and rimu.”
By the late 1800s almost the entire island had been cleared of vegetation and given over to grazing. Further destruction of remaining forest tracts ensued in 1893, when the Wellington Acclimatisation Society released possums and deer.
In 1897, most of the island was sold to the Crown, with the intention of conserving the flora and fauna. The government commissioned the eminent botanist Leonard Cockayne to perform a botanical survey of Kapiti. He concluded the island should become a sanctuary – a natural museum for the birds and plant life of the island and New Zealand.
His eloquent recommendation remains true today.
Many rare birds such as takahe and Stichbirds are honeyeaters at the bottom of the pecking order and require extra nourishment to help them flourish. The stations provide a sweet fluid and opportunity for unmolested feeding.
The Maori occupation of Kapiti Island dates from around 1150 and the time of Whatonga. He divided the land from the southern tip of Kapiti to the east coast of the north island and gave land to his son Tautoki.
The name Kapiti Island is an abbreviation of Te Waewae Kapiti o Tararaua ko Rangitane (the meeting place of the boundaries of Tara and Rangitane). The names of Rangitane’s ancestors are immortalised in many of Kapiti’s prominent physical features, Tuteremoana being named after a descendent of Tara.
In 1821 Te Rauparaha, Ngati Toa and his allies descended from Kawhia in search of land, trade and guns. He set his sights on Kapiti as a strategic location from which to command the coast.
Resident Ngati Apa and Muaupoko were initially stoic in their resistance to the attackers, but were overcome by a surprise attack. Te Rauparaha used Kapiti as his base until the early 1840s, despite a victory in the Battle of Waiorua around 1824.
Revenge for Kapiti’s exhuming was thwarted by a pecuniary force compared to the amassed warriors on the Kapiti Coast. An armada of canoes and 2000-3000 warriors were defeated by Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeta. News of this victory consolidated Te Rauparaha’s position and Kapiti became the centre from which he governed. The Okupe Lagoon is said to be the burial place of many after the Battle of Waiorua.
Many whalers were vagabonds, escapees from New South Wales penal colonies. Drinking and gambling were rife and little regard was given to conservation of the resource. By 1850 whaling had ceased. Try pots and rusting winches on the beach are all that remains of Kapiti’s whaling.
When whalers arrived on Kapiti, initial offerings of flax, whale products, pigs and potatoes were exchanged for muskets and other instruments of war. The Right Whale passed the coast between May and October and 4 stations were set up on Kapiti from 1827.
North Island ▷ Wellington Region ▷ Kapiti Island
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍