Kapiti Islands

History

In the 18th and 19th centuries Māori settled on the island. Te Rauparaha formed a base here, and his Ngāti Toa tribe regularly sailed in canoes on raiding journeys up to the Whanganui River and down to Marlborough.

The sea nearby 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. Although whales can be seen once every year during birthing season, there still are not as many as there used to be.

The conservation potential of the island was seen as early as 1870. It was reserved as a bird sanctuary in 1897 but it was not until 1987 that the New Zealand Department of Conservation took over the island. In the 1980s and 1990s efforts were made to return the island to a natural state; first sheep and possums were removed. In an action few thought possible for an island of its size, rats were eradicated in 1998.

In 2003 the anonymous Biodiversity Action Group claimed to have released 11 possums on the island. No evidence of the introduced possums has been found.

Present Day

The island is the site of Kapiti Island Nature Reserve and adjoins the Kapiti Marine Reserve. Most of it is in public ownership.

The island is home to a number of native birds (mostly reintroduced), including takahe, kokako, brown teal, stitchbirds, and tieke (saddleback), miromiro, piwakawaka, ruru, weka (hybrid of North and South Island subspecies), hihi, and toutouwai. 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 latter species. Rat eradication has led to increases in Red-fronted Parakeets, North Island Robins, bellbirds, and saddlebacks, and 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 Tararuas, providing them with a separate, safer habitat.

Owing to the proximity of Wellington, there are regular tourist trips to the island, limited to 50 people per day, and it is an especially popular destination for birdwatchers. Having no natural mammalian predators, New Zealand birds are trusting, and a visitor to the island is likely to be rewarded by seeing a number of different species.

On 14 June 2007, one of the buildings at the DOC ranger station caught fire, sparking a major emergency operation to prevent the spread of fire to the native bush. Thirty firefighters were flown to the island and managed to contain the blaze, preventing serious damage to the ecosystem.

Fishing is popular and sometimes whales and dolphins can be seen offshore.

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