Kiwi roam free in Wellington's Wild West

North island brown Kiwi are doing well enough that some have been released back into predator-free rural Wellington.

A garage door with the words
A welcome for the kiwi. Photo: HNZPTexpand/collapse

Last month, in line with Wellington’s Capital Kiwi Project, and with solid support from landowners, mana whenua, Makara locals, and Wellington community groups, 11 Kiwi were released into Shepherds Gully at Terawhiti station in rural Makara, Wellington.

Te Papa Atawhai Department of Conservation has given the project a permit to relocate 250 Kiwi in total over the next six years onto land stretching from Red Rocks in the south to west of Porirua.

Kiwi were recorded as being present on this land by James McMenamen, who began farming here in 1847. Michael Grace, a McMenamen descendant and present-day director of Terawhiti Station, is “delighted that the project to re-home kiwi here has been brought to fruition.”

The 11 Kiwi released in November were gifted from the Waikato Ōtorohanga Kiwi House and Ngāti Hinewai.

Once endemic throughout Aotearoa New Zealand with an estimated population of around 12 million, the demise of Kiwi was seemingly assured by 1998 when numbers of all species were estimated at just 100,000 and trending swiftly downwards. By 2008 they were down to an estimated 70,000. Careful management of several populations of our national icon have seen a positive recovery of several species.

The inspiration for the Capital Kiwi Project has been a key factor in bringing our treasured national bird back into Wellington came not from the ground, but from the sky, with the return of formally rare Kākā parrots to urban Wellington following breeding success at Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne. It was the Kākā success story that got Paul Ward, founder and head of the Capital Kiwi Project, thinking.

Kiwi are a greatly valued taonga here in Aotearoa New Zealand and so the project to release them in Wellington was carefully planned and executed. Over four years a network of around 4,500 community-owned stoat traps was spread out across 23,000 hectares of mostly private land. This massive effort to eradicate predators was possible thanks to a collaboration including landowners, DOC Rangers, and thousands of volunteers. The work involved the monitoring and clearing of thousands of predators including stoats and rats from the traps.

“The return of the Kiwi is a pretty special ‘K’ to add to the list of birds we have collectively brought back to town,” says Paul Ward. “In Wellington we have managed to increase our biodiversity, while other capitals around the world are struggling in this regard."

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga have a close association with conserving the historic gold field on Terawhiti Station and during Wellington Heritage Week, staff joined a public tour there. The group were also fortunate to be given a special preview of where the Kiwi would be re-housed.

Two more Kiwi are due to be released in the same location soon. They were supposed to be part of the November group however, after they were discovered to be pregnant, their freedom is delayed until after their eggs are laid.

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga celebrates the reintroduction of Kiwi to their historical homes and hopes they will thrive.

David Watt and Niki Partsch