Kapiti Island, WELLINGTON

Track Facts:

  • We did the Wilkinson track to the highest point of the island (pictured below)
  • 5.4km one way (although the DOC website says the track is shorter than what my GPS recorded)
  • 521m elevation
  • 2 hours up, 1.15hour down
  • Moderate level of fitness required
  • Other shorter, easier and kid friendly walks are available

Kapiti Island 🌿 A beautiful eco sanctuary and iconic part of the Wellington horizon. I cannot recommend a day trip highly enough, it is definitely well worth the cost!! I’ve now been twice in my life, and hope to go many, many more times. (We also booked a few years ago, but the trip was cancelled due to bad weather-but we got a full refund and the company communicated sooo well with us! Very impressive service)

The first time I went to kapiti island I was 7 or 8 years old, and made the mistake of wearing my red gym boots. I made it to the top though, alongside my granny and two uncles, in the rain, and will forever remember that day fondly. This time, the trip was a Christmas present to my husband (from me) and my sisters partner (from our parents). Gifting an experience is a new practice for us, but I think one that will continue for a long time. (Note: I gave mikey tickets to Featival One for his birthday in 2020, and he gave me an IOU trip on the Whanganui River to the Bridge to Nowhere. So check back for those posts in the future)

To get to Kapiti Island, you catch a wee “ferry” from Paraparaumu Beach, 45mins north of Wellington (a 2 hour drive from our home in Whanganui). There are a few options, but we went with Kapiti Island Eco Tours. The boat ride is 6km and takes about 30mins. Our sail day was a beautiful day with calm waters, and we spotted a pod of dolphins in the morning, which was amazing!!!

A bit of history:

Kapiti island is 8km long, and 2km at its widest point, with a total land area of just over 19m2. It lies 6km off the coast of Wellington, and the water between has swift currents. This body of water is largely what allows the eco sanctuary to be so successful, as predators such as rats, stoats and possum are unable to make the trip across!

In 1840s the majority of Kapiti island was deforested (😭) and cleared into farm land for pigs, goats, sheep and deer, with cats and dogs (along with rats, possums and stoats) also introduced to the island. The island was a successful wee farming operation for trade, and was also a base for whaling, as whales would travel through the straight and were easily spotted and caught from the island.

As early as 1870, Kapiti island was identified by naturalists as being an ideal location to restore natural forest and bird life. But first, all the predators of NZ native birds had to be eradicated, since life in NZ pre-humans (and the introduction of animals brought from far away lands) was pretty cruisy for our native birds, who have little to no evolutionary protection from the likes of rats and stoats, and the native trees are destroyed by the introduced hungry possums.

After a mammoth effort to rid the island of predators, it became a very early international example of natural restoration and as an eco sanctuary. Many such islands have since used this example around the world to restore natural forests, and bird life.

The island is now used as a breeding haven for many native birds, including kiwi, which are often then sent around the country to other sanctuaries. Most of the forest is well on its way to being restored (although this can take 200 years +) and the island has remained predator free (with the exception of one pregnant rat which managed to make the journey over the sea, but was thankfully caught before it had its babies-fun fact, rats can birth up to 17 pups in a litter, every 21 days!!!)

Kapiti island also has a rich history of cultural significance to local Maori, who still have homes on the island (although the last permanent resident reportedly passed away in 2019).

In order to continue to protect the eco sanctuary, only 150 people are allowed on the island per day and a permit must be obtained through DOC (the tour companies sort this all for you). You also have to do a bio security check, and disinfect your footwear before getting on the boat.

The walk:

We did the Wilkinson Track. And there’s honestly not much to say about the hike itself. The track is a continuous and relatively steep climb, although it is manageable with lots of zig zags to reduce the gradient. There is a historical Whare to check out only 5 mins from the information centre, which is really interesting. And there is an alternative, very steep, shorter in distance but the same time, track which you can take if you go around the Whare. Note: this track is so steep you aren’t allowed to go down in-up traffic only (the people we saw take this track did not recommend it).

45mins up there is a nice place to stop with picnic tables and a feeding station for the little Stitchbird (hihi), which needs a little extra help as it is in competition with the larger, bolshy Tui for its food-source.

At the top of the hike is a great spot for lunch and a beautiful tower from which you get a 360 panoramic view back to the mainland, and out to the Tasman sea. The far side of the island is a cliff face, which is beautiful if not a little frightening (as you are 521m up!). Just watch your lunch as there are many cheeky weka ready to eat up what you don’t lay claim to.

Bird life:

The bird life here is amazing. There are many kiwi (although you won’t see them during the day) as well as other native New Zealand birds. We spotted tui, weka, bellbirds, and hihi, but heard many others (that we sadly couldn’t identify).

Picture from DoC brochure, linked here

Random musings:

One thing that I LOVED about the island was that all of the signage was in Te Reo Maori, with English translations (rather than the other way around). This just made me sooo happy.

I also loved seeing the tararua ranges, which I have spent many days of my life hiking through, from a new perspective. There’s something so amazing around a change of perspective, like standing on the landmark and viewing the land. Just, yah know. For a change.

Quick tip: Paraparaumu is home to a beautiful Italian restaurant named Passo Pizza, whose owners are from Bologna, Italy. The food is divine, and an authentic italian pizza (or pasta or whatever) hit the spot after a day of adventure.

Happy exploring



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