Kapiti Island is one of the best and most easily accessible island nature reserves in New Zealand, a 15min boat ride offshore from Paraparaumu Beach. This magical spot, just 10km by 2km, was once cleared for farmland but is again cloaked in bush and home to birdlife that has become rare or extinct on the mainland. Much of New Zealand’s bush is now virtually silent but here it trills to the sound of chirping birds – much as it did before the arrival of humans.
In 1824, famed Maori chief Te Rauparaha (original composer of the haka) captured the island from its first known Maori inhabitants and, with his people the Ngati Toa, used it as a base until his death in 1849. The island is considered extremely spiritual by Maori, and was designated a reserve in 1897.
Late January and February are the best months to visit, when the birdlife is at its most active, but at any time of the year you’re likely to see kaka (bush parrots that may alight on your head or shoulder), weka, kakariki (parakeets), whiteheads (bush canaries), tui, bellbirds, fantails, wood pigeons, robins and a handful of the 300 takahe that exist in the world.
The North End of the island (about a tenth of its total area) is also part of the Kapiti Nature Reserve, though it’s managed and accessed separately. The Okupe Lagoon has a colony of royal spoonbills, and there are plenty of rare forest birds and kiwi.
A wedge of sea between Kapiti Island and Paraparaumu has been designated a marine reserve, and its exceptionally clear waters make for great snorkelling around the rocks (bring your own gear, or rent it from the Kapiti Nature Lodge). You’ll need your own gear for scuba diving, which is particularly good to the west and north of the island.