Kapiti Island. Island in New Zealand, Oceania

Kapiti Island

Island in New Zealand, Oceania

Kapiti Island Sunset Photo © gundy

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Kapiti Island

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Off the west coast of the lower North Island lies a jewel of New Zealand conservation. Free of predators, Kapiti Island is a paradise for both bird watchers and all other nature lovers. Perfect for a day trip, the island has short walks and beautiful views, or you can stay overnight for a true island experience.


Located 3.1 miles (3 mi) off the west coast of the lower North Island, Kapiti Island runs 6 miles long and is roughly 1.2 miles wide. It covers almost 7.7 square miles, and its highest peak is Tuteremoana, which stands at 521 m (1,709 ft). The island is separated from the mainland by the Rauoterangi channel. The west side of the island is particularly rocky, with cliffs hundreds of meters high sheering off into the sea.


Kapiti Island is the summit of a submerged mountain range created by earthquakes 200 million years ago. The valley that lay between the mountains and the mainland was wandered by now-extinct animals such as the moa. Several million years ago, most of the mountain range was inundated by a rising sea level.


In the 18th and 19th centuries, the indigenous Maori people settled on the island. Known as "motu rongonui" or "famous island", a succession of tribes have used Kapiti. Settlements were established on much of the eastern side, including Rangatira (Wikipedia Article) Point. The Chief Te Rauparaha formed a base here, and his Ngati Toa tribe regularly sailed in canoes on raiding journeys up to the Whanganui River and down to Marlborough. In the Battle of Wairoa in 1824, Ngati Toa destroyed a force of 2,000 mainland warriors who had landed at the northern end of Kapiti in an attempt to capture the island.

The nearby sea was a nursery for whales, and during whaling times, 2,000 people were based on the island. Oil was melted from the blubber and shipped to America for use in machinery before petroleum was used.
The conservation potential of the island was seen as early as 1870. It was reserved as a bird sanctuary in 1897. Naturalist Richard Henry arrived as a caretaker on the island in 1908, and pioneered much of the early work on using islands as bird reserves. In the 1980s and 1990s efforts were made to return the island to a natural state through pest eradication. In 1987 the Department of Conservation (DOC) took over the administration of the island, and many invasive species have since been removed. Possums were destroyed between 1980 and 1986 in the first-ever successful operation of its kind. Rats were eradicated in 1996, leaving the island completely free of introduced mammals. Today the island is the site of the Kapiti Island Nature Reserve and adjoins the Kapiti Marine Reserve. Most of it is in New Zealand Crown ownership.
The oldest buldling on Kapiti Island is known as the "Whare", which means "house" in the indigenous Maori language. The Whare is thought to date from the early 1860s, when it was built as a homestead for the McLean family who farmed the island. The Whare later became home to a number of island caretakers, including early conservation officers. In later years, the Whare has been used as a base for scientists, trappers, students, and numerous visitors.


The island is a sanctuary to a number of native bird populations, most of which are re-introduced. These include takahe, North Island kokako, brown teal, stitchbird (hihi), North Island saddleback (tieke), tomtit (miromiro), fantail (piwakawaka), morepork (ruru), weka and North Island robin (toutouwai). Other birds you are likely to see in the bush include kereru (New Zealand pigeon), kaka, whitehead, tui, long-tailed cuckoo and silvereye. The brown kiwi and little spotted kiwi were released on the island between 1890 and 1910, and the island is now the stronghold for the little spotted kiwi. Rat eradication has led to increases in red-fronted parakeets, North Island robin, bellbirds and saddlebacks. The island is considered one of New Zealand's most important sites for bird recovery, as well as a major breeding site for sea birds. In April 2005, the critically endangered short-tailed bat was introduced to the island from a threatened population in the Tararua Range (Wikipedia Article), providing them with a separate and safer habitat.

The island is a popular day trip for birdwatchers. Due to a lack of predators, birds on the island are relatively trusting and a visitor to the island is likely to be rewarded by seeing a number of different species.


The original forest cover of Kapiti was dominated by huge rata and podocarps such as matai and miro. Most of the forest is naturally regenerating after years of burn-offs and farming, although some areas of original bush remain, with trees up to 30 m high. The island's plant life is dominated by scrub and a forest made up of native kohekohe, tawa and kanuka trees. Some plants, such as karo, have been introduced to Kapiti because their flowers provided valuable food for nectar-eating birds.


There are a number of short trails on Kapiti Island that offer the perfect way to explore the island, its wildlife and stunning views.

Rangatira area walks

The Rangatira area is home to two easy walks, which take you through the forest to view bird life and also see the historic whare (Maori house), the oldest building associated with nature conservation in New Zealand. From the whare, both the Wilkinson and Trig tracks climb up through mature forest to the highest point of Kapiti Island, Tuteremoana.

The Rangatira Loop walk takes 1 hour 30 minutes return, covering 1.1 miles It is an easy walk that passes through regenerating forest and coastal shrubland. Leaving from the Rangatira shelter, the track leads you to explore the Rangatira wetland from the boardwalk track then around the coastal section back to the shelter.

The Wilkinson Track is well-suited for the fitter of visitors. A 2 hour climb up to the summit of the island, the track covers 2.4 miles one way. It is a well-formed track with a steady uphill climb. If the gradient is getting to you, take a break at the picnic area and hihi feeding station a third of the way up. Take care, as sections of this track can be slippery in wet weather.

The Trig Track is a steady, uphill, 2 hour climb to the summit. It is considerably steeper than the Wilkinson Track, covering 1.2 miles Only for the fit and adventurous!

Northern end walks

The walking tracks on the northern end of the island pass through grassland, shrubland, regenerating forest and coastline, and provide impressive views of the freshwater Okupe Lagoon.

The Lagoon Walk is a short 850m return track, that takes 1 hour 30 minutes. This trail can be used any time of the year, and will lead you up to the northern coast of the island.

The Okupe Valley Loop Walk is a fairly gentle 1 hour 30 minute walk, covering just under 3.1 miles It winds its way up a ridge through regenerating bush, before following the ridge top to the north-western lookout. You'll need a reasonable level of fitness for this track, and you can also take sturdy strollers along this path.

The Boulder Bank Loop Track takes 45 minutes, covering 1.2 miles. It follows the coastline around the boulder bank, with beautiful sea views. This trail is closed from October to March, due to seabirds nesting near the track.

Staying Overnight

Overnight stays are not permitted within the part of the island that is the nature reserve. Some of the island is in private ownership, and on this land Kapiti Island Nature Tours offers a homestay option for visitors. Different accommodation options are available, from luxurious tents, to cabins and a coastal bungalow. Check out www.kapitiislandnaturetours.co.nz for bookings and more information.

Getting There

Kapiti is a perfect day trip from the capital Wellington, although access is by approved tourism operators only. Operators include Ngati Toa Kapiti Tours and Kapiti Explorer and Tours. Prices are A$75 ($62) for adults, and A$40 ($33) for children (17 and under). Sailings are not daily, so be sure to organize your trip in advance. The island is a popular destination all year round, but especially in summer. Boats depart from the Kapiti Boating Club at 1 Manly Road, Paraparaumu Beach (Wikipedia Article) - one hour drive north of Wellington. To get there from the Paraparaumu traffic lights, turn into Kapiti Road and continue to the beach. The Boating Club is at the end of Kapiti Road. Trips to the island are weather dependent. Contact the tourism provider on the morning of your trip for a weather check and to confirm the departure time.

What to Bring

You will need to bring your own food and drinking water. Wear sturdy footwear, and bring warm clothing and a waterproof jacket as the weather can change quickly. As the island is a protected habitat for many animals, rules about what you can and can't bring are strictly enforced. Your belongings will be checked before boarding the boat. All fires, including barbecues and cooking stoves, and smoking, are strictly prohibited. Everything on the island is protected, so this means you cannot remove any shells from the shore or plant life.

For more information, check the DOC website at www.doc.govt.nz or stop into the Poneke / Wellington Visitor Centre on Manners Street in central Wellington.

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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Mar 17, 2016

Pictures of Kapiti Island

Kapiti Island
Kapiti Island. Photo by unknown

Kapiti Island trip 2013-9152 - Kapiti Island
Kapiti Island trip 2013-9152 - Photo by Brandon Skilton

Kapiti Island trip 2013-9196 - Kapiti Island
Kapiti Island trip 2013-9196 - Photo by Brandon Skilton

Kapiti Island Blue 2 - Kapiti Island
Kapiti Island Blue 2 - Photo by tomraven

Kapiti Island from the Maungakotukutuku Saddle, New Zealand, 3 November 2006 - Kapiti Island
Kapiti Island from the Maungakotukutuku Saddle, New Zealand, 3 November 2006 - Photo by Phillip Capper

Kapiti Island - Kapiti Island
Kapiti Island - Photo by Kathrin & Stefan Marks


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