• Janice

Guide to Upclose Kiwi Bird Attractions Featuring Whangarei, New Zealand

Updated: 1 day ago


▪️Why Kiwi are Endangered

▪️A conservation effort

▪️3 Kiwi Attractions

▪️Back Yard Kiwi' Release

▪️Visit a Kiwi House

▪️A coincidental encounter

Why Kiwi Birds are Endangered

For millennia, New Zealand, Aotearoa, was adrift surrounded by the ocean and ruled by birds. One bird, the cheeky Kiwi, set up a house on the forest floor, sniffing out yummy grubs with a special beak that has nostrils on the tip. Kiwi wings are useless stubs, instead of flying, they have strong legs for walking and burrowing. A nocturnal lifestyle earns Kiwi birds somewhat of a mysterious reputation.

Sadly, New Zealand's national symbol is critically endangered with small isolated populations of Kiwi surviving in zoos, remote areas and offshore islands.

The Whangarei Heads peninsula is one of those remote areas thanks to challenging terrain and areas of dense bush (forest). A population of Kiwi have survived, on the Heads, while their counterparts vanish from most other mainland areas.

At the beginning of the new millennium, a distressing survey reported, the population of Kiwi on the Whangarei Heads had fallen from 10 000s to just 80 adult birds. Introduced mammals were killing all Kiwi chicks, leaving only a remnant adult population, doomed to extinction.

Increasing Numbers of Birds thanks to 'Back Yard Kiwi'

However, the community group Whangarei Heads Land Care Forum with assistance from government agencies, lead a programme that is turning around this dire situation. Numbers are steadily increasing, with 1100 Kiwi birds counted on the Heads, in the 2022 survey. The forum formed a special entity, 'Back Yard Kiwi', to spearhead the campaign to bring back Kiwi to the Heads. The programme concentrates on pest eradication, dog control and translocation of Kiwi into the Heads area. This short clip from Back Yard Kiwi sums up the programme to date.

I have been lucky enough to attend events that are part of this programme and learn about Kiwi conservation. Pictured below are my photos from two events. I had the opportunity to get up close to a wild Kiwi Bird that professionals were handling. Kiwis can be elusive, however, there are opportunities for people visiting Whangarei to see Kiwi birds up close!

Three Kiwi Bird Experiences in Whangarei :

1. Go to a local event

Back Yard Kiwi Release

A tourist attending a Kiwi conservation event.  Tourist seeing a Kiwi bird at the Whangarei Heads
Kiwi Birds arrive from Lime Stone Island

Attending these events takes planning as they are held on an ad hoc basis and are not tourist attractions as such. Rather, these events are a genuine ecotourism opportunity. A popular event is a 'Kiwi Release' that historically takes place 2 or 3 times per year. Future release dates are advertised on the 'Back Yard Kiwi's' website. Claudia is a Salt Haven guest who enjoyed a 'Kiwi Release'. Her stay at Salt Haven coincided with a release, and she enjoyed attending the community celebration. On this occasion, the Kiwi was reared on nearby Lime Stone Island and translocated the short distance from the island to the mainland, at the Whangarei Heads.

Kiwi is released on the Heads when they have grown to a size that they can defend themselves against stouts. The community welcomes the birds onshore, at Onerahi, with a naming ceremony (pictured). Later in the day, the Kiwi birds were ceremonially released at, Parua Bay. The community, 'Welcome' and 'Release', events are free and open to the public.

Boxes of Kiwi for translocation ~ Handled by Kiwi expert Todd Hamilton from Backyard Kiwi

Photo Credit for 'Welcome Pics' to Janice

Matakohe Limestone Island Open Day

Matakohe or Limestone Island is a 37 ha island in the upper reaches of Whangarei Harbour, just off Onerahi, a seaside suburb of the city of Whangarei, Northland, New Zealand. Used for farming and industry for many years, the island is an example of ecological island restoration by a volunteer community group. Since 2001 the island is a nursery for Kiwi chicks.

The island is a wildlife reserve and park with open access to the public and a resident ranger. Some visitors arrange private vessels for crossing the harbour, for instance, by kayak or motor boat.

Barge Northland New Zealand
Barge to Matakohe Island

For those less inclined, the Island hosts Open Days from time to time and the ranger transports people on the park's barge. The open days are advertised on the island's Facebook page and website. Contact the ranger to book your space.

Ranger email limestonerangers@gmail.com

Website: www.limestoneisland.org.nz/ (feel free to use the donation tab).

We visited on an open day in September 2022. We enjoyed a day of adventure and learning. Jo, the islands' ranger, makes the day informative and interesting. Here Jo demonstrates locating wildlife using a radio receiver. The islands' Kiwi are fitted with transmitters and Jo uses the radio to track them.

2. Visit 'Kiwi North': Museum, Kiwi House and Heritage park

A common zoological exhibit in New Zealand is the 'Kiwi House'. These houses offer reliable daytime viewing opportunities that feature Kiwi birds displaying their natural behaviour. 'Kiwi North' has a 'Kiwi House' and Bird Rescue Centre on site. 'Kiwi North' is located at 500 State Highway 14, Whangarei. Opening hours are from 10 am to 4 pm daily. Kiwi North's website explains their exhibit as:

Here in Northland’s only nocturnal house we turn day into night, even replicating seasonal temperatures, to create a living, natural environment for New Zealand’s elusive iconic bird, the Kiwi. Watch them foraging for the live food and interacting in their enclosure just as they would in the wild. Cameras provide excellent viewing when they are inside their burrows preening, napping or simply doing the housework. Kiwi feeding accompanied by a talk by the keeper is three times daily at 11am, 1 and 3pm.

3. A Coincidental Encounter While at the Whangarei Heads

Kiwi chick
Kiwi Chick ~ Photo Credit Tourism New Zealand

As kiwi numbers increase so do the reports of sightings. Kiwi birds are not shy and forage in populated areas. Visitors to the heads have encountered Kiwi birds on walking tracks, campsites, back yards of houses and roadways (take care while driving). So keep your eyes open while exploring the Whangarei Heads. PLEASE do not handle Kiwi birds this is for professionals only!

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