Mr S had his birthday at the beginning of May, so I pulled out all the stops and booked us on a trip to Kapiti Island.
Kapiti Island is a tranquil island bird sanctuary and one of New Zealand’s most accessible nature reserves. It’s a unique visitor experience in a predator-free paradise and access is with approved tour operators only. It’s a chance to get up close and personal with rare birds such as kākā, kōkako, takahē and hihi.
We set off early on the Friday morning (after Mr S excitedly opened all his presents – mostly chocolate related) and drove to Paraparaumu, an hour up the coast from Wellington. There we met the awesome people of Kapiti Island Nature Tours and found that, because the weather had been terrible in the week leading up to the trip, that the others had cancelled, leaving us as the only guests staying on the island!
Kapiti Island is predator free, so we gave our boots a good clean and searched our bags for stowaways before we boarded the boat and said goodbye to the mainland. It was quite a rough crossing and we were told that the boat wouldn’t be able to sail again that day, it made it very exciting knowing that we were effectively stranded on the island!
Despite the threat of inclement weather, we stuck to our original choice of glamping and ended up in a very fancy tent. It didn’t have any heating, but it did have lots of cosy blankets and we stayed warm and snug the whole time we were there.
The southerly did try and keep us awake, but it was quite exciting having the canvas moving in the night and the tent was very sturdy, no chance of us waking up in Oz.
After we had dumped our bags in the tent we went back to the main lodge for some tea and an abundance of biscuits (healthy eating is never on the agenda during a birthday celebration).
The only other people on the island were John (our guide) and Vicky (our chef). John’s family have lived on the island for generations and what he doesn’t know about Kapiti isn’t worth knowing. He told us about the various walks and gave us some recommendations so we could get the best out of our trip.
Let me point out now that John has a VERY dry sense of humour, so we’re still not sure whether the next bit was a joke or a happy accident on his part. We decided to do a walk around part of the coast on our first morning and John recommended that we stop at the nature hut that the Department of Conservation give talks at during the busy season.
He said “One of the benches inside has a storage space and when it’s cold a few lizards hibernate inside. If you open the bench, you’ll see a jar where they like to sleep.”
Ooh, that’s cool we thought, a few lizards, we’d like to see them. So off we went towards the nature hut and I ran in, full of excitement for our lizard spotting, and located the bench.
I eagerly opened the heavy lid and immediately crapped myself. Not only were there over 200 lizards in there (“a few lizards”- John) but they collectively squeaked when I opened the lid. I’m not scared of lizards, but when there are hundreds of the tiny bastards running in every direction it is quite alarming, so I promptly dropped the heavy lid and probably killed about 15 of them.
Yes, this is my secret shame, I’m a lizard killer.
Mr S was no help at all; he was struggling to breathe from laughing too much in the corner of the hut. Unsurprisingly, there are no photos of this joyous event, here is one of us smiling pre-lizard murder instead.
The coastal walk was awesome, despite Mr S pretending to spot a police boat off shore coming to arrest The Lizard Killer.
We went back to the lodge for a delicious lunch of toasted sandwiches (followed by more biscuits) and then set off for a steep walk up to the western lookout.
The views were breathtaking and parts of the coastline reminded us both of Dorset in the UK. But as Mr S pointed out, if we were at Durdle Door there would be a hundred people there with us. On Kapiti we were very alone. It was a strange experience, knowing that we could sit there for as long as we liked and absolutely not see another human.
We traipsed back to the main lodge once more and had an incredible dinner with John and Vicky that involved steak, lots of beer and wine and an amazing birthday cake that Vicky had made for Mr S ON A WOOD FIRED RANGE. Honestly, her cooking talents know no bounds.
After dinner, John started to brief us on the Kiwi Spotting Walk that we had booked. Kapiti Island is home to over 1,200 Little Spotted Kiwi, making it the most prolific population to be found, and one of the most reliable opportunities to see them in the wild.
However, the weather was against us and John explained that because of the wind and the wet ground, it was unlikely that we would spot one. Undeterred, we went outside to get our boots on and I was ridiculously over-excited to look down under the wooden deck and see two little blue penguins nestled into the corner! Unfortunately it was too dark to get a photo and I didn’t want to weird them out by using the flash, but it was amazing to see. I know I sound like a simpleton, but they really are bright blue in colour!
With our down jackets on and the red light enabled on our head torches we embarked on the kiwi spotting tour with John. This basically consisted of us walking as quietly as we could behind John for 2 hours while he searched the bush either side of the track for kiwi.
Every now and then we would hear a bird call and he would turn to us and say “Female kiwi, 1km north” and we’d quietly scuttle after him. We’d get to the place he heard it call and then we would hear a call from where we had just come from – it was like they were playing with us.
Remember the kitkat advert with the roller skating panda from the nineties? We were the photographer.
After 2 hours of searching, John eventually said we had to call it a night. Weirdly, we’d still had loads of fun, even though we hadn’t seen a kiwi. We bade him good night and went back to our tent to sit on the deck and have a nip of whisky.
As we walked back, I turned to Mr S and said “What if we’re sitting on the deck and we see one?!”. Yeah, we didn’t. We had our whisky, gave up on the kiwi, rang Mr S’s Mum so she could wish him a happy birthday and then brushed our teeth under the stars.
Mid-tooth brushing, Mr S started making some strange sounds. I turned to him and he was pointing into the light of the torch and whisper-shouting what sounded like “Erts er keelee!!”. I quickly cottoned on and turned to see a little spotted kiwi, frozen in the middle of the path, staring at two humans who were frothing at the mouth.
It ran, we chased and we were rewarded with a good 30 seconds of watching it poke into the leaves on the ground with its long beak. RESULT.
It took a while for the excitement to fade, plus it was a noisy night with the wind moving the canvas of the tent. Plus I was slightly concerned about using the long drop toilet next door in the middle of the night – what if the lizards had found me?! But it was all good and we eventually got some rest.
The next morning we had a delicious and filling breakfast before doing a quick 2km walk along some treacherous coastal path to see the remains of an old whaling station.
John had shared some of the history of the island with us and it was a popular whaling spot back in the 1800’s. It was wonderful to see some proper human history, not something that New Zealand always delivers on (winner for natural history though).
We saw some fantastic wildlife whilst on the island, it is a bird watchers paradise. Take a look at some of the cool characters that hung around the main lodge…
Vicky packed us a lovely lunch (including leftover birthday cake) and we boarded the boat back to civilisation, exhausted but buzzing with happiness.
We had such an amazing trip and are already planning to go back and explore different parts of the island. Maybe in summer next time, when the lizards have moved on.