Where do Kiwi Birds go ???

New Zealand is probably very much “in love” with the word ‘Kiwi’ to such an extent that almost everything that is iconic in NZ has part and parcel of this word. Starting with … “Kiwiana” referring to any particular items of popular culture unique to NZ (like the All Blacks, the Haka dance, etc), the citizens and residents here are commonly called Kiwis, the national golden-colored fruit with green or yellow flesh is also called Kiwi-fruits. And last but the least, the cute little flightless birds that once was on the the brink of extinction, is also called the Kiwi bird.

With much association to the word “Kiwi”, it is almost such that when one visits New Zealand, it is also a MUST DO to check out and see the cute little flightless Kiwi birds. Cute, it is… Flightless, it is. However to catch sight of it in nature, is hardly an easy task. Try treading lightly at night, equipping yourself with a red-colored light (white light tend to have the most significant bird time-to-run reaction) and bring Lady Luck with you 😀

For those game enough to hope for a glimpse of a Kiwi in the wild, here are some locations to get you started with when night falls.

1. Tiritiri Matangi Island

[A friendly Pipit within close vicinity, likely a juvenile]

A beautiful island paradise that is a designated bird reserve just off Auckland city. Depending on your departure point of Gulf Harbour or Auckland Harbour, an adult ticket could range from $55-70.

Kiwis has been very successfully re-populated on this island, and there is a 1 in 3 chance of sighting a Kiwi when strolling out about. However the drawback is, Kiwis only come out at night, and on this island, there is only 1 bunkhouse accommodation that needs to be booked in advance. No camping is allowed on the island, and there is only 1 ferry timing in – out of the island per day. So be warned, don’t in all enthusiasm looking for a kiwi be caught without accommodation on this island after the last ferry has departed. It could be quite an expensive exercise to be deported by the park rangers.

2. Rotoroa Island

[Scenic view of Rotoroa Island, taken by Irene Wood]

Rotoroa Island, what used to be a rehabilitation island for alcoholics, is now another example of an island that has been repopulated with native species (e.g. Kiwis, Takahes, Saddlebacks, Brown Teals) and plants that needs a safe sanctuary, and re-open to public a few years back for public appreciate and education on conservation efforts. Tickets could be obtained at either the Harbour at Orapiu (Waiheke Island) or Auckland at $23 or $52 per adult.

Similar to Tiritiri Matangi, there is only 1 ferry timing in and out to each Harbour. And no camping is allowed on the island as well. The good thing is there is more accommodation options available here, ranging from domitory-style bunk to family unit accommodation that comes with a price tag 😆 .

3. Te Mata / Coromandel

Located on the west coast of Coromandel, the Coromandel Forest Park around Te Mata – Tapu has its own local population of Brown Kiwis that currently under environmental protection work to eliminate predators to sustain the remnant population of kiwis there. Their population density remains rather low so spotting them could be tricky at the moment. For more information on where the treks could bring you close to kiwi sightings, see more information here: Thames Coast Kiwi Care website. Please do your part in not disturbing any kiwi nests sighted, and just keep your fingers cross that the Kiwis might cross your trekking path instead. Likelihood of Kiwi-sightings is possible if you have the possibilities of a few nights out here. Keep a ear for Kiwi calls indicating their presence during the night.

4. Taranaki

Managed by the Taranaki Kiwi Trust, together with the Department of Conservancy (DOC), there are a few on-going projects to re-establish Kiwi population back into their natural habitat namely Taranaki Egmont National Park and (Mangorei and Maude track) Rotokare Scenic Reserve (south-east of Mount Taranaki). For Egmont National Park, Kiwi presence are mostly located on the North-Eastern side, between Mangorei track to Pembroke Road. If you are doing multi-day treks on the North-Eastern side of Mt Taranaki, during the evening breaks at the DOC huts, listen out for possible Kiwi calls. There is a reasonable chance of hearing Kiwi within the vicinity even if not seeing them  😉

[Extract from Taranaki Kiwi Trust – Community Kiwi Protection Programme]

5. Aloha Island

[Kiwi at Aroha Island, taken by Lea Poire]

Another idyllic area, not exactly an island as the name suggests, located at Kerikeri inlet on the North Island, is a 12-hectare protected sanctuary hosting rare species of New Zealand flora and fauna life, including the North Island brown kiwi.

It is accessible by vehicle with 2 camping grounds with a choice of powered or unpowered site. There are also affordable lodge and cottage accommodation that can be booked in advance that are better in many ways than DOC huts. If you ask me, this is a well-kept secret gem of NZ definitely worth exploring!

6. Rakiura National Park

[ Steward Island, taken by Benjamin Lynch]

Located off the tip of the South Island on Steward Island, it is one of the newest National Park in New Zealand, opened in 2002. In this protected sanctuary, birdlife here is relatively rich compared to the main islands. The Kiwis here are notably different from others in terms of looks (slightly maybe  😆 ) but definitely in their behaviour. The Kiwis here maintain family groups, and most importantly, feed in the daylight hours. This offers the best opportunity for Kiwi sightings without losing your sleep! The 32km long Rakiura Track is a circular tramp that will take roughly 1-3 days depending on your speed.

With luck, you might even be able to catch this Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) over here. Check out this Facebook Group posting here on Aurora Australia, the opposite of Aurora Borealis that occurs in the North on when would be the best time to see!

7. Kapiti Island

[Little Spotted Kiwi, Kiwi Pukupuku]

Kapiti Island is a tranquil island, located in the Southern end of the North Island, about 50km north of Wellington city. However this is a protected nature reserve with strict bio-security control. A permit to visit is required through booking with the designated authorized tourism service providers. Camping is not allowed, however overnight stays are available through the same authorized tourism service providers to this area.

Depending on the habitats that you are trekking by, you could see koko (little penguins), seals and maybe even orcas by the coastline. The Kiwi species on this reserve is the Little Spotted Kiwi.

8. Trounson Kauri Park

West of Whangarei, roughly 40km north of Dargaville on Trounson Park Road, is a 450 hectare kauri forest reserve. Besides the magnificent giant kauri trees, it is also the home to several threatened species, including the North Island brown kiwi, kereru (native pigeon), pekapeka (bats), weta (insect) and kauri snails. Per normal brown kiwi habits, try trekking from 7.00 pm in winter and around 9.00 pm in summer.

There is a service campsite adjacent to this park for pitching up a tent or parking the caravan overnight that will help in your bid to sight a kiwi at late night.

9. Shakespeare Regional Park

Located north of Auckland less than an hour’s drive away, is another open sanctuary, Shakespear Open Sanctuary for wild life. A lack of predators in this protected grounds have since resulted in many native birds calling this home. The nocturnal Little Spotted Kiwi can also be observed on this ground. Camping ground is available not too far away.

For added bonus, take a way to Waterfall Gully after dark for a treat of Glow Worms too  😉

10. Okarito (Franz Josef)

Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary covering 11,000 hectares of low land forest in the South Island West Coast, near Franz Josef township, is home to a distinct species of Kiwi called the Rowi, looking similar in size to a Brown Kiwi, but the plummage differs by color tone. It’s population at the moment is nationally critical, standing at less than half of 1000 in last count in 2015. It is the rarest of the Kiwi species, and it is not a good thing in this case. As the count is so low in such a large area, without local knowledge, it might be hard to get sightings of the Rowi here.

Having said that, for the die-hard Kiwi fans, Pakihi Walk is within the bounds of the Okarito Kiwi Zone where you could try your luck there.

Here are some listings of places where Kiwi could be seen in captivity. I didn’t list too many since this isn’t the focus of this article:

  • Rainbow Springs (Rotorua)
  • Te Puia (Rotorua)
  • Kiwi House and Native Bird Park (Otorohanga)
  • Willowsbank Wildlife Reserve (Christchurch)
  • West Coast Wildlife Centre (Franz Josef)

Here is also a website detailing local New Zealanders sighting of Kiwis so that conservation efforts to protect the remnant Kiwi populations can be directed with focus:

Nature Watch for Kiwi website

Concurrently, these would also be areas where one can try your luck with Kiwi sightings, or even better, pledge your support and help to Kiwi conservancy projects in the various localities  💡

I will update new Kiwi sighting areas in the wild on this page time to time, and where my personal time permits  :mrgreen:

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